You Just Never Know

You Just Never Know

Brady was always a lover of the outdoors. He had fished and hunted with his Dad when he was a young boy. He remembered with total clarity the days spent chasing trout in the rivers and streams in his home state of West Virginia. The nights spent fishing for flatheads on the mighty New river. And the days filled with the sweet smell of gunpowder and a wet dog by his side. He thought about all of this and other things as he pulled up to the stream where it had all began.

Had it really been that long ago when he had first pulled a trout from this magical stream? Twenty five years ago it had all happened and the memories were coming over him as swift and turbulent as the water that flowed before him.

He stepped from his old bruised and battered truck to stretch his legs for he knew Jim would be late. He always was. This could be counted on and Brady , on this day, was glad he was late. For he yearned to spend some time on the stream before Jim arrived, alone again at last  on the river of his youth.

As Brady walked the bank of the stream he felt almost childlike as he bent over to pick up a limey green grasshopper and inspect it and the others that were leaping and flying every few steps he would take in the tall grass. He was always fascinated at their great abundance and close proximity to the stream. What intrigued him most was that with all these hoppers skimming the tall grass and with them certainly falling into the stream from time to time, especially on a windy day, the trout in this stream would seldom take a perfectly tied imitation drifted precisely over their feeding lane. He wondered why this was as he casually flipped one into the stream, only to see it disappear in a violent rise from a hefty slice of Elk River Butter.

Would today be the exception? He quietly thought to himself. After all it was rather windy and surely the fish were most likely keying in on those unfortunate hoppers that were violently blown onto the waters surface. He quickly checked all seven of his fly boxes and could not find a hopper imitation in any of them. Suddenly he remembered his day pack in the back cab of his truck and he had a  slight skip in his step as he walked back to retrieve the bag that held all of his hopper imitations.

Opening the bag he was relieved to see that they were all still there. He was even more relieved to see that they were all still pretty much in the same shape  as the days he had tied them.  Most were tied ten or more years ago when he was going through his phase of learning to spin deer hair. He quickly grabbed the bag and walked back to the edge of the stream where he had seen the brown that had ate the grasshopper.

Uncasing his grandfathers old fiberglass fly rod felt nostalgic and he was very pleased as he slid the last bit of fly line through the guides of the antique rod. The rod felt a bit heavy to him for he was used to the new graphite rods that were much lighter and compact. But he imagined that the extra weight was the soul of his grandfather pressed deep into the rods very being and it all began to feel quite familiar to him and he was pleased as he tied on the deer hair hopper to the end of his fine tippet.

As he waded into the stream several fish were already rising. Making soft dimples on the waters surface and he knew there could not be any greater place in the world to be at this particular moment. He soaked it all in before he made his first cast to the rising fish. Making sure ever thing was as it should be and it was. He couldn’t think of anything but the trout and the hoppers and how they were all so beautifully connected. And it made him feel pure inside. He gently raised the rod and started a familiar sequence of false casts.

As the line turned over and the tippet began to straighten over the water, he stopped his cast abruptly, letting it fall quietly onto the water in front of  two  browns that were demanding his attention. As the fly drifted over the trouts feeding lane one of the browns made a slight turn and slowly came up to inspect the new terrestrial that had just invaded his turf. The brown drifted thirty feet or more, not an inch below the surface under the fly, before slowly turning and heading back to his feeding lane.

Brady thought to himself that maybe this wasn’t an exception to the rule type of day. And he made several more casts to the rising trout with no luck at all. He didn’t mind though for it was a glorious day and the coolness of the river felt quite intoxicating to him. So he kept on casting the fly with the same results until eventually it became waterlogged and started to sink.

Just as he was beginning to raise the rod to bring the fly up from the depths a yellowish flash caught his attention and he quickly dropped the rod and it was all happening so fast, yet to him he felt as if everything around him was moving in slow motion. In an instant his rod began to thump violently and he was starting to feel very alive and his body shook as he set the hook. The pool that was quiet and peaceful not ten seconds before was now a churning cauldron of a Brown trout and a fisherman and the water that it was all happening in felt electric.

