Friday, December 10, 2010

Champion Tree

Not much to report on from my most recent hunt. I got up before light and drove back out to Devil's Hammock WMA to where I had seen the group of hogs the week before. I found where they're bedding and also found a few wallows, but unfortunately could find no hogs. Before leaving, I drove to a different area and hiked down a trail while looking for squirrels. I ran into a sign that said "Champion Tree". Just a sign. No spectacular trees anywhere in sight.

But upon closer inspection, I could make out something large about 60 yards into the woods. And there it was, the 'Champion Tree'. I had actually read about it prior to going out there, but had never seen it. It's the 2nd largest Live Oak in the state of Florida. And boy...Is it big.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Crossing the Waccassassa

Thanks to the bizarre hunting season schedule down around Gainesville, the deer season general gun is already over. Small game opened the 27th of November and lasts until the end of December. It's legal to take hog during small game season as long as it's not with a center-fire rifle. This translates into shotguns with slugs.

I drove out to Devil's Hammock WMA after lunch on a Sunday. I decided that I would walk out to the Waccassassa river that flows through the middle of the management area and then hunt along the edge of it. I brought with me a hotdog and some bank lines in case I saw a suitable area to catch catfish.

I made it about 30 yards from the Jeep before I stumbled across a dead turkey. At first glance, I thought that it had been shot and left. However, upon closer inspection, I noticed that its neck was broken and had no other wounds. It appears as though Mr. Turkey flew head on, into a nearby tree, and broke his neck. I took this opportunity to grab a bunch of feathers for arrow fletching and fly tying.
Having filled my backpack to the brim with feathers, I proceeded out to the river. I saw a good bit of hog rooting as I got closer to the river, but soon ran into mud too deep for my boots. I turned back and grabbed my hip waders from the Jeep and headed back out.

At that point in time, I hadn't decided that the 12 ft wide, 2 ft deep creek that I had seen was in fact the river. Therefore, I decided that I'd cross it in order to get to the REAL river. Shotgun and walking stick in hand, I proceeded to find a suitable looking area to cross. The water was surprisingly clear and I took a step out into it.

It became apparent, as I sank up to my thighs in mud, that crossing the river wasn't going to happen. Even while using the walking stick for help, I was stuck deep in the mud. I sat there for a moment, deciding what I should grab hold of nearby to yank myself free. As I pondered this, I noticed something sticking out from under a submerged log about 10 ft away. It looked a lot like a gator tail. Then it moved. Then I flew.

I grabbed the log next to me and was semi-instantly out of the mud and back on dry land. I snapped the above picture of the protruding tail only after I was back on land.

I decided that I'd had enough of that area and trekked back to the Jeep. I drove down to the western-most entrance to the area and parked at a small picnic area that overlooked the river. The area looked promising so I took a walk along the river's edge. There was hog sign everywhere, but no hogs. No squirrels for that matter and I had specifically bought a box of bird shot for them. After about 45 minutes of nothing, I decided to call it quits. I walked back to the Jeep and, upon arriving, heard some squirrels barking at each other in the woods behind me. I quickly changed out the slugs for birdshot and took off after the squirrels. No sooner had I found them and put the sights on one, I heard something making a TON of racket through the woods nearby and it was coming my way. Only a short moment went by before I realized that it might be hogs. I quickly ejected all three shells and put in two slugs. However, reloading a shotgun might be the noisiest thing I've ever done in the woods and as the slug moved into the chamber, the hogs spooked.

It sounded like 4 or 5 of them and I only saw 1 for a split second before it vanished. I waited for about an hour for them to return, but no dice. In frustration I returned to squirrel hunting and headed for home with only one squirrel and no hogs. I'll have to head back to that area again and hopefully redeem myself. Devil's hammock has a hog season from January-February and you're allowed rifles so I'll be bringing my SKS down from Pensacola over Christmas break.

Thanksgiving Beach Fishing

The Monday before Thanksgiving I headed out to Pensacola Beach to do some surf fishing. I knew that the reds HAD been running, so I tried my luck. Upon arriving at the beach, I noticed that the water's edge was nearly straight. The only cut that I could see...of course...already had someone at it. I opted to walk 1/4 mile down the beach and set up on a spot that looked decent.

After 2 hours of catching nothing but one catfish, I packed up everything and headed back for the truck. I noticed that the guys fishing the cut were quite a ways down the beach and the cut actually started about 75 yards from them. Seeing this, I decided to set up one last time. I managed to pull one 25" red from the cut and watched the other guys as they reached their bag limit on reds.

Wednesday soon came around and Chelsea had off from work. She had never caught a legal redfish so we decided to give it a try back at the beach. We drove down to Ft. Pickens and set up on an incoming tide in the afternoon. We weren't having much luck aside from a few catfish and the sun was sinking quickly.

However, right before dark, one of the rods doubled over and started screaming out line. Chelsea grabbed it and the fight was on. After a few minutes, we had the fish to shore and I dragged it up to the cooler to measure it.

A 29" Redfish! Bigger than any I'd ever caught myself (have yet to break slot limit still). After a few quick pictures and an explanation as to why we couldn't keep him, I waded out to release the fish. It only took a few seconds to revive the fish and with jolt, it disappeared out into the darkening water.

