Words and Images from Ed Felker

Posts tagged “Dogs

2016 Photos of the Year

This year I have put my favorite photos in a SmugMug album. Just click on the image below and it will send you to a slideshow. I think it looks best full screen. You can even purchase prints of any of the photos if you like.

Lots of dogs this year, more people than usual, and no fishing photos made the cut. I think that means I need to fish more in 2017. I hope you enjoy the photos, shares are greatly appreciated and don’t forget to subscribe so you can be notified when something new is posted. Have a happy holiday season and a healthy and prosperous new year!

felker_ltr_crop-copy


Grey

grey2 copy

The other day, for the first time, I noticed grey hair around Winnie’s eyes. It’s not that I never imagined her old, on the contrary in many ways she has always seemed old. But Winnie has seemed more youthful and has played more in the last year with Baby P and Monkey than she probably has her whole life. Our vet, who has known her since she was eight weeks old, recently told me she was the absolute picture of health and fitness, and at a perfect weight. So while the years are starting to stack up (she’ll turn eight this summer), it’s not that I’m worried about her. I guess I just never really expected the age of her body to ever catch up to that of her soul.


2015 Photos of the Year — Canine Edition

There were a lot of dog photos I really liked this year, so I’m breaking up my year-end ‘Best of’ posts into two parts. First up, the Canine Edition. Of course Team Orange, my two Wirehaired Vizslas, feature prominently, but there are some other special guests as well. This regal profile of Finn shows him in his very favorite place, our home waters of the Potomac River during a kayak float.

finnorvis

The Loudouner Magazine assigned me the story about dog-friendly breweries in Loudoun County, VA because they knew I would take my research seriously! Winnie bellies up to the bar at Ocelot Brewing Company and is greeted by Melissa Dozier.

dogbrew01 copy

Also from the Loudouner article, this little fella seems to be eyeing a refreshing pint at Corcoran Brewing Co.

dogbrew03 copy

There is simply nothing better than time spent immersed in nature’s beauty with your best friends.

DSC_2309 copy

Winnie is an observer, always has been. And when it comes to water observation, whether she’s studying minnows or pondering her own reflection, she will do this for a very long time.

DSC_2381orvis

Luna, a Vizsla, belongs to our friend Anna of Syrius Dog. If you need a dog trainer near Charles Town, WV, contact Anna!

DSC_3155 copy

I took the dogs south to Bristol, TN for a most enjoyable week of hiking, fishing and relaxing. I love the late afternoon light in this shot of Winnie who loves resting in cool grass after a nice hike. Who doesn’t?

DSC_4905 copy

The hounds of the Middleburg Hunt.

DSC_5220 copy

Another shot of the Middleburg Hunt hounds.

DSC_5232 copy

These are the Snickersville Hounds following the fresh scent of a fox.

DSC_6266 copy

When Finn comes kayaking with me (he rides in the back), he wants to be in the water so badly that I have to constantly check on him. But Winnie is content to sit up front and calmly watch the river slip by. Kayaking alone with her is precisely as relaxing as it looks in this photo.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My friend Ed is a serious bird hunter. His dogs, like young Ruby here, are incredible bird dogs. But I also love that they are spoiled rotten at home.

rubylowres 3

Finn never ceases to amaze me. This year we started Therapy Dog work through Therapy Dogs International, and it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. I am more proud of this boy than I could ever find words for, but here is a brief essay about how this volunteer work came about.

therapy 2

I would like to convey my sincere thanks to every one of you who visited this blog over the course of the year, I’ve enjoyed sharing a little slice of my world with you, and hope you’ll stay tuned for more in 2016!


One Dog Short on a Three Dog Night
and Other Adventures

Not since the first day I met each of my dogs when I drove them home to Virginia from Illinois — Winnie as a pup during Hurricane Ike, and Finn as a 3-year-old a few years later — have I asked them to join me on a longer journey. And they have never been away from home for an entire week. But months of planning, preparation and waiting were behind us, the truck was packed, and we were ready to go. The plan was two nights of roughing it, camping in a couple of Virginia’s state parks, then a few nights in a fantastic cabin in Bristol, Tennessee. Fall foliage, crisp air, fishing, exploring, relaxing, recharging. But it’s funny, you put two dogs in the back seat of the truck and they don’t know if they’re going to 7-11 or Montana. All road trips start exactly the same to them. So I felt the weight of the responsibility. Obviously they need me to take care of them, to provide for them, to not put them in danger and to not do anything stupid.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our first stop was a lakefront campsite in Virginia’s Douthat State Park. The forecast was for a very cold night, and I’m not a very experienced camper. I got plenty of firewood, warm clothes for me, Winnie’s winter coat and two warm sleeping bags zipped together. We set up camp, fished a little in the stocked lake there, went for a hike, took pictures, lit a fire, cooked, ate, opened a beer and relaxed. But as soon as the sun set, the cold pushed down from the cloudless sky, and I wanted to get settled while we were all still warm from the fire. We all got in the sleeping bag and I just waited for the temperature to drop. I did not have to wait long, and only slept in fits and starts. I kept checking Winnie, who is more sensitive to cold than Finn. She wore her coat in the sleeping bag at my feet and seemed plenty warm. During the night, however, Finn hooked a leg outside the sleeping bag and as he moved, the bag unzipped. His restlessness woke me up and when I figured out what happened, I could feel cold air just pouring in on him. I got him zipped back up and we slept a little bit, but by 5 a.m., we had all had enough. The inside of the tent was covered in ice, and all the warmth saved in the sleeping bag was gone the instant I unzipped it. After a quick and cold bathroom break (it was 20 degrees), I turned on the truck, put the dogs in the back seat and turned on the heat. After a while we ate some breakfast to warm us up. I sat there between them as they ate and their tails wagged as I talked to them. We had made it through a pretty uncomfortable night, but we were all fine. I felt the temperature dip a bit, as it always seems to before dawn, and I looked up to see more stars than I can ever remember seeing in my entire life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The plan for the next night was to camp at an even higher elevation with a similar forecast, setting up a tent that is now lined with ice, over a wet sleeping bag and air mattress. We held a team meeting and decided we would not do that. Instead, we would push farther southwest, go for an afternoon hike, and find a warm place to stay that night. We hiked to the Great Channels of Virginia, a vigorous, 6 mile out-and-back with a big elevation gain, beautiful and well maintained trails through steep and rugged terrain, and a hand written sign on a kiosk at the entrance announcing bears had been seen in the area. Every blind curve in the trail had the potential of surprising a bear, so I talked to the dogs the whole time to make some extra noise in the wind. They must have been thinking, “has he lost his mind? Yeah, we get it, we’re good dogs. We heard you the first four hundred times.” It’s also archery season there, so my deer colored dogs tried out the Ruffwear Track Jackets I ordered especially for this trip. I am really impressed with them. Walking, climbing, running, shaking, leash, no leash…these vests never budged from their intended position.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After that first frigid night, somewhere between two and four hours of sleep and a strenuous hike, all three of us were pretty happy to cancel our camping reservation near Mt. Rogers and camp at the Days Inn Bristol, VA instead.

IMG_7963 copy

The next day we stopped and talked to the fine folks at Mountain Sports Ltd. I wanted to see some beautiful scenery but none of us were in the mood for a big hike that day. The staff there recommended a pretty stretch of the Virginia Creeper Trail near Damascus, VA. What a gem this trail is, 35 miles of former railroad bed transformed into a trail for hiking, biking and horseback riding.

IMG_7995

There are definitely trout in the beautiful Whitetop Laurel River that parallels the Creeper Trail, but I had my hands full with the dogs, camera and tripod so I didn’t bother trying to fish.

DSC_4554 copy

With the exception of the first night being twenty degrees colder than I was really prepared for, the weather the entire week was simply spectacular. Fall foliage was stunning everywhere I went.