Brady quickly pointed the rod towards the fighting fish and somehow managed to get the line that was attached to the brawling beast onto his reel. The fish began to make several long runs, head thumping runs, and the earth began to move and everything was just so crazy. Brady was having the time of his life and at the same time sinking feelings began to churn in his stomach every time the fish would make another charge to break free.

Finally, after a good two minute fight, the thumping that was at the other end of his line began to get less violent and Brady turned hard on his reel, moving his rod from one side to the other to throw the fish off balance. All the while the kid in him was laughing out loud with each tug on the line that connected him to the trout and brought him deeper into to the underwater playground that was allowing all of this to happen.

As the big brown slowly began to accept its fate, Brady got his first good look at the beast. It was a fish of a lifetime with a bright yellow belly and great red spots dotted all along its flank. As he gently slid the net under the brown he heard himself let out a victorious hoot and it startled him at first, but within seconds he was laughing and there was a smile on his face that would be hard pressed to find on any other man who had not the inclination or the want to be in a place such as this and to lend his life to the trout and the trout to his.

As Brady held the fish in the water of his submerged net and watched the colors turn from gold to red , the colors began to bounce off one another, shimmering and flashing in sequence, creating a picture so beautiful it could only have been painted by the hand of God.

As he released the fish back into the magical waters that lay before him. A familiar voice brought him back to the place that separates the wilds from the sprawling world he had left before he had pulled up beside the stream earlier in the day. “Any luck yet?”, Jims baratone voice asked.  “A little bit, gonna be another typical day on the elk, their eating the small stuff.” Brady replied. “Dam it! I was hoping that maybe I could do some good with a hopper pattern with all these hoppers around”. “You never know, you just never know.” Brady answered with a Devil Anse smile.

Written by

Shane Stover

An Old Retriever Finds the Fountain of Youth

An Old Retrievers Fountain of Youth

  As I step from the house and gently close the door,a commotion begins to stir in the dog kennels.The young bit#h whines with anticipation, as the old male gingerly crawls out of his dog house.The gun in my hand is a dead give away it’s time to hunt fowl.They know the drill and begin to woo me, for they know that only one of them will be heading to the marsh this day.

  My mind is already made up though before I even step out the door.The old male will be on duty today and the young female will be left behind.This decision is based on a previous hunts goings on.The young female had showed she still had things to learn of this icy business of duck hunting.So I make a gamble and pick the aging retriever over the fiesty young female.

I snap the leash on the old dog and we head towards the truck.With each step I notice the dog favoring his arthritic hips.But as we near the truck I notice he’s begining to limber up and a smile comes to my face. I picture him when he was still a young- up and coming retriever- himself.Those were great days.And I have to wipe my eye as I realize that those days are no longer here.You see,the dog is 14 years old and we both know his time is running out.But we try and overlook this and make our way to the marsh.

As I reach the marsh I notice ice has formed on the ponds surface over night.And i silently wonder if the old retriever will be up for the task.It’s just a thin layer though and my hopes are running high.

Sunrise brings the ducks, dashing and darting over the ponds surface.I clinch the gun tightly and a bit nervously for I know the test is soon to come.There, to my left a single mallard hen cups her wings and glides toward the gun.Bowoop!!!She’s hit,but proves to be a cripple and starts to swim toward the opposite bank.On command,the old dog lunges towards the waters surface and swims dutifully toward the crippled bird.My heart sinks though as I see the cripple climb the bank and vanish in the briar choked thicket.

The duck and dog vanish into the timber for what seems to be an eternity.I can hear the commotion the two are making though and hope for a good outcome.The pitter patter of the dogs feet and quacking of the hen mallard quickens my pulse and hightens my senses.

  I can see the dog now but he doesn’t have the duck.With a loud quack the mallard jumps from the thicket onto the surface of the pond.The dog lunges toward the duck but his forward progress is slowed by a tangle of briars that envelops him.But wonder of wonders he keeps pushing through,inching his way out of the grasp of the briary prison.

