Many of us in these crazy times have been forced to take some extra time off. The fact that you’re reading this blog suggests you enjoy an outdoor lifestyle, so here are some things to keep you from going insane during this era of social distancing and self isolation. Most of these are things that you should be doing anyway, but we often put them off because life gets busy and, well, they just aren’t always fun to do. But since you have the time, get to it.
- Clean Those Guns Gun owners love to shoot. Cleaning guns, not so much. You’ve probably got at least one gun in need of cleaning right now. Hunting seasons are over or coming to an end so use your COVID-19 time to do some upkeep. Weather is warming up in most parts so open a window for ventilation and give your bores a dose of cleaning solvent and a taste of the bore brush. At the very least wipe down the exterior with oil.
- Get Your Kit Sorted Fishing seasons are opening soon and, if you’re like me, you think you have all the flies, hooks, lures, etc. you need. But once you hit the water you realize you don’t. This is a perfect time to haul out your tackle bags and vests and sort through everything. Get rid of the things you never use and if you don’t have all you need you can still order online. It’ll be good for the economy.
- Calling Turkey season will be here sooner than you think. Dig out your calls and make sure they are in working order. Sand them, chalk them and perform any other maintenance. And practice. Being able to make a passable yelp is one thing. Being able to make a convincing string of clucks and purrs is a bit different. If you’ve got time on your hands due to a “stay at home” order you should put in the time to master your favorite turkey call. Just be considerate of anyone else in your household. Most cohabitants will only tolerate short bursts of calling before instigating mutiny.
- Get Outside Preseason scouting or simply taking a walk in the woods doesn’t violate the rules of social distancing. Until a governing body mandates that you can’t leave your house, get outdoors and forget about all the madness of the world at present.
Make the most of your work/school shutdown and focus on some much-needed maintenance for your outdoor lifestyle. As we get into spring outdoor opportunities will expand. Even if there is a national lock down of one sort or another, you can get yourself and your gear prepped now to make the most of your time outdoors later.
My first fly rod was an 8’6″ 6 weight. I did everything with that rod, from bass and lake-run rainbows to small stream trout and panfish. A few years later I added a 7’6″ 4 weight which quickly became my preferred rod for small streams. Even though it was a full flex rod it still had the backbone to handle nymph rigs and medium sized streamers. In the late 90’s the 4 weight was almost as light as it got. But over the past 15 years (give or take) there’s been a surge in popularity of light fly rods. As much fun as it is to catch 9″ trout on a 3 or even 2 weight, we should all be asking “when is light too light”?
I’ve fished small streams in Vermont and New York where a 10″ brookie is considered a trophy and the average fish is 6 or 7 inches. These boulder-strewn creeks are really where the under-4 weight rods are best suited. The worst case scenario with tiny rods on these waters is having a fish tangle up in a tree root and breaking the leader.
Before I go any further into the merits and limitations of sub-4 fly rods I will freely admit that I have never fished one. I’ve handled them plenty and know a lot of people who use them routinely, and those who fish them love them. But they also fish them responsibly. This means using a rod heavy enough to handle the largest fish you might encounter. A 3 weight may have the backbone to handle a trout over a foot long, but it doesn’t have the tip strength and that’s where rod failure will occur. Where the fish are small and there’s no chance of hooking something big, they take their 3 and 2 weights. If you’re fishing water where there’s a chance you might hook a trout with some size to it, stay away from the tiny rods.
Jim Becker of JH Becker Rod Works, maker of custom and semi-custom bamboo rods, had an experience that highlights this basic principle. A customer stopped in to have a tip repaired. He’d borrowed the rod, one of the “Headwaters Series” of 2 and 3 weights, from his father, who wisely warned him to not fish it on the Mettowee, a small stream with some trout measuring into the mid-teens. This customer didn’t listen and took it to the Mettowee anyway where he hooked and landed a 15″ rainbow, breaking the rod tip in the process. Had the rod been a 4 weight, the breakage would likely not have happened.
So, as much fun as it is to cast tiny dry flies to diminutive trout on these delicate rods, don’t be careless about it. They make great sport of 7″ fish but haven’t got the fortitude to handle bigger critters. If there’s a chance you’re going to tie into a foot long trout leave the sub-4 weights at home. And there’s almost always that chance.
In years past the first weekend of October brought daytime highs from low 60s to low 70s. Overnight frosts were very atypical. Saturday the 5th was a chilly affair at the outset with temps just below freezing. A light film of frost coated the grass, not enough to make it crispy or blot out the still-green of the blades. The predicted high was low 50s. Autumn seems to have come early this year.
I put in two and half hours in the morning, bundled up in my stand as if it were opening weekend of regular season. I watched a doe and fawn walk by 50 yards away. Ten minutes later they walked back the same way and ten minutes after that they made the rounds again. That was it for stand activity that morning.
I settled into my evening stand location around 2:30 for long sit. It was a bit breezy with a few robust gusts but not the sort of wind that puts you at the precipice of sea sickness. Fifteen yards away a dilapidated platform stand, built among a tight cluster of large maples, creaked and yawed, shedding rotted fragments of two by four. About an hour and a half before sunset a healthy looking spike horn walked within range. If I really wanted to shoot I probably could have. But I don’t have much interest in shooting a spike. I’d much rather let them go and see what may become.
Sunday morning, my last sit of the trip, was more active. I was back in the tree by the old platform stand, the wind worse than the night before. The platform was making plenty of noise in the wind. I’ve never worried that one of those loud, stiff creaks would spook a deer. Long as that stand has been there, the deer must be used to it. The continuity of tree stands always amazes me. That stand had been built there no doubt because it was an active deer location. We’ve always had a stand there for the same reason.
I watched a doe and fawn creep through the edge of the brush behind me, then hook down to my right and turn to walk toward me. Just when they were on course to pass less than 20 yards in front of the stand they turned and walked away. 15 minutes later a buck with medium to small antlers and a good-sized body eased along in the brush following the same track as the doe and fawn. I lost sight of him behind a pair of large beeches and never laid eyes on him again. I called it quits at ten. At least the weather had improved. And I saw deer. Not the worst hunting trip I’ve had.