Morning on the Middle Branch

Sunday morning came sooner than expected. I was woken up by a 2-year-old boy with enough energy and joy to change the world for the better. Since, mom is into the second trimester and needs a little extra rest these days, we needed a plan.

What to do?
Pack some snacks.
Grab the fly box (the tenkara gear was already in the car).
Put on a Mickey hat, “puddle boots” and a “buggy”-catching sweatshirt. 

I look down at the passenger seat. The tenkara emblem shines back at me through the dark rod tube.
This rod has been a phenomenal tool when fishing with David. With him on the backpack carrier, it allows for quick shots at fish while on our hikes.
Not even 8am and the sun was in full force. At our backs the entire trip, casting shadows across the pools, scattering fish this way and that. Even that was more fun for David. He could see brown trout darting this way and that searching for cover.
My bare forearms made for great horsefly bait. David collected the carcasses. These flies are like gold to him. 
The stream has lots of structure thanks to the rehabilitation from TU and the help of the local landowners. I’m nothing but grateful for their permission to fish this stream.

We had a few fish on, but none to hand.

No matter.

Mom got to sleep.

The air was warm and fresh.

Daddy and David got to have a picnic on the tailgate.

You know the feeling when you get to hang out with someone much cooler than you? Like an athlete you emulate, or meet a famous musician, etc? That’s what spending time with David is like. He is so much cooler than me. He just doesn’t know it yet. One day he will, and that might be tough, but until then, we will soak up these mornings without reservation.

New Video: Mossy Dream

Some adventures are solo endeavors. Others are group efforts. When I found out I had the opportunity to fish Mossy Creek outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia with the Trow Brothers of Mossy Creek Fly Shop for a day along with the folks from Distinction Magazine, Dogwood Black Clothing Company and a fellow Trout Unlimited companion, I knew it would be an experience to remember. 
We fished the mirky waters with big streamers and were rewarded for our tenacity. Kevin even managed a true grand slam, Brook, Brown, Rainbow and chub. 
Music by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros “40 Day Dream”
Filmed with an iPhone4s
wwww.MossyCreekFlyFishing.com
BIllWillsTu.blogspot.com

Painting Through Prosek: Alaskan Rainbow Trout

On to the next section of Prosek’s book (I’ve inserted an Amazon link here. I figure I owe Prosek that after photographing so many of his images and posting them here. The book is a great addition to any fish lover’s collection.). The Rainbow and Redband have many subspecies. I don’t think I’ll be painting them all, but I’m planning on highlighting the ones that jump out at me for one reason or another.

We begin with the Alaskan Rainbow Trout: Oncorhynchus mykiss mykiss
\
As Prosek writes in his book, everything is bigger in Alaska, including the trout and mosquitos. Based on the tone of his writing, he clearly had an amazing experience while in Alaska. 
I also used a couple pictures from the internet to guide me with the color choices. 

I really wanted to get the olive colored back right. I also used a little different technique with regard to brush strokes. I think this gave a more “scaled” appearance. 

I’ve been bouncing around the idea of making some blank cards out of these paintings. It might be a good way to raise some money for our local Trout Unlimited chapter here in Southeastern Virginia. 

Until the next time.

Wild Places

Wild places live few and far between.

You, no doubt, traveling on iron wheels and wings

can find one tomorrow before the sun touches the trees.

Praise accessibility.

Curse it’s ease.

Search the dark spaces for glowing eyes.

Wash your forehead in icy falls and streams.

Get lost in stars not yet silenced by your home street,

And let the trees grow wild.

Let the waters run cool and clean.

Admire the beast that live in wild places,

For beast we too can be.

————–

If I had done an entry for the Outdoor Blogger Network’s Trout Unlimited summer essay contest for a trip to Tongass National Forest, it would have gone something like that.