As soon as the dog is free he scoops the duck up and with head held high,swims back to bring me our prize.I know now that today,christmas of all days,my old dog has discovered the fountain of youth.And  that any more birds shot will be plucked from the water with enthusiasm and grace.For the Lord has blessed my dog with the best christmas present I could have hoped for,an overwhelming sense of youthfullness.

The next 2 birds,a big gaudy drake mallard and plump hen are easy pickens for both the dog and me.He brings them to hand as he has done hundreds of times and high praise is given for he has earned it.He has braved the cold and the ice with the enthusiasm of a pup chasing song birds.

As we gather our christmas bounty of birds,I run my hand under the old dogs chin.He gives me a look of pure content and I know then what he knows.That although his days afield are running out,this day was another moment in the sun,a glimpse of greatness!

written by Shane Stover

The Public Land Doe Hunt- ‘One With Nature’

                                The Public Land Doe Hunt

One with Nature by Shane Stover

  Two miles out I stop at the local Go-mart for snacks.Beef jerky,a bag of assorted nuts and a gatorade from the cooler by the counter,the survival rations of an outdoorsman if you will.Snow has steadily fallen the full 68 miles I have traveled from my work place.The snow is the reason I have a Doe stamp in my pocket.Any opportunity I get to hunt whitetail deer in the snow is seldom,with Browning mag. in hand,I take the long way in to my chosen hunting ground for the day.

  As I step from the cab of the truck I am instantly put on high alert!Three dozen canadian geese and a handful of mallard ducks sound off at my intrusion.The geese seem less worried about me than the mallards do though.

The mallards flush after 2 steps in their general direction,while the geese simply swim in unison toward the middle of the marsh.It is right then I know I am in a familiar place and all seems to be right with the world.

  I am hunting on public land this particular morning.The deer have been harassed by hunter’s everyday fro the past two months of bow and rifle season.But,I know this land well.Not so much from deer hunting,but from chasing ducks,my true passion as an outdoorsman.You see the ducks and geese are what first brought mre here.For in the last 13 years or so I have pursued them diligently.And in turn,found it to be a nice deer hunting spot in its own right.

  I creep through the ankle deep snow,scanning the tree line for any movement from a Doe.As I approach another marshy area I am met with a pusle shattering flush from another trio of mallards.But still,though I scan the snow covered wood precisely,I see no sign of any deer.

  Easing up the old access road I carefully check the ground for fresh tracks.I check for the next 200 yards,I find none.Stopping at the edge of a marshy field,I stop and plan my approach.

  To my left is a clearly visible deer trail funneling through a bottleneck through the woods at the edge of the field.To my right,a brush covered marsh with obvious deer sign scattered about.This is the spot I choose.You could say this is the spot that chose me.This is where I will spend the next 60 minutes,,with my back to a massive oak,scanning the surrounding woodlands and marshes.

  You could say this is the spot my father chose also,for he is the one who taught me to sit with my back to a large tree.By doing this he instructed,I would break up my outline and be more camouflaged from the deer.Also,the tree trunk would offer protection from any wayward bullets heading in my direction.I sit against the tree and begin to become part of the forest I am hunting.

  As I take my gloves off and adjust my fathers old and battered floppy hunting hat so I will be better prepared for a shot, if one happens to present itsself,I am drawn to movement from my left.It is just what I am here for,a mature whitetail Doe.I take my shirt and gently rub the lens of my scope to clear my view.

  As I raise the rifle a sudden calm falls over me.It is so familiar,I get chills!I hear a voice in my head saying breathe and gently squeeze boy!I do as the voice instructs and the Doe falls sharply to the ground.

  I raise my hands to the air,praising the Lord and thanking my heavenly and  earthly father.Even though he is gone from this earth I feel he is with me though the whole ordeal.

  Now the work begins,for I never said public land deer hunitng was a walk in the park,But it is available and there are plenty of deer to be had on these public lands if you are determined and patient enough to give them an honest try.

  As I approach my fallen trophy,four candaian geese fly overhead,honking continuously,apparently spooked from there perch on the pond from the .300 mags deafening boom.I realize then that this is a place to be cherished…a place to be passed on to my own son.