Saturday we decided it was MY turn to try for an over-slot red. And no...I'm not bitter. Chelsea, my dad and I drove out to Ft. Pickens and fished around the pass. Luckily for us, the weather was a nipply -50 with a chance of a gale. We used cigar minnows and, thanks to the wind, made staggering 15 ft. casts. Absolutely nothing hit for hours.

Just after it got dark, the rod finally bowed over and started ripping drag. I grabbed it, knowing that a huge red had finally taken the bait. The fish ran, and ran....and ran. I cranked down the drag, worrying that I might not stop the fish. When if finally stopped, I had thrown out the idea that it was a redfish...I was thinking shark. But alas, I was fooled.

Who knew Cow-nose rays would hit a cigar minnow? I always thought they were filter feeders like a manta ray. Thanks to a circle hook, the ray was quickly released with some hook-outs.

With that, I finished my Thanksgiving trip and my quest to catch a huge redfish. Hopefully, there will still be some around come Christmas.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving kayak fishing

Thanksgiving turned out to be just about my only chance to head home fall semester thanks to my terrible school schedule. I had an opportunity to turn my 5 day vacation into an 8 day vacation so I pounced all over it.

The following Monday I took the kayak out and launched at the Simpson River fishing pier off of Hwy 90. The water was chilly and I honestly wasn't expecting to catch anything. That being said, I was shocked to find that my first cast had a strike. I fished around many of the points and only found fish balled up in two little spots. I think I would have had better success had it not been low tide, but since it was my first time fishing the area, I was rather pleased.

However, I was NOT pleased with the repeated meetings with an airboat. A fiberglass hulled airboat named 'Mama Tried' drove DIRECTLY over the point that I was fishing. The two men driving the boat then continued to drive up on me on two more occasions. All three times they showed up, the fish stopped biting as they were all spooked. Obviously 'Mama Tried', 'Mama Failed', and 'Mama Should Stop Trying' because they did nothing but ruin a good fishing trip.

Luckily the trip wasn't a complete loss and I landed 7 specks to prove it. One speck was well over 22" but was 'released' without a picture at the side of the boat when I went to pull him in.

The next day I took the kayak out to do some night fishing underneath the three-mile bridge. I had heard reports of people catching reds around the pilings so I headed out to give it a try. The wind was out of the south, so I launched the yak on the Gulf Breeze side of the bay. I paddled out to the bridge and began casting underneath the pilings. After catching nothing but white trout (on almost every cast) I turned around and headed back to the launch. Not wishing to end the trip on that note, I paddled up into a nearby bayou and fished under a few lights. I managed to pull one (very) small red out from under an dock and landed my first white trout on a fly.

Got back to the launch at around 9 pm and called it a night. Hopefully when it gets colder the fish will be a little more concentrated in the bayous.

Kevlar Deer

One good thing about going to school in central Florida is that the deer season opens much sooner than back in the panhandle. This year, archery season opened in mid-August. I did a bit of scouting and found that Lochloosa WMA was only about a 30 minute drive from my house and didn't require a quota (since I missed the drawing this year).

On a Thursday evening I drove out to the WMA and scouted/hunted. I found very little deer sign and spooked a bunch of turkeys while driving down one of the roads. I was without a tree stand since I had left it back in Pensacola so I was forced to hunt from the ground.

I finally found an area that had a few scrapes so I sat beneath an old oak and waited until dark. The area that I was in an oak hammock and the dry leaves made walking anything but quiet. Therefore, I wasn't particularly surprised when I heard something moving my direction about 80 yards through the woods. I readied myself and out popped a turkey at about 40 yards. Then another...and another...and another. I waited until the last one was out moving through the clearing and drew back on my bow. I released the arrow and...well...flat out missed. I shot a few inches low and since I was already on the ground, the arrow dug into the ground short of its target. The turkeys all flushed and I counted 7 total.

I then heard more leaf crunching and almost immediately, a button-buck stepped out at about 30 yards. Even if I had wanted to shoot it, I couldn't since I had no arrow nocked. The buck stared at me for close to a minute as I tried to make myself resemble a lumpy tree and he finally spooked.

A few days later I found myself back in the same area. To my dismay, I walked in on another hunter near where I had shot at the turkeys. I decided to walk (forever) down a different road and finally found myself in a cypress swamp. It was getting late in the afternoon so I decided to sit under a tree and wait until dusk. My watch read 4:00 and I told myself I'd wait until 6:45 before I left. I made it to about 6:00. I had decided that if I sat there another minute I would be nothing more than a shriveled husk of a hunter due to blood loss from mosquitoes. Besides, I hadn't seen anything the whole time I was sitting there. I nocked my arrow, grabbed my things, stood up, and saw a doe at 20 yards.

I immediately ducked back down and drew out an arrow. I waited for a clear shot and the doe began to move off. I knew that if I didn't follow, I'd never have a shot. I decided to start stalking her and soon found a small opening that offered about a 40 yard shot. I let the arrow go and watched it go right where it belonged. However, upon hitting the deer, it sounded like my arrow hit a tree.