DSC_4559 copy

Speaking of the Days Inn Bristol and Mountain Sports, Ltd., where the dogs were welcomed, I want to acknowledge the other establishments along the way and in Bristol, Virginia and Tennessee that welcomed the three of us. Starting on the top left, Shenandoah Valley Brewing Co., Staunton, VA; Queen City Brewing, Staunton, VA; Redbeard Brewing Co., Staunton, VA; Burger Bar, Bristol, VA; Holston River Brewing Co., Bristol, TN; Bristol Brewery, Bristol, VA; State Line Bar & Grill, Bristol, TN; and the brand new Cabelas, Bristol, VA. I am always very appreciative of businesses that allow and welcome dogs.

stores

Walking around Bristol was fun. It’s a cool town best known as the birthplace of country music. I stopped to admire one of the many murals on the sides of buildings there and the dogs sidled up close to me as they do on city sidewalks. Then Winnie stood on my foot. I include this photo here because I love moments like this, even though I can’t really explain why.

IMG_8063 copy

It was time to check in to the cabin where we would be staying for the rest of the week. And oh my, what a cabin it is. I unloaded the truck, spread the tent and sleeping bag out to dry and then we just relaxed. More perfect weather, a few tasty local beers, a great local pizza and an early night made for a perfect evening.

DSC_4905 copy

The next day we met Orvis fishing guide Patrick Fulkrod who took us out on the beautiful Watauga River. This was an amazing day that I chronicled in more detail in my previous blog post, Brown Trout, Orange Dogs.

IMG_8142 copyPhoto by Patrick Fulkrod

I love my dogs, obviously, but one of the main reasons I genuinely enjoy their company in all sorts of situations is that they are well behaved and under control. We don’t do any formal training anymore, but every day is filled with “teachable moments,” and spending the time required to have dogs that listen and respond to commands is absolutely one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Reflecting on the trip so far, it has been neat to watch how differently they each respond to new situations. Sometimes predictably, sometimes not, but always differently. Finn typically wants to know what is on my mind, what I expect of him, what we are going to do together next, while Winnie is usually off dancing to the beat of a drum only she can hear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cabin at dusk. Shortly before this photo, I was leaning on the tailgate messing with the timer on my camera when the dogs barked. I had been seeing deer all day so I didn’t give it much thought, and just told them to stay. When I looked up, just off to the right of the chairs in this photo was a Momma black bear and two cubs. The dogs had never seen bears before, and even I was impressed that they stayed. But, safety first, if you haven’t gathered yet by now, so I put them in the back seat of the truck, quickly went back to the camera and tried to get a photo. But it was too late. Literally every setting on the camera was wrong — manual focus, timer, long exposure, low ISO — so I just watched as the mother turned back toward the woods and left, cubs scampering quickly behind. It was exhilerating to see them so close, and another proud moment of dog ownership.

DSC_4943 copy

I didn’t get to fish the South Holston on this trip, but before we hit the road home I walked down to take a photo in the morning mist. Next time, SoHo.

DSC_4957 copy

We had all day to get home, so when I saw a sign for Hungry Mother State Park, a park I’ve heard a lot about, I decided to swing through and check it out. It. Is. Stunning. What a beautiful, serene lake. I really want to come back here with the kayak and camp for a few nights.

DSC_4958 copy

Still feeling like we were approaching the end of the vacation too quickly, I detoured off the mundane, terrible Rt. 81 and enjoyed a stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway from about Roanoke to Lexington. My God, the foliage was astounding. The best I have ever seen in Virginia, in fact.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But it’s a good life, I think, when home calls as strongly as the beautiful new places we discover, and we were all anxious to get there. Back on the highway, I put the windows up and the hammer down. I turned music on for the first time in over 300 miles, never having noticed its absence. And from the back seat, dogs smelling of wood smoke snored, and dreamt their very different dreams together.

IMG_8102 copy


Brown Trout, Orange Dogs

During the planning phase of this trip, which started over eight months ago, I knew I wanted to fish with veteran guide Patrick Fulkrod. Patrick was named the 2014 Orvis-Endorsed Guide of the Year and has worked hard to earn the reputation as “The Man” in the area of Tennessee’s South Holston River. All summer long I’ve been admiring the stunning brown trout he was putting his clients on. But having my two dogs with me was the most important aspect of this vacation, so I told Patrick maybe we could just wade fish somewhere. He said nonsense, the fishing is much better from the drift boat, and told me to absolutely bring the dogs. I gave him many opportunities to change his mind on this, but he knew it was important to me, and insisted. On the morning of the float, the flow on the South Holston was less than favorable, so Patrick opted to take us out on the nearby Watauga River.

DSC_4634 copy

Finn and Winnie are good dogs who tend to take new experiences in stride, but I had no idea how they would react to a drift boat. They kayak with me regularly, and from those experiences I had a concern. I can not fish with Finn in the kayak. He gets so excited when he sees a fish, he just loses his mind. So I had visions of Finn jumping out of the boat, and Patrick having to row downstream after him, stirring up fish in the process. My dogs wear Ruffwear Float Coat life vests while on the water for safety, and also for ease in lifting them back in the boat if they do end up in the water. So I got their vests on and headed to the boat. Winnie couldn’t wait to get in, and immediately settled into her spot to my right in the front of the boat. Finn is kind of clumsy and awkward and bull/china-shoppy, but we got him situated to my left, and were ready to launch.

IMG_8003 copy

Before long, the first test arrived in the form of a little rainbow trout. Patrick showed the fish to Finn and explained the custom of kissing the fish. Finn was excited but gentle, and from that moment on I knew I didn’t have to worry about the dogs. They were having as much fun as we were on this picture perfect fall day.

DSC_4582 copy

When I caught the first brown trout of the day I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Browns are my favorite, and these are the most beautiful I’ve ever had the privilege to see and hold.

DSC_4613 copy

Underwater photos are hit and miss, and the ratio is extremely heavy on the miss side. So I was thrilled with this, the only underwater shot of the day, of Patrick releasing a beautiful brown trout into the cool waters of the Watauga.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finn and Patrick spent a lot of time admiring each other, and we weren’t ten minutes into the float before the bond was permanent.

patrickfinn

Winnie, being Winnie, spent the float by my side, leaning on the gunwale, soaking in the sun and the sights. Observing. The personalities of these two dogs are so very different, they complement each other in ways I never could have anticipated. They were an absolute joy to have along on this vacation.

20151021-IMG_8816Photo by Patrick Fulkrod

One of the many things about Patrick as a guide that I admire and appreciate is that he understands how important photographic memories are to clients, and he works hard at making sure he captures quality images for every angler he guides. When the drive home is behind you, when you’re back home in your routine and the alarm starts going off early for the office instead of the river, when the colors of Tennessee trout have faded in your mind and the azure blue sky and water of autumn shift to the cold grey of winter, all it takes is a photograph like this one to bring it all back.

20151021-IMG_8825Photo by Patrick Fulkrod

Brilliant sunshine and brown trout go beautifully together. These are just stunning fish.

DSC_4598 copy

I don’t know anything about rowing a drift boat. But I do know that this is a lot of weight in the front of the boat, and I’m not talking about that fish on the line either. But Patrick was focused entirely on making sure I was happy and the dogs were comfortable. If the rowing was made more difficult as a result (Hint: It most certainly was), Patrick never gave me the slightest indication.

20151021-IMG_8845Photo by Patrick Fulkrod

At one point, Patrick pulled the boat to the shore so the dogs could go pee. I don’t have photos of the goat rodeo that ensued so just admire another brown trout as you try to imagine it, but it was comical. As is their way, Finn was clumsy and Winnie was odd. Together at one point Finn was doing that thing you’ve seen in cartoons where his front legs are on shore and his back legs are on the boat, of course pushing it farther and farther away. Meanwhile, Winnie is in the water, swimming an orbit around the boat. We aborted this attempt and opted for a more friendly shoreline downstream, but not before those Ruffwear Float Coat handles were effectively utilized. I was able to easily bring the dogs back under control, securing Finn and lifting Winnie straight out of the water and into the boat. Ruffwear puts a lot of practical thought into the design of their products, and I will not trust my dogs to any other life vest.