  So,as I set out for the mile and a half drag back to my truck,I am not worried about the obstacles that are in front of me.I am more worried about the plight of hunting and can only pray this public land  will remain for years to come,for my son and his son to enjoy….to match their wits against public land deer.To become woodsman and marksmen…and ultimately become what God intended all of man to be-One with Nature-.

                                written by Shane Stover

Going Small “In Pursuit of them All”

Going Small-“In pursuit of them all”

To walk along the river of my dreams has been a reality of mine for the better part of my life. Being in the presence of such beauty and splendor has not only been a dream come true but a gift from God. Countless times I have been a spectator to one of the greatest shows on earth. The evening rise! I have witnessed the rivers inhabitants indulge on the aquatic insects that also make this river there home. And though I’ve been a witness to this spectacle more times than I can count, it still sends a slight chill up the small of my back as the river begins to come alive. So take this story as one man’s odyssey through the heart and soul of West Virginias finest trout stream. The upper Elk River.

In the beginning, it didn’t take much to get me excited about a trip to the upper Elk. All my Dad or cousin would have to do is mention the word trout and my mind would start to wonder and visions of emerald green and pink salmonoids  would slowly overcome my mind. Until I was finally aglow, holding a piece of treasure in my hand that I had collected from the stream. Even before we would reach the river, I would have already caught and released 50 fish or more in my imagination, on brightly colored dry flies, softly presented to sipping trout in the boulder strewn stream.

In those days it was magical enough just to be able to be on the stream and have the chance at catching one of the brightly colored fish. I fished hard and long, without thought or care of what bugs were hatching in the stream. I was after trout and I pursued them relentlessly with long rod in hand. Sometimes when the fishing was rough, I would even attach a slimy night crawler to my leader and feed it into the current until a fish aggressively ate it and sent my reel into screaming fits I can still hear through the window of time. I should add that the worm tactic was used in the other 20 some odd miles of catch and keep fishing on the Elk. And there were no catch and release sections when I was a boy on the Elk. I am thankful that is no longer the case.

 I didn’t know it at the time, but these youthful trips would eventually spawn a fly fisherman that would search every riffle and run and collect the insects that lived below them, all in the hunt for what makes the upper Elk River tick. A world where the trout and the insects and the angler become one , in many small, but magical moments. And the imaginary line that slowly but surely interweaves their lives together.

I always knew in the back of mind that most of the time the Elk River trout were eating tiny insects. I was just a little apprehensive for the 1st 15 years of fly fishing the Elk to tie on a fly smaller than a #22. I caught trout during the years I didn’t fish the tiny flies, but nothing compared to the numbers that would later come when I started fishing #24 and smaller flies probably 60% of the time. I easily tripled my catch and as I slowly began to understand more and more of the importance of presentation, fly selection, tippet size and the like, everything really started to grab another gear. Not only did I increase the numbers of fish I was catching, but surprisingly, also the size of trout brought to hand were much bigger on average than when I fished traditional nymphs and Catskill style dries.

It’s very important that I give a well deserved nod to fellow angler and flyfishing guru Dave Breitmeier. He is one of the reasons that have driven me in my ever increasing spiral of midge fishing and just full blown midge mania. I remember the day like it was yesterday and though it was in reality more like 8 or 9 years ago, the memory is still locked away in the back of my mind so I can download it from time to time for later use.

I had been picking up the occasional fish one particularly beautiful day in the upper section of the Mill hole and kept searching my mind as though I was missing something very important, very evident by the few fish I had landed. For those not familiar with the Elk watershed, the Mill hole is a flyfishermans  dream come true. Plenty of nice plump hungry trout to go around and lots of insects to keep the fish interested. It is also a place not unlike a campfire of sorts. Many people fish here and the fish are very educated. But visiting the mill hole is a social event that is shared with everyone who pulls up a seat so to speak for the evening, with some great fishing thrown in for your angling pleasure.