One season ends, another begins

Each winter, Bill Campbell, a local long time member of the recently resurrected local TU chapter (now officially called Bill Wills Southeast Virginia Chapter of Trout Unlimited) has led fly fishing seminars for those interested in the sport. It is usually 3-4 Saturdays’ throughout the winter. There is an initial discussion about fly fishing, equipment, where to go, what to catch, etc, followed by opportunities for everyone to tie a wooly bugger and have a chance to cast a fly rod. Bill is joined by other local TU chapter members including folks with a wide range of fly fishing experience including trout and salmon, warm water, and saltwater fishing.  The Chapter’s Mentor, Mr. Bill Wills, has been fishing most of his life and at age 90+ continues to be an active, almost daily, fisherman, and to pass on his legacy to many generations. 
Bill Campbell getting things started. 
The crowd. 
Bill Wills 

“Let me show you how it’s done.”

Tight loops.

A Suffolk reporter even stopped by.

Long Live the King…. and His Grants.

Below is a letter from Beau Beasley, author of Fly Fishing Virginia, to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries:

Dear Chairman Reed,

I write this letter to express my concern about the Virginia Game Commission’s apparent lack of
interest in what many Virginia sportsmen believe is a looming threat to our cherished freedoms.
No doubt you are aware of the particulars of a case currently working its way through the
Alleghany District Court: North South Development v Crawford has captured the attention of
thousands of anglers, hunters, and paddlers across the mid-Atlantic.

The defendants in the case are a pair of anglers who are being sued for trespassing. The plaintiffs
are landowners who claim to possess a 17th-century deed from the King of England—commonly
referred to as a crown grant—granting them ownership of the bottom of the river. They argue
that the defendants stepped on the bottom of the Jackson River, the plaintiffs’ private property,
while fishing. The Virginia Game Commission is familiar with crown grants: In 1996, the
Virginia Supreme Court adjudicated (in favor of the plaintiffs) Kraft v Burr, also on the Jackson
and also involving disputed access to and usage of crown grant property.

In June of 2009, Gary Martel, Director of Fisheries for the Virginia Department of Game and
Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), wrote a letter to the landowners, stating that
• the VDGIF knew the landowners were posting the river as private property, which they
had no right to do,
• state codes prevented the landowners from denying the public use of the river,
• state code asserts the river bottom belongs to the commonwealth,
• the VDGIF felt that the landowners might be engaged in angler harassment, and
• their crown grant claim was different from that recognized by the courts in the 1996
case.

In other words, the VDGIF made it clear then—and has maintained since then—that the
river bottom in question was and is considered public land. Criminal proceedings against the
defendants were thrown out of court because there is no indication that the anglers ever went
beyond the river’s high-water mark or trespassed on the privately owned riverbank property.
Nevertheless, the plaintiffs are now suing the anglers in civil court for trespassing on what they
claim is privately held Jackson River bottom.

In June of 2012, Judge Malfourd Trumbold ruled in partial summary judgment on behalf of the
landowners, who have prima facie title—that is, the plaintiffs appear to have a stronger case for
possession of the property than do the anglers. But the defendants never claimed to have any
possession in the case: They took the Commonwealth at its word that, armed with a valid fishing
license, they had the right to fish on property the state has deemed public.

As an avid sportsman, the facts in the case alarm me:

• Clearly the Game Commission has known for some time that the landowners claim
possession of the river bottom and post it as private property. The landowners in question
have attempted to prevent its public use.
• The defendants entered the river at a public put-in—a put-in purchased with taxpayer

dollars and managed by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

July 10th 2012

• The anglers had paid for and held valid Virginia fishing licenses when the landowners

confronted them.

• The anglers contacted the VDGIF before they fished the Jackson River to ensure that they

were fishing on public property. VDGIF staffers assured the anglers that if they observed
state-posted signs and steered clear of the recognized Kraft v Burr crown grant section of
the river, they would be fishing legally in public water.

