Words and Images from Ed Felker

Sports

Healing Those Who Serve: The 9th Annual
Project Healing Waters 2-Fly Tournament

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The 9th Annual 2-Fly Tournament, held April 25-26, 2015 at Rose River Farm in Syria, VA, raised over $205,000 for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. Many of those in attendance declared it the best event yet, despite some meteorological challenges. When the forecast looks like this 24 hours before the weekend-long event, countless details are impacted. But as always, volunteers and PHW staff stepped up and made sure everything still ran smoothly no matter the weather.

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Early Saturday the rain kindly held off for the Bluegill and Bass Tournament at the pond. But as the evening festivities were just getting started, the skies opened up. This did not deter the Virginia Patriot Guard, however, who each year — rain or shine — escort the participants to the Saturday dinner program. This has become a beloved tradition in the 2-Fly.

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Inside the main tent, guests were treated to great food from Gentry’s Catering Service. Wine was provided by Luna Vineyards, and dozens of amazing items were available to bid on in the silent auction.

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Karen Jonas and her band warmed up the tent on a cold evening with an outstanding performance.

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More entertainment came in the form of Master of Ceremonies Eivind Forseth, pictured here from Sunday’s tournament. Eivind, one of the very first participants when Project Healing Waters began over ten years ago, is extraordinarily funny and just happens to have the best voice you’re likely to ever hear.

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The keynote speakers were Lee and Bob Woodruff of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. In 2006, Bob Woodruff was in Iraq reporting for ABC’s “World News Tonight” when he was gravely injured by a roadside bomb that struck his vehicle. His traumatic brain injury nearly killed him. Miraculously he recovered, and 13 months later he was back at ABC News, but forever changed. Bob and his wife, Lee, were driven by a mission to ensure our injured Veterans had access to the very best support and resources available, and the Bob Woodruff Foundation was born. There are tens of thousands of nonprofits serving veterans, and their foundation works extremely hard to find the best, most innovative programs to help fund. Organizations supported by the foundation must meet the very highest standards, and four important criteria must be met: The organization must produce results, they must be responsible stewards of money, the model they use must be replicable (for instance PHW now has 180 programs in all 50 states), and the organization must work where Veterans live. Project Healing Waters meets all those criteria, and is honored to be supported by the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

The Woodruffs were both wonderful, powerful speakers. Veterans in attendance surely could relate to Bob’s story. But Lee’s testimony of the difficult journey of the Woodruff family resonated with the loved ones, the caregivers of injured and disabled servicemen and women. That perspective was most appreciated.

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The rain continued throughout the night but the Rose River handled all the water Mother Nature poured down her throat, and awoke Sunday morning running clear and strong. Then, in defiance of every forecast from the previous day, the rains pushed out, grey skies turned to blue, and by late morning the sun was shining on this great event.

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The Woodruffs were kind enough to come back on Sunday and try their hand at fly fishing. Here Dusty Wissmath gives Bob some instruction on the water…

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…while Lee gets some guidance from Elizabeth Noyes.

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Josh Williams of Dead Drift Outfitters has been fishing in this tournament for many years, and he almost always goes home with a plaque. He ties amazing flies and is a great fisherman, friend and family man.

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The man who started it all, Project Healing Waters founder and president Ed Nicholson.

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The river wasn’t exactly throwing trout into the nets, but the right fly and a good drift were often rewarded. Here a rainbow is released into the strong current of the Rose River.

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If you’ve seen the long running ESPN show Walkers Cay Chronicles you’ll recognize Flip Pallot. The consummate outdoorsman was on hand to teach casting and share stories the way only he can.

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Year after year, over a dozen distinguished professional guides enthusiastically volunteer their time and expertise to guide the Veteran participants. Here Jimmy Aliff (right) shows off one of Frank Ortega’s catches.

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Kimberly Smith fished in last year’s event and is now a volunteer with Project Healing Waters, helping bring in new participants. This beautiful trout, below a tattoo honoring her father, is a new addition and even covers up some scars.

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Gerry McKay releases a catch from the afternoon session while guide Joel Thompson, who flew from Missoula, MT to guide in the event, looks on.

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Enjoying a break in the action are, from left to right, Elizabeth Noyes, Michael Brittin, Dusty Wismith, Thomas Hogan and the owner of Rose River Farm and PHW Chairman of the Board Douglas Dear. Douglas co-chairs the 2-Fly committee with Jerry Nonnemacher, and they put in countless hours all year long to make this event the great success that it is.

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Nicky Dayton, left, gets a helping hand from guide Kiki Galvin. Nicky was one of the three participant speakers during Saturday’s program. Her humble, powerful message of pain and healing brought a standing ovation.

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In the end, after months of planning, countless volunteer hours, dozens of sponsors, thousands of miles flown to bring participants from all over the country, a whole lot of trout with sore lips and a little bit of divine intervention on the weather, it was over. On Sunday evening the handshakes are firmer, the laughs are easier, and the goodbyes take a little longer. And promises are made through open truck windows to not let a whole year go by without wetting a line together. I made a few such promises myself, and I intend to keep them.

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The 10th Annual 2-Fly Tournament will be held April 30-May 1, 2016. This was a tough act to follow, but there are people already working on making it the biggest and best yet!

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2014, My Year in Photos

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2014 was a good year, photographically. I took a landscape photography workshop and learned a lot, I had a few things published here and there, I experimented more than usual and I made an effort to really get to know my camera and its capabilities. I take a lot of photos, and my first cut tends to be about forty images, but nobody wants to view forty images. By the time I cut that down by about half, sometimes interesting patterns start to appear. This year, out of the final 24 shots, half of them feature water, including the one above, taken at Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay. A tripod was used in six of the photos, by far the most yet. And this year features my first GoPro shot in my Best Of list. So, I hope you enjoy this glimpse at my year. I had a lot of fun living and photographing it.

The shot below was taken very near the last one, later that same morning.

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I continue to try to experiment and improve with low light photography. I captured a lot of deer at dawn, this photo was taken through the windshield in my driveway.

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I’ve been going to the Preakness for about twenty years, so it was a fun experience to have press credentials for this year’s event. It was hard to choose a favorite shot of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, but I keep going back to this one. Taken after the race, surrounded by throngs of fans and photographers, this horse just seemed to bask in the attention. My story and photographs about the Preakness just came out in the December/January issue of Virginia Sportsman magazine.

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Monkey doesn’t like stones in the water. They all need to be removed, one at a time.

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Regular readers of this blog know that Monarch butterflies were a very special part of my summer. I watched and photographed as this Monarch emerged from its chrysalis, only noticing later when I was editing the images that I had also captured a tiny spider whose web all of a sudden contained an unexpected guest.

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I took hundreds of shots of seeds floating in the air for a blog post about noticing nature’s little things. Almost all of them were no good, but I only needed one!

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We get a lot of different turtles around our property. I spent some time with this cool fellow.

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Hiking near Calvert Cliffs, MD, my wife walked into an inchworm hanging from a branch above the path. Her delicate returning of the worm to safety on a nearby leaf became one of my favorites of the year.

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Turkeys gather on the path ahead, C&O Canal Towpath, Maryland.

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Photographing sporting events is pretty far outside my comfort zone, but I had a blast shooting this championship game for my friends, whose boys play on the victorious team.

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I include this image because I was astonished by my camera’s low light capability. This is a hand held shot with a lot less light than it looks like here. Potomac River, looking from Virginia across to Maryland.

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My favorite image from the landscape photography workshop in the Canaan Valley, WV area. I had a great time, made some new talented friends like Risha, and learned a lot from Martin, Randall and Todd.

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The next two shots feature a great new Werner paddle I bought this year, and I’m very proud that Werner is using these images on their web site here and here.

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Shortly after the landscape workshop I tried my new knowledge at Shenandoah National Park. This is the Upper Rose River in Madison County, VA.

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I brought my good camera along on quite a few kayak floats this summer. On this day I hoped to get a good sunrise shot. That sunrise didn’t produce anything interesting, but after the sun came up, this scene unfolded in front of me.

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This is the same Monarch pictured earlier eclosing from her chrysalis, drying her wings in the sun.

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Sunset, Potomac River, Harpers Ferry, WV.

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I visited Solomon’s Island, MD twice this year and thoroughly enjoyed this quaint, beautiful and fun town.

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Team Orange at Rose River Farm on a beautiful summer day.

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I was out early one morning hoping to photograph a big buck I had seen the previous morning while jogging on the C&O Towpath. I got stuck waiting for a train and spotted this scene, I had to get out and photograph it.

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Early in the year this Sharp Shinned Hawk paused on our bird feeder while hunting our regular feeder visitors. Hawks gotta eat, too.

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And finally, one of my very favorites of the year, a GoPro shot of Winnie in the front of the kayak as we float down the Potomac River near our house. This photo was published in an article I wrote about kayak fishing for Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine.

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You can view my favorite photos of 2013 here, 2012 here, and of 2011 here. Thanks as always for stopping by from time to time.


Veterans Day 10K

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Today I ran in the Veterans Day 10K in Washington, DC. It was my first time running that distance and I’m not gonna lie, it was hard. I did poorly, but I finished and I did it without stopping, despite wanting to stop at many points in the race.

Helping motivate me throughout the race was the sight of a group of young men from VMI, the Virginia Military Institute, who ran the 10K in fatigues and boots, carrying packs with even more extra weight in them than I’m carrying around my belly. Which is a lot. That boulder is as heavy as it looks. I thought about those fine young men later, how they burdened themselves with a weight they didn’t have to carry. And I thought about how that’s really what all who join our armed forces do.

So on this Veterans Day I want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, all those who have stepped up, put on the uniform, and carried that weight. God bless you all.

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My friends Joanne (center, in purple) and Tom, are great supporters of those who serve, and I am proud to count them among the many dear friends I have met through Project Healing Waters. They were also instrumental in my participation in this run. Thank you guys.