Like I stated before, I had been picking up a fish or two and was halfheartedly working my way to the head of the pool when I Noticed Dave enter the stream from the corner of my eye. I knew from experience that he was getting ready to light them up and I slowly dropped my rod and watched as the Elks best river keeper began to ply the rivers depths. He had a trout on his line in literally seconds and then another and so on and so forth for a straight hour, until I could take it no more. I apprehensively eased closer to his location and watched diligently and observed what was on the end of his long fine tippet. And though I was no more than 10 yards away, it appeared there was nothing on his tippet but tippet. I couldn’t stand it anymore I walked up to him and asked very politely and in great awe as to what fly he was using. What happened next changed the way I fished the Elk from that point forward.

He stuck his hand in his fishing vest and politely said, “Give this a try.” The sun had already begun its descent and was preparing to retire for the evening. So as I reached to grab the fly I couldn’t see it in his hand. He told me to open my hand up and dropped what looked to me like a period taken from the text of the smallest book ever printed. I looked him over and glanced back at the fly and asked if he was joking.  He just laughed gingerly and commenced to put a whooping on a score more of trout.

In the fading light of an Elk river sunset I held the fly up and decided right then and there, if that’s what the fish were eating , thats  what I was going to feed them. Not that day of course, for the thought of trying to attach the tiny imitation to my tippet gave me a sinking  filling somewhere deep in my stomach. So I carefully stashed the fly in a solitary spot in my fly box, to be examined more closely when I returned home.

I’ve since become proficient enough to tie the tiny imposters to the trouts liking and have even began experimenting with some of my own patterns with surprisingly good results. That one minuscule fly changed my fly fishing career forever.  And added a few more arrows to my fly fishing quiver to be used on the finicky trout of the upper Elk.

To sum it all up in a nut shell I would have to say I am a 20 some odd year  fly fisherman of the Elk. Barely half way there to solving all the puzzles of insects that predominately hatch on this beautiful river. But I will keep on wading, observing and collecting all the specimens I can find and treat them as if they were treasure so valuable I’ll speak in hushed tones to close friends whenever I discover a new find. And all the while I’ll be one step closer to reaching that unattainable dream of becoming the perfect Elk river fly fisherman.

Written by

Shane Stover

The Hunting and Fishing Shack

The Hunting and Fishing Shack

Nestled deep in the mountains of West Virginia is a little shack that holds many memories. It has a porch that has seen better days. The old tin roof on the shack, though roughly renovated, from time to time will leak a bit. Its panel walls bulge from the vast changing in temperatures it has experienced for the past 60 some odd years. There is a certain ambiance to the shack that makes you feel that you have taken a step back in time. And when you leave the shack ,the comfort of its warm embrace will beckon to you until you return.

My own personal introduction to the shack came when I was but a boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old. I would play in the green field that lay just behind it. Forming friendships and becoming acquainted with all the wonder of the outdoors.  Those were care free days. Childhood memories filed away in the back of my mind that can only be visited from time through careful revery.

After the 1st few visits as a young child came my formal introduction to the rituals of the shack. Deer hunting pursuits and trout fishing expeditions were the past times most heavily enjoyed. But, there was much more to the shack than just these cherished rituals. There were family and friends that have become a part of my very existence and have shaped my life along the way.

In the beginning the shack was owned by my great grandfather. And many a night was spent around the old potbellied coal stove listening to stories told by him and other more experienced members of the shacks fraternity. I would sit cross legged on the floor hanging on to every word as the old outdoorsman would tell of hunting and fishing trips gone by.

My personal favorite was the one about how uncle Reuben would archery hunt from a stand of apple trees not 50 yards from an unknowing landowners house. Reuben was very fond of beer and after each hunt from his perch in the apple tree, the ground would be littered with brown bottles. Many mornings, after one of Reuben’s hunts, the landowner would wake to find his grove filled with empty beer bottles.  At first the landowner simply thought that the bottles were thrown from passing vehicles that traversed the dirt road that ran alongside his property. It wasn’t until a few years later that the landowner found out the real truth of the matter.

On the particular morning my uncle was caught the landowner had risen earlier than usual and decided to sit on his modest deck and watch the sun come up. He planned to watch the deer as they funneled through the grove and enjoy his morning cup of coffee. He never expected to see a deer take off running and fall over dead for no apparent reason.

