Words and Images from Ed Felker

Archive for June, 2012

50th Dispatch from the Potomac!

This is my fiftieth post here on Dispatches from the Potomac. To date there have been 13,355 views from 67 different countries, and more of you choose to follow this blog every week. Thank you all for taking time out of your days and, from time to time, choosing this space to spend a few moments when your online options are virtually infinite. I appreciate it more than I can say, and I will continue to try hard to share the interesting, the beautiful and the funny aspects of my world.

To mark this special milestone I have updated my masthead banner to show my Wirehaired Vizsla, Winnie, on a recent kayak trip on the Potomac River.

Thanks again, and please tell your friends!

Wood Ducks and Green Herons

My neighbor sent me a text today saying there was a wood duck with ducklings in his pond. There are a few birds I see here from time to time that I have had no luck whatsoever getting close enough for a photo. Wood ducks are one, and the beautiful green heron is another.

Well one of the reasons I never get good shots of these is I don’t have a long lens. My 15-85mm all purpose lens is literally that, because it’s the only lens I own. So I end up spooking most birds long before I get close enough. When I reached the pond, I saw the female wood duck and two ducklings, staying close to the weeds along the edge of the pond. And standing right nearby were two juvenile green herons.

The birds must have felt safe tucked in the weeds because they allowed me to get fairly close. But enough was enough, evidently, and in a burst of water and feathers and motion the duck and two herons bolted from the grass and flew to the far side of the pond. I snapped a few photos and really like the one above, two elusive subjects captured in one frame. Never mind how dorky that heron is (let’s hope he grows out of that awkward phase!).

After a pause, the ducklings made a break for it and paddled their hearts out to meet up with Mom across the pond. Luckily I still had the camera ready, because this was cute to watch them cut those little trails across the top.

Wet Dogs, the New Olympus and Kayaking at Dawn

Regular Readers here will recall my saga with Pentax and their Optio WG-2 “waterproof camera.” After two failed cameras I went back to the Olympus brand from which I regret straying. My beautiful new TG-1 arrived late last week, just in time for a big Saturday on the water.

A friend and I chose a nice spot about four miles upstream from our place to put the kayaks in, and we chose first light because the river is never more beautiful or less populated than it is at dawn. But the spot requires a portage of kayaks and gear over four sets of railroad tracks, a couple of narrow, windy paths and a stretch of the C&O Canal Towpath.

But the sore shoulders and face full of spider webs (Note to self: Do not volunteer to be the first one down the path next time) are quickly forgotten as the sound of the rushing river nears and the spot is just as we had remembered, just as we had hoped.

Dawn came, not with a red skied bang, but rather with a breezy, blue whimper. Cooler than I expected but the breeze brought a promise of a warm day ahead.

In an hour the breeze and water had calmed and we settled into a steady downstream mosey. The smallmouth were biting but not enthusiastically and only little ones.

This bridge between Lovettsville, VA and Brunswick, MD marks the one mile point to home. I love the rippled reflections here.

It was still pretty early in the day when we got off the water and I hadn’t given the new Olympus much of a waterproof workout. So once the kayak was put away I brought Team Orange down to cool off. This is Finn, who I think would stand in this river all day in the summer.

Underwater pictures are fun, but you really don’t know what you have while you’re taking them. My method: Stick the camera underwater, snap away, then get them on to the computer later and throw out 99% of them.

I love the abstract, colorful images you can get by shooting up at a subject (Winnie, in this case) with the lens just barely submerged.

Water plays crazy tricks with light!

Finn doing his thing.

I hope you enjoyed these images from a fun day. I appreciate you all taking time to let me share it with you.

One Fly Rod, Fifteen Anglers: A Journey

I recently had the privilege of participating in a unique and special project put together by the folks at the Outdoor Blogger Network. Fifteen bloggers from all across the United States were selected to receive this custom-built bamboo fly rod made by Fall River Fly Rods, fish with it, write about it and pass it along to the next blogger on the list. The South Fork model 5-weight rod comes with a beautiful reel from Montana Fly Company loaded with Rio line, and after each has had a turn with it, one participant will get to keep it!

