The logical choice was Table Rock Fish Hatchery since it’s such a short drive from Lake James and I always enjoy activating that particular site.
The weather that morning was beautiful and so was the drive.
Table Rock Fish Hatchery (K-8012)
I pulled into the driveway of the picnic area and–no surprise here–I had the place to myself.
In fact, according to the POTA website, I’ve activated this site 12 times and I’ve never seen another soul in the picnic area save my canine friends, park staff, and one guy who was hunting muskrats in the creek. That’s about it. Never anyone actually hanging around the picnic area.
On the drive over, I hadn’t considered what antenna or radio to use–I had a few in the back of my car.
I thought about using my Elecraft KX1, but then realized I didn’t have an extra shielded audio cable to connect to my Anker Soundcore Mini speaker nor did I have my in-line digital audio recorder. Without those things, I wouldn’t be able to make a video of the activation.
My next choice was the Yaesu FT-817ND and, in fact, it would be ideal. I was looking forward to putting the ‘817 on the air again–it’d been a couple of months!
First, though, an antenna. I pulled out the 40 M End-Fed Half-Wave Steve (MW0SAW) made for me some time ago.
This antenna has been in heavy rotation lately because it’s been in my main radio backpack as I’ve been traveling around the region.
On Sunday, February 19, 2023, I felt like I was moving in slow motion.
The previous day started early and I fit in a long hike, a SOTA/POTA activation, and a second park activation. Round trip driving time was about four hours, but it was worth it. I had an amazing time. Those field reports will be posted in the upcoming week.
The previous evening, I also participated in a live stream and after hours chat with Josh (KI6NAZ) on his amazing Ham Radio Crash Course channel. It was loads of fun, but I was up pretty late after a long day.
Sunday morning, I was feeling it and couldn’t decide if I wanted to do a POTA activation on the drive back to the QTH. In case I decided to, early that morning, I scheduled an activation at Table Rock Fish Hatchery with a very wide activation window. I often don’t have enough mobile phone service to self-spot at that particular site, so I decided that if I was able to make the activation, it would cover me.
I wasn’t even ten minutes into the drive home when I decided to go for the Table Rock activation, of course! I seem to never be too tired for some POTA!
I did make up my mind in advance to try to activate the park on 17 meters because 1.) there was a CW contest that weekend, and 2.) I wanted a more laid-back activation instead of a pileup. I figured 17 meters would have some activity, but not to the degree of the non-WARC bands.
Table Rock State Fish Hatchery (K-8012)
I decided to record the entire activation from set-up to pack-up so I grabbed the action camera from my radio bag in the passenger’s seat and started recording as I pulled into the site.
I had a lot of gear in the trunk/boot of my car–more than normal–because I brought along quite a few radio packs to show on the HRCC live stream for this trip.
I grabbed the Penntek TR-45L and PackTenna random wire. I thought they would pair nicely for a casual POTA activation.
I pushed the last field report and activation video to the front of the line so that I could show how CW message memory keying worked in the TR-35’s updated firmware. It was, in my opinion, a major upgrade!
What follows is my field report from April 1, 2022: my first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-35. This video was made a week or so before I learned that WA3RNC was working on the new firmware.
I say “lately” but in truth I’m always tinkering with something in the shack.
The radio room/office at my QTH is pretty small, though, and I don’t have a dedicated, full-time workbench. I’ve been mentally re-arranging the room and trying to sort out a way to make space for one because it would be so nice to have a spot where my soldering iron could remain hooked up at all times.
For the moment, when I work on kits I use our dining room table so I try to stick with one or two session kits as opposed to the multi-day variety.
I have a lot of field antennas, so I don’t really need another EFHW, but then again I like having a dedicated resonant wire antenna with each of my radios and, (hey hey!) it’s a great excuse to build a kit!
Someone asked me recently which activity I prefer more: Summits on the Air (SOTA) or Parks On The Air (POTA)?
Truth is, I like both.
I like SOTA because I love hiking and playing radio on the summits of some pretty impressive mountains. I’m often treated to amazing views and the DX can be spectacular. I love the sense of accomplishment when the activation goes well and I’m back home later feeling a bit tired from a long hike. Good stuff!