 At first he was perplexed and watched as the deer took its last few breaths. It was then he saw an odd looking brown object falling from the apple tree. As he walked to the tree to inspect the events that had unfolded before him, he was greeted by a happy hunter with a brown bottle in his hand. The landowner was outraged at the hunters’ boldness. That is, until he got to talking with my uncle about his love of mother nature and after their conversation my Uncle was invited back to hunt the grove anytime he felt the urge.

You see Reuben never met a stranger and had learned ,after talking with the landowner, that his family was going through a rough time. My uncle offered his kill to the man and they struck up a friendship that, to my knowledge, lasted until the day he passed. Personally I think Reuben got away with this not for his gracious act but from the landowners own paranoia that he may walk through his grove one morning and be shot by a crazy hunter who was fond of the brown bottle. But what do I know?

 My Grandfather, having grown too old to visit the shack as often as he would like, decided to keep the shacks tradition alive by keeping its hallowed walls within the family. In 1997 my father acquired the shack from my great grandfather. And it was then that the shack performed a miracle I thought could never come to fruition.

You see my father and I had had a shaky relationship at best before we started spending time together within the shacks therapeutic accommodations. Between the years of 1997-2002 that would change dramatically.

Looking back now ,through more forgiving eyes, I feel my father was probably trying to make up for the troubled relationship we had shared in the past. The change was dramatic and at the same time comforting. It seemed the moment we entered the shack all animosity that may have been present was slowly consumed by the shacks magical influence. We struck up a friendship and a bond that brought us closer than ever before.

It was the little things that strengthened our relationship. Like after a long day of hunting or fishing my father would prepare supper on the old stove and serve it to me in a way that made me feel I was in the presence of love and compassion. And when darkness came and the candles were telling us it was time to sleep, he would bring me extra blankets and ask if I needed anything before turning in. During those moments I felt I was a son to a caring father.

The shack has always had a way of bringing out the best in people. And I am thankful for those five years each and every day. The five years when two grown men became father and son once again inside the confines of a little shack in the mountains. And though my father is not with me any longer I send a prayer to him every now and then, thanking him for those precious years. Letting him know that his gestures were not overlooked and praying he has found some heavenly shack somewhere in the great beyond with towering mountains and rivers rich with trout where he too will feel the warmth of his father watching over him.

 Now that I am the shacks only caretaker I feel I have a duty to keep the traditions alive. Most of the  original fraternity have passed on and only my son and I are left to enjoy its comfort. We try and make the most of each and every visit. We fly fish for hook-jawed brown trout in the rivers and small streams that thrive just outside the shacks door. We walk the woodlots and brave the elements hoping for a chance to catch the sight of a whitetail buck. Knowing that after all is said and done and the sun has begun to set, the shack will be there to greet us when we return. Welcoming us inside its sacred walls and giving us, without completely understanding why, the chance to make a memory to last a lifetime.

After all making memories are what a true hunting and fishing shack are all about. It’s not about having the best furniture or a fancy hot tub with a wet bar beside it. It’s not for people who wear smoking jackets and relentlessly talk about their bottom line. No, it’s for the rest of us. The guys who wear ten year old blood stained overalls with a Copenhagen ring in the rear pocket. Men and boys who could care less if the venison is cooked on an old 1950’s stove, so long as it’s good. And it always is. For as the last tidbit of meat vanishes and starts to feel your stomach. You realize that you have never tasted deer meat quite so delicious. And it’s right then you start to feel sorry for the person who has never truly experienced hunting or fishing in a small shack deep in the mountains. And you begin to count yourself lucky. You begin to understand why small hunting shacks should be cherished.

And as you unwind the handle on the old window to the shack and feel the mountain air ease through ,a slight chill comes over you. At first you think the cool breeze has caused the chill and then you realize it’s not the breeze at all. It’s the remoteness of your local and it seeps deep into your body and your soul. And you think of nothing but tomorrow  and what it may bring. You drift away into a deep sleep as the pitter patter of the field mice running across the floor serenades you.

Written by

Shane Stover