• The VDGIF website and VDGIF-posted signs along the river clearly stated then (and

continue to state now) that the area the anglers fished in—the area they are currently
being sued for trespassing in—remains in trust for public use and enjoyment.

Now, I am neither an attorney nor a judge nor a politician. I do not pretend to know all the
precedents involved in crown grant disputes. I imagine that the plaintiffs, too, are frustrated that
the only recourse left to them by the Commonwealth to demonstrate their alleged ownership
of the river bottom appears to be to sue hapless sportsmen. The case raises a number of very
important questions:

• Who determines what water is public in Virginia?
• Has the Game Commission asked the Attorney General’s Office to intervene in the case
to protect the rights of Virginia sportsmen to use resources the state insists are public?
If the Game Commission asked the Attorney General’s Office to intervene in this case
when did this occur?
• What is the Game Commission’s policy on assisting sportsmen who are facing legal
action for engaging in legal activity with a valid state license on public property?
• Other Jackson River landowners have begun posting their property as private. How are
anglers to determine where they can and cannot fish if they cannot trust the VDGIF-
posted signs?
• If the state-posted signs along the Jackson River are not reliable, can anglers rely
on the validity of VDGIF-posted signs on other rivers or hunting areas across the
Commonwealth?
• At this writing, the defendants in North South Development v Crawford have incurred
nearly $80,000 in legal fees defending themselves from criminal and civil prosecution.
Can you explain why any Virginia sportsman should purchase a hunting or fishing
license if the Commonwealth has no intention of defending them from legal action for
engaging in the very activity for which the state has sold them a license?

No doubt the issues surrounding this case are more complicated than they at first appear. And yet
on one salient point, surely we can all agree: Sportsmen with valid state-issued licenses must be
able to trust that, so long as they obey the law, they can hunt and fish without fear of prosecution
on public land. If sportsmen cannot so trust, then we may anticipate that this case will have a
chilling effect on Virginia sporting tourism even before the case itself is settled: If anglers know
that the Commonwealth, while happy to sell them a license, will not lift a finger to protect them
from prosecution for using that license, then any stretch along a colonial-era river—like the
Cowpasture, York, Elizabeth, Hazel, and even the James and Shenandoah—may be privatized de
facto simply by posting it so.

As an outdoor writer, I am frustrated by the Game Commission’s apparent inaction in this case.

As a guidebook author, I am concerned that my books (and maps) accurately reflect where
fellow anglers may safely fish. As an avid sportsman, I am afraid of stumbling into a similar
mess on one of my many fishing trips across the state. And as a Virginian, I am absolutely
nonplussed that the courts appear to be the only place that something as significant as a crown
grant will be recognized, forcing fellow Virginians into a needlessly adversarial relationship to
undertake by proxy what should be the responsibility of the state legislature.

The VDGIF by and large enjoys an excellent relationship with sportsmen across Virginia which
is well deserved. The current court case however has thrown a cloud of suspicion on what waters
remain open to the public, and just what the public can legally access and use once they have
purchased their license. Mr. Chairman, Virginia sportsmen across this great Commonwealth
await your response to these pressing questions. I respectfully ask that you respond to my letter
as soon as possible.

Respectfully,

Beau Beasley
Author, Fly Fishing Virginia

_____________________________________

My friend John, brought up another thoughtful insight:I wonder where TU is in this debacle. They have the resources (legal and financial) to help the cause. They’ve gone to battle elsewhere to ensure stream access. If TU national has been asked to help before now, it’s time to ask again…”


TU, can I ask you a question?


This letter was also published on the Virginia Pilot Online at http://hamptonroads.com/2012/07/trouble-has-been-brewing-our-mountain-trout-streams

An Unanswerable Question: What is Natural?

Question: What is natural? This is something I would much rather discuss around a campfire or on a porch than type out here, but I will try my best.

