The Flying Kayak

Hunting, Fishing, Rambling, and Complete Outdoor Hilarity

Month: October 2016

It’s The Freakin’ Weekend

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The obnoxious ring tone of your alarm jerks you awake. For a moment, you simply lay there before realizing how strange it is that at some moment in the past, you purposefully chose an alarm style. You tried different tones and jingles, wondering whether or not it actually had the ‘umph’ to get you out of bed. But after a few minute of searching, you finally found it.

This is the one. This is the alarm tone I will grow to hate. Time to ruin this jingle forever.

It’s 6:00am on a Monday morning and it’s time to go do that thing. That thing that so many of us do every week: Work.

Whether you enjoy your job or not, very rarely is anyone super stoked to be woken from a nice slumber, only to realize it’s not the weekend anymore. Alas, you’ve got five more days of this and another four rude awakenings before you can cut loose again. But at that moment, you merely stare at the ceiling and mentally prepare for what’s going to be another long work week.

Though you may work in an office, you’re an outdoorsman at heart. The only thing that makes your coworker, Janet’s insufferable stories around the water cooler even somewhat tolerable is the anticipation of hitting the woods on the weekend. It’s archery season, and chasing that big buck has been on your mind for almost a year now. The national forest you grew up hunting is just an hour outside of town, and the only thing standing between you and that tree stand you’ve picked out are five days of conference calls, emails, and TPS reports. The woods are calling.

By Friday afternoon you’re completely exhausted. It’s been a hell of a work week, but the one thing that’s gotten you by is the thought of Saturday morning. The crisp, cool Autumn air, the smell of the trees, and the anticipation of seeing deer has been on your mind since Monday morning. And so when you finally clock out for the week, you can barely contain your excitement. Tomorrow’s the big day and you race home to make sure everything’s ready.

It’s odd that the alarm that you absolutely loathed on Monday morning is now a welcomed friend Saturday morning at 4:00am. With a groggy mixture of excitement and anticipation, you get dressed and head out to the woods. The drive is actually kind of nice. Unlike the commute to work every morning, the roads are fairly empty at this ungodly hour. Who in their right mind would be up this early on the weekend anyway?

Soon you reach the cut off road for the national forest and turn down an old, bumpy dirt road. A few moments later a pair of headlights turn onto the same dirt road a few hundred yards behind you.

Hmm…Must be another hunter

With the excitement of getting to your stand beginning to creep up, you speed up a little bit as you head down the road. Soon, your headlights begin to pick up clouds of dust, and it isn’t long before taillights appear in front. The wire cable of a tree stand can clearly be seen poking up from behind the tailgate of the truck in front, and it’s obvious this hunter is on the way to his spot as well.

Eventually you turn off the road onto another and lose sight of the other two trucks. Not far up ahead is where you’ll park and walk in. It’s an area that you -thought- was relatively secluded. So it comes as a surprise when you round the corner only to find a truck parked where you were planning. Your headlights shine on the hunter as he’s getting everything ready to walk into the woods.

Damn it

You get out and greet the other hunter. To your relief, he describes where he’ll be and it’s no where near where you were planning. So with that, you ready yourself, slap the climber on your back and grab your bow before walking down the trail you marked during scouting season.

Once up the tree, you quietly wait as the woods slowly begin to wake up. It’s the magic hour. This is what you were waiting for all week. A chance to escape the office. To spend some time in peaceful tranquility, uninterrupted by the hustle and bustle of every day life. With twilight quickly turning into day, you begin to scan the woods for deer. It doesn’t take long before you catch a glimpse of a tail flick, and the body of a doe materializes about eighty yards away. It’s a good sign, and in that moment, work and all your weekly troubles have vanished. This is why you’re here.

Suddenly you hear the sound of a truck door slamming in the distance. The deer, thankfully, seems to have paid no attention to it. But for a brief second you’re reminded that you aren’t alone in the woods. About a half hour goes by and the doe you’ve been watching hasn’t moved a whole lot. Out of nowhere, however, she spooks. Tail up, she blows several times before bounding away into the distance.

What the hell?

Then you hear it. The all too familiar crunch crunch of boots. You turn to see another hunter strolling in late to his stand, right down the trail you took to come in. The immediate reaction is surprise. Then anger. Then simply frustration. You wait until he’s about sixty yards away before whistling at him. Stopped mid stride, the late hunter looks up at you and raises a hand apologetically before turning around and slinking off the other direction. With a heavy sigh, you lean back in your stand. You’re beyond annoyed. The doe you were watching is long gone, and the morning hunt might as well be ruined. You slugged through a brutal work week, and the one thing you were looking forward to beyond everything was to be here in this tree. Away from people, and to have time to yourself. But now? Now it’s ruined.

