Usually I focus on one type of fishing or hunting for this column, but for this week I thought it would be a nice change of pace to offer a mixed bag of tactics and strategies for various kinds of fishing. The theme for these tips is obvious: early season conditions.
Susan St. Amand treasures her horseback trips along the back trails of the George Washington National Forest, or traveling the meandering paths of Andy Guest State Park, even the flat meadow terrain and hardwoods mixed terrain of Blandy Experimental Farm.
Not many of us would choose winter as a favorite season for trout fishing, with its bleak gray landscape and raw air that penetrates cold-weary bones like a knife. But if the alternative is no fishing at all, never mind the weather. We'll make the plunge, wading out into the currents bundled up awkwardly in thick layers of clothes like stiff-legged Santa Clauses.
During the just-completed season Virginia whitetail hunters harvested 242,734 deer. This is up 13 percent from the 2012 season, when 215,241 deer were reported killed. It is also up more than 10,000, or four percent, above the 10-year average harvest of 232,600, according to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Every year manufacturers come out with a collection of new hunting guns, ammo, optics and other items to try to get us to toss out our old and reliable, but somewhat dated gear. In case you're in the market to replace some equipment, or just want to know about some of the new items being unveiled, here's a look at a few of them.
This winter's brutal weather in the Shenandoah Valley has made things hard for food plot aficionados. There are not too many projects you can do when the temperature is 10 degrees and the wind chill is below zero and the ground is frozen like a block of cement.
Trout fishermen sometimes have a reputation of making things too complicated. Some of the more stuffy members of the group feel like every insect you imitate has to be identified with an impossible-to-pronounce Latin name and vests have to be stocked with thousands of different offerings to precisely match each little bug.
Louis Johnson, a retired Chicago foundry operator, was frustrated by the abundance of weeds that kept fouling the hooks on his lures in his favorite fishing lake. Eager to overcome the problem, he began tinkering with some household items, including a dinner spoon.
Ice froze in the guides of the fly rod as I cast to the school of fish hovering silently near the bottom of the stream. Suddenly a fish turned to the side and its white mouth opened. I set the hook quickly and was fast to a feisty rainbow trout. After a raucous battle, I worked the silver fish in close, twisted the hook free and watched as it darted back into the dark river currents.
With deer season now over, it's time to turn to grouse and other small game to finish out the hunting agenda for the year. It's true grouse populations aren't at the levels they were 30 years ago. But there are definitely enough of these beautiful brown and russet birds to make hunting them a worthwhile endeavor.
While it may be bitter cold out and hunting seasons are winding down, there are still plenty of things for the outdoor sportsman to do during mid-winter. Among the most popular activities for this "off season" is visiting the many fishing and hunting outdoor shows throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
After the rut is finished, bucks find themselves in precarious shape. They may have lost up to 20 percent or more of their body weight from fighting, chasing does and eating only sporadically. Survival demands that they replenish their lean, worn down bodies.
Hunting before a major snowstorm blows in can be immensely productive because deer can sense it coming and will be up and moving. Hunting immediately after it clears out can also be excellent because deer will be hungry and getting up to feed after hunkering down during the storm.
Whitetails have consistent spots where they traditionally enact the "chasing" phase of courtship. By locating these chasing grounds and hitting them during the prime time when does are just about to come into estrous, you can be in the sweet spot for tagging a mature buck.
Vic Gaspeny is a name well-known to saltwater anglers. The Tavernier, Fla., resident is a light tackle fishing guide in the Florida Keys who works out of the famous Bud N' Mary's Marina in Islamorada, Fla. He's gained an international reputation for his ability to put anglers onto tarpon, and for helping pioneer "Day Dropping" for swordfish off the Florida coast.
Some hunters think staying put on their stand all day is a macho thing to do. Tough guys don't have to take a break and stretch or go back to camp for a hot meal. And they definitely shouldn't take a siesta during midday to recharge their batteries!
Two goals were foremost in Robert Hopkins' mind when he set out to build a new fishing spoon in the early 1940s. He wanted a lure that would cast for long distances to reach far-away gamefish. And he wanted a lure that would fool a wide variety of saltwater species.
Sure, virtually every fly fisherman enjoys fishing a dense hatch of aquatic insects where trout become frenzied in their feeding. If the truth be known, though, finding such a heavy hatch is not a common event on trout streams in northern Virginia today. And when you do run into such heavy emergences, they are usually short-lived affairs that last for an hour or two if you're lucky.
When Ray Scott, founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, decided he would get into the business of producing and selling seeds for hunters to plant for deer, one should have known big things would come from it.
Lauri Rapala was born in Finland over a century ago, in 1905. When he was in his 20's, he moved to the shores of a huge lake to try to make a living as a fisherman. While waiting for the nets to fill with perch and whitefish, he would row his wooden boat, attempting to catch a trout with lures to add to the catch he could sell.
Mention crankbaiting and most anglers picture hefty baitcast reels, heavy line, stout rods and sore muscles at the day's end from hard reeling against the pressure of big-lipped lures. But there's another kind of diving plug, one that has proven its worth on a number of species in varied fishing conditions. And it's a lure that won't leave you sore at day's end from fishing it. That lure is the mini-crankbait.
As we approach hunting season, many people are still hoping to get in a food plot, but haven't begun yet. Don't worry. It's still not too late. In fact, this is the perfect time to put in many plant species. These fall into two broad categories -- cereal grains and brassicas.
If you like fishing, this is your time of year. Sure it's hot. But virtually every gamefish in fresh and saltwater is biting now. One type of fishing that you may have overlooked is fly fishing for largemouths. A lot of local anglers fly fish on the Shenandoah, but there's plenty of good long-rodding available for bigmouths, too. Lake Anna and the game department managed lakes nearby are good bets. But my first choice for catching largemouths on flies would be a farm pond of one-half acre or larger.
Last week we looked into some of the factors that need to be addressed if you want to create a food plot that provides nutrition to deer and also draws bucks out during shooting hours. One of the major ways to do that is to place or plant cover around the edges and even in the plot so that bucks feel secure using it in daylight.
If you want to create a food plot that provides nutrition to deer and also attracts mature bucks out into the open during shooting hours (with a camera or a gun), you need to think creatively. Forget your preconceived notions of what such a setup should look like. Picture-book plots with one plant growing lush and green from edge-to-edge won't accomplish this goal.
One of the first decisions you'll face when choosing any lure is what color to select. I use two factors for deciding this. One is what the most dominant local forage fish look like. The second is simply what has worked best in other similar fishing situations with that particular lure.