The Flying Kayak

Hunting, Fishing, Rambling, and Complete Outdoor Hilarity

Tag: conservation

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.

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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.

 

Invasive Conservation?

The tiny little grasshopper fly lands near the water’s edge ever so lightly, it’s impact barely sending ripples through the calm water. Slowly but surely, an aggressive predator closes the distance. It comes to the surface and *Slurp*… It inhales the fly, and the fight is on.

The 3wt fly rod is almost not enough to keep the fish out of the mangroves. But after a lengthy and thoroughly enjoyable fight (for a fish it’s size), the fish gives in and is landed. What type of fish, you may ask?

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The Mayan Cichlid…An exotic and invasive species.

These cichlids are loose throughout almost all of the canal systems in south Florida. A result of aquarium releases, these cichlids (along with MANY other species) have thrived and spread all over creation. In many instances, they out compete our native fish for resources, or even prey on these natives. But there’s another serious issue with them that I recently became aware of….

They’re a freakin’ hoot to catch. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

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We as anglers, are always pushed to practice conservational techniques. You know, things like not keeping more fish than you need for eating, letting big spawners go, and practicing CPR (Catch, Photograph, Release). And many of us swear by these things. We love to fish, we want to continue being able to fish, and in order to do this we must be responsible with the fish populations. But this is where I’ve noticed a problem pop up recently. What about the exotics/invasives?

I obviously won’t say “who” is doing this, but I’m beginning to see more and more examples of people practicing catch and release with our INVASIVE species. Photo’s of people holding Bullseye Snakehead and explaining how it’s “misunderstood” and hashtagging #CatchAndRelease on social media are springing up all over the place. And sadly, I get it. These fish are fun to catch. They’re an absolute blast. And anglers want to continue to have fun so they practice these responsible fishing techniques on fish that…well…don’t need it.

I know of a couple different guides who lead people for exotic/invasive fish (things like Oscars, mayan cichlids, jaguar guapotes, etc). This means they’re getting paid to take people to chase them. This also means something else; They’re now a stakeholder for the species preservation. They would literally be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn’t practice catch and release. As far as the wallet goes, they -want- the invasives there.

So this raises a question. How do you go about explaining to someone who loves something and (in some instances) makes money off that thing, to not practice responsible population management? They love the species. Why would they want to eradicate them?

The state of Florida takes the invasive issue very seriously. It’s actually unlawful to release an exotic/invasive if you were to catch one. You’re required by law to properly dispose of it. And in addition to that, there’s no size or bag limit on them. The state wants them gone. But how do you enforce that? There’s literally nothing stopping someone from tossing that grasshopper fly, fighting the Mayan, enjoying every second of it, then letting it go so they can do it again one day.

It’s a complicated issue, and one that I don’t see going away any time soon. As more and more people discover fishing for these things, and understand proper conservation techniques, this problem is going to continue on. All of these individuals’ hearts are in the right place. They’re looking after a species and themselves. But their view is a little skewed.

If you haven’t guessed by this point, I’m all for killing off the exotics. I take the “salt the earth” view when it comes to exotics/invasives. In fact, when I see invasives, this is essentially how I go about treating them…

Even though I absolutely love catching them, the conservationist in me likes the idea of them being eradicated. But I also know that it’s probably never going to happen. Even if anglers kept every one they caught, it would never eradicate them. But we’ve got to at least -control- the populations. If everyone is out there releasing each one they catch, I’d hate to imagine the consequences to some of our native fish species.

These issues obviously aren’t just restricted to Florida. Imagine (and I’m not sure if this has happened yet or not) if someone began finding a good way to catch species like the Flying Asian Carp on the rod and reel. I can only imagine they’d be a hoot to have on the end of your line. Well, after they land it, they let it go so they can do it again.

It’s a touchy subject. Especially when you’re literally trying to convince someone not to do something they absolutely love for no better reason than proper conservation. What are your thoughts? Concerns?

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