Welcome to the weekend.

——————-

Over the years, the above scenario has happened to me far too many times. Of course, I don’t usually have office jobs, but it’s the same  concept: I have off on the weekends, I love to hunt/fish, so I go hunting/fishing on the weekends. The problem? EVERYONE ELSE DOES TOO.

I’ve been a weekend warrior before, so please don’t think I’m hating on them. Unfortunately many people have no other options than working that Monday-Friday 9-5. So that means they’ve no choice but hit the woods or the water on Saturday and Sunday. Weekends end up becoming insane. Hunting and fishing pressure go through the roof as everything is inundated with people trying to get their outdoor fix. But eventually there’s a point where it becomes unappealing. We all seek the outdoors for some reason, and often that experience becomes tainted with -far- too much human pressure.

“Why bother going fishing this weekend? There’s going to be 8 billion people at the boat launch Saturday morning. I probably won’t find a place to park the trailer”

“I guess we can go to the springs, but we’re gonna have to wait in line half an hour since it’s a pretty day”

“I’d rather not go to the trouble of getting to the tree stand. Someone will assuredly walk in on me”

It applies to almost any outdoor activity you can think of. Too many people end up ruining an good thing. And they don’t have to be destroying anything, or trashing it, or being loud, etc. Simply too many people being there end up taking away the experience that many look for.

Hell, I might as well have just stayed at the office. I’d see less people”

For almost two years now, I’ve been lucky enough to be a guide. Whether it be taking people out in the Everglades to look at Alligators, kayaking to look at Dolphin in St. Augustine, or chasing down Elk in Colorado. I’ve gotten to see people use our natural resources that have been set aside for just that: Use. And since I’ve been guiding, I rarely get a weekend off. Ever. It makes sense though, when you think about it. People primarily have off on the weekends. They want a guide and they hire me on their days off. So I’m thrust into these outdoor settings every weekend with everybody and their brother.

What it’s done is change me. At least as to how I enjoy the outdoors. On the off chance that I actually get a weekend off, you won’t catch me dead outside. I’ll be inside on the couch. I’ve had too many days practically ruined during the weekend rush. Be it a jet-ski buzzing by the kayak at 30 yards and scaring all the fish, or a hunter walking right up to my tree stand. It happens all the time and I’ve grown tired of it. Friends might ask:

“Alex! Can we go kayaking Sunday morning?”

“Absolutely not”.

I simply won’t do it. I can’t do it. There’s too much pressure and it’s lost its appeal for me. So I question; How many others are like me? How many hunters, or fishermen, or hikers, or whatever, have altered the way they use the outdoors? How many have all but just given up? Think about the most popular outdoor spot near you. Now imagine it on a holiday weekend. It’s going to be an absolute zoo. There are so many people that it might as well be Wal-Mart, and lord knows no one ENJOYS going to Wal-Mart.

Luckily for me, since I work the weekends, I often have weekdays off. I can go kayaking on a Tuesday morning and not see a soul on the water. I can hike after lunch on a Thursday afternoon and not see the faintest sign of another hiker. It’s fantastic. But I realize not everyone has the same luxury of doing things on the weekdays like I do. I’ll never claim to be any more or less avid than any of my fellow outdoorsmen. So I ask the question: How do you get around the weekend crowds when you’re stuck to the weekend schedule?

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I’m avid enough that should I ever find myself stuck with that schedule, I’d still try. But I can’t say I’d enjoy it nearly as much as I should. It would wear on me, and eventually might break me. I’d find myself skipping weekends and just watching football and drinking beer instead of being outside. Anything to avoid a tainted experience with something I love.  All because everyone wants to do the same thing at the same time with their days off.

Are there ways around this? Yes. Well…Sort of. Take hunting for example. Don’t hunt public land like national forests, right? Okay, so you fork over the cash to join a hunting club, and you’ll get to avoid the crowds. But what’s that end up doing? Driving the cost of hunting through the roof. If you weren’t already aware, hunting is becoming a rich man’s sport. Yes people pay big bucks to hunt…well…big bucks. But they also pay up to avoid the crowds of people who flock to public areas when they can’t afford a private hunting lease.

I honestly don’t have a solution when it comes to dealing with the weekends. I’ve figured out how to deal with it personally, but I question everyone else. Do you simply grin and bear it? Do you wake up -extra- early to beat the crowd? Or do you hike those extra ten miles into the wilderness JUST to dodge everyone else?