Without rushing to a dictionary, electronic or otherwise, I think it may mean to exist in an uninhibited state.  But uninhibited by what? By everything and anything? That just sounds silly and impossible. By humans or invasive species? Some might say those can be the same thing. Maybe to see something exist in its natural state is simply to see it evolve and interact with its surroundings as it would have, had the environment in which it exists stayed as stable as possible.  And by “stable,” I suppose I mean without stressors so extreme that would produce an irreversible or unrecoverable change for that environment or species. For example, a forest fire, though devastating, can be healthy for an environment. An expansive suburban development, if not planned properly, can destroy a local ecosystem in exchange for a new one of lawn ornaments and squirrels.

That definition is far from perfect and mostly likely flawed, but let’s roll with it for now.

Being outdoors enthusiasts, we protect forests, streams, animals and ecosystems. At the same time, we try to find that balance which allows us to enjoy these wonderful resources. A balance that seeks responsible usage.  We protect by stabilizing stream beds, lighting controlled burns, establishing size and permit limits for fishing and hunting, and controlling and eliminating invasive species that can decimate local flora and fauna.

Being human, we explore, build, expand, consume, question and experiment. This is our nature. Personally, I think there is value in considering to what extent we do each of these things. We can’t avoid impacting our environment, because we too are an integral piece of the puzzle. However, because I enjoy our outdoor world, I support preservation and protection of it so that it can be enjoyed by all for as long as possible.

It is common knowledge among trout anglers that some of the United States’ trout streams hold species that have been introduced “unnaturally”. In some cases, these species have monopolized the stream and lake populations. On a recent trip to Minnesota’s Driftless Area, I spoke with Justin Carroll of the blog Winona Fly Factory and a fellow Trout Unlimited member about the native brooke trout population in his location that has, in certain areas, been shrinking because of competition with both brown and rainbow trout. He told me about a proposed initiative using genetics to find the local strain of brookie that is closest to the historical species of SE Minnesota and attempt to reintroduce it as the sole trout/char inhabitant of some of the local streams. He anecdotally shared a story of early colonial literature and Native American documentation speaking of 3-5lb brook trout that once lived in the area…. I salivated, hoping it was true.

When I think of America’s greatest outdoor resources, Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is definitely at the top of my list. I’ve been to YNP once in my life, but I have never fished it. One of the things I appreciated most about YNP, a park that is synonymous with the American Wild West, is the combination of accessibility and preservation of some of the parks greatest sights. Even people who are wheelchair bound or don’t have the energy to hike long distances have access to the grand views, buffalo, geysers, waterfalls, and more.

When a park like Yellowstone has so much to share and at the same time, so much traffic, it takes more effort to preserve its “natural” state. (There is irony somewhere in that statement.) Because YNP is an icon of The West, I believe it is worth investigating how to preserve every aspect it. The same is true and equally important with the park’s trout population.

Nature has its own way of establishing a balance between its species, but when one species is disproportionately decreased, the entire ecosystem can be tipped off its axis. Restoring healthy populations of native species in places like YNP, just as was done with the wolf, allows the entire ecosystem to flourish and creates that “stability” which is so important in a place as beautiful and unique as YNP.

Down the road, when I am old and gray and thinking of my natural role as an outdoorsman, I would like to be able to say that the places I have fished, though they may not necessarily be the same, are just as healthy and productive as they were when I enjoyed them. I can only hope that I live up to this level of stewardship and pass it on to my future generations.

So, what is natural? *nervous chuckle*….. All I know is I want to protect the things I love, whether that is my wife, the ornery cat that lives with us, the Chesapeake Bay out my window, or the trout over in Yellowstone and Birstol Bay, and that feels pretty natural to me. So maybe that is it. For me, natural is that feeling as much as it is a thing. Similar to a conscience telling me I am existing in balance with those around me.

_________________
“This is my submission for the Trout Unlimited, Simms, the Yellowstone Park Foundationand the Outdoor Blogger Network – Blogger Tour 2012 contest.”