I’ve been lucky enough to visit some pretty neat places this year, and Solomon’s Island, MD is certainly on that list. The board of directors of the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association headed to the Holiday Inn Solomon’s Island Conference Center and Marina for a meeting in advance of our annual conference to be held at the same property next March, and I’m very much looking forward to our return. This is an incredibly nice property, and the staff – along with the fine folks from the Calvert County and Maryland Tourism departments – rolled out the red carpets for us. The photo above is the view from my hotel room overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.
After our meeting, we enjoyed a great dinner together at the nearby Ruddy Duck Brewery & Grill. If you’re in the area any time soon, I recommend the crabcakes paired with their Octoberfest brew. Fantastic. I almost got a nice football game too, but the Redskins forgot there were four quarters in a game. That’s alright, we played ’em tough for three out of four.
The next morning came pretty early thanks to that Ruddy Duck Octoberfest. But we had cool, beautiful weather and two boats with enthusiastic captains ready to take us out for some stripers. I joined four others on the Renegade, and the rest of the group boarded the Miss Regina II. As we motored toward the fishing spots, we were treated to a wonderful sunrise. Whenever I am on the water when the sun comes up, I think of my Dad, who if he was with me would most certainly have said, “I wonder what the poor people are doing today.” I knew what he meant back then, but I really know what he meant now.
The first small fish came early and we caught them with some regularity, but didn’t get many keepers above the 18″ cutoff. But we told stories and jokes in between reeling in fish, and had a most enjoyable day on the water.
I am honored to be on this board, and had a great time with a wonderful group of people who share a passion for the outdoors and a need to write about it. I look forward to returning to Solomon’s Island and doing some more exploring.
I just returned from a few days of fly fishing the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia’s Piankatank and Rappahannock rivers with my friend Douglas Dear of Rose River Farm. We were targeting mainly striper, or rockfish as they are more commonly called on the Bay, but there was a chance for redfish or speckled trout as well. Mostly, though, we were just on vacation. I’ve spent a lot of time and miles this year exploring beautiful parts of this great state that I’ve never visited before, and this place is high on the list. This shot below is at New Point Comfort Light House.
We arrived on a windy afternoon and had an evening trip scheduled, the first of three outings with Capt. Chris Newsome. Despite a week or more of forecasts calling for clear weather, a stubborn system stuck around. But the rain stayed away and Chris found spots out of the wind for us to fish. To be honest, I had a week off and was on a boat with a great friend. I hoped that the fishing would be good, but at that point it mattered very little.
Early on we got into some stripers. Douglas got a quick start, catching many fish before I got my first. But I got my casting down and before long we were both hooking up. At the end of that first day, we had about a half hour of the absolute best fly fishing I had ever experienced. This was a common sight, Chris removing a fly from my fish while Douglas was hooked up with his own.
These stripers are beautiful, strong, aggressive fish that are an absolute blast on a fly rod. Most of the fish we caught were between 16 and 24 inches. Some of the hardest fighting fish were the 20 inchers.
We fished the morning of the second day, and had an even better day than the first. And after a cloudy start the weather improved too. Here I am wearing my new lucky striper shirt from the fine folks at Covey & Paddle Clothing Company. I just love their shirt designs, “Born from Field and Water.” Check out their web site, I know anyone who enjoys this blog will appreciate their shirts.
We spent some time that afternoon combing the shore looking for arrowheads. Indians lived here for thousands of years, and arrowheads turn up constantly. Douglas, sporting his cool Covey & Paddle speckled trout shirt, found three arrowheads. I found zero. I think, as with antler shed hunting, I’m just not very good at finding stuff.
Our third and final morning of fishing began well, with a stunningly beautiful sky across the Bay. I took dozens of photos of this sunrise, each time assuming it could not get more vibrant, then a moment later realizing it had.
But even the most brilliant sunrises fade quickly. Mother Nature, though, as if to signal we were in for a special day, gave us an encore to that sunrise with this amazing, full rainbow in the western sky.
With so many fish already taken on the fly and returned safely to the water, with big laughs and great meals and cold beers enjoyed, with two nights of falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing on a sandy shore and the smell of salt in the air, with this amazing morning sky, my vacation was already complete. I didn’t need to catch a single fish this day.