DSC_4580 copy

Taking dogs out of their normal routine is very tiring for them. So Finn and Winnie slept hard every night, whether in a freezing sleeping bag, a dumpy hotel room or a truly wonderful cabin in the woods. In between they napped in the truck, on the floor of several brew pubs, in front of campfires, on sunny leaves and shady porches, and even here in the boat. It meant the world to me to be able to have these dogs with me on this float, and I can’t thank Patrick enough for his hospitality in that regard. It was easily one of my all time favorite float trips.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto by Patrick Fulkrod

To book a truly enjoyable, memorable float on the South Holston or Watauga River with Patrick, contact Mountain Sports Ltd. in Bristol, TN by clicking here.

To learn about and order the Ruffwear Float Coat, click here.


Sip, Stay
Loudoun County’s Dog-Friendly Brew Pubs

I recently wrote a story for Loudouner Magazine, spotlighting dog-friendly brewpubs in Loudoun County, Virginia where I live. It was a fun story to research, write and photograph. However, there were a lot of photos I loved that just couldn’t fit in the article. So I wanted to put my favorites in a blog post.

Winnie, my 7-year-old Wirehaired Vizsla, gets a warm greeting from Ocelot Brewing’s Operations Manager Melissa Dozier.

dogbrew01 copy

Mylo, a 2-year-old mixed breed rescue dog, visits Belly Love with Jake, Pauliina and Eveliina, who came out from DC. Eveliina, holding the leash, said they would not have come to Loudoun without Mylo.

dogbrew02 copy

Chocky, a 4-year-old Chihuahua Yorkie mix, eyes a pint at Purcellville’s Corcoran Brewing Co., a local favorite among dog owning patrons.

dogbrew03 copy

My good friend Laura Murphy enjoys a Pale Ale on the porch of Old 690 with Tracer, a very cool 4-year-old mixed breed.

dogbrew04 copy

Jackie Hill, Corcoran Brewing Co.’s Events Coordinator and Lead Bartender, loves it when dogs come in. “They put a smile on everyone’s face,” she says. Here she greets my Wirehaired Vizslas Finn and Winnie (“Team Orange”) with a big smile of her own.

dogbrew05 copy

Leesburg resident Rob relaxes on the porch at Belly Love with 4-year-old German Shepherd, Austin. Belly Love owner Katie Baki, who has three dogs, says people call often to see if they are dog friendly.

dogbrew06 copy

Finn and Winnie take a break on a hot day to relax on the cool ground at Quattro Goomba’s brewery.

dogbrew07 copy

Sweet Cheeks, an eighteen month old pointer mix rescue, enjoys the air conditioned brewery at Quattro Goomba on a hot day as Dan Saleeba watches the game from the other end of the leash.

dogbrew08 copy

Roger Sultan, from Ashburn, enjoys a pint on the patio at Dirt Farm Brewing with Anna, a year and a half old lab beagle mix rescue. The Sultans are glad that Anna gets to participate in the family fun.

dogbrew09 copy

Walt, a 2 year old Golden Retriever owned by Nicole Cerula from Hamilton, watches from the patio as children play on the expansive lawn of Dirt Farm Brewing.

dogbrew10 copy

Dogs are welcome inside these Loudoun County breweries:

Corcoran Brewing Co. (Purcellville)

Crooked Run Brewing (Leesburg)

Dirt Farm Brewing (Bluemont)

Ocelot Brewing Company (Sterling)

Quattro Goomba Brewery (Aldie)

These breweries have dog friendly porches, decks or patios:

Adroit Theory Brewing (Purcellville)

Belly Love Brewing Company (Purcellville)

Lost Rhino Retreat (Ashburn)

MacDowell Brew Kitchen (Leesburg)

Old 690 Brewing Company (Purcellville)

Old Ox Brewery (Ashburn)

For more about Loudoun’s awesome breweries, check out Brewdoun, a great site that keeps tabs (heh) on the entire Loudoun County craft beer scene!

Visit Loudoun has also developed what they call the LoCo Ale Trail, you can check that out on the Visit Loudoun site here.


Bring Me a Dog

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A couple years ago I walked around a festival in Richmond with my friend Jay and my dog, Finn. We had all run together in a mud run/5K thing and were enjoying post-race beers and people watching. I started noticing it for the first time then, that people gravitated toward Finn. Sometimes seemingly without knowing it, they would veer slightly as they walked toward us, close enough to absently run fingers down his back as they passed, or they would rest a hand on his head as he stood next to them in a beer line. He was popular, and countless people asked about him or complimented him, but these subtle gestures were somehow more special.

At a local festival this spring, a young girl with Down Syndrome knelt in front of Finn in the grass. He sat quietly as she hugged him and whispered to him for a long while, finally separating and yelling to her Mother, “Mommy this dog loves me!” She spoke the truth.

This summer the young son of a friend met Finn out in public and put his hands on the sides of Finn’s head and said quietly, not for me to hear but just for Finn, “I love you, too.”

I am not, despite whatever my presence on social media seems to suggest, a people person. But the more time I spend with this dog, the more I realized how selfish it is for me to keep him all to myself. If ever there was a dog perfectly designed from scratch to be a therapy dog, it is Finn. We studied, we took the test, we filed the paperwork, and Finn became a therapy dog.

I chose a nearby facility that is already familiar with the therapy dog program we are enrolled in, and today – National Dog Day of all days – was our very first official visit. Half of us was nervous.

The staff could not have been more welcoming, and knowing they were aware this was our first visit put me at ease. I can’t take photos of patients and don’t want to discuss even in vague terms the types of afflictions and disabilities we encountered today, but it warmed my heart to see that dogs are blind to everything but a person’s heart and soul. We visited with ten or twelve residents, and what I saw and heard tonight made me more proud than I can ever remember being of anything my whole life.

He stood quietly as we waited, moved out of the way in hallways and elevators. He sat next to people in wheelchairs and moved closer when they could not reach him. He refused food offered to him despite being inches away from a bowl of fruit. He laid his head down sideways on laps and stayed there for easy petting. He sat still patiently when one woman could barely move her hands enough to rub the back of his neck. He shook hands to the great delight of one resident, who made him repeat the trick for those in the room not paying adequate attention. He filled the room with curiosity and laughter and conversation, about his name, his breed, his handsomeness, his disposition, his eyes. He started people telling stories about dogs in their lives, dogs long gone.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. But if I live far longer than I think I will, and one day find myself in a dining hall like the one I was in today, for the love of God, someone, please, bring me a dog. Bring me a dog that sits still for a pat on the head and reminds me with a nudge when I forget to keep patting. Bring me a dog that leans in my lap and wags his tail with the slightest touch or softest word. Bring me a dog that somehow makes me feel more loved than anyone else in the room, then moves to the next person and makes them feel it too. Bring me a dog that makes me remember what it feels like to share years with the very special dogs that warm my feet and fill my heart this very moment.

Bring me that, and I can go in peace.


Reflection

DSC_2381 copy

I won’t pretend that my 24 hours off the grid this weekend even remotely resembled a backcountry excursion into peril. No, this was camping in comfort with my two best friends, Wirehaired Vizslas Winnie and Finn. It was fly fishing for pond bass, a roaring campfire and ice cold beer. It was a wood fire grilled New York Strip steak at dusk cooked to perfection and big enough to share with the dogs. It was perfect weather, a star filled night and a steady breeze. This was glamping, plain and simple. But even setting up my truck tent on the familiar grounds of my friend’s Rose River Farm puts me far enough away from civilization that I was able to (okay, forced to) disconnect from my phone for a day. And as I get more and more dependent on that connectivity — from constant texts, emails and calls to Googling questions the moment they pop into my head instead of taking the time to sit and ponder a thing — the more value there is in unplugging for a bit.

tent1

Speaking of pondering, Winnie immediately took to the pond not to swim and hunt toads and do whatever it is normal dogs do, but to simply stand there. It’s her thing, her zen. She stood here the entire time it took me to set up camp and then for a good hour beyond that. She’ll turn her head toward a rising fish, but has no interest in further investigation. I do not know what’s on her mind, but I figure it can’t be all that different than what’s on mine when I step into a cool stream with a fly rod.