When the rod arrived at my post office, having only made three stops so far (Arizona, New Mexico and Alabama) the shipping tube it came in was already getting the look and feel of a world traveled suitcase with stickers and labels all over it. Inside, the rod case alone is a thing of beauty, but as I took everything out and put it together I was really impressed by the wonderful craftsmanship that went into the rod. I had known for some time that I would be taking part in this, but now it was here, it was real, and it was exciting. I couldn’t wait to get that line wet and fish with this piece of art!

I had to bring this rod to my favorite trout fishing spot in the area, Rose River Farm in scenic Madison County, Virginia. I arrived in the evening, with just enough light left to try for one of the many rising trout I could see along the entire stretch of river at the farm. So I carefully assembled the rod and realized I had a new top priority above even catching fish: Do Not Break This Rod! So, slowing down, methodically stringing the rod and making sure I didn’t do anything stupid like leave the spare rod tip partially out of the case where I could sit on it or something, I was finally ready to fish.

This was my first time fishing with bamboo, and it took a few minutes to get a feel for it. But the learning curve was not as great as I had anticipated. Short casts were difficult, I found, but once I got some line out, I was comfortable with the rod in no time. And with the June light fading in a pink sky, the black water around my fly broke in a burst of life as a rainbow rose to it. Fish on.

This rod is not light, in fact it feels quite stout for a 5-weight. But the tip is very responsive to a fighting fish. I really loved having this rainbow on the line and wanted to savor the moment, but I also needed to make sure I got it all the way to hand so I could get a picture of my first fish on bamboo. My first fish as my part of this rod’s journey.

The next morning brought perfect conditions, a few friends and one very special guest to the farm.

Photo by Steve Hasty.

I had met General Conway (left), retired four star general and the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps, at a Project Healing Waters event a month earlier, and his speech was awe inspiring. This man simply exudes leadership, and it was an honor to spend time with him.

I told the general about the bamboo rod project and asked if he would fish a little bit with it. He graciously agreed, and it was fun to watch him cast this rod so beautifully.

Photo by Steve Hasty.

Here he is with the Outdoor Blogger Network South Fork rod. A big thanks to General Conway for helping add some unique history to the path this rod will take before settling down in one of fifteen permanent homes.

Photo by Steve Hasty.

After a nice lunch with the general, it was time to have some fun with this rod and try to get into some more fish. The dry flies weren’t working anymore, so I tried nymphs and even some streamers. I got very comfortable with the rod trying many different styles and approaches to casting and fishing.

This nice Rose River rainbow fell for my antics and was kind enough to stick around for a photo.

And another.

I released my last fish of the day back into the cool Rose, and closed the book on a fun and memorable day of fishing, thus ending my chapter of this rod’s story. Unless of course I am lucky enough to end up with it in the end, in which case you will see a lot more of this bamboo rod here!

Let’s have one last look at the beautiful Montana Fly Company reel under the water’s surface. Good luck to Joel in South Carolina who has the rod now, and to everyone who will share and add to its unique history. Waters in Vermont, Michigan, Illinois, Utah, Washington and Oregon will see this rod before it’s all said and done. I am proud to have been a part of it all. Thank you to the Outdoor Blogger Network, Fall River Fly Rods, Montana Fly Company and Rio for conceiving such a fun and different project.

Dog Paddlin’

On a hot June Sunday afternoon, not quite ready to give up on the weekend and start the inevitable weekly descent into Monday, I grabbed Winnie and the kayak and hit the water.

With lots of animals and other sights that dogs find fascinating, both in the water and on shore, it’s my job to react quickly when my back seat driver switches sides to check something out.

Here we are on the Potomac River. Paddling upstream with a dog on the back, even in low summer flows, is good exercise for precisely 50% of us.

After a while I opted for the peaceful, slower current of the C&O Canal.

Six legs needed stretching, and those couple beers I brought aren’t gonna drink themselves either. So we took a break.

Before long, though, Winnie was ready to hit the water again. So we floated downstream back to the ramp.

A girl’s gotta dry her hair after a swim! What a fun afternoon with my girl. Winnie is a special dog, and the joy that comes from spending time with her doing things like this is hard to describe. It’s like spending time with a good friend. A friend who never drives, smells bad when she gets wet and always wants a sip of your beer. But a good friend. A best friend.

Waterproof Pentax WG-2. Don’t Get it Wet!

I fish. I kayak. I hike. I romp with the dogs in the river. I enjoy the beauty of a summer thunderstorm, a fresh winter snowfall, and all kinds of weather in between. And I take photographs. A lot of photographs.