But catch fish we did, early and often. Top water, open water, subsurface, oyster beds, shore lines, docks, pilings, Chris had us on fish all morning. It was one of those magical days when fish fight over your fly on every cast. I caught a striper on eight consecutive casts at one point, and I didn’t think to start counting right away.
Capt. Chris tying on a crease fly for some topwater fun. These fish are loads of fun slamming Clouser minnows just under the surface, but when they explode on a topwater fly it’s enough to make a couple grown men giggle at their good fortune.
We loved this spot out in the bay, but literally caught so many fish we both were fatigued from pulling in fish and relieved when Chris said to reel ’em up, we were going to try another spot. Keep in mind, we only left after the fish “slowed down” to a couple of fish per minute.
I am so happy that Sage got my broken 7-weight Z-Axis repaired and returned to me in time for this trip. It was a joy to fish with and got a particularly strenuous workout with absurd numbers of very strong fish on this last day.
When the fish are relentlessly hammering your fly, you really have to force yourself to spend a few minutes taking pictures here and there.
Douglas posing with a thick Chesapeake Bay striper.
A bad photo of a small but special fish. My first redfish, caught on a fly. Beautiful. The camera adjusted to that shimmering silver side and must have thought I had pointed at the sun. I am very happy to have caught this little guy. There will be more, but this species had been on my wish list for a long time. Thanks to Chris for helping me check the redfish box on the ledger.
Another double. It was so much fun to be fighting a nice fish and look over to see Douglas had one on too. This was our favorite spot of the week, long casts toward shore, super aggressive, nice sized fish. One, after the other, after the other.
I’ve heard people talk big numbers when it comes to fishing. Fifty fish days. Hundred fish days. Whatever. I always assumed those people were bullshitting. I will not hazard a guess as to how many fish we caught that morning, because people would just think I was bullshitting.
But this day was, by quite a lot, the most amazing day of fly fishing I’ve ever had. Or even imagined, truthfully. To have a captain bring you to the right place, at the right time, with the right fly, for such a sustained frenzy of fishing was just astonishing. I simply did not know there was fishing like this. And I’m so glad to share it with such a good friend. I could live to be a hundred and never have another day like that.
NOTE: This post contains graphic hunting content. If you are offended by deer hunting, hunting in general, car accidents, blood, humor or amazing feats of manliness, consider yourself warned. Click here to leave this page.
So, this happened.
My wife called from the car this morning on her way to a horse show. A buck, she said, had run into her car about 20 minutes away, across the river in Maryland. She was fine, but the car had fairly extensive damage on the driver’s side. Her biggest concern, however, was the deer. She could see in her mirror after it happened that he had injured a hind leg. He was up, though, and appeared to have limped into the woods on the far side of the road he was crossing.
Since she had to continue on her way, she had me contact our friend Chris, who lives near where the accident occurred, to ask if he was available to see if the deer was along the roadside injured or dead. Chris answered my text right away. I asked him to call me and he replied to give him ten minutes.
He needed a few minutes because he was dealing with a deer encounter of his own and needed time to climb out of a tree stand he was hunting out of. Moments before I texted, he had taken a shot at a buck with his crossbow. He knew he hit the deer (he later found the arrow, broken and bloodied), but it kept running. It ran to the edge of the field, through a tree line, halfway across the highway and straight into the side of a car. My wife’s car.
We briefly discussed the astronomical odds of a person shooting a deer and then having that deer run into the car of someone they know whose first reaction is to then call that very same person. But then we had things to do. Chris said he would investigate the scene and look for the buck, while I was heading to the horse show to switch vehicles with Sandy. Immediately following the impact she got a signal indicating low air pressure in her left rear tire. If there was a slow leak, I’d rather she have a flat tire in the comfort of our garage than in a field in Maryland.
As I approached the scene I saw Chris and his wife, Anna, on either side of the road. I pulled alongside Chris, who handed me the tail light assembly from Sandy’s car and reported that there was no sign of the deer. But the woods there are extremely dense, you can’t see more than a few yards in. We decided we owed it to the deer to search the woods as best we could.