DSC_2318 copy

Fly fishing for bass with poppers is a blast when the topwater action is on. And in the evening, it was on. Nothing too big, but lots of splashy fun all around the pond edges. Finn and Winnie watched with great interest. I actually have to keep Finn in a ‘Stay’ a fair distance away from me as he can not be trusted with a fish on the line. If he’s too close, the splashing fish sends him into a crazybananafrenzy and he can not help but dive in after it. (Pro Tip: Make sure you do not have a dog like this before you try kayak fishing with him.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But the pond will be there all night. It was time to lighten the beer cooler a bit and get the fire started. I don’t think I would have any interest in camping if I couldn’t have a fire. It was through the first wafts of wood smoke that the initial oddness and that dull, background anxiety of not having a cell signal started to feel more like a benefit than an inconvenience. And from that point on I was no longer interested in who was trying to contact me, what was trending on facebook or even what time it was. It was simply time to start a fire and open a beer.

DSC_2309 copy

Dogs, like people I suppose, are very routine animals. The whens and wheres of eating and sleeping are a big part of their lives, so I wondered how they would react to a complete changeup on this, their first camping adventure. Turns out they literally could not care less. They ate their dinner around the fire while I grilled my steak, then they shared some of mine. They were comfortable and utterly relaxed the entire evening. After dinner, Winnie fit in some more pond standing time, I did a little night fishing and the beer cooler got lighter still. We watched the stars for a bit, all silently agreed this was a fine way to spend a weekend, and we called it a night.

tent6

I mentioned this Napier Outdoors truck tent and Airbedz air mattress in an earlier review and I stand by what I said. Both these products perform extremely well, and it’s just an extraordinarily comfortable setup. The dogs loved stretching out but still being next to me, and we all slept like logs. Until, in the middle of the night, we were awakened by what I would describe as a Blood Curdling Cacophony Of Odd And Terrible Animal Noises. Before I even realized I was awake, the dogs and I were kneeling in front of the side window of the tent, staring into darkness. In the hazy, jittery half sleep that comes with abrupt awakenings, my brain could not make sense of the sounds. Later, in the light of day my brain told me they were coyotes, but the cackling, crying and screaming was definitely not what I thought a pack of coyotes would sound like. The dogs never barked, and I was glad for the low tech brand of radio silence not to give away our location. We went back to sleep easily and awoke at dawn, happy, rested and not surrounded by coyotes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The agenda for the next morning was to explore Skyline Drive and find a new spot to hike. As we entered Skyline Drive I purchased an annual pass. Shenandoah National Park is one of my favorite places and I happily support it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in the entire park. The hike to it, even when taking the longer loop, is only about three miles, with a moderate elevation gain enough to get your heart pumping. With a long drive back home still ahead of us, this looked like a great way to get a little exercise and not keep us out all day.

hike

The overlooks (there are four) along the way are spectacular. And photos are a must at the highest point in Shenandoah National Park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Coming home from camping trips with my Dad as a kid, we always stopped at Whitey’s, a North Arlington, VA mainstay with a big sign out front that read: EAT. It was just a few miles from home, but my Dad always stopped there no matter the time of day or night. He would have a Budweiser in one of those thick, heavy, frosted mugs, and I’d have an identical mug of A&W root beer. We would order burgers. Back in the day, Whitey himself was sometimes there in the last booth along the wall, under the deer mount with Christmas lights on the antlers. My Dad would pretend to calculate how much grief my Mom would give him for keeping me out late on a school night, then order us another round. We would, each in our own way, embrace those little extensions of our weekend. Done with fishing and camping and canoeing and sunburn and mosquito bites, done with cleaning and loading and securing and double checking it all, but not quite ready to be home. It’s there, it’s close. But not yet. On this camping trip, the role of Whitey’s was played by Shawn’s Smokehouse BBQ in Culpeper. This time my mug was filled with Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager, and while I ate every bite of my pulled pork sandwich, the mac and cheese was split three ways.

lunch

But delaying the trip home doesn’t mean you don’t like home. It just means you found something special while you were away, even for just a day. And if you take the time to reflect on it a little more, maybe you’ll remember it better. Or bring a bit of what you found home with you. So we ate slowly, savoring the last morsels of our first camping trip together. And when the time was right we headed north, with full bellies, full hearts, and all the windows down.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Seven.

winnieriver

I asked her what she wanted to do this evening for her birthday.
She thought for a second and asked, “Anything? Whatever I want?”
“Of course,” I said. “You only turn seven once.”
Then she told me quietly, what she wanted to do more than anything else, was to wade up to her chest in the river, and stand there until the sun went down.
Who am I to judge? On my seventh birthday I asked for meatloaf.
“Let’s go,” I said. And we did.
I brought a toy to throw in case she got bored, but she didn’t.
After a while she turned to me and said, “In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.”
“Wow,” I said. “Did you just come up with that?”
“I’m a dog, you idiot,” She said. “da Vinci. Read a book.”
We laughed and laughed.
Then we both turned back to the river, and watched until the sky and the water were the same color. And then we went home.


Antlers, Birds and Exercise

It was a fantastic day to get out and enjoy a sunny day romping in the woods with Team Orange. We all needed the exercise, and I figured maybe we’d get lucky and find an antler along the way. Exercise was the main goal, though, as I’ve become increasingly skeptical that I will ever find another antler. So we headed to a friend’s property and hit the trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We weren’t ten minutes into our hike when my “bird dogs” kicked up what I thought at first was a ruffed grouse along the trail. The thing made a huge racket and startled all of us. This happened a few more times, and when they kicked up one in tight cover and the bird had nowhere to go but straight at my face, I realized it was a woodcock. I was sure because I could very clearly see the distinctive beak as it nearly speared me in the forehead. Later we came across a scene where something had enjoyed a meal of a bird. There were a lot of these striped feathers in the debris field. I don’t know if these belong to a woodcock or not, but the only other birds I saw in those woods today were little songbirds and pileated woodpeckers. You can see a couple of the feathers at Winnie’s feet below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s a better look, but when the sun hit these the white parts were brilliant white…

IMG_4537

We got through the woods and started following deer trails and bed areas in tall grass. Both my dogs walked over this little antler before it came into view, and I couldn’t even get them excited about it once I found it. But I was plenty excited! This is actually the first fresh shed I’ve ever found. My few previous finds have been at least a year old. So this little guy is special. I love picking up an antler, knowing I’m the first human to ever touch it.

IMG_4519

So let me get you up to speed: My dogs are as worthless at finding antlers as they are at finding birds. It’s a good thing they are extraordinarily fine company. Finn did find this feather, which I think came from a wild turkey.

IMG_4528

While it was a very windy day, the sun was warm and we were covering a lot of ground. So the dogs were psyched to take a swim break in the pond.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I happened upon another, larger antler, one that my dogs actually stepped on as they passed it. A really cool find.

IMG_4520

You may have noticed from the turkey feather photo that I’ve been working on perfecting the technique of focusing the camera so the background is crystal clear, but the central object in the foreground has a nice, soft, blurred focus applied to it. It’s tricky to get right, but I’ve gotten very good at it.

IMG_4521

So two nice antler finds, lots of exercise and fresh air, and we all had a great time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The fitbit showed why I was draggin’ ass up the last few hills back to the truck. Total distance for the day was eight hilly miles.

IMG_4534

And so it was a day filled with life’s simple pleasures. A place to run. An antler here and there. Good company. That burn in the legs, that signal from your body that it appreciates the effort you put in today. And a sunny day warm enough to roll down the windows, turn up the music, and just breathe it all in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


2014, My Year in Photos

DSC_1518

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.

bayboat

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.

2

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.

chrome

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

DSC_0088

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.

DSC_0743

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!

DSC_1032

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

DSC_1391

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.

DSC_1842

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

DSC_3384

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.

DSC_3725

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.

DSC_4113

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.

DSC_5615

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

DSC_6201

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.

