By Mark Taylor
As the sun dipped toward the western horizon on a relatively mild early January evening, I sat in what had become a pretty familiar position over the previous few weeks.
In a tree.
These were the waning days of deer season and I was doing my best to tag a whitetail.
Here in Virginia we are fortunate that we may legally fish for trout year-round. But even though a break from fishing is not mandated like it is in many other states, fall is a good time for a voluntary hiatus.
Our native brook trout and wild brown trout are spawning. I’m not one to say “Always let fish spawn in peace,” because I do fish in streams with wild rainbows in the early spring when those fish are spawning. But I do believe that cutting back on fishing during spawning season is not a bad thing.
That said I’m not sure how good I’d be at avoiding brookie and brown water in the fall were there not a pretty good alternative. Virginia has a bunch of deer and I’m fortunate to have some decent places to hunt, both on private and public land. We also have a fall turkey season, small game aplenty and fair duck and goose hunting.
Hunting can require more of an emotional investment than fishing because catch-and-release is not really an option. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Bear hunting with hounds remains a fairly popular tradition here in Appalachia and many bear hunters do mostly practice catch-and-release. Often they tether their dogs after they tree a bear and move on. For them the thrill is in the chase.
But, generally speaking, when you are successful at a hunt that means you have taken a life. We have to be able to emotionally reconcile that, and eating the animal’s meat goes a long way toward that.
My girls and I like venison and other wild game. I enjoy processing the animals myself, often with their help. And it’s fun and challenging to figure out new and interesting ways to prepare the meat.
An added benefit is that the animals help support another hobby: fly-tying. All deer tails are saved for tying, and every so often I’ll hold on to a piece of deer hide. That hair is usually not as good as some of the prime pieces available commercially (if you know what you’re looking for) but it’s sufficient.
Turkeys, ducks and geese provide feathers.
And, then there are squirrel tails.
Squirrel hunting used to be much more popular than it is now. Not because squirrel hunting has necessarily fallen out of favor, but because our deer seasons are so long and the herds so robust that most hunters focus on whitetails.
But I still like to get out there to chase tree rodents a few days each season. They are fine table fare, and the tails are great for nymph and streamer patterns.
Here in Virginia squirrel season remains open long after deer season closes. By January many trout anglers who also hunt are eager to get back on the river. But because hunting season is more fleeting and we know that the best fishing is still a few months away, there will still be a few days when it just seems to make more sense to head for the woods rather than to the waters.
Mark Taylor is Trout Unlimited’s eastern communications director. He is based in Roanoke, Va.