Even with a couple deer trails as entry points to choose from, entering the woods here was daunting. Dense, thorny brush intertwined with heavy vines blocked progress in every direction. Early in the search Anna decided she needed to turn back and change into more durable clothing, meanwhile Chris and I pressed on slowly and with no real plan. Instead of searching where we knew the deer entered the woods, we were limited to looking where the brambles and thickets opened up and allowed easier passage. Like the old joke about the drunk looking for his keys under a lamppost, not because that’s where he dropped them but because the light was better there. We were not optimistic about finding him.
I finally reached a bit of a clearing and was able to work my way back toward the road near the entry point, when something caught my eye through the brush about twenty yards away. Lying down, head up, still as a statue, eyes trained squarely on me, was our buck. I called Chris over and we weighed our options, which were limited. We were on private property, so he couldn’t bring the crossbow over and reshoot it. Here is the view from the “clearing.” The buck is in the red square, enlarged in the following image.
My plan, which seemed pretty solid, was for the two of us to spread out a bit and approach the deer. If he had anything left, our presence would force him back through the brush to the road, where he would either get hit again, or, ideally, cross the highway where Chris could legally put it down with the crossbow.
Chris countered with an alternate plan: “I’m going to run over there and jump on him.”
“Um, that’s not a good idea,” I said.
“Oh I don’t know, wounded animal with antlers and all that. He could really hurt you.”
We discussed, briefly, Phase II of the plan: What To Do Once You’re On Top Of The Injured Wild Animal. Chris said, “Once I get there, it’s over.” Hindsight being what it is, I should have asked for a more detailed outline of Phase II. But to be honest, it never really occurred to me that Phase I would be successful. So after an admittedly flawed review process, Chris’s plan was adopted.
Anna arrived back at the road and we called to her to stay put. If the buck ran across the road she could keep an eye out on where he went. Chris readied himself to put his plan into action.
He chose his line, dug his feet in like a runner in a track meet, and paused. Then without warning he lunged forward, reaching top speed in two or three strides, a camouflaged blur thundering through the brush, closing the distance between man and beast before the deer could react. Almost. Chris stumbled as he reached the deer, allowing enough time and space for the buck to jump clear. But his escape was short lived as Chris righted himself and lunged again, grabbing antler on his way down. Now completely out of view, I could only hear their meeting. And the sound was not pleasant.
There was a thud, like a tree falling to a forest floor of fallen leaves, immediately followed by, well, I’ve heard bucks make noises before, but this could only be described as a growl. Not a whitetail deer growl, but like a Grendel from Beowulf growl. When I reached the pair, Chris was lying on top of the struggling deer, grappling both antlers.
Chris then asked me a question that made me further question the soundness of his Plan: “Hey, um, you wouldn’t happen to have a pocketknife on you, would you?”
I didn’t. But I did have my phone, so I offered assistance in the form of taking a picture.
We communicated the details of the situation to Anna waiting on the side of the road. She was probably only fifteen yards or so away, but there was a wall of brush so thick you couldn’t see through it. She could only hear us talking and Grendel growling, I can only imagine what bizarre images came to mind. Come to think of it, her mental images couldn’t possibly be more bizarre than the scenes actually playing out in those woods. Anyway, she would have to run back to the house and retrieve a knife while Chris held down the fort and I found a navigable path out to the road. Some more ungodly grunts came from the area of Chris and the deer, though I can’t say for sure which of the two was making them. Later, Chris told me that during his extended wrestling bout, the buck looked like this to him:
Anna quickly returned and the deer, after a decidedly unpleasant day, was finally dispatched. Only then did we have a chance to piece together all the details. The arrow, aimed at the buck’s body, must have deflected off a branch before striking him in the forehead. He ran thirty yards or so before the arrow shaft snapped off on a tree. He then ran into the road where his day got much worse very quickly. The impact with Sandy’s car shattered his left hind leg and most certainly caused extensive internal damage. While he was not long for this world after that, I feel strongly that dispatching him there saved him a long day, and possibly more, of suffering.
Back across the road, holding the souvenir of one hell of a deer story in hand, Chris made a most generous offer. He held out the buck’s head to me. “I want you to have it,” he said.