She tore up a hill, crashed through head high palmettos, and then did something I wasn't expecting. She blew at me and then ran further.

I got up and started looking for my arrow. When I finally found it, I couldn't believe what I was looking at. The arrow had indeed hit the deer. There was blood and hair covering the broadhead. But just the broadhead. No other part of the arrow had any sign of passing through the deer. I searched for the deer for over an hour and well into night fall with no sign. Not a drop of blood could be found.

After talking to my dad, we came to conclusion: my arrow had bounced off the deer. I had personally never heard of such a thing and was so upset at the time that I didn't even want to think about it. After getting home and calming down, I did some research and found that it is possible to hit a deer with an arrow and have it bounce off. I read an article of a hunter in Texas that shot a buck and the arrow hit squarely in the shoulder blade, causing the arrow to ricochet off. The only thing that I can imagine is that this is what happened to that doe. It's rather hard to believe, but I honestly can't make this stuff up.

I'll just be sure to sharpen my broadheads before I shoot at any more Kevlar toting Lochloosa deer.

End of an internship

Well, that's about it for my summer internship with FWC at Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. I can't even begin to describe how much experience I gained in the 3 short months that I worked there. It was great to finally get an idea of the kind of work environment I might end up in with my school major.

My last day of work had me searching for more Kogon grass. I took that opportunity to drive out to an area I'd never been to. I drove the four wheeler out to the far side of lake Jackson for some pictures. I took a short break out there, admired the view, and then drove back to the office for the last time. I really enjoyed the internship as a whole and I don't regret a second of my summer.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Trip up the fire tower

The office out at Three Lakes WMA has a fire tower behind it and it wasn't until I had to take pictures from the top of it that I realized I'd never been up. From below, it doesn't look THAT high, but after climbing flight after flight of stairs, I realized I was way up there.
Whoever designed the door on tower failed. It opens from the bottom like a hatch. The problem is that this hatch swings into the room and the stairs run directly into the wall. This means that in order to climb inside, one has to climb to the top of the stairs, spin around in a circle, and leap over the hatch to the safety of the room floor. The picture below is a view of the hatch from above. Note that the green vegetation is the top of 60+ ft. oak trees. The room didn't have much inside. There were two chairs, an old radio, a pair of binoculars, and a table with a compass on it.

It was rather roomy for being a big wooden box sitting on top of a steel tower. The only thing unsettling was the fact that I had chosen a windy day to climb up. Every time a gust of wind hit the room, the entire thing would vibrate and an eerie "whoosh" sound could be heard all around. It only took me a few minutes to take the pictures I needed, and I got a chance to have a bird's eye view of the entire surrounding area. I never realized how far one could see out of those fire towers and I'm betting it would be fairly easy to actually spot a wild fire.The climb down was uneventful, but I did manage to take a few pictures of the view straight down the stairs. The whole fire tower experience is certainly not for someone who's afraid of heights.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Everglades 2010, Take Two

Well, after the success of my first trip to the Everglades of 2010, I couldn't help but have another go. It was nearing the end of summer and I knew I wasn't going to have another chance until next year. I was limited on time on the first trip and only fly fished for cichlids for about 45 minutes. This ate away at me for weeks afterwards until finally...I couldn't take it anymore.

I loaded up a kayak in the back of the Jeep, grabbed my gear, and drove the 3.5 hours down to Florida City early one Saturday morning. I launched the yak at 8:00 am sharp and went to town in the same canal I'd caught fish in before.

I certainly wasn't prepared for the best day of fly fishing I've had to date. Over the course of the day I landed:

14 Mayan Cichlids and 1 Oscar (not shown):

1 Butterfly Peacock Bass (my 1st on the fly. Hit like a ton of bricks):

8 Fat gills:

And...*drum roll*...43 Largemouth Bass (none over 2lbs):

The overwhelming heat and sun got to me around 4:30 that afternoon. The wind had picked up at that point too making it difficult to control the yak and cast at the same time so I headed back. While I was paddling back to the Jeep, I realized that I hadn't eaten anything all day and I was sunburned to boot. I made it back to the hotel, dragged the yak into the room, ordered a pizza, and collapsed on the bed.

After gorging myself on super supreme stuffed crust, I was feeling quite a bit better. Some storms that had been floating around had worked their way offshore, so I decided to go make a few casts back down at the same canal before it got dark(it was only a few miles from the hotel). I stopped by a gas station to buy some aloe for my terrible sunburn, but found that they wanted 18$ for a tiny little bottle of it. I decided to just suffer.

Once down at the canal, I walked a few hundred yards from the Jeep and started casting. A dumb fly kept lighting on my face, so my casting resembled that of someone with a terrible twitch. I also noticed a few mosquitoes trying to bite my ankles. I proceeded to just brush them off and keep fishing. Soon, I started catching fish! I also realized that I had no way to keep them so I walked back to the Jeep to grab a small cooler. It was gradually getting later in the evening and I got to watch a beautiful sunset over the Everglades as I continued to walk further and further down the canal, catching fish as I did so. I started having to swat my legs and neck more and more often as I began to accumulated a few more blood sucking followers. I kept fishing and catching and didn't really realize that I was in trouble until it was too late. With one final cast, I looked up to see that the sun had sunk far below the horizon, and that all its rays were now just a dim glow. That's when I noticed the roar. I looked down to see my arms and legs were solid black with mosquitoes. I practically flew up the canal bank, secured my fly to the rod, and grabbed my cooler. I've got to get back to the Jeep before I...

