May 31, 2016
There are those days when the Atlantic is more lake than ocean… its waters slick and mirror-like, and only the fringes of foam along the tideline indicate its incessant roll.
Today is not one of those days.
I push the kayak out into deeper water, and even as I’m clambering aboard, the wind shoves me north while the tide pulls me south. She wallows for a moment as I dig with the paddle, until forward motion stabilizes the narrow hull and I’m making way across the choppy inlet waves. I’m not skipping along, but at least I’m moving.
My planning was skimpy for this trip, so I didn’t really consider that I’d be hitting the water at the changing tide when the wind is at its worst, and the currents are confused. Sure enough, the wind is steady and strong, and the rip is pronounced, especially over the shallow bars. The swell, only a couple of feet yesterday, has come up, running ahead of the tropical depression that’s formed down in the southern corner of South Carolina. Here at Carolina Beach, almost 200 miles from the disturbance, the churning tide and strong wind have turned the water into a roiling mess.
It’s my first time out for the season though, and reports of hungry Spanish mackerel and even a few stray kings motivate each stroke. My shoulders feel strong, and I take a line on the cut between the shoals where the chop isn’t too bad. Way off in the distance, about a mile away, my goal is the sea buoy. I hope the water will settle down a bit once I’m clear of the shallows, but the steady moaning of the buoy as it rolls on the swell tells me I’m probably due for disappointment.
By the time I’ve made the edge of the inlet channel, I’m not feeling quite so strong. Paddling a 13’ kayak in a washing machine will take the starch out of most folks, especially folks like me who spend most working days sitting over a computer. I’d hoped the deeper water would be a little less troubled, but it isn’t looking good. I keep thinking maybe I’ll go ahead and drop the diving plug off my trolling rod and let it follow me out, but every time I stop paddling, the boat starts to turn and I have to dig in to point it back into the wind. If by some wild chance I should hook a fish, I don’t know how I’d fight it.
Against my better judgement, I keep paddling. I leave the beach behind, but the buoy is still way out there. On a calm day I could turn and drag my lures along the shoals, but that’s not an option with the frothing rip and windblown chop. I need to hit open water, or I need to turn back.
Over my shoulder, I hear the rumble of big diesels. I turn to see several boats from the Carolina Beach charter fleet heading my way. These are the big boats, 45 or 50 footers, so while these conditions may be slightly uncomfortable for the clients, they’re hardly a barrier to a day of fishing. I’ve also noticed, however, that no small boats have attempted to run offshore this morning. I realize that my plan for fishing the sea buoy from my kayak is not going to bear fruit. It’s just too rough.
Even as I’m holding position in the chop, the last charter boat pulls alongside. One of the hands is yelling at me. I can’t get every word, but the gist of it is clear enough. “Turn back, you idiot. We don’t want to have to rescue your ass.”
At first, I’m a little offended by the implication. I’ve paddled worse water, and I know how to handle it. But he doesn’t know that. He only sees a tourist in a tiny boat, fighting the wind and the tide on an increasingly nasty day. And, of course, I recognize that even as he was yelling at me, I had already reached the same conclusion. I’m not going out there today.
It’s easier to turn back, though, when I realize that in the entire time I’ve been on the water I haven’t seen a single bird diving on bait. If the birds were working, I’m pretty sure I would have put in the extra effort to get out there (charter mates be damned). But there is nothing to encourage the effort, so I put the boat around and head back to calmer water.
I spend the next couple of hours dragging a plug up and down the inlet, but it’s pretty pointless. The fish are on the outside, and there are no stragglers this far inshore. Nevertheless, I just enjoy paddling along, feeling the boat on the water and the sun on my face. But I see the beach getting busier, and I decide to head for the hill before the tourist traffic peaks. I can stand a rough ocean, but getting hung up in a flood tide of bad drivers is more than I can handle.
May 26, 2016
No, not me, unfortunately. While I do plan to make some trips up to the mountains for hogs in the future, I doubt they’ll be letting the average Joe Nimrod into the National Park to hunt hogs.
But it’s kind of a cool story from NPR, and as you’ll see, it plays out pretty much like you’d expect, if you’ve ever had the opportunity to guide a reporter, with recording or camera gear along.
So check it out. I know I enjoyed it.
May 16, 2016
Wow. How long since I last posted?