Personally, I don’t see the issue getting any better. Hell, if it’s even an issue at all. For all I know maybe there are people out there who love fishing around the crowds or watching the chaos that is the county boat ramp in the morning (ok, that’s admittedly fun to watch). But for me, it’s a problem. And I can only hope that we can find some sort of solution before more people want to simply give up.

 

The Wrath of Rod #2

My excitement grew as we weaved our way down the dusty gravel road into the mountains. Window’s down, the cool breeze was a welcomed relief from the oppressive Florida heat that I’d become accustomed to. I was back in Montana and thrilled to be going to the same place I caught my last Montana trout. Long gone were the warm summer days that I got to experience the year prior. Instead, I was greeted with a breath of crisp, autumn air, and the multicolored sight of leaves changing before the onslaught of winter.

This time I’d come prepared. Last year I’d shown up with minimal gear, knowledge, experience with freshwater stream fly fishing. Being from Florida, my entire fly fishing experience had been saltwater. Redfish, trout, snook, tarpon, etc. Not Browns, Rainbows, Cutty’s and the like. It’s an entirely different animal and to me, and it came as a puzzle. An extra challenge, if you will. It was something to solve, and ever since catching my last Montana trout, it’d been an obstacle I’d been chomping at the bit to overcome. I wanted to get better at it. So this year I arrived with brand new waders, boots, landing net, and even a new 6wt rod to tackle the Montanan streams and rivers.

My first day in Montana last year consisted of tumbling down a cliff and snapping my fly rod in the process. Despite being mildly perturbed, I set about immediately replacing it. That new rod served me the rest of my stay out west, made it down to Utah where I caught several Browns with it, then did quite a bit of work down in South Florida chasing invasives in their myriad of canal systems. It was a good 3wt.

About an hour outside of town, we finally pulled up to the creek and I excitedly began getting everything ready. I threw my new waders on, laced up my boots, and grabbed my box of flies. With my rod still disassembled in its four pieces, my friend and I weaved our way down to the rocky creek bank.

It had been over a year, I had flown over half way across the country, and here I finally was. With the anticipation of landing another trout, I began assembling my rod. In front of us, fish were already rising, and each splash made me even more excited to begin slinging flies. Once I finally rigged up, I walked to the water’s edge, stripped out some line, back-cast and….

Something was wrong. My rod felt weird. It wasn’t loading right.

What in the…?

To my dismay I looked up to see my rod broken, just below the last connection point.

Contrary to what most might expect, I actually didn’t throw a fit. I didn’t go on a wild cussing rampage, or throw my rod into the water, or anything like that. I merely looked up at my poor rod as the last foot of it dangled in the breeze like a limp noodle, and I let out a heavy sigh.

“Shit.”

Of course I wasn’t pleased. But what could I do? It was the only rod we brought that day, and I’d have to simply grin and bear dealing with the return policy and replacing the rod once I got back to town. So rather than get upset, I calmly put the rod down, sat next to the creek, and cracked open a cold beer. Over the next hour we watched as numerous fish rose and fed, and I was forced to simply watch. Unable to do anything about it but enjoy the scenery and the pleasant day. Luckily the fish weren’t going anywhere, I had another month left in Montana, and I swore right then and there that the Montana streams and rivers would soon feel the wrath of rod #2.

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——

The looming mountains slowly passed by as we bounced our way down the Bitterroot Valley to the south. It was another perfect day outside, and with the windows down, I occasionally checked on the bright blue raft that was being towed behind the truck. I’m not exactly sure what it is about towing that makes me paranoid, but I constantly check to make sure the boat/raft/kayak/whatever is still secure. For some reason I’m just constantly worried, and today was no different.

My buddy Jeb and I were on our way to float and fish a river. This was especially exciting for me because the previous year I’d visited, Jeb didn’t have a boat which meant we were stuck to just wade fishing. Now we had access to -much- more water and I was excited to redeem myself after my last failed attempt to fish. My new 6wt was ready to sling some flies.

With the raft in the water, Jeb, his dog Sage, and I loaded up and took off down the river. This would be my first time fishing from a raft and it took a little getting used to. Fly line has the incredible ability to become impossibly tangled on any item that’s laying around in the boat. A net, water bottle, fly case, shoe lace, etc. You name it, fly line will -always- get tangled on it, and this day was no exception to the rule. But I fished as Jeb rowed, and Sage sat quietly waiting with almost as much anticipation of landing a fish as I had.

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We passed fishy looking spot after fishy looking spot, and with the exception of one little dink trout, nothing I threw seemed to work. I tried streamers, various types of dry flies, droppers with nymphs. Nothing. I began to get a little frustrated. This was almost exactly like my last experience in Montana. Fish everywhere, but I can only seem to land tiny little baitfish sized trout. Annoyed, I decided to pass the rod off to Jeb. After all, I actually wanted to try my hand at rowing.