My thoughts drifted off as I realized that I'd managed to walk over a mile from the Jeep. By now, the deer flies had begun swarming my face. With fly rod and cooler in had, I did the only thing I could do: Run screaming like a little girl.

With a mile time that could have qualified me for the summer Olympics, I made it back to the Jeep sweaty, bloody, and nearly crying with a mixture of pain and joy. I quickly threw my gear in the cab, hopped in, and drove off down the highway with the windows down, trying to flush the bugs out of the cab. Once back at the hotel, a combination of severe sunburn and hundreds of bug bites lead to a fever. I can safely say, however, that I haven't slept that well in a LONG time.

I got up Sunday morning and fished the canal again, however, not with the same amount of success. I still caught 5 more Cichlids and 10 more Largemouth. I noticed that cichlid fishing is much like bluegill fishing in that the bite is on fire early morning/late evening and whenever it gets cloudy. The Mayans put up an unbelievable fight and even with the 5 wt I was having trouble keeping them out of the sunken timber and structure. Two of them managed to get onto the reel as well. The biggest ones were between 10 and 11 inches.

From what I've read (and seen), the cichlid fishing isn't all that spectacular in the summer months because of higher water levels in the canals. Apparently late winter/spring is the time to go when water levels are low. One of these days I'll have to escape from school and make another trip in the springtime.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Deer Spotlighting

Well, I managed to slack off for a few months now in my writing (it's what, October now?). I figure with the way I'm going, any chances of catching up and posting recent events have been dashed. So what's the rush? Anywho, let's take a trip down memory lane and visit more of July.

In July, Along with Photopoints and Dove trapping, I got a chance to do deer spotlight counts. Basically...It's something I'd do for fun, even if I wasn't getting paid. It requires 3 people to do the surveys. One to drive, and two to sit on the back of the truck and shine the lights/use the rangefinder on the deer. Every time a deer is spotted, the driver stops and takes a GPS point. The two people on the back get a range and bearing on the deer along with sex and number of deer. The driver writes down all this information which is later plugged into a computer. So what's the problem with riding around the woods shining deer all night?
Nothing really. Except for the 'all night' part.
It's understood in the outdoor community that all wildlife, particularly game animals, keep terrible hours. Ask any hunter or fisherman when the best time to go out is and the answer will always be some God awful hour of the morning or long into the darkness of night. Most animals are active right after sun up and right before dark. Deer, however, are the exception to this rule because deer...are crazy. They generally don't come out until it is FAR into the night, long after even the most avid hunter has left the stand, driven home, showered, eaten, and climbed into bed. Sure one might see a deer in the middle of the day. But these are simply the insomniacs of the deer herd. The rest are hiding in the bushes until the earth has rotated a full 180 degrees. It is because of this, that we do deer surveys at night.
Oh, and because their eyes glow and are easy to see. But it's mainly because they're crazy.

Deer surveys started at 8:00 pm and lasted until about 2:00 or 3:00 am. For some reason (and I never got a straight answer as to why) FWC stopped conducting surveys on Three Lakes. Instead, the surveys are done at Triple N Ranch, Bull Creek, and Fort Drum WMA's. All of these areas are at least a 45 min drive from Three Lakes so my hours usually started about 7 and ended around 4.

Over the course of the month, I help conduct about 8 different surveys and I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them. Every one was different and it was exciting to see the different bucks and admire them as they stared, zombie like, back at the spotlight. By far, the biggest were located on Ft. Drum back toward the Turnpike. I found that the reason for this was because it was close to 2 miles through swamp from the entrance to the back of the WMA and vehicles weren't allowed. Meaning, that one had to walk to the back.
Unfortunately, I was unable to snap any pictures of the deer. Even if I had tried, my flash probably would have ruined it. Not the mention the fact that they were usually anywhere from 80-300 yards away from the truck.

The hours certainly managed to take their toll on me. I would usually do an 8-4 during the day, rest and then head back at 7 until 2 or 3. Rest, and get back up to work at 8 again. Luckily, FWC won't pay interns overtime so I'd usually hit my 40 hours for the week very early and then have a few days off. I did, at least, try to take it relatively easy during the days. I was really only whooped if we had to do a prescribed burn the day before a survey. I was able to snap a picture of something I'd only read about previously. A Pyrocumulus cloud:
Apparently its produced from large amounts of smoke. Under the right conditions, water vapor from the smoke manages to boil up into a storm. So, in a sense, we're busy raining ourselves out when we burn. Kinda counterproductive, huh?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Attack of the ninja turkeys!