So turkey season is well past and I don’t have so much as a feather to show for it. As I’ve mentioned, I saw birds, but just never got the right opportunity. And, truthfully, it occurs to me that I guess I’m just not all that dedicated as a turkey hunter. I could have put in some more time… hit a few different places away from the farm… but I just never got that motivated.
Maybe I’m just getting spoiled. Maybe I’m preoccupied with other things… getting the new house in place, working on the property to improve the hunting opportunities, and so on and so forth and all that jazz.
Whatever. I didn’t kill a turkey.
What I did do, however, was get the chance to really appreciate a good pair of knee-high, rubber boots. In this particular case, they were a pair of Irish Setter’s “Rutmaster 2.0”, sent to me for review earlier this spring.
I haven’t worn rubber boots since my childhood, when my standard hunting boots were picked up at the discount store. They were uninsulated, clunky, and made for a lot of really miserable mornings on the deer stand. My feet would sweat while we were driving out to the hunt and walking to the stand, and then the sweat just sat there and chilled until it sucked every bit of body heat right out of my feet.
I gave up rubber boots when I started to buy my own gear, but I also watched over time, in the magazines, television shows, and at the SHOT show, as knee boots became a really popular thing for deer and turkey hunters. It didn’t escape my notice, though, that their popularity was usually in the South. At this point, I was hunting in CA, which wasn’t really the place for rubber, knee boots.
Even in Texas, the Hill Country took a lot of up and down in some pretty rugged stuff, and while the protection of a knee-high boot was inviting, I always felt better with something a little more solid on my feet.
But now I’m back in North Carolina. My place is on relatively high ground, as this part of southeastern NC goes, but it’s flat as a pancake and often pretty wet. The longest hike I’m likely to make is a mile or so, but even the short hikes are often through catclaws and blackberry brambles. So when I got the chance to try out the Irish Setter boots, I figured turkey season would be the perfect opportunity to see what I really thought about them.
My first impression? Rubber, knee boots have changed a lot since I was a frozen-footed youngster, and the change is definitely for the better.
The boots are really lightweight. They’re made of a composite that includes neoprene and vulcanized rubber that somehow provides good strength, but keeps these 17″ high boots down to a little over two and a half pounds per boot. That’s enough heft to feel like you’re wearing something, but not enough to feel like your feet are encased in blocks of concrete.
This particular model comes with 800 grams of Thinsulate, which makes them reasonably well insulated for most of the NC hunting seasons. The weather this spring has been really sort of weird, with lots of chilly mornings that turn into warm days. It hasn’t been exceptionally cold or hot. I think I’d probably want something a little more insulated if it gets really cold, but I found them really comfortable on every outing.
Just to really push them a little, I wore them while cutting the brush out of my ditches… wading through six to ten inches of water and pushing through brambles and briars. It was about 85 degrees out, with matching humidity. I figured my feet would be soaked with sweat by the time I was done, but that really wasn’t the case. Whatever they’ve done to make this boot breathe, it’s working.
The outsoles have what they call the “Mudclaw RPM II” design. It’s a fairly aggressive tread, and holds traction pretty well in the snot-like swamp mud that forms around the edges of my pasture. However, the sole is relatively soft. That’s great for walking quietly. They’d be perfect for slipping through the pines to get to my morning tree stand, but I wouldn’t want to have to wear these over the jagged, volcanic rock like I encountered in parts of Northern California deer country.
I remember walking in those old boots of my youth, and how they tended to slip and slide over my heels. Within a couple hundred yards, I could guarantee a hot spot that would quickly become a blister if I kept going. Rubber boots tended to have one shape, and very little give. That’s changed too.
One of my favorite things about these Rutmaster boots (which I think is standard in most of Irish Setter’s current line) is what they call their “Exo-Flex technology”. This allows the boot to expand over the back of your foot when you put the boot on, and then locks in over your heel to keep the boot really secure, no matter what sort of terrain you’re navigating. It’s not quite like wearing a lace-up boot or athletic shoe, but it made these things really comfortable for walking over uneven ground. The only challenge to this Exo-Flex heel is that I had to use a boot jack to take them off. Maybe it’s just my advancing decrepitude, but I couldn’t bend over and pull them off by hand.
I can’t speak yet to the durability of the Rutmaster boots, since I’ve only had them for a couple of months so far. I’m sure I’ll be using them all summer as I work around the farm and doing habitat projects, and I’ll definitely be wearing them to the stand come September. If there are any updates, I’ll be sure and share them here.