DSC_7530

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

gatemonarch

Sunset, Potomac River, Harpers Ferry, WV.

hferry

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

IMG_0038

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

petvalufelker

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.

platformfallfinn

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

sharp

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.

DCIM100GOPRO

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.


Good Friends, Bad Maps and Sandwich Thieves

There are ten mile hikes over rocky terrain with severe elevation gains, and there are inadvertent ten mile hikes over rocky terrain with severe elevation gains. This weekend featured the latter.

Last month when I did this hike in Shenandoah National Park and saw some great wildlife, there was a sign near the trailhead that pointed to some waterfalls that didn’t seem too far. So I planned on returning, this time with Team Orange and joined by my friend Monica, to hike a bit farther up the trail to find the falls. From the looks of the map it seemed we had just a few miles ahead of us, so we weighed ourselves down with camera gear and water and set out along the beautiful Rose River.

DSC_8189

I liked the nice wide trail — actually a fire road — and the fact that it frequently intersected with the river so the dogs could cool off and get a drink along the way, without me having to get water and a bowl out of my pack. Here Monica photographs the beautiful scenery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Okay so we walked and walked and walked, and made a wrong turn and walked some more. The wrong turn was an educated guess, reached by referring to the photo I took of the map at the trail head, and the fact that we were looking for Dark Hollow Falls, and the trail was marked Upper Dark Hollow Falls Trail. This is, I believe, a typo on the map, as I think the actual name is the Absolutely Unrelated To Dark Hollow Falls In Any Way Trail. But we corrected that mistake and set off again for miles and miles of walking without intersecting the trail we were looking for. Here we stopped for a little break, because of all the miles of walking, every bit of which has been uphill to this point. You know who loves pretzels? Team Orange loves pretzels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At one point we passed a woman hiker coming the other way. We asked how far to Dark Hollow Falls and she said make a right after a half mile or so. My map was showing a left turn, not a right. So I didn’t trust her answer. A couple minutes later a second hiker came through and we posed the same question. “Dark Hollow Falls? It’s maybe four miles or so.” Um, what? I finally got a cell signal and checked Google Maps. We were on the right trail, but just weren’t making any real progress. Confused and weary, we decided to head back. The good news was, it was all downhill. The bad news was, we never saw the waterfalls and it was a long way back to the car. But we finally ended up at the parking lot, where we eased our aching feet and rewarded ourselves with an icy cold beer. Finn thought that after ten miles, even cool gravel seemed a great spot to rest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Monica and Finn really connected on this hike. I don’t know how much of this was the pretzels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some brook trout fishermen showed up at the parking lot and we got to talking about our endless hike to nowhere. They explained that, inexplicably, the posted map at the trailhead shows an area starting about four miles up the fire road we hiked. This explains our confusion, the wrong turn, the endless walking and still not reaching our destination. It seems another mile (two miles round trip) would have brought us to the Falls, but ten miles was more than enough for me. Next time we’ll take a different route. The anglers snapped a photo of our weary crew. I had picked up some subs on the way, planning on a late picnic lunch. But we were much later than I planned, so we decided to call it a day and head home. I took Monica’s sub out of the cooler and brought it to her car, then walked back to my car and got in. Finn had moved from the back compartment up to the back seat, which was unusual but Winnie rode in the back seat on the way down so I gathered they had discussed the matter and decided it would be Finn’s turn on the way home. Fine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I put all the windows down and was enjoying the refreshing breeze. As I accelerated, I noticed some bright green paper blowing around the interior. I turned and looked at the back seat. Finn was standing on the seat, head out the window, happy as a clam, and standing on torn bits of weird green paper and…what is that? Oh. It’s a mayonnaise packet. Well the mayo packet put the green paper into context. It’s the paper wrapping that used to contain my delicious and hard earned Sheetz club sub on pretzel bread. Bastard. I replayed the last few minutes and figured he had about a minute to jump into the back seat, grab the sub and snarf it before I returned to the car. At one point Monica and I both heard Winnie bark once from the back, which is odd. Now I think she was probably reacting to Finn’s decision to help himself to lunch. Nobody likes a narc, Winnie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This was reminiscent of the first full day Finn and I ever spent together. I had picked him up in Illinois and was bringing him to his new home back in Virginia when we stopped for a picnic lunch. Anxious to share a picture of my new companion to my friends, I thought it would be funny to pose him at the picnic table with a soda and a sandwich in front of him as if he were a spoiled dog who ate people food. He waited until my eye was in the viewfinder, altering my depth perception just enough that I was unable to react when he snagged the sammich and snarfed it in seconds, literally throwing it down his throat like a shark hammering a seal. Sandwich gone. But he had just started his new life with me. Maybe he wasn’t sure if I would ever feed him, and he was just securing nourishment whenever it was available. But by now he knows I feed him. Still, it’s hard to get mad at Finn, let alone stay mad. He had worked up quite an appetite too.

stealing

And it’s hard to be upset at a stupid map whose misdirection led only to time spent in fun company getting a whole lot of exercise which I sorely need. Next time, though, I will do a bit more research before trying a new hike.


Happy Birthday, Winnie!

We drove hundreds of miles through the torrential rains of Hurricane Ike to an otherwise quiet corner of Western Illinois. Our destination: Seraphim Kennels, and an eight week old female Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla with a yellow ribbon around her neck. On our return trip we joined the storm for a few more stops on its Ransack the Midwest Tour, dodging flooded highways and searching for hotels in towns with no electricity before we were finally able to put Ike in our rear view mirror somewhere in southern Ohio. Seraphim My Ride’s Here, or “Winnie,” was calm and quiet throughout the fairly tense ordeal of getting home. She didn’t want to pee in the rain — a preference she retains to this day. So I carried her to a grassy spot and held the umbrella over her until she did. Sandy snapped this photo of us returning from a flooded patch of lawn behind a gas station, and it remains one of my favorite photos of her.

DSCN0409

Like a lot of photos, it has special meaning not just because of the image, but because it makes me remember how I felt at the time. I was nervous and excited, trying to process the huge responsibility I was undertaking while not entirely convinced I could even safely get back to Virginia through the storm. But as I held her close under an umbrella battered with rain that seemed to come down in streams rather than drops, I could feel her warmth and it calmed my nerves. She had just been taken away from the only people and dogs she ever knew, and was already far away with strange people in a strange car traveling through violent conditions, yet I sensed her trust in me. I don’t know if you have ever had anything trust you more than you trust yourself, but let me tell you, it’s a motivator.

4

Sixteen hundred nerve wracking miles later, we were home with our new addition. And every day since I have tried to earn the trust she gave me when she had no reason to. She was a good puppy and took to obedience training extremely well. Why, in a matter of just a couple weeks we took her to her first of our town’s Octoberfest celebrations. She might not remember them all, but she hasn’t missed one yet!

1

She spent some time in the field and has pointed, fetched and returned birds for me. But she does this because I ask her to, not because she likes it. She hates the gun, actually, so she is not a bird dog.

5

She earned her UKC championship at six months of age, but she only did it because I asked her to. She didn’t like being around a lot of other dogs, so she doesn’t have to do that anymore either.

3

No, from a very early age, and without a conscious decision, it just came to be that there was a separate set of rules for Winnie. Somehow, seemingly at birth, she had already earned the special treatment that is usually reserved for either that older dog who has proven himself in the field, or a dog who once saved your life. If all the dogs are sent outside on a hot summer day, Winnie stays in the air conditioning.

6

She hates the cold but loves the snow. She loves beer, lying on her side in cool grass, and toys with ropes attached.

7

She loves being around water but isn’t crazy about swimming. This makes her a wonderful kayaking companion, as she is quite content getting paddled around while she watches fish and birds and leaves floating in the river.

DCIM100GOPRO

She’s content being alone. She’s always been an observer of things, and I’ve caught her doing it for long spans of time. I used to think she was just staring at nothing. But then I realized she’s doing what I do, she’s not looking at nothing. She’s looking at everything.