July began the month of dove trapping. The state issued our office 30 bands and it was my responsibility to set the traps and band these doves. I've always been aware that doves aren't exactly high up on the intelligence scale. In fact, I was certain the scale went: Chimps, dolphins, dogs, parrots, horses, cows, mullet, and doves.After seeing and setting the traps, I came to the realization that doves are actually dumber than originally believed. The dove trap is a square cage with tunnels on the sides. One places seed in a line leading through the tunnel and into the cage....and that's it. The doves follow the seed in and can't figure out how to go back through the tunnel. The trap follows the same principle as a crawfish trap, but I've at least seen crawfish escape before. I've now had to revise the intelligence scale to this: Chimps, dolphins, dogs, 90% of the people encountered in Wal-mart, parrots, horses, cows, mullet, an oak tree, a brick, ABC's: The View, and finally doves.

Bands were put on the right leg and each band had its own ID number. I had to check each bird's molt stage, age, and sex. After this they were free to go...sometimes. On three separate occasions I released a dove only to have it sit in my hand and not fly away. I had to drop it in order for it to realize it could escape.
I set traps at four different locations around the WMA and had to check them every hour because of the heat. After all, no one likes roasted dove....well...maybe...but you get my point. My first day of trapping produced 10 dove and I had high hopes for knocking out the entire month's worth of banding in under a week. After that day, I never caught more than 3 in a day. I point the blame to turkeys. Ninja turkeys at that.

Over the course of a few weeks, the turkeys figured out that every time a truck drove up, seed magically appeared around the traps. After the truck left, they were free to eat all the seed around the trap and as far into the tunnel as their necks could reach. With that, they'd slip silently back into the bushes to await my next hour's visit. Each and every time I'd show up...the seed was gone and I'd have to re-bait. I knew it was turkey from the tracks. I just couldn't catch them in the act. At one point, I waited only 15 minutes rather than an hour only to find that they'd sneaked in, eaten all the seed, and disappeared (like a ninja) back into the bushes.
The abundance of turkeys brings me to my next point: Turkey hunters not trying hard enough.

I was assigned the (riveting) task of logging ALL comments on the back of hunter check cards from the previous hunting seasons. Yes, all of them. Even the: "Why the $@%* did you cut down so many trees?!" and the "Found some *%&hole in my treestand this morning!".

Several clever hunters had the audacity to write: "Stock with more turkey". If they only realized all they have to do is park their truck, act like their throwing seed, hide, and wait, then they'd have a turkey in under 15 minutes. Three Lakes is actually WELL known for its Osceola Turkey hunting and I've probably seen more turkey than I have deer since I've been here. Therefore, I feel I must place these whining turkey hunters on my intelligence scale. Somewhere between the mullet and an oak tree. Or maybe just below the brick.

To my surprise, the traps actually caught more than just Mourning Doves. They also caught Ground Doves:
And one (slightly angry) Mockingbird:
On a side note, I'm busy compiling a list of all creatures one might encounter that bite. I'm pleased to announce the the Mockingbird has been added to this list.

Overall, the dove trapping proved to be quite fun when I wasn't being sabotaged by ninja turkeys. I was almost bummed when I caught and banded my 30th dove since I knew it would be right back to spraying for exotics again.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Real squirrels don't go "woof"

The week following the truck drowning incident consisted of even MORE photopoints!
The heat became unbearable from the four wheeler so I took Shrek out again. If figured it would be OK since I wasn't going near any wet areas on this particular part of the management area. I worked till around noon and decided that I'd take a break and eat some lunch. I turned down a road and found some shade. I then turned the truck around in a fire break and went to park it underneath the shade. As I approached the shady area, I noticed something sitting in the middle of the road about 60 yards away.
Wow, that's one goofy looking fox squirrel, I thought to myself as I drove the truck toward it. Why is it sitting like that? There's not even any oaks for it around here. It's...oh...What the?

My thoughts drifted as I realized what it was as it ran right to the truck. A dog! I really small dog. It hopped up in my lap when I opened the door.
A yorkie. WAY out in the management area (over 5 miles in). He looked quite hot, so I poured some water that I had in my cooler out for him and gave him a drink. I had no idea how long he'd been in the wild, so I also gave him a dog's natural food of choice: Cheetos.

Not knowing what to do with the dog, I drove back to the office to see if I could dump the responsibility off to someone else. Naturally, no one was at the office when I returned. I had no choice but to lock him in my bathroom with some water and a bowl of Cheetos. I then returned to work for the day. When the end of the day rolled around, I took the dog back to the office and told my boss (as I held the dog out with one hand): "I found this out in the woods today...What should I do with him?"

Luckily he was cute, so my boss took him home and some of my fellow employees set about looking for the owners. The next day, we discovered the owners had lost the dog up on Highway 441 about 6 or 7 miles away. Why the dog ran all the way out there, and how he didn't get eaten by eagles/hawks/bobcats/coyotes/gators/a big snake or crushed by cows/trucks/cars will remain a mystery.
Goes to show that not every animal you find in the wild is considered "wildlife".