While I appreciated the gesture, and yes it was a team effort of sorts – Chris shot it in the face, Sandy further disabled it with her Chevy Cruz, I found it in the woods and Anna delivered the tool both Chris and I should have had with us – I of course had to decline. Those antlers belong on Chris’s wall. I’m not sure anyone has ever earned a deer as much as he earned that one.
After four straight days of miserable (albeit much needed) rain, I wasn’t about to spend this gorgeous day, a holiday, inside. So I loaded Team Orange in the car and we headed across the river to the C&O Canal Towpath for a long walk. The Towpath is a National Park, which means the park service has closed it due to the government temper tantrum. I mean shutdown. This closing, as is the case at similar locations all across the country, requires more effort and manpower than simply leaving it be. There is a boat ramp here and a parking lot which are gated and locked. People have every right to be on the river, but because you have to cross this strip of National Park to launch your boat, you can’t. I don’t want to get into a political discussion here, but an observant reader might be able to discern where I fall on this issue. And to recognize that previous sentence as sarcasm.
The parking lot was closed of course, but they can’t prevent people from parking along unmarked public roads, and I was pleased to see many other despicable types parked nearby and partaking in such criminal activity as bicycling, walking, jogging and just all around recreating. Mostly, though, traffic on the path was light. I was surprised after so much rain to find the path had drained very well, there were really just a few puddles to avoid.
The canopy of trees along the Towpath is very well established, so when little windows of light shine through, you really take notice. I had to stop the dogs here and take a photo, I just loved the light on them with the deep shadow all around. I am very impressed with this 5S camera.
I’ve lived in this area for eighteen years or so and have used this place countless times. I have jogged, hiked and walked with the dogs. I happened across a 5K once and joined in. I’ve launched kayaks from here, shuttled vehicles, stopped by to observe flood levels or to let the dogs swim. I’ve been there before dawn, I’ve been there at night and I’ve been there every hour in between. And you know what I have never seen there in almost two decades? A park ranger. But today one essential staffmember made a special trip to make sure nobody was out there enjoying themselves.
But enjoy myself is what I did. It’s really just been a few days but for some reason it felt like it had been raining for weeks. It was great to be outdoors again. The temperature was cool and pleasant. The leaves were colorful, though rain had brought many of them down until they formed a soft, damp carpet of muted color on the gravel path. The dogs had a blast crisscrossing the path, pointing squirrels and posing for my silly pictures. And as the sun warmed the path an aroma filled the air – hard to describe but I’ll remember it for a long time: Moist earth, decaying leaves, a hint of wet dog, distant wood smoke and the unmistakeable, sweet smell of freedom.
I went to the Harpers Ferry Fly Fest today and was excited to find such a neat event so close to home! The festival, held at the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center, runs through tomorrow. So if you’re in the area, stop by and check out the vendors, casting instruction, seminars, fly tying demos, a fly fishing competition and more! Here are some of my photos from the day…
As involved as I’ve been in fly fishing it’s hard to believe that until today I have never crossed paths with fly fishing and tying icon Bob Clouser! It was a pleasure to meet him, and his seminar on casting weighted flies should come in handy in a couple weeks when I’m throwing Clouser Minnows at stripers and redfish.
There were two nice tents of vendors. Stop by and learn more about Project Healing Waters, talk to my friend William at Eastern Trophies Fly Fishing about a float trip, buy some flies or other gear or just chat with the guides who know more about fly fishing in this area than anyone!
Always nice to see Murray from Hunting Creek Outfitters. Murray set me up with my very first fly rod and gear back when I first started!
Thank you to all who entered and voted in the Fumbled Fish Foto Contest, and to the generous sponsors who provided great prizes! Please visit and bookmark these sponsor sites: Rose River Farm, Spring Creek Outfitters, Montana Troutaholics, Hook1, Chesapeake Fly Co. and The Fish Grip!
So enjoy the entries in the slideshow below. We had a great time with this contest and hope you had fun too. Congratulations again to the four prize winners!
(Note: Mouse over the images to see the winners. And, sorry this takes a while to load. Once it loads, the slideshow seems to work well, but sorry for the inconvenience!)