For the last 6 months, paddling has been my job. After a recent move to Saint Augustine, Florida, I quickly landed a job as a kayak guide leading eco-tours. This put me paddling around for a few hours a day at least five days a week over the summer. And on days that I wasn’t working, I spent them fishing out of the kayak as well. So I actually consider myself pretty damn good at paddling. But rowing?

Never done it.

One would think that rowing and paddling go hand in hand. And that kind of do. But rowing is, for lack of a better term, opposite of paddling. It literally is opposite. Backwards, even. So it took a little bumping, scraping, and spinning uselessly in circles for a while before I finally began to get the hang of it. But since more technical parts of the river were quickly coming up, and I’m sure Jeb didn’t want me to pop a hole in his brand new raft, we opted to switch again.

Around midday we stopped to eat some lunch. A grocery store in town made us a few sandwiches that I’d been dreaming about ever since we bought them in the morning. But, as my luck holds true, we opened the cooler to discover that the melted ice had soaked almost every inch of bread for my sandwich. Each bite squirted water and the soggy Italian sandwich was anything but satisfying. To add to our troubles for the day, we’d forgotten an important item to bring along: Water. In our rush to get out on the water, we grabbed everything we could think of. Oars, life jackets, fly rod, flies, sandwiches, chips, beer, ice, everything. Except water. So rather than go thirsty, we simply opted to drink all the beer we brought along.

Back on the river, the day began to wane. Low clouds rolled off the mountains to the west and occasionally shaded us from the sun as it dipped lower in the sky. While passing through a relatively slow moving, shallow part of the river, Jeb finally piped up.

“Fish just rose, 11 o’clock”, he said as he made a small adjustment with the oars.

I could clearly see where the fish had made rings on the still surface of the water.

“Got it…”, I whispered as I began to cast.

My caddis fly landed just upcurrent from where the fish had risen, and it took only about two seconds before the same fish came up and swallowed the fly.

“There he is!” I exclaimed as I confidently set the hook and felt it sink in. The hook set had been one of my biggest problems last year, and I feel as though I finally figured it out. I used to think freshwater trout are these dainty, fragile fish. A saltwater hook set on one would surely catapult the poor fish into orbit if I really put my heart into it. And so I kept under-setting the hook. I’d gingerly raise my rod in anticipation of actually hooking the fish, but to no avail. But eventually I got the hang of it. They certainly aren’t saltwater fish, but they aren’t all that dainty either. You can set the hook like you mean it. Just don’t do it like professional Bass fishermen and you’ll be good to go.

After a brief fight, the fish found its way into the net, and I landed my first Montana Brown trout. The fish also proved to be relatively camera shy.

Brown Trout

Whoops

A little while later and I soon found myself hooked up again with a nice Rainbow trout that actually put up quite a fight. It was at that moment I wished I’d had my 3wt with me, but I couldn’t complain. I was finally catching fish, and this was what I’d ventured all the way across Florida to find. The rainbow was soon netted, unhooked, and sent on its way before I even thought to get a picture.

The sun was beginning to set as we approached our get-out point. The last hundred yard stretch of the river was ahead of us and we could already see fish rising everywhere. This would be my last chance for the day, so I needed to make it count. A large boulder jutted out from the bank and around it swirled a deep eddy where the fish were rising. I took aim, cast, and watched as a trout gulped at my fly. Excitedly I set the hook and…

Nothing. Swing and a miss.

Guess my hook set isn’t -quite- right yet.

I stripped in some line as we got closer and prepared to make another cast. Focused on where I wanted the fly to land, I quickly began casting, only to suddenly feel a tug mid-back cast.

“Aww shit..”, I muttered as I turned around to see my fly stuck in the bushes of the river bank. I’d managed to make it an entire day without losing a fly, and on my last cast, with fish rising , I successfully sacrificed my caddis to the bush God’s.

It’d been an awesome day and a huge learning experience for me. We couldn’t ask for better weather, I got to row my first boat, and we managed to survive solely off of beer for the entire day. I really feel as though I’m beginning to figure these fish out a little more, and landing fish (even small ones) is satisfying enough to keep my interest. I received word today that my 3wt is repaired and on its way back this week. With any luck I can break it in soon. Well…Maybe not break. Maybe…Well…You know what I mean.

Fly fishing

Rain coming over the Bitterroots

**You may have noticed a major lack in posts the past few months. That comes from a combination of a heavy work load, as well as other projects I’ve been working on. Details to come soon though, and I’ve plenty more to write about in the coming months. Stay tuned!**

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