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Medicine for the Soul

Originally published in The American Fly Fisher, Journal of the American Museum of Fly Fishing.
Fall, 2014, Volume 40, Number 4

Every spring for the past eight years, central Virginia’s ordinarily tranquil Rose River Farm bustles with energy and purpose as dozens of volunteers and supporters come together for Project Healing Waters (PHW)’s biggest event, the 2-Fly Tournament. The national program aids the physical and emotional rehabilitation of thousands of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and associated activities, including education and outings. The annual 2-Fly, so named for the limitation of anglers to select and fish with just two flies for the entire tournament, is the organization’s flagship fundraiser.

DSC_1147A tournament participant and his guide get in some practice on the still waters of one of Rose River Farm’s ponds.

With 167 chapters in forty-nine states, the limited tournament openings are highly coveted. Nominations come from local chapters all over the country. There are only twelve spots in the Pro/Vet category, in which injured active-duty service members or disabled veterans are paired with professional guides. In 2014, one of those spots went to former Staff Sergeant Brian Christensen, Army National Guard, from Woodland Park, Colorado. When he found out he had been selected, he went through what he calls a normal progression of emotions: “Absolutely thrilled!” he said. “Then nervous. Then panicky.”

Christensen suffers from posttraumatic stress (PTS), and in his excitement it had started to take over. “I was honored to be nominated by my local chapter,” he said. “But I then got very nervous about traveling, being in unfamiliar areas, being ‘trapped.’” His wife, who would be seven months pregnant at the time he was to fly to Virginia, worked with him for days after he received the call. “She knows how strong of a medicine this program is for my soul,” he said, “and unselfishly convinced me to go.”

He began taking that “medicine for the soul” back in January 2013, when he first got involved with PHW. He started with a fly-tying class and quickly became obsessed, actually starting the intermediate class before he had even finished the beginner’s. His wife immediately started seeing a change. “She hadn’t seen me this focused, excited, or passionate since I came home from Iraq,” he said. “And I hadn’t even caught my first trout.”

When summer rolled around, he took part in a few outings, each time fishing alongside one of the mentors who guide participants for the day. Those mentors are often professional guides, and under that guidance, Christensen’s fly-fishing skills progressed quickly. “My learning curve has been a near vertical line because of PHW,” he said. He was ready for the 2-Fly.

Almost a thousand miles away in Missoula, Montana, Joel Thompson was also readying for his first appearance in the tournament. But Thompson, a professional guide and owner of Montana Troutaholics Outfitters, was flying in to volunteer as one of the twelve Pro/Vet guides. He was paired with Christensen for the tournament. Thompson had been aware of PHW for years and was excited about his first hands-on opportunity to help. “Being selected to guide in the 2-Fly was truly one of the greatest honors of my life,” he said.

DSC_0876Before the tournament begins, guide Joel Thompson (left) scouts for trout in the Rose River with Brian Christensen.

Meanwhile, back at Rose River Farm, preparations were well under way. PHW board chair and owner of Rose River Farm Douglas Dear credits the volunteers who make the event possible. “Every year the 2-Fly just seems to get bigger and better,” Dear said. “It is really a tribute to the many volunteers who make this such a great weekend for the vets.” In the final week leading up to the event, volunteers are busy preparing the grounds, organizing an impressive array of silent auction items, and putting shirts and other merchandise out for display. Food, drinks, signs, tents, chairs, lights, electronics, transportation, lodging, and countless other details all require the attention of dedicated volunteers.

The weekend kicks off with a Saturday afternoon bass and bluegill tournament at a large pond on the grounds of Rose River Farm. This gives participants a chance to meet each other and warm up with some casual fishing the day before the 2-Fly. When Christensen arrived, he didn’t know a single person. “I always feel extreme anxiety when meeting new people,” he said. “But the one thing I have found is that when I am around veterans, it couldn’t feel any more different. There is something unexplainable, unspoken that happens when I am around them. I relax. I feel more calm. I let my guard down.” For Christensen and many others, interacting with those who “get it” is one of the best things about PHW.

Saturday evening features a riverside banquet with live music and an inspirational program that gets everyone excited about the day ahead. Special guests this year included Master of Ceremonies Major Nick Warren, United States Marine Corps (USMC), pilot of the presidential helicopter Marine One; keynote speaker Admiral John C. Harvey, United States Navy (retired); fly-fishing legend and World War II combat veteran Lefty Kreh; and casting guru Ed Jaworowski. But the stars of the night were and always will be the veterans, three of whom took the podium to tell their stories.

The moving testimonies of the men reminded everyone in attendance why the success of the event and this program is so critically important. “Project Healing Waters has saved me, my life,” said Corporal Mike Escarcida, USMC (retired), in front of a rapt audience of more than 200 attendees. “I no longer have to go it alone,” he said. “I no longer have those thoughts of committing suicide.”

Stories like Corporal Escarcida’s are being told from PHW programs across the country. Christensen, who has gained so much from his experience that he now feels the urge to give back, volunteers for the Colorado Springs program. As chair of the Veterans Committee, he sets up local events and recruits vets to get them out on the water. He tells the story of a new participant, a former Marine he recently put on a fishing trip. “He called me and said he had caught eight fish on his first trip, and when his children saw a picture of him holding a trout, they said, ‘What’s wrong with your face, Daddy?’” The feature on their father’s face they did not recognize was a smile. That, Christensen says, is the gift that PHW offers. And seeing that in others has been a healing force in his own life.

Christensen and his guide met for the first time during the banquet. The two immediately hit it off. “Joel told me he had been out by the water ‘reconning’ the areas we were to fish the following morning,” Christensen recalled. “I couldn’t believe he was out there doing that while everyone else was enjoying food and drink in the tent.” Christensen found himself grinning from ear to ear and looking forward to the morning.

DSC_0859Staff Sergeant Brian Christensen (left) discusses strategy with Joel Thompson.

Thompson was already confident they would have a great time together, but it was important to him that they did as well as possible. “I get nervous before every guide trip,” he said. “There are so many factors that we can’t control, and you really want your clients to have success. That is exactly how I felt at the start of the 2-Fly.”

The nervousness that comes from even a fun competition, however, can manifest itself in different ways for someone suffering from PTS. “I normally don’t handle those feelings well anymore,” Christensen said. “My [PTS] treats both positive and negative stress the same.” When positive excitement turns into negative stress, it’s impossible to enjoy the experience. “I start out feeling a thrill for a second, but then it turns into anxiety, then panic.”

DSC_0839A vibrant sunrise blankets Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia, on the morning of the 8th Annual 2-Fly Tournament (27 April 2014).

But early Sunday morning, with the fading remnants of a spectacular sunrise still reflecting on the Rose River, the two men entered the water and shook off any nervousness with the best remedy of all: hooking up with the first fish of the day. Then Christensen noticed something odd: the anxiety, the panic never materialized. “I had an absolute blast during the tournament,” he said. “I can’t explain why my body didn’t react the way it normally does to that stress. But it didn’t.” For the three hours of combined fishing that day, Christensen said he felt “like a normal person.”

Thompson and Christensen were paired as a team with Kansas City, Missouri’s Staff Sergeant Kevin Gabert, Army National Guard, and his guide William Heresniak. The two anglers and their guides put together an impressive morning of fishing, and when the scores were tallied, they led the Pro/Vet category at the halfway mark. Heresniak, who runs Virginia-based Eastern Trophies Fly Fishing, has guided in all eight 2-Fly tournaments and couldn’t imagine missing the event. “When a soldier says that Project Healing Waters has saved their life,” he said, “it hits home.”

DSC_1042Staff Sergeant Kevin Gabert keeps the pressure on a rainbow trout as his guide, William Heresniak, gets ready with the net.

In afternoon fishing, things slowed down a bit for Team Christensen/Gabert. But with all but one scorecard to be tallied, they still held a narrow lead. That last team, however, put up just enough points to grab first place. Winning is fun, of course. But the order of finish here is about as important as you might expect—which is to say, not very. “I could not have been more proud of our team,” Thompson boasted. He is eager to guide again next year.

DSC_1177Joel Thompson stretches out to net a nice rainbow hooked by Brian Christensen during the afternoon session.

Christensen, like his guide, feels a lot of pride in that second-place finish. He has a spot for the plaque picked out already, right above his tying bench. “Every time I see it, I will think of my teammate, Kevin, and our guides, Joel and William. And all my fellow veterans. And all the volunteers and all the donors who make it possible,” he said. “And how small I feel in all of it. But mostly,” he adds, “I will just smile and remember the sun on my back, the trout on my line, and how it just couldn’t ever be any better.”

DSC_1032Brian Christensen hooks up with the first of many rainbow trout during the tournament; guide Joel Thompson awaits with the net.

Christensen plans on continuing his volunteer work on the Veterans Committee, giving back to the program by getting others involved. “Nothing brings me more joy than sharing these experiences with my fellow veterans,” he said.

That passion and willingness to give time and energy to this program, and the bonds that are formed and lifelong friends made, are at the heart of the organization’s success. PHW founder and President Ed Nicholson reflects back on the growth of the program since he first started giving casting lessons to a few wounded soldiers on the lawn of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. “I am overcome with a sense of wonder that through the passion of so many of our dedicated volunteers, an ever-increasing number of our disabled veterans are experiencing the very special healing that Project Healing Waters brings.”

DSC_1044Brian Christensen and Joel Thompson congratulate each other on a morning of fishing that put their team in the lead at the halfway mark.

Since its inception in 2004, PHW has built programs at VA facilities and military installations in all but one state. But there is more that can be done. “To have been witness to so many lives transformed has been incredibly gratifying,” Nicholson said. “The next decade holds great promise for our project to continue expanding, to serve the thousands of deserving veterans who have yet to experience our very special kind of rehabilitative therapy: a therapy based on the fly rod, the vise, and the incredible power of strong, caring volunteers, fostering a bond of friendship and deep personal relationships. That’s what we are all about.”

DSC_1329The participants and guides of the 8th Annual Project Healing Waters 2-Fly Tournament.

For more about Project Healing Waters, or to find out how you can help heal those who serve, please visit www.projecthealingwaters.org.


Paddle Upgrade – The Werner Shuna: Hooked

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I’ve been kayaking for quite a few years now and, as in any hobby, the more time I’ve spent doing it, the more my needs have changed. I have upgraded my kayak a couple of times to accommodate first the need to fish comfortably, then to accommodate a couple four legged passengers from time to time. I have a decent PFD for myself and very nice ones for the dogs. I’ve added GoPro attachments, non-slip decking material, fishing accessories and more. But my paddle hasn’t changed since the day a friend gave me a kayak and I went to the closest store that sold paddles and bought one. Paddles were more expensive than I thought they would be, so, having spent more than I wanted to on one, I assumed it was a good paddle.

Time passed, my paddle served me well in that it gave me all I asked of it: when I put it in the water and pulled back, my kayak went forward. But making new friends in the kayak fishing world and seeing more and more on social media got me thinking. So many anglers out there were intensely brand loyal not just about their kayaks, but about their paddles. What’s the deal? Don’t they all do the same thing?

While kayak fishing with my friend Cory Routh of Ruthless Outdoor Adventures recently in the Virginia Beach area, I asked him about his Werner paddle. I had seen the Werner brand a lot among kayak anglers, and was curious. So I asked him what the difference was between an “okay” paddle and a really good one. He started by trading with me. Then as we paddled, he explained some of the features of a well made paddle, and some of the shortcomings of mine, which he was now burdened with.

Cory is a member of the Werner Fishing Team, and uses the Werner Cyprus: Hooked paddle. I had in my hands the very best kayak fishing paddle Werner produces, and I could tell. In no more than ten paddle strokes I could see a world of difference. I expected it to be lighter, in fact weight was the only real difference I expected. And it is light, just over 23 ounces. But the carbon blades just have no flex at all. They really dig into the water and don’t give when you’re paddling, and they are incredibly buoyant too. The Cyprus feels like it’s spring-loaded, popping easily out of the water, eagerly awaiting the next stroke. Within fifty yards I knew I would soon own a Werner paddle.

But at $400, I also knew it would not be the Cyprus. I talked with Cory, as well as Werner Pro Staff angler Richie Bekolay about a good compromise — a substantial upgrade from my existing paddle without breaking the bank — and we came up with the Werner Shuna: Hooked. Like the Cyprus, the Shuna has a lightweight carbon shaft that is oval in the area where you grip it, making it extremely comfortable. The Shuna has fiberglass blades which add four ounces or so to the overall weight. And for $125 less than the Cyprus (MSRP $275), it’s a great combination of light weight, stiffness and durability. If I had made the decision down in Virginia Beach, I would have purchased it from Wild River Outfitters, where I bought my kayak. But Appomattox River Company had the paddle in stock, and free shipping sealed the deal. The paddle arrived in a couple days and I immediately took it out for a trial run.

I love the look of the Shuna, the pattern reminds me of a cross between fish scales and desert camo. But maybe that’s just me. I do not notice the extra four ounces at all, it’s still extremely light weight compared to my old one. And while the blades are not quite as ‘springy’ as I noticed the Cyprus blades to be, they are still very buoyant and feel efficient pushing water. I paddled upstream for quite a while on my test run, and the oval shaft is incredibly comfortable.

There are some other good reasons to love the Werner brand, by the way. All Werner paddles are handcrafted in the USA, and the company supports our Veterans through Heroes on the Water. Those things are important to me, but so is a great product, especially if it’s not exactly inexpensive. And I couldn’t be happier with this paddle. If you have been kayaking with a run of the mill paddle, do yourself a favor and see what a difference a great one can make. If every single stroke is noticeably more efficient, more powerful, imagine what that does for you over the course of a full day float. And if you’re going to spend the money on a nice paddle, I can’t recommend Werner highly enough. Cory puts it best: “If you want to convince someone that Werner is the best,” he says, “just put one in their hands.”

Thanks Cory, I’m glad you did!


Dead Drifting on the Potomac

Meet Josh Williams. Back in 2004, as an infantry automatic rifleman with the Army, Josh was deployed to Iraq and returned home safely after 13 months. Then he was stationed in Ft. Hood, TX, a squad leader in 1-12 CAV, 1st Cavalry Division. One morning in April, 2006, a car pulled out in front of his motorcycle and changed everything. Josh lost his right arm in the accident.

While recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, during what Josh admits was a dark time, he was introduced to fly fishing through a fairly new program called Project Healing Waters. PHW founder Ed Nicholson, a former Navy Captain and Vietnam veteran, was recovering from surgery at Walter Reed a year earlier. He found himself surrounded by young, athletic men and women back from tours cut short by devastating, life-alterning injuries and disabilities, and he knew he could help. Like Josh, Ed is a passionate outdoorsman. He knew from his own experience that time spent outdoors connecting with nature can have the very real power to heal. And on the fishless, manicured lawn at Walter Reed, Project Healing Waters was born. As Josh learned to cast a fly rod on that grass, he knew that the door to the activities he loved so much was not closed. So with the help of a strong and loving family and his girlfriend, Lisa, Josh used his love of the outdoors to find his way — to fight his way — out of the darkness.

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Married since 2008, Josh and Lisa have been blessed with two beautiful children. Josh is studying mechanical engineering, is active in his church, continues his involvement with Project Healing Waters and stays busy with his growing fly tying and outfitter business, Dead Drift Flies. Oh did I mention he juggles all this while working full time as a designer for an engineering firm? So I was honored and excited when he took some free time he does not have, to come up to fish with me for a couple days.

Day One was an evening float on my home stretch of the Potomac. Josh, for whom the concept of not being able to do something is utterly disdainful, took to a pedal style kayak which gives him the freedom to fish bodies of water previously unaccessable on his own. The folks at Appomattox River Company recently set him up with this Hobie Pro Angler 12, and he is already very comfortable on it. And when you see him walking around on it like he’s on a bass boat, it’s important to remember how much your arms aid in your balance, particularly on something unstable.

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I’ve spent some time trout fishing with Josh, he is a very good trout fisherman. On small water, the expert deployment of the roll cast gets his line across the stream and his fly to land gently. But watching him fish from greater distances, while standing in a kayak, using his foot to move the rudder and his teeth to strip in a bass, was a thing of beauty.

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But while Josh was showing off, I was fishing too. As you can see, I had to get a good forty feet of fly line out there to fool this several-week-old smallmouth.

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I actually did catch a decent fish that day. Much to my surprise, a largemouth slammed this “6th Man” fly tied by William Heresniak of Eastern Trophies Fly Fishing (more on William in a minute). I’ve fished that stretch of water countless times and never caught a largemouth there before. I will be happy to catch this fellow again any time, he made a big jump and put up two good fights — one in the water and another at my feet loose in the boat.

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We caught a few more, but the fishing was pretty slow. No matter, though, we enjoyed catching up, floating in absolutely perfect weather with the backdrop of a beautiful setting sun. It is fun to watch Josh catch fish, though. He is genuinely grateful, and treats all his catches with care and respect. Here’s a little smallie that came up for a popper in the fading light.

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Day Two had us in William Heresniak’s driftboat about thirty river miles downstream on the same Potomac River, wielding bigger rods, throwing bigger flies and hopefully catching bigger fish. William has given generously of his time and expertise to Project Healing Waters since the program’s inception, and invited Josh to come up to fish with him. I’m thrilled to have been asked to come along. This post makes me realize how many great friendships have formed from that great organization.

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We were blessed yet again with great weather all day. This stretch of river, which I had never floated before, contained stretches with beautiful outcroppings of rock and vegetation everywhere. When the fishing started, right away I knew the one-armed fishing clinic Josh gave the day before was now an Advanced Placement course. Imagine casting huge, weighted flies, one-handed, from a boat, in a stiff breeze. I’m no expert, of course, but I have to use my left hand on the line to haul the line, pulling it through the eyelets on the backcast and forward cast to generate the speed necessary to try and keep the hooked, weighted barbell from smacking me in the skull on its way by. If my left hand slips off the line, all is lost for that cast. Line puddles in front of me and I start from scratch. Josh has developed almost a spey cast style to generate that speed required, and he gets that fly moving. He was hitting little pockets and pools probably sixty feet from the boat with a 6-weight rod he had never fished before. Meanwhile, I was not unhappy with casts ten feet shorter with my favorite Sage 7-weight. There is no shame in getting outfished by Josh Williams.

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I would say William looks pretty relaxed here, confident that Josh will be able to land the monster smallmouth he has on the line.

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Well, so the bigger fish thing wasn’t happening for us right away, but we stuck with it, switching from Clawdads to poppers trying to get some surface fish.

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Wildlife abounds in this stretch, which, incredibly, is only about five miles away from Tysons Corner, VA, one of the most densely populated and annoying places on the entire eastern seaboard. Hard to imagine. Great Blue Herons were particularly prolific. Any moment you looked up you would see one flying over, we probably saw a hundred herons. We also ducks, a swan, black vultures, an egret and a couple bald eagles.

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Josh hooked into what he described at the time as “the biggest bass I’ve ever caught.” It turns out it was a bass/catfish hybrid, which explains the size. Also the hybrid ratio was about 100% on the catfish side and something less than that on the bass side. But big fish are fun, no matter how ugly they are. And that big smile on Josh’s face came back about ten minutes later with yet another nice catfish. I caught a big one soon after that but, what with it being ugly and all, I decided to voluntarily let it leave my hook before it reached the boat. Three catfish in about a half hour on fly rods is, I would say, pretty unusual.

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Big flies don’t always mean big fish. Bluegill and sunfish are so aggressive they go after flies with hooks that barely fit in their mouths. This beautiful little fish went for one of William’s famous Clawdads.

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And speaking of William’s fly tying, he tied up a couple of these poppers for me the night before our float, using a cork body and deer hair from a deer I shot this past season. The fly is beautiful, and it was a real treat to catch fish with it. While I don’t tie my own flies, I plan on preserving more deer hide this season for my friends that do.

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William worked very hard for us all day long. That man loves to fish, and to have happy people on his boat. Here’s a fun fact about William: He can free a fly no matter where you have snagged it. For a while, Josh and I had fun wedging Clawdads in between boulders, getting them to spin around tree branches 25 feet up and putting Bassmaster caliber hook sets into sunken logs just to see if we could stump him. Nope. He can get that fly back.

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In the end, we made the most of pretty slow conditions, caught a good number of fish, missed a bunch of opportunities on some others, laughed from dawn till dusk and got pretty sunburned. And almost no one lost their wallet. Pretty good day.

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To connect with Josh, visit Dead Drift Flies online here. Be sure to sign up for his blog, you’ll be glad you did.

You’ll also want to bookmark William’s site, Eastern Trophies Fly Fishing, and book a trip or purchase some of the great flies he ties.

To learn more about Project Healing Waters, to make a donation or find out how you can volunteer, visit their site here.

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Second Jewel: The 139th Running
of the Preakness Stakes

Meet Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, in Baltimore this week for the Preakness, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. I hope you enjoy some of my favorite photos of a remarkable day…

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What a difference a day makes! Twenty four hours earlier, this was Pimlico race track. Colossal rains Thursday night made for an absolute slop pit Friday morning!

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But the sun was out by late morning, and incredibly the track was perfect by the time the sun rose over Baltimore Saturday morning.

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California Chrome, just over 24 hours before his shot at the Preakness, appeared relaxed and comfortable.

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I’ve been going to Preakness for 20 years, and this may have been the absolute best weather we’ve ever had.

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The day is rich with tradition, from the black-eyed susans…

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To the beautiful hats!

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As the day progresses, seats fill up, excitement builds and bets are made. When the Preakness race nears, the excitement in the air is palpable.

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Ride On Curlin had a rough trip in the Kentucky Derby, but he looked exquisite in the post parade. He would prove to be formidable, taking second. His handlers are looking forward to the Belmont, a race they feel he has a fair chance in.

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But this day belonged to one horse.

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Barreling down the stretch for the first time, California Chrome (the 3 horse in blue) was in great position.

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When they came down the home stretch, it was California Chrome all the way.

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Chrome’s jockey Victor Espinoza grins on his way to the winner’s circle.

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Back at the barn, California Chrome comes out to show off a bit.

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I’ve been around a lot of horses, and I have never seen one so eager to have his picture taken. His ears go up when he hears the first shutter click, and then he poses for as long as you want him to.

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You’ve got to polish the Chrome!

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Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn’s signature cowboy boots as he greets his horse.

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In a moment that felt intensely private, despite being closely surrounded by fifty cameras, Coburn put his arms around his champion’s neck and whispered to him.

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Two jewels down. Can he take the third? Gambling is just that, but one thing’s for sure. Such a likable horse, surrounded by equally likable people, will have much of the world pulling for him as he enters the Belmont.


2013, My Year in Photos

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From Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay to the hills of southwest Virginia, I logged a lot of miles in 2013, saw places I’ve never seen before and met many great people. I had my camera with me most of the time, and when I didn’t, my iPhone stepped in to capture the moment. Above is a shot of the sunrise over the Chesapeake aboard the Renegade. Below are the rest of my favorite shots of the year, starting with elk prints in Buchanan County, Virginia. Meeting the people involved in the elk reintroduction program in this part of the state was one of my highlights of the year.

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An eerie fog blocked the normally outstanding vistas on Sugarloaf Mountain, but the resulting mood was equally beautiful. Team Orange helped by posing cooperatively, as they usually do.

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One of several neat iPhone panoramas I took this year. This was at Rose River Farm, awash in golden morning sun. Team Orange, far left, enjoying a romp before a hike nearby.

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Speaking of iPhones, this may be my favorite iPhone photo I’ve ever taken. Hiking with a friend on the Loudoun Heights trail near Harpers Ferry, WV, the light gave us scenes like this all morning.

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We have a lot of deer around our property. But, common as they are, when they come close enough I can never resist getting the camera out and snapping a few photos. I liked the background in deep shadow here.

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A fun action shot of Finn chasing a chukar during a training session with my friend Anna.

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Petey is unlike any dog I’ve ever known, and is full of surprises. Here, when any of our other dogs would have run and barked and chased this young deer away, Petey decided to simply make friends.

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Friend and fishing guide Gary Burwell at Rose River Farm with the mist hanging heavy in the air.

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They do indeed. Old guys — and tractors — ruled at the antique tractor pull and show at Gladhill Tractor near Frederick, Maryland.

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The Wildlife Center of Virginia‘s Ed Clark released this stunning eagle along the banks of the Rappahannock River in front of a crowd of volunteers and spectators. It was a day I will not soon forget. I am holding back a special photo from this day for which I hope to find a print venue for publication. But I love this and many other shots from the event.

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A visit to our friends Mike and Carole Pivarnik of Tulip Hill Farm resulted in this heartwarming shot of two unlikely friends.

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Another shot from my trip to southwest Virginia, here Josie watches intently as her human partner, Conservation Police Officer Wes Billings, drives.

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Volunteer guide Kiki Galvin nets a nice trout caught by Aaron Greene Morse at the 7th Annual Project Healing Waters 2-Fly Tournament at Rose River Farm.

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It’s hard to grow tired of catching these hard fighting, colorful sunfish, even when you are targeting bigger and stronger smallmouth. You will never hear me complain about a day with no smallies, but with dozens of these enthusiastic little fish.

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I spent a lot of time on the Potomac this year. On this occasion we were towing an extra kayak to a takeout ramp downstream. We made it just in time as a big storm was closing in. This is another iPhone photo.

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This photo warms my hear because of how I felt when I took it. I love spending time with my dogs, but to hike in a beautiful park and fly fish for native brook trout in their company was a wonderful experience. I had to capture it with a rare if unconventional selfie.

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Team Orange loves the snow, and we had a couple good ones in late 2013. Here Finn sports a snout full, a result of chasing snowballs as they disappear under the surface.

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This is not our friend August’s first appearance in my Photos of the Year. Two years ago this pic made the cut. It’s fun to watch him grow up so fast, here he entertains a lady friend.

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My special girl Winnie absolutely loves riding in the kayak. Here we are taking a break because she does not do much paddling. Propped against a rock in the middle of the Potomac River, I shot this iPhone panorama upstream (left) and down. The Native Watercraft Slayer pictured was a new addition this year, of course in Team Orange orange.

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I’ll be honest, I wish this photo was more in focus. But I’m including it because, while technically flawed, it is likely to hold up as the best photo I will ever take of a baby wild turkey running full speed away from a pursuing moth.

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Another technically flawed, blurry and grainy image, there’s still a lot to like about this hawk image. I took this through my windshield after chasing this bird off a deer carcass nearby.

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The native brook trout is so beautiful, it’s just about as fun to see one as to catch one. On this day in the Shenandoah National Park, I saw plenty. But none would be fooled by my fly.

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I hope you have enjoyed Dispatches from the Potomac this year, and had fun looking through my favorite images of 2013. You can view my favorite photos of 2012 here, and of 2011 here. And if you haven’t already signed up to receive a notification of new posts, I’d love it if you added your email in the ‘Follow this blog’ link on the top right of this page. Thanks again for stopping by from time to time. I hope your 2014 is filled with fun encounters with nature and lots of opportunities to take your own favorite photos of the year!


Taking Life, Giving Thanks

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I stood quietly, waiting for enough light to see and already feeling like it wasn’t going to happen today. I wanted this to be the year that I finally get my first real buck, and with a late rut and a favorable weather pattern, this, the first day of rifle season, was as good an opportunity as I could have hoped for. But at first light I already found myself emotionally throwing in the towel. Maybe I was talking myself out of wanting it so much.

The first time I ever entered the woods with a rifle, after waiting all morning I watched a large buck walk towards me, a hundred yards out but in heavy brush. I lined up the sights on my Dad’s Model 94, but didn’t have a clear path. I waited for a better shot, but a better one never came. The deer either sensed my presence or smelled my fear, and turned and swiftly went back the way he came. Ever since that day I’ve been a little bit haunted by my decision. Should I have taken the shot when I had it? Would I feel better if I had taken the shot and missed? Will I ever look at a buck over a rifle barrel again? I would forget all about it for months at a time, but when deer season rolls around I’m haunted, just a little, all over again. And as the sky brightened I could talk myself out of it no more: I did want it.

From my position I had two areas to watch: A creek bed in a wooded area to my left, and a hillside off to the right where deer may come up from a ravine largely hidden from my view. Before dawn, I heard movement from the creek bed so that area was getting most of my attention. Two friends, Ken and Chris, were hunting with me, set up near an adjacent field. Chris had just taken a shot and we were texting back and forth when I looked up and saw a deer on my hillside. I raised my rifle to get a look through the scope and saw a nice rack, maybe eight points. But he had already passed the first perfect backstop unnoticed and was now too near the crest of the hill for a safe shot. My heart was pounding just having him in my scope.

He approached a lone pear tree at the horizon and I watched him, magnified 7X, as he stood on his hind legs and rattled the low branches with his antlers. He then got to work scraping the ground around the trunk. After a few minutes of buck stuff, he did exactly what I needed him to do. He slowly moved left, down the hill, giving me a good backstop. So, heart pounding, arms shaking from excitement, nerves and fatigue from watching him through the scope for several minutes, I pushed the safety forward and tried to breathe.

A hundred and forty yards, I would later pace off, is ninety yards farther than my Winchester Model 70 was sighted in for. I steadied the rifle, put the crosshairs on his heart, let out a breath I had been holding for an unknown span of time, and squeezed the trigger.

The round left my muzzle traveling at about 2,850 feet per second and reached him in a blink. It first took about a pea-sized nick out of the fleshy part of the back of his front leg, then passed about two inches below his chest and buried harmlessly into the soft earth. I cycled the bolt and heard the metallic ting of the spent round ejecting as the next round found the chamber. When I reacquired my target in the scope, he had run back up to his pear tree. He was looking back at where he was standing when I first shot at him, occasionally picking up his nicked leg and shaking it. He was putting weight on it, and I have no doubt he was perfectly capable of running away. If he had run to freedom, we both would have deserved that outcome.

Again he was too high up the hill for a safe shot, there was nothing I could do but wait. As I waited, I watched him through the scope and thought about him. Probably three and a half years old, most likely born not far from where he now stood. He has avoided hunters and motor vehicles and illness. And now his life hinged on which direction he would step next. Up the hill to freedom, or down.

He stepped down the hill three or four steps, and the second shot hit him in the ribs. A bit farther back than I would have liked, but good enough to hit a lung and put him down. My heart was racing still as I took the scope away from my eye and slung my rifle on my shoulder. The distance between us felt like a mile now. As I walked toward him, I felt a flood of emotions all at once. Grateful for the opportunity, and to live where I live, and for my friends who were now driving up the hill to meet me. While part of me is saddened at the taking of a beautiful animal, I am so thankful for this deer that will not only provide food for the table, but will also put to rest some internal doubt. I will honor and respect him the best way I know how, by remembering him at the meals he provides, and by being careful to continue to take the very best shots I can take whenever I’m hunting. They won’t always hit their mark, but I owe it to these animals to try my hardest.

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Speaking of respect, two hundred miles south, my good friend Josh Williams was having a special day in the woods as well. Three weeks ago, Josh was hunting on a friend’s land during archery season when he encountered a spectacular beast of a buck, but he, too, decided not to take the shot. His respect for the animal and care to do the right thing was repaid when he returned for opening day of rifle season. He hunted the early morning with no luck, and was calling it a day when he saw the buck again. Less than an hour after I got mine, Josh brought down this beauty. My sincere congratulations to Josh on this well deserved buck. Read more about his outing here, and while you’re at it, sign up to follow Josh’s great blog.

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Rock On

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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When the fish are relentlessly hammering your fly, you really have to force yourself to spend a few minutes taking pictures here and there.

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Douglas posing with a thick Chesapeake Bay striper.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fumbled Fish Final Results!

fffc bannerV7Thank 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!)


Fun with the iPhone 5S Camera

6I hiked Loudoun Heights this morning with a friend who is a devourer of Civil War history. We’ve been wanting to do this hike for a long time, and today seemed like a perfect day for it. The weather was wonderful, nice and cool, but there was a dense fog blanketing the area. I hoped that by the time we reached the summit things would have cleared to reveal that beautiful vista overlooking the historic town of Harpers Ferry, WV. Unfortunately this was not to be, the fog didn’t burn off until about the time we got back to the car.

However, the mist in the woods provided some very special scenes that just begged to be photographed. While I did not have the Olympus camera I usually take along on my hikes, luckily I had my new iPhone 5S with me. The 5S, which boasts a larger sensor, larger pixels and a larger aperture than its predecessor, I think did a great job capturing this amazing scenes.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say this phone is the only camera I’ll ever need. But as something I have on my person 100% of the time anyway, it is a fantastic option that is highly capable of capturing any scene you encounter that you want to take home with you.

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Dove Hunting, A Beginner’s Guide

I was about thirteen years old when I tagged along with my Dad for a few days of fishing down in North Carolina. We ended up at some sort of camp with a bunch of his friends, and it was here he told me we were dove hunting that afternoon. When the time came, he brought me to the perimeter of a huge rectangular field and handed me my Remington 870 20 gauge and a box of shells. He turned a bucket upside down and told me to sit there and if a dove comes my way, shoot it. Some other kids and I were at one end of the field, and my Dad and his friends would be at the other. That was the extent of my dove hunting tutorial. Really? People do this? Is this a thing? Or is this a snipe hunting type trick to keep all the kids sitting quietly on buckets for a few hours while the men pile into a pickup and head out to a bar?

Well, it turns out it really is a thing. And that afternoon there was very little bird activity down at the far end, and even fewer birds at the kid end of the field. But in one spirited volley at the far end, dozens of shots were fired at a cluster of birds. Some went down, some retreated over the treeline behind the hunters, and one lone dove flew straight toward me. The shots silenced as he flew out of range of the adults, and I watched him for a while as he approached. I loved the idea of hitting this dove that my Dad and his buddies all missed. This is called, “counting your chickens before they’re hatched.” But I had an easy, low, straight flying bird coming directly toward me. I put the bead on him, waited until I had a nice short shot, and pulled the trigger.

Let me interrupt this story to begin my list of Helpful Hints for the Beginner Dove Hunter:

1. Be aware of the status of your gun’s safety.

In the time it took me to realize the safety of my gun was on, the bird slipped safely and quietly over the tree line behind me. It was the only bird that came my way that afternoon. I unloaded my Remington, put the three pristine yellow 20 gauge shells back in the now full box and closed it and my dove hunting chapter, not to be opened again until almost four decades later. Yesterday.

My friends Chris and Anna invited me to come out dove hunting with their dogs Wyatt and Luna on a stunningly beautiful, blue sky day in rural Virginia. Considering how my first experience went, I was excited to give it another try. We got to the field early and then Billy, the host who set up the shoot, gave us some ideas on good spots. We chose an area where some power lines intersected with a tree line at the far end of the fields. The terrain was brutally difficult to walk in. Deep, irregular mounds and ridges of firm ground – an artifact of a chisel plow early in the season – made it feel like you were walking on bowling balls. But we navigated the obstacle course the several hundred yards with all our gear and set up for the day. Anna was working the dogs and taking photos, Chris and I would be shooting. Here is the spot I chose, some cover of overhanging limbs and plenty of shade, but with a good view of the fields and open sky. (Photo by Anna Gibson)

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The gun I brought, a 1952 16 gauge Winchester Model 12, is one of my very favorites. Light and comfortable, the 16 gauge is built on the 20 gauge frame. I’ve often said of this gun that I could shoot it all day long, but on this day I did exactly that. And the simple, brilliant Model 12 design just makes this gun aim where you’re looking the second you throw it up to your shoulder. However, aiming and hitting are two different matters when it comes to dove.

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Chris chose a spot more out in the open, sitting against the base of a phone pole about 75 yards away from me to my right. He immediately started shooting single flyers racing by him from behind. Here is Chris and Wyatt with the first bird of the day.

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Wyatt making sure I got a good close up before he gave the bird up.

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Watching their flight pattern, it doesn’t take long to identify and recognize these birds. We didn’t get any photos of them in flight, but here is a file photo of a common migratory mourning dove. Note the distinctive shape:

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Early on I had opportunities but just couldn’t get a handle on shooting these things. Chris’s success, I determined after observing for about ten minutes, was due to better instincts on where to sit and where to watch, faster reaction time, and better shooting than I exhibited.

2. Have better instincts, react faster, and shoot better.

I brought over 100 shells and within the first hour I had burned through maybe 20 and I’m not sure I even scared a bird. Chris graciously let me sit in his spot for a bit, probably to let his gun cool off and give his shoulder a rest, and before long I had another chance. Three doves whipped around the phone pole I was leaning against, I picked one and quickly took two shots at it. Miss, miss. I took my time on the third and connected, downing my first dove ever. Chris is a truly good friend, and he exhibited this with a genuine, spontaneous celebratory outburst when those feathers flew. I know he would have traded all his birds to that point just to see me hit one. Anna brought Wyatt over to find the downed bird in the thick millet and he made quick work of the task. Here we are sharing the glory.

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Breaking the ice with this one helped a lot. I felt like I started to shoot better and react better. But I was still leaving a lot of opportunities in the field. Some lessons learned:

3. If you stare too long at one distant part of the field, birds will appear very near you in the other direction.

4. When #3 happens, and people try to bring it to your attention by yelling, “LOOK UP!!”, you would be surprised how vast an area “up” is and how easy it is to not see something there.

5. If you put your gun down to pee, you will miss birds.

6. If you hit a bird on your second or third shell, reload before you go to find it. Doves are watching you, and if they count three shots and don’t see you reload, they will come and land on your shoulder or roost on your dove stool till you get back.

7. When you watch a huge field for doves, your brain will send you some false alarms. Dragonflies look like doves. Butterflies look like doves. Trust me, it happens. I had the safety off and the bead drawn on a big, beautiful orange butterfly half a dozen times.

8. If you switch places with someone because you haven’t seen action in a while and they’ve almost limited out, birds will stream toward your original location like your cooler is the very place they are migrating to.

Luckily there were enough birds around that despite my missed opportunities and missed shots, I was having some success. And having the dogs there to find downed birds was just key. We spoke to some guys on our way out who were shooting a lot of birds but not finding many. We didn’t lose a bird all day. Here is Luna with our first joint effort together.

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Anna tucked into the shade and sent dogs as needed.

9. Bring a dog.

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Chris, as predicted, got his limit of fifteen birds, and took just under fifty shells to do it. That, from what I know of dove hunting, is pretty fine shooting. (Photo by Anna Gibson)

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These dogs worked their butt off in very difficult terrain for a long, warm day. (Photo by Anna Gibson)

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As for me, I ended up with seven, and took about 70 shells to do it. Not too bad, considering I burned an entire box before I even hit one.

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But more importantly, I had an absolutely fantastic time. Shotgun shooting is my favorite kind of shooting, and dove hunting is as exciting as shotgun shooting gets. It’s really a blast!

10. Don’t get frustrated, everybody misses these birds. A lot. Just remember how much damn fun it is, hit or miss!

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I’m exploring recipes, and will do a follow up post on eating these dove breasts. It’s always rewarding to me when a hunt becomes a meal.

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I’ve come a long way from that upside down bucket in a North Carolina field a couple hundred yards across from my Dad, watching that solitary bird over the barrel of my Remington as he slipped above the trees. And I think if you told me that afternoon as I placed those three unused shells back in the box that one day I would be writing that in dove hunting I’ve found perhaps my favorite type of hunting, I would have disagreed strongly.

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But it’s true. It’s fun, casual, social, challenging, rewarding and exciting. And I can’t wait to do it again.

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The Slayer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt wasn’t a big problem, as problems go. But it needed to be addressed soon or a member of Team Orange was going to be unhappy. We had a kayak, and each of the dogs could ride in it and they both seemed to enjoy it. The problem was, I could only fit one dog at a time in the boat. We had a staff meeting over at Dispatches from the Potomac Headquarters, and after much deliberation, we were at an impasse. To borrow Roy Scheider’s famous line from Jaws, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

So I started researching kayaks that could accommodate my two primary goals: I wanted a stable sit-on-top kayak that was good and comfortable to fly fish from, and on occasions when instead of fishing I opt to just take the dogs out for a paddle, it would have to comfortably fit them both. At first I looked at boats with big, wide open floors such as the NuCanoe Frontier. And to be honest, if there was a dealer close to my location I would probably have pulled the trigger on it. It looks like a really nice boat. But at the time I had yet to even try to get Finn in the kayak, so we interrupted shopping and went for a test run. What I learned from this was that a 70-pound dog can, with relatively small movements, have a large effect on what the kayak is doing. Furthermore, he seemed to be comfortable in the well area of my Wilderness Systems Ride 135. I decided that it would be better to have the dogs sitting or lying in a confined area of the boat to minimize their ability to wreak havoc.

I count among my friends – both facebook and ‘real life’ – a lot of experienced anglers and kayakers. And when I told them what I was looking for and asked for advice, I realized I didn’t want a big open floor plan, but a boat with two good sized wells. The Native Watercraft Slayer 14.5 has that and much more. The seats are ridiculously comfortable, the entire boat is smartly set up for fishing, and everyone I know who has one speaks very highly of the brand. Some of the friends early on who helped point me toward the Slayer are Keith Hendrickson, who has kayaked with several dogs at a time before; Mark Lozier, a kayak fishing guide who knows the Native line inside and out; and Cory Routh, a guide who I met through Project Healing Waters years ago and who also has extensive knowledge of the Slayer and just about any other kayak out there.

After hearing everything these guys had to say about the boat, I decided that the Slayer 14.5 would be my next boat, and I would of course get the orange model.

Cory and the fine folks down at Wild River Outfitters in Virginia Beach secured the Mango 14.5 footer, rigged it with an anchor trolley for me and propped it up in a corner until I could get down there to pick it up. I was worried about the small factory rack on my new vehicle and how that would work with an almost fifteen foot boat. But Cory spent some time with me devising not just a way to get the Slayer home once, but a safe, stable, repeatable system I could feel comfortable with every time I needed to travel with it.

1While down in Virginia Beach picking up the boat, Mark offered to take me out fishing. After a week of clear forecasts, the weather got a little volatile the day I was there and a thunderstorm delayed our outing. But the skies cleared and we were able to launch for my maiden voyage. Here ahead of me is Mark, and beyond him is his friend Joe. Mark’s wife Kris was already off catching fish without us.

2My initial impression of the Slayer was that you really do feel the difference in your center of gravity with that raised seat. It has two positions, and I was using the lower one, but it took a few minutes to get used to it. I immediately noticed that it seemed to glide very smoothly and easily through the water. I also observed, possibly related, that the boat seemed to wander off left or right a little more easily than the Wilderness, but I am not convinced of this and even if it is the case that it doesn’t track as well, the difference is slight and probably just takes a bit of time to get accustomed to.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI found the raised Slayer seat very comfortable to cast a fly rod from, with an uncluttered deck that keeps fly line from getting tangled. But I didn’t get much time on the water as another storm was approaching. So she still hasn’t seen her first fish, but I had already fallen in love with the boat and we had a pleasant time out on the water for a bit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo the next day, with the Slayer strapped to the roof, I headed home. I immediately applied the Team Orange decal to the hull. Here Winnie inspects the application and thinks it’s a little crooked, but she’s a weirdo and trust me, it’s perfect.

4I picked up a couple foam rubber welcome mats from Home Depot (thanks for the idea, Keith!), and cut them to fit the wells. Then I removed the bungees that criss cross over each well. As soon as I did, the dogs were in the boat wondering why we’re sitting here in the driveway when there’s water to be floated. How could I resist? I had not planned on a two dog/new kayak test run quite so soon, but no better time than the present, right?

5Well the test went as smoothly as it could have. Winnie would ride up front in the smaller but deeper well, and Finn could sprawl out in back in the much larger but shallower well. Winnie took to this like she’s been doing it her whole life. I really believe she loved it up there, just observing the woods and water of the canal as we pushed upstream.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinn was a little bit more fidgety, but not enough to be problematic. I think part of his inability to settle right away is he wants so much to be in the water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI pulled off to a gravel beach and they were in no hurry to get out. I think this is a very good sign that they enjoyed themselves and were able to relax.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOkay Finn, you are really moving that center of gravity quite a bit there, buddy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHey down in front, Winnie!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile we only went up and down the C&O Canal a little ways, the test was a huge success. Next stop will be the Potomac River proper. But I think Team Orange will do fine, and that we have lots of river fun in our future!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABe sure to click the links in this post for Mark or Cory if you’d like to kayak fish with a guide in the Virginia Beach area, and check out Wild River Outfitters if you’re in the market for a new boat. Meanwhile, if you see Team Orange out on the water, please paddle over and say hi!


Riverrockstar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Dominion Riverrock Festival in Richmond, Virginia seemed like a fun event, and when I learned that there was a “Filthy 5K” mud run, and that you could run with a dog, I decided to enter for precisely two reasons: I needed a ‘deadline’ to motivate me to get off my ass and start exercising, and I have the perfect dog for such an event. Finn loves mud and water more than I love not exercising. Which is quite a bit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo for a couple months I ‘trained’ intermittently, running a few miles here, taking several days off there. But I didn’t really change my bad habits and never lost any weight in the process. So when the event came around, I was ill prepared. Running is hard for fat old guys.

But to be honest, a mile into the race I knew I could finish it, albeit very, very slowly. This, by the way, is much better than not being sure if you will survive. So I spent the considerable time it took to run it encouraging Finn, who of course did not even notice he was running a 5K.

5k2Finn enjoyed every minute of the run, but none more than when he got to wet his belly in the James River.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe’s plenty fond of mud, too!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHeights? A shaky foot bridge? No problem for Finn!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHey here comes Jay! Our friend Jay, who generously hosted us at his home in downtown Richmond for the weekend, went the extra mile (okay 3.2 miles) and ran the race too! Here he is pushing through the last obstacle before the finish line!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere we are, successful finishers of the Riverrock Filthy 5K!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course we all deserved a post-race cold one! Some members of the team had more of these than others.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOkay, a couple things here. First, I love this picture and I loved the moment. The ‘glow’ after we had finished the race we had worked not very hard preparing for. Finn’s weight on my foot just felt, I don’t know, I just liked it. But what I didn’t like is what happened right after I took this photo. This post is about Finn, really, and I hesitate to even bring this up. But I know Jay will insist upon its inclusion here, so…

We’re standing here, like this. Finn leaning on my foot. And this old guy trots up to me from across the parking lot, all excited, and says, “How’d you do in the race???” I said, “I think we won!” He said, “Really?” I said, “No. Not really.” He said, “Oh. I was just wondering if anyone else over 60 finished ahead of me.” I said, “And you fucking asked ME??” He said, “Well, yeah, I don’t know.” I said, well, I don’t recall exactly what I said so I will paraphrase: “Sir, I appreciate your enthusiasm, you are right to be excited about what I am sure is a fine performance among other gentlemen in your age group. I commend your efforts to stay fit into very, very old age. However, you are mistaken. While my hair is grey, and I am walking with the grace and athleticism of a man who had knee replacement surgery this morning, I assure you that I have just celebrated my fiftieth birthday and, with all due respect, take considerable offense at your inclusion of me into your age group. Please be on your way.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfterwards we were hanging around, drinking beer, and Finn became very interested in the pool where the Ultimate Air Dogs dock diving competition would be held the next day. I decided Finn had to at least try it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next day we watched some cool events taking place. This is called slack line, and I had never seen it before. People jump on these wide, thin, flexible straps and do flips and all kinds of other tricks. It’s mesmerizing to watch!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother event I’ve never seen before is bouldering. Don’t ask me how a person can climb up something that is well on the wrong side of vertical. But these incredibly strong athletes were fun to watch scale these obstacles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rains came for a time around noon. Finn, as he had been the whole weekend no matter what we asked of him, was a trooper. He literally endures any activity I ask of him, any conditions presented to him, with bright, smiling eyes and a firm wag of approval. But here he enjoyed a little shelter under the beer table for a few minutes until the worst of the storm passed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlright, here we are at the dock diving pool! We started him on the ramp so he would get used to the idea, and also so once he swam out to get the toy (a borrowed tennis ball) he would know how to get back out of the pool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlatform time. Well, the boy does love a tennis ball. But not so much that he’ll jump in after it. I got down to his level and we discussed it for a while.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a pep talk, some cheering from the crowd (who truly loved him), and the slight possibility that he got a perfectly timed little “love tap” on the rump, he finally jumped in!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile he’s not exactly dock diving material, I was very proud of him!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Riverrock festival was lots of fun, and we enjoyed many cool new adventures and great company. But the highlight of the weekend was, plain and simple, Finn. This amazing dog endured probably sixty dogs on leashes too long, with inattentive handlers, getting right in his face. He simply stood there. He was approached by dozens of people who wanted to know what he was. Or to tell me how pretty he was. Or to tell him how pretty he was. One person after the other was captivated by him. “What amazing eyes.” “That dog rocks.” “That is the coolest dog I’ve ever seen.”

And people wanted to pet him. Which I’m used to. I ask to pet dogs all the time, and people want to get their hands on Team Orange often too. But this weekend I noticed something different, something more. And Jay witnessed it too. But a lot of people just felt compelled to gently put a hand on him. They would rest a hand on his head while standing in a beer line, or run a finger down his back as we passed walking in a different direction, or place a hand on his rump as they squeezed through in a crowd. They did this without a word or eye contact, they just seemed drawn to have contact with him.

rrock2I’ve had dogs for a long time, and I love bringing them with me when I’m out in public. But I have never been so thrilled, so proud, so happy to have a dog in a crowded public place as I was to have my sweet boy Finn at the Festival. He behaved perfectly, and I just couldn’t be more proud of my Riverrockstar.


We Want Dallas.

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In January of 1983, the Washington Redskins met their rival Dallas Cowboys at RFK Stadium for the NFC Championship game. At stake was a trip to Super Bowl XVII and the biggest notch in the rivalry belt to date. Before kickoff, fans shook the stadium with the chant, “We Want Dallas!” Washington won the game, and went on to win the Super Bowl. The next decade saw quite a bit of success for both teams, as they sustained a generally high level of play. Skins fans my age refer to that ten year span starting with the 1982 season, the Glory Days.

Since then, Washington has seen a steady and sustained decline, winning the NFC East title just once since 1991 (1999). And while the rivalry with the Cowboys lived on, it surely lost its luster after years and years of seasons ranging from mediocre to flat out failures. But through it all, through countless personnel debacles, through dozens of quarterbacks, a revolving door of coaches and no real kicker since Mark Mosely, I remained a Redskins fan. And like all Redskins fans, there is hope in the off season. Whether we would mortgage the future to pay cash for a has-been, or let Vinnie Cerrato choose draft picks like he’s playing in a low stakes fantasy football league, there was always hope. The games, after all, had not yet been played. Who’s to say what can happen? Maybe Jim Zorn will be a great coach! Maybe Albert Haynesworth will work hard! Maybe picking two tight ends with your first two draft picks will sound smart come September!

This past off season brought more than the usual dose of optimism though, with the decision to secure the 2nd pick in the draft and use it to get Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. By all accounts he was the real deal, and our future was looking bright. This, everyone was saying, is a young man you can build a team around. An unexpected surprise later round draft pick running back Alfred Morris, and the addition of rookie kicker Kai Forbath had fans thinking the future was not only bright, but that maybe the future was actually here.

When this season’s schedule came out, before RG3 ever took his first snap in practice, I saw that last game of the year — a December 30th matchup against the Dallas Cowboys at home — and thought, how great would it be if that game actually meant something. And now, thanks to a gritty team effort that has put together six straight wins, our wish is coming true. It has all come down to this: When the Skins meet the Cowboys in Washington this Sunday, the winner will come away with the NFC East crown and a trip to the playoffs.

My wife Sandy commented earlier this season as some friends and I suffered over a particularly unjust and painful Redskins loss, “I don’t know how you do it. Why do you torture yourself like that?” It’s a fine question and not an easy one to answer. But for me it comes down to Moments. High highs are not attainable without the risk of low lows. You can spend decades not caring all that much about your team, and if they come through with a big moment at the right time you will cheer and be happy. Or you can sweat and curse and pull your hair out, you can ruin your mood from Monday to Wednesday most weeks in the fall and winter. But then when the Moment comes, you own a piece of it. You’re a part of it. There are moments like this one that I will never forget. John Riggins, my favorite player of all time, rumbling 43 yards on 4th and 1 to secure the Super Bowl win and his place in history as Super Bowl MVP. That was thirty years ago and I can’t think of a Redskins Moment since then that I enjoy as much.

I love RG3, he is my favorite player since Riggo. And he will produce breathtaking moments for this team hopefully for years to come. But for there to be a truly huge moment, there needs first to be a huge stage. Well now the stage is set. The NFL saw the enormity of it all and moved the game from 1:00 pm to prime time, 8:20 pm. I will be in the stands with tens of thousands of people who will all be hoarse on Monday. The stadium will rock with the chant, “We Want Dallas!” And if we come away with a win, it will be a moment that everyone there in that stadium, with frozen toes and fading voices, will be a part of. It will be a moment we will never forget.

I heard a story of a kicker, I actually think it was a Cowboys kicker, who was struggling and had missed a couple short ones in a game. The special teams coach said on a subsequent drive, “how do you feel?” He told the coach, to be honest, he didn’t feel very confident. The kicker was fired on the spot. A player has to want the ball when the pressure’s on. And as a Skins fan, you have to want to play the Cowboys in the last game for the NFC East title. Securing a wildcard spot two weeks ago would have been nice, yeah. But sometimes you have to push all your chips to the center of the table, embrace that feeling in the pit of your stomach and ignore the pounding in your chest. Someone will go home heartbroken Sunday night. I hope it’s the Cowboys. But if it’s us, I will remember that the Moments will happen for us, that things are turning around for us and we’ll have more and more chances like this, and that maybe the Glory Days aren’t just something old guys talk about at barbecues. Maybe, just maybe, these are our new Glory Days.

We Want DALLAS!!

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Rainbows, Browns and Beer

I’ve been pressed for time since I got back, but wanted to get these photos up from my trip to New York. So I’m trying the slideshow feature. Let me know how you like it!

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High Highs, Low Lows and Brothers-in-Law

I have been to some remarkable sporting events in my life. Every May for more than twenty years, chills run down my spine as the best racehorses in the world roar past me down the stretch at the Preakness, the middle jewel of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. I have twice seen the best golfers in the world compete for the U.S. Open title. I sat courtside, first row, and watched Shaquille O’Neal in his prime. I have screamed myself hoarse at NHL and NBA playoff games. I sat in the upper, upper deck of RFK Stadium and watched the great Walter Payton almost single handedly knock my Redskins out of the playoffs in 1984, and more than two decades later with thousands of other fans I ran onto that very field after the very last Redskins game there, an epic trouncing of our rival Cowboys. And, just a few days ago, I went to the first postseason baseball game in Washington since 1933, shown above. But I’ll get back to that.

I freely admit that baseball is not my sport. I’m an NFL guy. But I’ve been to a few Nationals games here in DC and many Orioles games in Baltimore, first long ago at Memorial Stadium and then later at Camden Yards. There is a home run marker at Camden Yards, a Mickey Tettleton blast that landed right in front of me as I walked along Eutaw Street. Full beer in one hand, sausage in the other, I was powerless to think or move quickly enough to scramble for the ball, but I look for that plaque every time I’m there and smile. A connection forever to that place, to the game. But live baseball has always just been about the day, spending time with friends, being out at the park, drinking too much, eating too much and spending too much on souvenirs I don’t need. The game itself never really clicked with me. Part of that is because even though Baltimore is almost exactly equidistant to where we live than Washington is, I grew up just outside of DC, it’s my city to the extent that I have one. I am home in Washington, I am a visitor in Baltimore.

Even the Nationals games I’ve gone to, though, have lacked something. At Camden Yards I felt like I was in someone else’s city. And at Nationals Park I still felt like I was visiting someone else’s sport. But when Brian, my brother-in-law, called me the other night to see if I wanted to go with him to the game the next afternoon, I immediately told my boss I would not be making it to work.

The Nationals were never in that game, and lost 8-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals. But it was historic. And despite early signs the game would not go well, the atmosphere was absolutely electric. Brian and his friends are huge Nats fans, and spending the day there with them I learned a lot about the game and this team. And the next day when I watched the players I had gotten to know and had grown fond of the previous day, I realized how vested I was in their success. I was nervous as the 1-1 tie went late in the game. Jayson Werth stood at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, quickly down two strikes after two pitches, but battled back to a full count. Then, on the 13th pitch, jacked a home run to left field to tie the series. I celebrated in my living room like I was in the bleachers.

The deciding game of that series was last night. The momentum of the previous game carried the Nationals to an early 6-0 lead. But St. Louis has been here before, St. Louis knows how to win the Big Games. And with a late, heartbreaking rally the Cardinals crushed the spirits of Nats fans and ended their magical season. Twice the home team was within a strike of advancing to play the Giants for a shot at the World Series, but it was not to be. I felt like the wind had gotten knocked out of me. And it wasn’t until I found myself wishing I didn’t care so much, that I realized I cared so much. Something about being at that game a few days earlier, surrounded by true baseball fans in that historic, electric atmosphere, sealed the deal for me. I think this postseason series has done more than make me really love the Nationals, it made me finally see what so many have always seen in the game of baseball.

Which, and I apologize for rambling on, brings me to one final point. I have two brothers-in-law. The other is named Fred and he is married to my sister. He, too, is responsible for shaping my life as it relates to sport. On a Sunday in April of 1986, the family was gathered at my Mother’s house. Fred, a golf professional at the time, was in the den watching golf, a sport I never played or thought anything about. He came into the kitchen, grabbed us a couple of beers and said, “Hey. Come watch this with me. Something really special is happening.” And there in the house I grew up in on Buchanan Street, I sat with my brother-in-law as he patiently explained the game, how tournaments worked, what ‘majors’ were and what it meant for Jack Nicklaus, at age 46 to shoot a 65 – including a back nine 30 – to win the Masters. That was the day I became a fan of golf. That was the day, even though I did not yet own golf clubs, I became a golfer.

So as the wind that got knocked out of me last night slowly builds back up in my lungs today, I fondly reflect on the glory and torture that is being a sports fan. Imagine the jubilation the fine folks of St. Louis are feeling today! That intense, uplifting high – and I’ve felt it before and I WILL feel it again – can only exist because of one reason: the lows are equally low. But sport isn’t life, and life goes on. As does the ageless mantra: We’ll get ’em next year.


A Mexican Rodeo

My wife and I were invited to a Mexican rodeo event very near our home, and it was a fun and fascinating day of authentic Mexican culture, food, music and sport. I hope you enjoy these, my favorite images from the day!


1 Fly, 10 Fish, 100 Degrees

It’s hot today. Damned hot. But I felt like walking down to the river with my fly rod and making the most of an otherwise dreadful day. I brought along my new trusty Olympus TG-1 waterproof camera and had some fun with it too.

The heat kept most sensible people indoors, but it wasn’t bad here on the water late morning. A steady breeze kept things reasonable. But I only spotted a couple people kayaking in the couple hours I was out there.

At this time of year, this grass grows in the river everywhere. The good news is it makes for good, safe habitat for fish. The bad news is it makes for good safe habitat for fish. It’s a challenge to fish water like this without getting snagged continually, but luckily the water was very clear, so you could actually cast to the gaps and watch your fly move underwater. To successfully navigate a streamer through these clumps and end up catching fish is pretty fun and rewarding.

I don’t understand what the camera is doing to make this dark edge around the fish, but to me it gives it the look of a bad movie special effect or something. This is a healthy little smallmouth bass, one of eight small ones I caught today along with a couple pretty sunfish.

This cool wooly bugger is the only fly I fished with today, tied by my friend Josh Williams of Dead Drift Flies. I think it really comes to life in the water, great looking fly.

I feel like the key to my photography is to just take a LOT of photos, because most of them are going to be uninteresting, technically flawed or both. If that’s true above the water’s surface, it is doubly true beneath it. Because you can’t see what you’re shooting, you just pick your settings, hold it underwater and snap away. I took over a hundred underwater pics today (many on ‘burst’ shutter to try to capture movement), and ended up with a half dozen or so keepers. And while the keepers admittedly aren’t that great, I did make some progress in figuring out the settings I like underwater.

On the settings that use a flash, like this one and the photo at the top of the post, to me the photos have almost a surreal look to them.

Well of course, I let this little guy go hoping he would swim toward the camera. No.

I don’t know if you can see these at the top of the picture, but I have a large pod of large carp right off our river bank, and I will figure out how to catch them one day! The largest of these, like the blackish looking one in the top right of the photo, is probably 30″ long and as big around as my thigh. I saw 12-15 carp and some impressive catfish in this hole. I fished to them for a while but they were not interested in my silliness.

And speaking of silly, you find odd things in and around the river all the time. This rubber ducky had a number on the bottom, leftover from an old Brunswick, Maryland Railroad Days game where you buy a number, they release the duckies upstream, and as they catch them downstream there are prizes given out. This wayward fella missed out on the game and was stuck in a little eddie for who knows how long, so I sent him on his way down river.


One Fly Rod, Fifteen Anglers: A Journey


I recently had the privilege of participating in a unique and special project put together by the folks at the Outdoor Blogger Network. Fifteen bloggers from all across the United States were selected to receive this custom-built bamboo fly rod made by Fall River Fly Rods, fish with it, write about it and pass it along to the next blogger on the list. The South Fork model 5-weight rod comes with a beautiful reel from Montana Fly Company loaded with Rio line, and after each has had a turn with it, one participant will get to keep it!

When the rod arrived at my post office, having only made three stops so far (Arizona, New Mexico and Alabama) the shipping tube it came in was already getting the look and feel of a world traveled suitcase with stickers and labels all over it. Inside, the rod case alone is a thing of beauty, but as I took everything out and put it together I was really impressed by the wonderful craftsmanship that went into the rod. I had known for some time that I would be taking part in this, but now it was here, it was real, and it was exciting. I couldn’t wait to get that line wet and fish with this piece of art!

I had to bring this rod to my favorite trout fishing spot in the area, Rose River Farm in scenic Madison County, Virginia. I arrived in the evening, with just enough light left to try for one of the many rising trout I could see along the entire stretch of river at the farm. So I carefully assembled the rod and realized I had a new top priority above even catching fish: Do Not Break This Rod! So, slowing down, methodically stringing the rod and making sure I didn’t do anything stupid like leave the spare rod tip partially out of the case where I could sit on it or something, I was finally ready to fish.

This was my first time fishing with bamboo, and it took a few minutes to get a feel for it. But the learning curve was not as great as I had anticipated. Short casts were difficult, I found, but once I got some line out, I was comfortable with the rod in no time. And with the June light fading in a pink sky, the black water around my fly broke in a burst of life as a rainbow rose to it. Fish on.

This rod is not light, in fact it feels quite stout for a 5-weight. But the tip is very responsive to a fighting fish. I really loved having this rainbow on the line and wanted to savor the moment, but I also needed to make sure I got it all the way to hand so I could get a picture of my first fish on bamboo. My first fish as my part of this rod’s journey.

The next morning brought perfect conditions, a few friends and one very special guest to the farm.

Photo by Steve Hasty.

I had met General Conway (left), retired four star general and the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps, at a Project Healing Waters event a month earlier, and his speech was awe inspiring. This man simply exudes leadership, and it was an honor to spend time with him.

I told the general about the bamboo rod project and asked if he would fish a little bit with it. He graciously agreed, and it was fun to watch him cast this rod so beautifully.

Photo by Steve Hasty.

Here he is with the Outdoor Blogger Network South Fork rod. A big thanks to General Conway for helping add some unique history to the path this rod will take before settling down in one of fifteen permanent homes.

Photo by Steve Hasty.

After a nice lunch with the general, it was time to have some fun with this rod and try to get into some more fish. The dry flies weren’t working anymore, so I tried nymphs and even some streamers. I got very comfortable with the rod trying many different styles and approaches to casting and fishing.

This nice Rose River rainbow fell for my antics and was kind enough to stick around for a photo.

And another.

I released my last fish of the day back into the cool Rose, and closed the book on a fun and memorable day of fishing, thus ending my chapter of this rod’s story. Unless of course I am lucky enough to end up with it in the end, in which case you will see a lot more of this bamboo rod here!

Let’s have one last look at the beautiful Montana Fly Company reel under the water’s surface. Good luck to Joel in South Carolina who has the rod now, and to everyone who will share and add to its unique history. Waters in Vermont, Michigan, Illinois, Utah, Washington and Oregon will see this rod before it’s all said and done. I am proud to have been a part of it all. Thank you to the Outdoor Blogger Network, Fall River Fly Rods, Montana Fly Company and Rio for conceiving such a fun and different project.


Dog Paddlin’


On a hot June Sunday afternoon, not quite ready to give up on the weekend and start the inevitable weekly descent into Monday, I grabbed Winnie and the kayak and hit the water.

With lots of animals and other sights that dogs find fascinating, both in the water and on shore, it’s my job to react quickly when my back seat driver switches sides to check something out.

Here we are on the Potomac River. Paddling upstream with a dog on the back, even in low summer flows, is good exercise for precisely 50% of us.

After a while I opted for the peaceful, slower current of the C&O Canal.

Six legs needed stretching, and those couple beers I brought aren’t gonna drink themselves either. So we took a break.

Before long, though, Winnie was ready to hit the water again. So we floated downstream back to the ramp.

A girl’s gotta dry her hair after a swim! What a fun afternoon with my girl. Winnie is a special dog, and the joy that comes from spending time with her doing things like this is hard to describe. It’s like spending time with a good friend. A friend who never drives, smells bad when she gets wet and always wants a sip of your beer. But a good friend. A best friend.


Healing Those Who Serve


Project Healing Waters held its sixth annual 2-Fly Tournament this past weekend and it was, as it always is, an amazing experience for all involved. Rose River Farm was declared PHW’s national home waters at last year’s event, and it’s a perfect venue for this quickly growing tradition.

Project Healing Waters “is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings,” says their mission statement. An unquestionably noble mission it is, and founder Ed Nicholson’s vision is made possible because countless volunteers and donors and corporations generously give time and money and equipment to support it.

This year’s event was the biggest and best yet! Please visit the PHW web site for more information or to make a donation to this cause that has changed the lives of so many men and women who have sacrificed so much. I hope you enjoy some of the sights from this year’s event…


A time lapse film of all the volunteers and anglers arriving early Sunday morning.


One of the participants’ daughters helping out.


The healing power of simply being in nature can not be understated.


I’ve met many great people through my involvement with PHW. Josh is a friend, a new doting father and one hell of a fly fisherman. You can read more about him and purchase amazing flies from him on his Dead Drift Flies web site.


Douglas Dear, in the foreground here welcoming the participants, works tirelessly all year long on this event and as Chairman of PHW’s board.


It’s hard to find anyone not in a great mood at this event!


Guides like Harold from Spring Creek Outfitters give freely of their time and expertise year after year to make sure the wounded servicemen and women get the very most from their experience.


Oh yeah, there are also some huge trout in the Rose River!


Sometimes captions just aren’t needed.


Choosing the right fly is tough when you only get to choose two for the entire day!


Measuring a catch.


Entertainment, food, logistics…so many people come through to put on an event like this.


Everywhere you turn, moments like this are unfolding. Josh used to play guitar before he lost his arm. So he and Russ teamed up to play a few songs.


We focus a lot on the wounded, and sometimes overlook the sacrifices, the painful adjustments the families of those wounded have to endure. God bless them all.


Eventing in Black and White


Sometimes I forget about black and white. But it’s fun every now and then to shoot in monochrome, and my wife Sandy’s horse show (she is an eventer) seemed like a good opportunity to experiment a bit. Here Sandy puts studs in Emma’s shoes for better traction in cross country.


Getting her own footwear in order.


Emma with her game face on.


Some final adjustments before stadium jumping.


Air Emma.


Chatting with her trainer between stadium and cross country.


Emma after her work day is done.


It was a long day for some! Petey naps in the sun.


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