Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bill Cochran's Field Reports: Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues

Bill Cochran Bill Cochran is a Roanoke Times outdoors columnist.

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The 2013 Virginia General Assembly mostly was low key when it came to outdoor-related issues, but there were exceptions. The House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee proved to be a death chamber for Sunday hunting legislation. The committee failed to report five bills that would have broadened Sunday hunting in the state. Another bill was voted down in a Senate committee.

Legislation that would have made it unlawful to stage competitive fox and coyote chases in so-called fox pens caused an uproar between hound hunters and animal-rights people. It was defeated. The fact that the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is studying potential amendments to foxhound training preserve regulations was reason enough to kill the bill. DGIF has scheduled a public hearing to receive recommendations on the issue on March 20 at 1 p.m. at its headquarters in Richmond.

Overall, more outdoor bills failed than passed, and that’s not always bad.

What passed:

* Legislation that will add a 15-mile stretch of the Dan River and 17.8-mile stretch of the Meherrin River to the Virginia Scenic Rivers System.

* A 20-percent reduction in Virginia’s menhaden catches for the next two years while scientist assess stocks. The species is an important food source for sport fish, birds and mammals, as well as a highly desirable commercial fish.

* A bill that allows a landowner to shoot or trap nuisance muskrats and raccoons on his own land outside the hunting/trapping season without having to obtain a kill permit.

* A measure that would require marina operators and boat storage facilities to report to tax collectors the names of boat owners using their services.

What failed:

* A measure that would have required kids 12 and under to wear a life jacket during most boating activities. This reoccurring bill gets clobbered every year, even though it is common sense for kids to wear life jackets when boating.

* A bill that would have authorized the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to create a separate license for deer and turkey hunting. The agency already has authority to establish a separate bear licenses, but has not done so.

* A bill that would have given kayaks and canoeists the right to float during daylight hours on what are considered non-navigable waterways. Also failing was a Senate measure that would have directed an inventory of non-tidal water that could be used for public recreation.

* Legislation that would have given owners of antique boats the option of purchasing a one-time registration fee for $100 along with special registration plates.

* A study to determine if it is beneficial to put conservation police officers (game wardens) under the authority of state police.

Wild Turkey Management Plan cranking back up

You may be wondering what has happened to Virginia’s Wild Turkey Management Plan. Its development has appeared to be low key since a flurry of meetings last spring, but it is cranking back up.

Thirteen individuals were invited to serve on the plan’s stakeholder advisory committee. All accepted and the committee’s first meeting recently was held in Verona.

The stakeholders were selected from attendees of nine focus groups held across the state in April and May when 230 participants were given the opportunity to express their opinions on turkey management. The committee will be responsible for developing goals and policy for inclusion in a draft management plan that also will receive heavy input from wildlife biologists. The stakeholders represent hunters, agricultural interests and nature enthusiasts.

“The draft management plan will be available for general public review and comment later this year,” said Holly Morris, graduate research assistant at Virginia Tech. The plan is being put together jointly by Tech and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. It is similar to management plans now in place for deer and bear.

Check http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/turkey/managemen-planning-process/ for updates.     

Duck Dynasty draws big crowd at outdoor show

Words like “mob” and “zoo” were used to describe the huge turnout that packed the Western Virginia Sports Show in Fisherville this past weekend. There was plenty to catch the eye of attendees, but the main attraction was Jep and Jessica Robertson of Duck Dynasty (A&E) TV fame.

The two autographed hundreds of pictures at $5 a pop. One man said he stood in line for two hours to get their autographs. Another said he arrived early in an effort to beat the crowd and found 200 people in line in front of him even though security people were limiting how long fans could chat with the stars. At times, the sound of duck calls were threatening to rival the sound of turkey calls at the show.

Capt. Dale Wilson’s Smith Mountain fishing report

March is a transition month for both fish and fishermen to become more active as the days grow longer and the temperature rises.

“Most species of fish will start to feed more actively in preparation for the spawning season,” said Capt. Dale Wilson, veteran Smith Mountain Lake guide. www.captaindalewilson.com

Wilson recommends watching the wind, the water temperatures, the location of shad, the color of the water and the activities of the gulls for clues to where the striped bass, largemouth bass and smallmouth bass will be.