So when my old Olympus waterproof camera, which performed flawlessly for over five years, started to show its age, I started researching my next camera. Reviews pointed me toward the Pentax Optio WG-2. When I decided this was the camera I wanted, I called around and found that Ace Photo in Ashburn, VA was the only shop near me that had it. I bought the WG-2, and in the following weeks added the waterproof remote control and a decent tripod.

I read the manual, charged it up and immediately started using and enjoying the camera. I used it in a heavy rainstorm, and then down at the river where I took the photo at the top of this post. But later that same evening I took it out to set up a time lapse shot of an approaching thunderstorm (it does have a cool feature where you can take photos a minute apart and save them as a movie, as well as a high speed video function that plays back in super cool smooth slow motion), I noticed the display screen was fogged from the inside. And when I turned it on, the screen flickered like it was shorting out.

I brought it back to Ace Photo, they opened the “waterproof” doors and the inside of the camera was completely flooded. I told them I wanted a different type of camera, that I would have trouble trusting this one again, and I wondered why I didn’t continue with the Olympus brand that had treated me so well. It would be disastrous, I said, to go to a once in a lifetime place like Yellowstone later this year, and hike to a remote spot and catch a special Yellowstone Cutthroat and have my camera fail on me. But the people at Ace told me they’ve sold dozens of these cameras and never had a problem. So I let myself get talked into taking an exchange for another WG-2.

The second camera worked well for almost a month, before while using it on a special fishing occasion I’ll be talking about more in a future post, it began to leak. Condensation formed on the inside of the lens, rendering the camera useless. The next day, after it air dried, I opened the two doors to the battery/card and the plug ports and while it wasn’t completely soaked like the first one, there was moisture inside those doors.

When I called Ace, the owner there, who I had dealt with before, told me he can’t take a second camera back from me. So, six weeks and two cameras later, I’m stuck sending it back to Pentax, who can only repair or replace it. Any refund or credit could only be done by the retailer, they said. But since the retailer doesn’t want to have to deal with Pentax, their approach was to tell me that I must be doing something wrong.

So I’m sending it back to Pentax, and I hope that they will at least send me a replacement, which I can then unload on eBay and try to get some of my money back. If they “repair” it, I can not in good conscience sell it to anyone else. I will either have a clunky point and shoot camera I can’t get wet, or I will resort to Plan B, which is to use the high speed video function and the remote control to film a .45 hollow point slug putting an end to this camera and my stint as a Pentax camera owner. I’ll have to check the weather forecast before I do, though.

To sum up, I think probably most people don’t have any problem with the Pentax WG-2. I guess I’m unlucky in that regard. But the most disturbing aspect of the whole thing is that Ace Photo refuses to get behind their sale. I told them if they gave me store credit I would buy the more expensive Olympus waterproof, and then Pentax can replace this damaged one and they’ll have a new one to put back on the shelf. So while I know many who read this are not local here in Virginia, I would strongly advise anyone looking for a camera shop around here to look elsewhere.

Maryland Heights and Harpers Ferry

I’ve been trying to condition myself for some vigorous hiking when I get to Montana in a few months. But so far this summer those conditioning attempts have been mostly limited to buying new hiking boots and looking at pictures of Yellowstone National Park. So today, after having spent a couple days away, I thought I’d take Team Orange (my two Hungarian Wirehaired Vizslas, for those of you not already familiar) on a nice hike.

The Maryland Heights hike has two variations. The shorter, red trail ends up at an amazing vista overlooking the town of Harpers Ferry, WV and the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The longer, blue trail is much less crowded, more difficult and has a lot of neat Civil War history with educational markers along the way. I planned on doing both this morning, but by the time we got to the overlook, each of the dogs drank an entire bottle of water and I didn’t have enough water for them to tack on the longer trail.

Here you can see the town of Harpers Ferry. Note the clearer Shenadoah (from top of photo) running into the muddy Potomac (right to left).

What a view from the top! Taken from Maryland, the photo shows West Virginia on the right, and Virginia on the left.

Team Orange enjoying the view.

I can’t explain why I love this picture, I just do.

The Yin and Yang of dog tongues, on the bridge over the C&O Canal.

The view doesn’t suck from the bottom, either.

These dogs are my shadows, I genuinely enjoy their company.

Okay, most of the time.