8

Which is one of many reasons she is my once in a lifetime dog. Neither of us minds being alone, but we genuinely enjoy each other’s company. And she’s easy to be around. She seems to sense when I need to sit in still silence, or to lean on her a bit, and she’s always there for playful, happy times too. If these things sound familiar, well, you’ve probably described your best friend too.

9

Happy 6th Birthday to Winnie. Whatever it is that made me deserve this dog, I haven’t done yet. But I’ll keep trying.


4th of July Weekend Fun

The entire Dispatches from the Potomac staff took the three-day weekend off to celebrate this cherished American holiday by enjoying time surrounded by friends, nature and, of course, dogs. Here’s a quick photo tour of the weekend…

I’ll admit it, I’ve been pretty slack about getting these dogs out on hikes. They forgive me, but could not hide their excitement early Friday morning when they realized we were going somewhere fun. Seeing these mugs in my rear view mirror makes my heart smile.

DSC_7314

We did an easy five or six miles on the C&O Canal Towpath, from Knoxville, MD to Harpers Ferry, WV and back. This is about a mile downstream of Harpers Ferry on the Potomac River.

teamorangepotomac

(Scene Missing: Insert a blurry montage of grilling meat, lighting fireworks, viewing fireworks and perhaps enjoying a beer or two from Friday night to Sunday morning.)

The alarm was set early on Sunday, as my friend Chris and I were ready to catch some Smallmouth from kayaks before dawn. I brought my Nikon, but light conditions were challenging. Some neat fog was rising off the water for quite a while when we started, but I struggled capturing enough light to really show it. Anyway, a few turned out well, this is Chris with the great state of Virginia behind him.

DSC_7404

Chris just got this Wilderness Systems Ride 115X, this float was the maiden voyage! This kayak seems just perfectly suited for river fishing, and Chris said it’s super comfortable too. He added a nice new Werner paddle to complete the package!

DSC_7525

As a photographic outing, not much was going well. I had recorded a dozen or so blurry Great Blue Heron images on the memory card, and the bright sun was ruining all the river shots. But when I came across this scene I took a lot of photos, hoping I was able to capture even a fraction of the subtle shades and colors I was enjoying. This is my favorite of those shots, and a clear candidate for my Photos of the Year post at the end of 2014.

DSC_7530

The fishing was slow. I hooked a nice smallie early, we both saw it jump and it looked like it was gonna be fun, but he spit the hook out in mid-air, and that was the last big fish I saw. This was the only fish I got in the boat, and he damn near escaped before I could take a picture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve been meaning to take this detour up Catoctin Creek off the Potomac, so we explored it a bit. The water is much colder back here, but we saw very little evidence of active fish.

edyak

After a little break, and some sad looks from Team Orange, I decided to head back out Sunday afternoon to go for a spin. My new Dead Drift Flies sticker looks great on my Native Watercraft Slayer 14.5!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finn watching our six, and looking great in his Ruffwear Float Coat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I had a wonderful weekend and got lots of exercise in perfect weather. I hope you all had a great and safe holiday! It’s back to reality. For now.


Here.

The moment the camera shutter closed on this image from the banks of the Rose River might just be when it all started.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My friend Douglas casts for trout as the sun sinks low in the November sky. A warm day. A cold beer. An azure blue sky reflected in water interrupted only by a series of circles reaching out to Douglas from its source: A dog.

It was there, and it was then, that I first observed my friend and his dog Enzo, a lanky young Spinone Italiano. I watched Enzo explore that farm, chasing birds and sniffing trails and running and running and running. I saw the freedom given him by Douglas to roam, and the discipline given him to faithfully return with a simple command. “Here.”

Faithful. This, I thought, is what I want.

Although my wife and I had moved to a rural area, we still lived in a house on a main road with a yard. We were surrounded by country, but not yet immersed in it. So it was just a fantasy, to have a dog that roamed the property, never too far to hear my call. But my next dog, while not a Spinone, did have a beard and bird hunting in her veins like Enzo. Over time, Winnie’s beard grew, but the bird hunting in her veins faded, and that’s alright. We did get that place in the country where dogs can run free, though.

Enzo went on to be a fixture at the farm, and in the life of my friend. They hunted together, fished together and traveled together. I was privileged to take a few long road trips with Douglas and Enzo, to hunt grouse and woodcock in the dense woods of Michigan and Maine. Enzo earned the sleep he soaked in on those return trips.

But the farm is where Enzo was truly at home. When Winnie was a puppy, Enzo showed her how to run off leash for the first time. When I added Finn a couple years later, Enzo showed him how to find a chukar at a nearby preserve. Finn and Enzo were two peas in a pod. Tall, dorky, sweet as molasses and just smelly enough one could convincingly blame the other. They napped in front of that big, hot, stone fireplace after a day of running like there’s no tomorrow.

And once in every life, there really is no tomorrow. And sometimes you never see it coming. It’s almost impossible to believe that Enzo is gone. That he has pointed his last bird, lapped up his last cool drink from the gin clear Rose. And it feels like I owe him something. And it feels like I owe my friend something too. The two of them showed me what that relationship between man and dog could be. My pair roams the property now, never too far they can’t be called in. They explore scent trails, kick up birds, point rabbits and roll in God knows what. And when I’m out mowing or trimming or repairing a fence or walking in the woods or fishing in my home river, they are by my side. And when I say “Here,” there they are. Faithful. Having dogs that have earned the freedom to roam off leash has been, well, I simply can’t overstate the peace and enjoyment it has brought me.

My heart aches for my friend. To me, Enzo has always been a part of Douglas, a part of Rose River Farm. And in a way he always will be. But he will also be a part of me and the life I have built with my dogs. I can’t ever repay a gift like that.

Rest in peace, Enzo. I hope where you are there are countless wild birds, endless cool mornings and open fields that stretch forever. And at the end, a warm fire by which to rest. Hunt hard, sleep deeply. There are no more commands, you’re already here.

enzo edits 1


First Float of the Season

The Potomac River was well above flood stage just a couple weeks ago. And while she’s still a bit swollen, and her waters still murky, Spring doesn’t give you too many beautiful Saturdays with float-friendly water levels. So when you get one, you take it.

DSC_4249

The river was shrouded in mist early. I tried to get some photos quickly before it burned off. Here my friend Chris goes hunting for smallmouth.

DSC_4272

Anna casts to the bank on the Maryland side.

DSC_4279 (1)

And before we were a half mile from the put-in, the day was bright and clear. Thanks Anna for this photo. That is actually my house over my right shoulder.

photo 1

You may have noticed from that last photo that I have kind of a lot going on. I’m trying out a GoPro for the first time, mounted on the bow. Then I have my Wirehaired Vizsla, Winnie, in the boat. And I decided that wasn’t challenging enough so I brought my fly rod along.

DCIM100GOPRO

I loved this row of canoes on a little island I floated past. I should have anchored here and taken my time trying to capture the scene. With the water in sun and the canoes in deep shade, it was just too complicated a photo to snap quickly as I went by.

DSC_4296

My other dog, Finn, stayed home today because he just gets too excited when he sees a fish. Turns out he wouldn’t have had many opportunities to get overly excited today, but I did catch a couple sunfish. As you can see, Winnie is appropriately unimpressed with my fishing prowess.

DCIM100GOPRO

If you feel like you need to get out and stretch your legs a bit, then odds are the dog in your boat does too. Be mindful of canine passengers if they get fidgety in the boat. Here Winnie gets out for a break.

DSC_4309

Thanks Chris for this photo of me taking Winnie’s picture.

2

This Float Coat from Ruffwear Performance Dog Gear is beautifully designed and constructed. Winnie is not a strong swimmer, but she likes the water. This vest fits really well, whether she’s running around on shore or lying down in the kayak.

DSC_4366

It doesn’t restrict her movement while swimming, either, and seems to give her a confidence boost when venturing into deeper water for a swim.

DSC_4385

Even if your dog is a strong swimmer, please consider using a PFD for your companion if you take him along in the canoe or kayak. The handle makes bringing aboard a wayward dog a much easier task, and if things do go wrong on the water (and they eventually will), the high visibility of a coat like this one from Ruffwear can make it a lot easier to spot a dog in the water in any light conditions.