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I can drive a tractor...How convenient

Going back to work after the Glades trip wasn't easy. I got rather spoiled by getting to eat out, watch TV, use the computer from my room, and, of course, fishing all day every day.
As I work down here, I try to notice things that I've never done and pounce all over the chance to do them/learn them. Since July begins the month where dove trapping and deer spotlighting begins, some of the dove fields need to be tilled. This obviously requires some tractor use and I asked if I could be shown how to drive the tractor. Sure enough, Tuesday morning I got my wish.
The tractor was actually more complicated than I had originally thought. One actually needs four feet, three hands, and an extra set of eyes on the back of the head. The tractor has a clutch, two brakes (one for each side), and a gas pedal. It then has a hand throttle, and two gear shifters along with various other levers that deal with the disks behind the tractor and the bucket in the front. After a crash course lesson on how to drive it, I was given the keys and told where to go disk. The tractor reaches an astounding 20 mph on the highway and doesn't exactly fit in the lanes. This made going by sod trucks and other semi's kind of scary.
I had to go disk a field on Lucky L ranch just down the road. This property was recently purchased by the state and isn't part of the WMA yet. Disking took very little time and I actually got the hang of driving the tractor around by the time I made it back to the office.

The rest of the week I got the task of continuing photo points. I had started doing them before I went down to the glades but forgot to mention them. Yes, they're that much fun.

A photo point is a tiny pole buried in the ground. These are scattered all around the 62000 acres of Three Lakes. With a map and a GPS, it's my job to go out and find these poles in the palmettos. The posts are never where the GPS says and it usually takes anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour to find the stupid thing in the bushes. Once I've found the pole, I take another pole with a camera mount and attach it. I then take pictures in a 360 degree rotation. The pictures are used to determine how high the vegetation has grown so that they can decide what areas need to be burned and when.

Prior to going down to the glades, I got stranded on the prairie for about 2.5 hours. Shrek decided that he was sick of the constant physical and verbal abuse I put him through every day while off road so he just decided to quit working. I radioed in for help and the only person available was Michelle. Since I picked a spot on the other side of the WMA to get stranded, it took a while for the rescue truck to come. After about 30 minutes of baking in the sun and drinking ALL of my water, the rescue truck came to give me a jump. I hooked up the jumper cables and...Nothing. Shrek was dead. I then crawled underneath the truck and hooked up the tow straps. All was going according to plan until the rescue truck hit a giant mud hole/pond on the way to the main road. The rescue truck then sunk in the mud. I managed to get the truck unstuck after only a few minutes and tried to pull Shrek myself. I was surprised that the V10 rescue truck was having so much trouble. I was even more surprised when I smelled smoke.

I jumped out of the truck like it was on fire. Which was good news because...well...IT WAS. The truck was dripping flames into the mud. Luckily, the fire stopped shortly after I cut the engine. I could hear both Shrek and the V10 snickering as I sloshed through the shin deep mud to go find my radio.
By this time, the lone and unsuspecting tech, Murray, was about to end his shift. I can picture him now leaping for joy when he heard me on the radio stating that there were now TWO trucks stranded out on the prairie.
Murray arrived fairly quickly and somehow got Shrek to cooperate for about 100 yards. Turned out the battery was completely dead. So dead that if I didn't keep the gas on, it died. He finally towed me all the way back to the office and the V10 limped behind.

Fast forward to the week following the glades trip: The Wednesday following my tractor lesson found my doing more photo points on the prairie. Shrek decided that he really did enjoy his job and decided to work properly. I drove down to the Highway 60 entrance and went along a firebreak paralleling private property. About 1/2 mile down the firebreak, I came across a mud hole. Ah, I can make it through this easy, I thought to myself. 45 minutes later I was eating that thought as I waded out of the pond.
I radioed for help and unfortunately, no truck with a winch was available (they were all out burning). I walked back to the main road and hitched a ride back to the office. I spent the whole day doing photo points from the four wheeler which was a nightmare. Around 1500, I went back to the office to see if someone could help me yank Shrek from the lake (yes, it was upgraded from mud hole, to pond, to lake). Emily's truck had a winch, so we drove down to the lake and got ready to winch the truck out. The winch's free spool was jammed, so we had to back the line all the way out. The process managed to suck ALL of the battery from Emily's truck and...of course...the rescue truck died. Apparently, when I get stuck, it takes at LEAST two trucks to pull me out. Carlton drove down to help us after we radioed in. He managed to give Emily's truck a jump and we decided that Shrek was too far gone for today and that it would take the tractor the following morning. Convenient that I just learned how to drive it.

The next morning Carlton and I drove back down to the small bay to rescue Shrek. I managed to bottom out both front and rear axles and it took quite a bit of pulling (and the help of two more techs, Murray and Stony) to finally free the truck. The rest of the week was more, uneventful, photo points from the four wheeler.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Everglades 2010

Spent Monday through Thursday of last week spraying exotics. I despise them now and I cringe every time I see Cogan grass, even when it's not on state land.
My dad came down Tuesday evening to stay through the week. He fished during the day while I worked and then we both fished in the evening. I was able to show him around the WMA too.
Thursday after work we took off for the Everglades. We made the horrible mistake of trusting the GPS navigation to get us to the Tamiami trail quickly and it took us down I-95 directly into Miami. The interstate was 12 lanes of chaos and a trip that would have taken between 2.5-3 hours on the Turnpike ended up taking 5. We fished the Tamiami for a short time then drove down to Homestead to the hotel.The next morning we went back to the Tamiami to put the kayaks in a canal. I fly fished for a few but had little to no luck. I then switched to a good ol' fashioned worm. We were worried that the Cichlids had all died over the winter fish kills and I broke out the worm rod just to check. After only a short period of time, I landed a Mayan Cichlid. Soon after I got a Jaguar Guapote and these other Cichlids (Honestly not sure of their name. They look like a cross between a convict and a discus). We noticed some storms heading our direction so we paddled back. I didn't have a cooler on the yak so I put my fish on a stringer. Once at the launch, I tied the stringer off to a bush to keep the fish alive in the canal. We loaded up the kayaks and put everything up in the bed. I walked down to the water's edge and began untying the stringer from the bush. Suddenly, there was a flash and I felt a shock run up my arms to my elbows. A lightning bolt had struck the water VERY close by. WAY too close if you ask me. My hands tingled for about 10 minutes afterwards.
We then drove down to the Everglades National Park to do some fishing in ponds we'd had luck in during previous years. We launched the kayaks and quickly got to fishing. I used strictly top water and soon had tarpon exploding underneath the lure. None, however, could hook themselves. It was the perfect fishing evening...The kind fishing dreams are made of. Not a breath of wind, cool weather, the water was like a mirror, and HUGE fish chasing your lure. If only I could have hooked one. I counted during the trip and missed a total of 15 strikes from both Tarpon and Snook. I landed one bass and my dad landed a nice Snook.
Went back the next morning to the same pond. I paddled right back to where I had so many strikes and after about 10 casts, hooked up on a fish. It dragged me around the pond for over 15 minutes. I figured it was a juvenile Tarpon, but had never seen it jump. I finally got the fish up to the boat and had the best surprise of the trip. It was a monster Snook. I pulled the fish to the boat's edge, reached down to lip him, the fish shook, and lodged the hook right into my finger. The thought of having myself attached by the hand to such a big fish made me rip the hook out instantly, ignoring the barbs (ouch). My second lipping attempt worked and I hefted the ogre into the yak. Before this fish, my biggest Snook may have been 18 inches. I was grateful for bringing my camera for this 40 inch, 30lbs fish.
My dad caught a small tarpon later (which I didn't get a picture of) and that was that. We drove back to the Tamiami trail and there were a ton of people fishing it. We didn't launch the kayaks again. Sunday morning we went back to the Everglades National Park again, but caught no fish in the ponds. On the way out, we stopped to look in a canal. To my surprise, it had cichlids in it. Lots of them. We launched the kayaks and I was determined to catch one on a fly. It took over 30 minutes of casting and maneuvering the boat in 20 mile/hour winds but I finally had a fish on. It turned out to be an Oscar (my favorite Cichlid by far).
A few casts later landed myself a very nice Mayan...
Ended the day with 4 Mayans and an Oscar on the fly. I'd never caught Cichlids on the fly before so the combination of a huge snook and cichlids on the fly definitely made my trip.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Snakes on a plane!...err...Truck!

Note: I've successfully not caught up like I planned. Everything from last week seems to have blended into one big work day so I'll hit the high points.

I had to deal with more RCW stuff last week. As I was driving to meet Cliff, I noticed two Black Racers in the middle of the road. Not wishing to run them both over, I hopped out of the truck and began prodding them along with my boot. One slithered off into the bushes, while the other one went under my truck. I then watched in shock, as the snake lifted itself up and wrapped itself around the rear axle and up under the truck frame. I quickly produced a stick and rolled underneath the truck to start trying to remove the snake. Only moments later, I looked over to see the second snake had returned and had begun climbing up the front tire. I rolled out from underneath the truck and grabbed the second snake by the tail as it started to go into the engine. We were then at a stalemate. I couldn't pull the snake any harder since he would probably pop in half and I couldn't give in since he'd just go deeper into the truck. I snapped a picture because I knew no one would believe me.
After about 10 minutes I decided to let him go inside the engine. I popped the hood, and successfully chased him out. About that time, the first snake plopped out of the back and slithered off into the bushes to join his friend.

I had water monitoring to do last week as well. It seems that only on the days I wear dark colored shirts that I have to do water monitoring. There isn't an ounce of shade and I therefore melt. After water monitoring, I had to take the four wheeler out to check a few more wood duck boxes. I managed to check only two of them before a storm brewed up and the bottom fell out. I got soaked and had to drive the four wheeler a few miles back in the rain.
Once the rain stopped. I dried off and hopped in Shrek to go make sure I knew where the transect was for the quail survey I had to do the next morning. On the way there, I had the usual herd of cattle in the road. One cow stuck out in particular and I deemed it picture worthy.
Had to do several quail surveys as well last week so I woke up early and got off early. I was too tired, however, on those days to fish so I came home and fell asleep. Thursday was a hoot. My four wheeler stopped working completely then the one I was given quite working as well. The following day I had to spray (yay) and I spent most of the morning taking the herbicide tank off of the old four wheeler and putting it on the new one. One thing was wrong after another and four hours later I had the pump working so that I could spray. I fished the Jackson-Kissimmie canal after work on Friday and had a good bit of luck. 3 bass and about 10 Stumpknockers made the evening.Saturday I traveled into Orlando to meet with friends to watch the World Cup. I'm rooting for Argentina so I made sure to catch their game. I unfortunately missed the first (and only) goal in the 8th minute of the game so I watched close to an hour and a half of nothing. I later got to watch the US vs. England game and I was surprised to see a tie at 1:1.

Sunday I waded a borrow pit close to the WMA entrance. I forgot the camera and therefore had a great afternoon of fishing. I landed about 8 bass, one of which was my biggest on the fly. I also lost one that was even bigger. I landed a few keeper bluegill as well.

And there you have it. (Nearly) caught up. I'm just a day behind now :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hmm...I might want to see a doctor

Note: I'm running low on pictures at the moment. I haven't uploaded them to the computer yet. I've also, obviously, fallen behind in postings since I'm usually too tired to do much of anything after work.

Pulled the crawfish traps back in last week and had quite a surprise. I actually caught some! Well, by some, I mean two. But it's more than I've ever caught. The picture is blurry, but I swear it's a crawfish (the camera died right after I took the picture so I couldn't get a better one).
As I was pulling in the traps, I was being eaten alive by flies. I didn't pay them too much attention and focused mainly on getting out of the dome and back to the jeep. I got back to the trailer and sat down at the table in the kitchen to eat some dinner. I noticed then, that my hand had two giant welts on it. One on the top next to my index finger, and the other on the underside of my wrist. The welts had swollen and were close to the size of a paintball welt. I was rather surprised about how big they were, but couldn't really do anything about it so I finished eating and went to take a nap. Upon waking, it felt like my hand was asleep. I looked down to see my entire right hand smooth and swollen. I immediately took an antihistamine to try to make the swelling go down.

I played around with the idea of going to see a doctor. But it seemed the swelling was slowly (very slowly) going down over the course of a few days. This picture was taken two days after I was bitten. I'll let you use your imagination to figure out how I took the picture by myself.
Wednesday was a blast. I nearly put in 12 hours of work. I had to do a sex check on an RCW tree and after (sorta) getting the band combination of one adult, I went to peep the tree. The peeper, however, was broken and wouldn't display a picture. I drove the four wheeler over to meet Cliff to see if he could fix it (which he couldn't) and then drove back to the office. I had some bluebird stuff to take care of while I waited for Cliff to finish up with the good peeper and after he was done, I got to essentially start work (at 1:00pm). I had taken the four wheeler that morning because most of the places couldn't be accessed by truck. Unfortunately, the good peeper can't be put on the four wheeler so I had to take Shrek along with me which he was pleased about. I once again willed the truck through more places than I can remember and finally called it quits at 1830.

Thursday had me back out at a few places I couldn't get to the day before. It nearly took all morning to find the different places (+ a few new ones that had been tacked on). The last cluster I had to check (cluster 45) actually required the four wheeler. It's not that it was too muddy or wet, it was that the tree is literally close to a mile from the road through thick palmettos and cypress domes. I started to hoof it out there, following a small creek when a thunderstorm rolled in. I decided that holding a 30ft pole in a lightning storm wouldn't be the best idea, so I turned back to the truck before I even made it there. Since I'd put so many hours in the day before, I just left work early.

Friday was yet again, another RCW day. I had to help Cliff do a fledge check in a specific cluster. The fledge check is just to see if the chick that hatched has successfully left the nest. This requires getting all of the band combinations of ALL birds in the area. I really wasn't too much help, but I did help Cliff follow the birds all over creation for a few hours before we finally found the fledged chick. I then was lucky enough to go back to cluster 45 to find the tree. I made the mile hike through shoulder high palmetto, cypress swamps, and bogs. It took forever. I went all the way out there to look inside the tree, just to see....Nothing. It was empty. I trudged my way back and finished out the day by checking 3 more clusters.

Drove into town on Saturday to get groceries and a haircut. I finally got paid, so I was able to treat myself to the Wendy's I was craving. I bought some fishing supplies that I wanted to trying to catch catfish and went back to the WMA to see what I could do. I set some limb lines and got chased off by another storm. The storm had passed before it got dark so I drove back out to check the lines. As I walked down to the canal, I noticed that one of my lines had been dragged up under some weeds. I started pulling on it only to find it hung up underneath the weeds. I walked out onto some stumps to find the leader and discovered about a 20 inch catfish on the end of it. Sadly, as I pulled on the line, the knot broke and the fish got away. I reset the lines and called it a day.

Sunday I tried catfishing again but with no luck whatsoever. I did learn a valuable lesson though. As I was fishing, I had two old women come up and start bream fishing literally on top of my lines. Close enough that when one of them accidentally caught a catfish (that I'd been fishing for over an hour for), her line got tangled around mine. I walked down and started to try to get the bird's nest undone. She had hooked about a 14 inch Bullhead catfish. I lipped him and started to pull the hook out when it suddenly felt like someone had stomped on my thumb. The catfish had bitten me. Hard! Not wishing to hold the thing around the body, I kept my finger in its mouth as I desperately tried to remove the hook between his munches. I finally freed the fish and the women said they wanted to keep it. I threw the catfish at them in frustration and stalked back to my seat. (And no, I didn't hit them with it. That certainly would be an interesting story to tell the police officer why I threw a catfish at some old ladies).