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.