I like POTA because it’s incredibly accessible (thus fits in my tight schedule easily). Many of the parks have great hiking trails, and there’s almost always a picnic table available making set up so much easier. Here in western North Carolina it’s almost a given that park picnic tables are surrounded by large trees and have a reasonable amount of space, thus POTA sites can be ideal for antenna experimentation.
I don’t typically experiment with antennas during SOTA because after hiking 2-3 hours to a summit, I feel pretty invested in the activation and the last thing I want to do is roll the dice with my antenna. With POTA, I can bring a few extra supplies or “plan B” antennas if something goes sideways. Plus, unlike parks, summits are often lacking in tall trees so I stick with shorter wire antennas and self-supporting verticals.
On the morning of October 20, 2021, I decided that I wanted to try a new antenna or an antenna I hadn’t used in quite some time. My intention was to dig out my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical, but when I reached into my antenna bag, I pulled out a nondescript Shure microphone pouch. I scratched my head for a moment…
For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what this was, so I opened it up and discovered a doublet inside! Not just any doublet, either–based on the use of a 35mm film canister in the antenna’s construction, I knew it had to be a creation of my buddy Eric (WD8RIF).
Shortly after acquiring a lab599 Discovery TX-500 earlier this year, I did what I always do: invest an insane amount of time in researching and configuring a dedicated field radio kit.
As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’m a serious pack geek, so this is incredibly fun for me even though the choice is often difficult.
I like to buy packs and cases from manufacturers in the US and Canada when possible, so started searching through all of the options.
I wanted a pack that was compact, versatile, and offered proper padding (even knowing the TX-500 is a rugged little transceiver). I don’t handle my packs with kid gloves, so I expect them to cope with sometimes rough field conditions and still protect the gear inside. I also like a certain level of organization inside the pack.
I wanted the kit to be relatively compact, but large enough to hold the transceiver, all accessories and connections, logging pad and pencil, paddles, a proper arborist throw line, portable ATU, and a 3Ah LiFePo4 battery. A the end of the day, I wanted this TX-500 field kit to be fully self-contained.
In the end, I adopted a pack with which I’m already very familiar…
The Red Oxx Micro Manager
Red Oxx is my favorite pack company and if you’ve been a reader for any length of time, you’ve obviously seen a number of their bags and packs in my field reports.
Back in 2016, when they introduced the first iteration of the Micro Manager EDC bag, they actually reached out to me–as an existing customer–knowing that I had been looking for a good radio pack with proper padding (many packs don’t require side padding and internal padding). They sent me a prototype of the Micro Manager for my feedback and then incorporated some of my suggestions.
I also purchased a Micro Manager for my wife who quickly turned hers into a mobile art studio!
Much like my buddy Steve (AC5F)–whose XYL creates some amazing water color art in the field–my wife (K4MOI) is also an artist and loves to paint/draw during park and summit activations. Her art kit is always at the ready and she’s traveled with it extensively over the past five years.
The Micro Manager is a pack carried over the shoulder, much like a messenger or laptop bag. Those times when my field activations require a lengthy hike, I’ve simply pulled all of the items out of the Micro Manager (since I do modular packing, this is super easy), else I’ve even been known to stick the entire Micro Manager pack into a backpack!
Over the years, Red Oxx has made iterative upgrades to the Micro Manager including a pleated front pocket, slip-in external pocket, and they started lining the internal pocket with a more flexible and thinner dense foam padding. The new padding not only fits the TX-500 better than the first Micro Manager version did, but I believe it will have enough dimension to accommodate the TX-500 battery pack when that’s available next year.
Inside the Micro Manager I also use a Tom Bihn Large Travel Tray to hold all of the TX-500 accessories: key, microphone, ATU, battery, and cables.
I own a number of these large travel trays and highly recommend them. I especially like the ballistic nylon versions for radio kits as they open and close so smoothly.
I made a short video tour of the TX-500 Micro Manager kit before a recent activation at Table Rock:
I’ve used this pack for a number of field activations and couldn’t be more pleased. Looking back at the contents, it’s funny: the pack and almost every single item inside (save the notepad and pencil) are made in the USA while the radio is made in Russia! A bit of international harmony going on here!
If you have a field pack for the TX-500 (or any radio), I’d love to know more about it. Please consider commenting with details or even submitting a guest post with photos!