“Stained water will make for better fishing,” he said. “The colored water from the recent heavy rains should make fish feed in shallow water,” he said.

Wilson likes to target coves where the wind is blowing into them. That’s likely to be where the baitfish are hanging out, and stripers and bass are gong to be close to their food source. Gulls often will pinpoint the location of the baitfish. Look for the warmest water you can find.

Black bass can be anywhere from the surface to 25 foot depths, and stripers even deeper. The game fish often will suspend under schools of shad.

Crappie will be hanging around docks, fallen trees and brush piles, at depths of anywhere from five to 15 feet, said Wilson.

Outdoor briefs

* Rookie Joshua Wagy of Dewitt, Va. finished 16th in the Bassmaser Classic on Grand Lake near Tulsa, Okla. His three-day catch of 37-pounds, 11-ounces earned him $13,000. The winner was Cliff Pace, 32, of Petal, Miss., who dominated the tournament with a 54-pound, 12-ounce catch worth $500,000. Virginia’s other entry, John Crews of Salem finished 22nd in a field of 53, landing 32-pounds, 11-ounces and taking home $12,300.

* Deer and turkey hunters in Virginia like the option of being able to check their kills with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries by phone or Internet. Nearly 160,000 deer—78 percent of the 213,597 total—were checked this way during the recent season. Sixty-five percent of the fall turkey kills also were reported this way. The previous season was the first that fall killed turkeys could be checked by phone or Internet.

* Wildlife officials in North Carolina will open the lower Roanoke River drainage to striped bass fishing during a season that begins Friday and runs through April 30. It will cover the Roanoke River and tributaries from Roanoke Rapids Lake Dam to the Albemarle Sound. Look for information on www.ncwildlife..org/Learning/Species/Fish/StripedBass.aspx

* The Virginia Deer Hunters Association has sent its members a survey, which it does from time to time. It solicits information on hunting success, regulation changes, quality deer management, feeding/baiting, observations of bear and coyotes. One thing missing this time are questions on Sunday hunting. 

* Following a decade-long quest, the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame has selected Cullman, Ala. as its permanent home. The announcement came during the Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa, Okla. Construction on 30 acres is scheduled to begin immediately and will include ponds, gardens and an aquatic education center, with a price tag of $17 million.  

* Amid debates on gun ownership, Gander Mountain has announced that it is opening what it calls “a firearm’s super center,” in Monroe, N.C, southeast of Charlotte. The store will cater to firearms’ enthusiasts. Gander Mountain has a similar store in Germantown, Wis. and opened still another in mid-February in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

Events, seasons, dates

* New River Valley Trout Unlimited Chapter meeting, Spring Thawout, 7 p.m. Wednesday at Montgomery County Government Center, 755 Roanoke Street, Christiansburg, program on New River muskie by Joe Williams, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist, and on New River fishing and local trout steams by Tangent Outfitters. Guests welcome. More information from Jason Williams, jwilly_@hotmail.com

* Smith River Trout Unlimited meeting, March 7, 6:30 p.m., Ranias Restaurant, Martinsville, program on fly tying, information from Doug Jessie, 540-874-6560, guests welcome.

* Bland County Many Beards Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation banquet, April 6, Rocky Gap High School, 123 Eagles Road Bland, contact Lawrence Scott, 540-240-2424, blandcomtnboy@yahoo.com

* Fly fishing basics by Josh Williams will be featured April 8 at a meeting of the Tri-County Forestry & Wildlife Association at Roanoke Moose Lodge 284 located at 3233 Catawba Valley Drive (Virginia 311) in Roanoke County. Social time begins 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:45. Charge for the meal is $10. RSVP required, call Marian McConnell, 540-309-4707.

* Virginia Hunter Skills Weekend,  May 3-5, Holiday Lake 4-H Educational Center near Appomattox, ages 11 up. Instruction, along with food and lodging, is provided for $110. Check www.holidaylake4h.com/vahunterweekend.php. Classes cover everything from a variety of hunting skills to cooking game.

* Hunters for the Hungry banquet, Sept. 14, Moose Lodge on Virginia 311 in Roanoke County.

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