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?