DSC_4369

But, apart from not catching many fish, nothing went wrong today. It was a stunningly beautiful Saturday to get out on the water with a few friends and take some pictures.

DCIM100GOPRO

And as we headed toward our take-out ramp, to bookmark our trip that began with a layer of fog on the river, hundreds of trees on the bank decided to give up their seeds all at once, filling the air and blanketing the water. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, like snow flurries on a beautiful Spring day.

DSC_4332


The Allure of Antlers

17

I am drawn to the aesthetics of deer antlers. To me they are beautiful, organic shapes that please the eye. But the bizarre biological mechanics behind them are fascinating, growing anew each year covered in blood-rich velvet that feeds them nutrients. Then the bone dies, the velvet is shed and the antlers remain. Status, attraction, competition are all a part of the purpose and function of those extensions of the skull of a whitetail buck. And then, in late winter, testosterone levels drop and the antlers are cast off.

And when they fall, there they sit. In corn fields, hedgerows, creek beds and lawns, in dense woods, briar patches and snow drifts. There they sit until critters, attracted to the minerals within, gnaw them away. Or until they rot. Or until a person, wandering through the woods with their eyes to the ground, finds it and picks it up.

2

Searching for shed antlers is a fun way to get exercise. I have tried to train my dogs to seek them out, and they love running off leash for miles and miles, even if they aren’t quite sure what they’re looking for. But shed hunting can also be frustrating. The three of us have spent a lot of hours and miles and, until yesterday, had yet to find a single shed. But I’ll get back to that.

Wandering around the woods looking for food sources, buck rubs, trails, beds and other signs is a good way to learn about deer behavior. But logging a lot of miles with your eyes trained to the ground, you’d be surprised how many other little things you notice. First of all, anything bone colored gets your attention, no matter how small. During yesterday’s outing on a friend’s farm I spotted this jawbone from about ten yards away. My guess is raccoon, but I’m not positive.

3

Some friends identified these feathers as coming from a Yellow-shafted Flicker. This beautiful bird became dinner for a fox or other predator.

5

Winnie decided if she couldn’t find any antlers, she was going to commit to being the very best collector of burrs she could be. Here Finn admires her handiwork. He tried to help by pulling a few off her, but then he abandoned his efforts, mumbling something about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

8

After a few hours with no luck, this little four point skull caught my eye, half buried under some thorny briars. So I asked one of the more nimble members of Team Orange to fetch it for me. Winnie volunteered. Nothing special, the skull looks to be at least a year old and one side is discolored from being in the ground. But since it was starting to look like I might be walking out of the woods empty handed yet again, I brushed it off and took it with me.

9

A while later, we were following a deer trail parallel to a tree line. I looked down and saw two antler points sticking up through some grass. I studied it from where I was, about five feet away, careful not to let myself get too excited about what might end up being another of the million curved corn stalks or antler-shaped sticks that had already faked me out. But there it was, finally. I brought the dogs over in hopes that they would see or smell it and catch on that this is what we were looking for. They did not.

10

I picked it up, the first human hands to ever touch it. I examined it. Not fresh, probably from last year. Three points, one of the three chipped at the end, and a fourth brow tine that had broken off as well. It was neither large nor perfect, but it was beautiful. This year alone I had hiked probably twenty miles to get to this one antler shed. It was a huge relief. I wish I could say it was enough to just be outside even if I don’t find any, but it was starting to get to me that I couldn’t find at least one shed.

13

I tried to get the dogs excited about it, hoping that knowing what they’re looking for would help them find more. Winnie posed with this long enough for a quick photo, but then went on her way, adding to her burr collection.

11

So the final tally on the day: 1 skull, 1 shed, 5 miles, 5 hours, 90 burrs and 2 tired dogs.

16

Those burrs, by the way? Winnie’s coat is an absolute magnet for them. If I didn’t have some of this Showsheen, I would have had to resort to clippers to get them out. It’s an equine product and I always keep a little bit in a spray bottle with my grooming supplies. Spray it on and the burrs comb right out. Stubborn clumps need a bit more attention, but it really works great.

18

As for shed hunting, maybe I broke the ice with this one. Maybe I will get better with practice, learn where to look and how to see. Maybe Team Orange will catch on. But even if none of those things happen, the pursuit of antlers has gotten me out hiking, observing nature and exercising the dogs, in the midst of a brutal winter that is slow to relinquish its icy grip. And that is a very good thing.

Addendum: After I wrote this post, my friend Monica, whose great blog Shedding Suburbia should be added to your browser bookmarks, published this great post about a very special antler find and the lengths she had to go to just to get it home. I wanted to link it here for my readers. Enjoy!


2013, My Year in Photos

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Caption

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.

1

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.

2

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.

4

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.

IMG_0005 (1)

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

IMG_0005

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.

IMG_0008

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

IMG_0047

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

IMG_0053

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.

IMG_0094

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

IMG_0115

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

IMG_0139

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.

kiki

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

wk

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.

yak5

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.

Ack!! It's a MOTH! Get it away GET IT AWAY!!!

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.

IMG_0012

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.

IMG_0095

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!


Merry Christmas!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The bonfire crackled with new burning logs,
When I thought, “I should photograph all of the dogs!”
“Now, Petey! Now, Winnie! Now, Monkey and Finn!
The snow is delightful, let the antics begin!”
I found a great backdrop for our Christmas greeting,
So camera in hand, I called a Team meeting.
I gathered them under a snow covered pine,
But two had gone missing (the ones that aren’t mine).
“This will not do, I need four in this pic,
Perhaps crispy bacon would be just the trick!”
They assembled together, our four-legged crew,
But the formation made was a little askew.
I’d get three in place when the fourth looked away,
“Oh come on you guys won’t you do a sit stay?”
Just when I thought we’d be out here all night,
I noticed my wife looking on with delight.
“Do you want me to help?” she called out with a laugh,
“Very much so, I can only get half!”
When Mommy tried bribing with bacon in hand,
We still could sit three when the fourth one would stand.
Right when we both reached the end of our rope,
A moment unfolded that gave us some hope.
The orange dogs sat so that’s two out of four,
Then Petey joined in leaving only one more!
Attention spans stretched out as thin as can be,
This was our last chance we both would agree.
If we can get Monkey to sit for a treat,
We can accomplish this dazzling feat.
I made sure the camera was ready to go.
And ever so slowly his butt met the snow,
“Honey you need to move out of the frame,
To not get this now would be more than a shame!”
But get it we did, and we got it just right,
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”


Snow Days

5

Snow at my age is a lot different than it was as a kid, back in the days of getting up early on a snowy morning and staring at the radio, trying to will your school’s name out of the announcer’s mouth. Now, schools may close, but offices almost never do. A commute that gets worse on rainy days becomes nearly impossible in the snow. And as a property owner with many animals both inside the house and out, there are entirely different concerns and responsibilities than I ever imagined as a ten year old. Keeping a mile-long driveway cleared and making sure there is hay for horses and gas for the generator have replaced digging the sled out of the back of the garage as top priorities when the snow comes.

But despite all the grownup things that sometimes get in the way of life’s simple pleasures, something about those early snow days remains. There is an anxious excitement as the forecasts reach consensus: There will be snow. And when the first flakes come, I’m not thinking about generators or traffic or chains on tractor tires. I’m watching and waiting for it to stick, then accumulate, then pile up.

Sometimes you get the perfect snow. We got snow twice in the last three days, and the second of these was perfect. It started before dawn, a gentle, wet snow coating every surface down to the tiniest tree branch with pure, beautiful highlights. It fell quickly and steadily from there, closing schools and offices, including mine. By early afternoon, though it was done. The sun came out and the day warmed. The gift of a snow day is extra special when you can comfortably go out and enjoy it. And enjoy it I did.

My dogs, Team Orange, both love the snow. We had a great afternoon simply playing in it. They never tire of chasing snowballs that magically vanish upon landing, and I never tire of throwing them. We wrestled. I laughed. It was just a glorious afternoon in the perfect snow. These days I often feel my age and then some. My back often aches. My mind often worries. But on this day I truly felt like a kid again. And if that only happens on perfect snow days, I’m okay with it. But next time the forecasts start coming together, I might just stare at the radio for luck.

I hope you enjoy these, my favorite images from these last two snows.

13

IMG_0012

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Fall Foliage, Brook Trout and the Company of Dogs

2

The sun was just peeking over the mountains, flooding Rose River Farm with golden morning light when Team Orange and I passed by on our way to the Shenandoah National Park, so I stopped to take some photos there. Fall in Madison County, Virginia is special, and I was looking forward to immersing myself in it for a day.

IMG_0012

But we had a lot of hiking ahead of us, up Cedar Run and down White Oak Canyon is almost a nine mile loop, so we didn’t linger too long. Winnie, taking advantage of the missing barrier that usually keeps them in the back of the car, indicates she’s ready to hit the trail by jumping in the back and up to the driver’s seat. And sitting backwards because she is odd.

IMG_0022

When we arrived at the park, the lot was more full than I’ve ever seen it in the morning. There was a large group of hikers gathering at the trail head, so I flashed my annual park pass to the ranger and slipped ahead of the group. The lower elevation parts of the park are at peak fall foliage. In fact the most spectacular colors I’ve seen this year are along the road that leads to the park entrance near Syria. But on the trail you don’t spend much time at the lower elevations, climbing starts right away and continues for almost four miles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sometimes I’ll rig a fly rod and carry it with me, trying different pools along the way for the beautiful native brook trout that live here. But it’s a rugged trail at times, and managing both dogs and the fly rod seemed problematic, so I packed in a rod, assembling it once we arrived at my favorite spot. Here, isolated from the busy trail, we set up for a few hours of fishing, playing and relaxing. Winnie approves. (Note to self: Why do I always pack in drinking water for the dogs when I hike along fresh, clean water?)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have a 3-Weight Scott fly rod that is perfect for this kind of fishing, but being a 2-piece rod it comes in a very long tube that’s hard to hike with. So I brought my 5-weight Hardy rod which packs more comfortably. I sat on a fallen tree, dogs by my side, putting the Hardy together and watching the pool. Brook trout were rising. I couldn’t see what they were eating, but I’m actually not much of a ‘match-the-hatch’ fisherman. My fly progression for brook trout goes like this: Parachute Adams > smaller Parachute Adams > Stimulator > Stimulator with a dropper > Wooly Bugger > End. But none of those worked, and the fish kept rising. I finally caught a natural with my hat, looks like a pale yellow stone fly (I have included a grey hair in the hat for scale). I had a few variations of a Yellow Sally in my fly box, tried them all. I got a few strikes but no hook sets. I wondered later if the softer set of the 3-weight rod would have made a difference on these fish, some of which were pretty small. Maybe even a subtle set with the 5-weight was just pulling the hook right out of their mouths.

IMG_0085

But here’s the thing. I went through many, many fly changes, even going back to some I had already tried. I’d give the fish a rest while I changed flies or had a snack of futzed with the camera, then go back and cast some more. I watched a hundred rises, including a quite large brookie come out from beneath a boulder and roll on a surface fly in the same spot a dozen times. I got strikes, maybe ten or so (none from the big fella), but no hook ups. At one point I was changing flies and I looked up to find Finn swimming around in the pool. But moments later the trout were feeding again.

It occurred to me that I don’t think I have ever been as patient as I was at this pool. I had every reason to be frustrated and discouraged, but there was a tranquility surrounding me, and I honestly think it was the dogs. I loved having them there, and it’s fun to watch their different personalities at work. Finn mostly watches me. He wants to be near me but quickly got bored of the fishing and found a spot with a good vantage point to just lie down. Winnie, on the other hand, was fascinated. She followed the fly as I cast it, and then followed it on the water. When fish would rise she would perk her head up and focus on that spot. After a while she started whimpering every time the big one rolled on the surface. It seems she sensed there was a connection between what I was trying to do and what those rising fish were doing. She didn’t know what was gonna happen, but it was going to be fun!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But alas, nothing happened. I eventually put the rod away, with fish rising all around and swimming right up to the shallows, and decided to try to get some photos. I took probably forty pictures of these wild brook trout in their natural habitat, which is a pretty special experience. It’s okay that I wasn’t able to catch any, at least I captured a few.

IMG_0095

I found a can of Virginia-brewed Full Nelson in the bottom of my backpack while I was looking for a second fly box. Since it is against the law to have alcohol in the park, to be in full compliance I disposed of the beer. But before I did, I let the cool waters of Cedar Run chill it to optimal disposal temperature.

IMG_0066

After that most enjoyable few hours fishing and enjoying the company of my two best friends, it was time to hit the trail again. We could have gone back the way we came and shorten the hike by several miles, but I decided to push myself and continue up to do the originally planned loop. This morning my back, my right hip, left knee and both feet are questioning my judgment, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s a beautiful hike, though, and Team Orange had a blast. Here they spot a squirrel along the trail.

skwerl1

I was relieved to get to the top of White Oak falls and began our descent. Even though every step of the descent is a foot-pounding, bone-jarring reminder that I am old and I’m carrying too much weight around. This panorama shows the lower falls at White Oak. Trout don’t live in ugly places. (I encourage readers to click on the panoramas in this post for a better view.)

5

It was a very long day, and these great dogs deserve the sleep they fell into about a minute after getting in the car. I hope they aren’t nearly as sore as I am today.

4


Civil Disobedience…

12…the only kind of dog disobedience I approve of.

After four straight days of miserable (albeit much needed) rain, I wasn’t about to spend this gorgeous day, a holiday, inside. So I loaded Team Orange in the car and we headed across the river to the C&O Canal Towpath for a long walk. The Towpath is a National Park, which means the park service has closed it due to the government temper tantrum. I mean shutdown. This closing, as is the case at similar locations all across the country, requires more effort and manpower than simply leaving it be. There is a boat ramp here and a parking lot which are gated and locked. People have every right to be on the river, but because you have to cross this strip of National Park to launch your boat, you can’t. I don’t want to get into a political discussion here, but an observant reader might be able to discern where I fall on this issue. And to recognize that previous sentence as sarcasm.

10The parking lot was closed of course, but they can’t prevent people from parking along unmarked public roads, and I was pleased to see many other despicable types parked nearby and partaking in such criminal activity as bicycling, walking, jogging and just all around recreating. Mostly, though, traffic on the path was light. I was surprised after so much rain to find the path had drained very well, there were really just a few puddles to avoid.

6All the photos in this post were taking with my iPhone 5S. I love the panorama option, and had the idea to sit the dogs on either side of me and try this shot.

1The canopy of trees along the Towpath is very well established, so when little windows of light shine through, you really take notice. I had to stop the dogs here and take a photo, I just loved the light on them with the deep shadow all around. I am very impressed with this 5S camera.

4I’ve lived in this area for eighteen years or so and have used this place countless times. I have jogged, hiked and walked with the dogs. I happened across a 5K once and joined in. I’ve launched kayaks from here, shuttled vehicles, stopped by to observe flood levels or to let the dogs swim. I’ve been there before dawn, I’ve been there at night and I’ve been there every hour in between. And you know what I have never seen there in almost two decades? A park ranger. But today one essential staffmember made a special trip to make sure nobody was out there enjoying themselves.

16But enjoy myself is what I did. It’s really just been a few days but for some reason it felt like it had been raining for weeks. It was great to be outdoors again. The temperature was cool and pleasant. The leaves were colorful, though rain had brought many of them down until they formed a soft, damp carpet of muted color on the gravel path. The dogs had a blast crisscrossing the path, pointing squirrels and posing for my silly pictures. And as the sun warmed the path an aroma filled the air – hard to describe but I’ll remember it for a long time: Moist earth, decaying leaves, a hint of wet dog, distant wood smoke and the unmistakeable, sweet smell of freedom.


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.

3

2

4

1


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!


%d bloggers like this: