And he said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Shark Week! And How Much You Really Love Someone

Boys' Weekend's only requirement is that you have a Y chromosome.  This is quite obvious when you see the diversity of characters that we are.  Short, tall, fat, skinny, and everything in-between.  Self-proclaimed "preppy financial types", like myself, Lee, and one of the original BW'ers, Michael F., (a.k.a. "Finny") are not the norm.  Through the years B.W. has had boys with the following occupations:  Attorney (in case we get in trouble), Banker (should we need a loan for the bail after we've gotten in trouble), Carpet Cleaning Business Owner (well, because we WILL mess up a carpet or two), Commercial Real Estate Agent (I'm still not sure what he's good for...), Fireman  (In case our beach fire got out of hand), Food Wholesaler (my favorite guy of all that weekend.  I LOVE Food Show leftovers!),  General Contractor (my brother, but he hasn't built me a house, yet), Nurse (in case we get hurt, or need to get cleaned up...) Wildlife Biologist (to identify what we catch, including the various seabirds -- yes, we sometimes catch herring gulls, cormorants or laughing gulls), and last but not least, FBI agent (I guess in case we're ever accused of kidnapping somebody.)

Anyway, about 8 years ago, there were 8 of us that went.  One of the guys I haven't yet described is Johnny, the FBI agent.  (But he may have only been a cop back then.)  Johnny is "Mini-Macho" Mike's brother in law.  In fact, Johnny is the twin of Mike's wife.  "He's Janie with a penis", Mike likes to say.  Johnny and Mike were best friends growing up, so I guess he married Janie because he loved Johnny so much.  (I kid, because I love.)   But if ever two twins were more alike personality-wise, I have yet to meet them.

This was one of Johnny's first years of attending BW, and while the boy grew up fishing around Lake Erie and Ohio, he hadn't had a whole lot of experience saltwater fishing.  Steelhead and other freshwater fish don't tend to have big sharp teeth.  And you typically don't have to wonder if the fish on the other end of the line is a potential maneater.

We were down on the Point at Buxton, and we were all lined up fishing.   When we are fishing the Point, usually we are fishing for large red "bull" drum, but we've caught stripers there, in addition to bluefish of all sizes.  And of course, there are sharks.  Sometimes dogfish and skates are overwhelming, other times you get "biters" -- ones with real teeth.  There are some fishermen down there who target sharks, and have the large rigs and metal leaders to withstand them.  We fish with 17 lb. test line, drum rigs, and about 24 feet of a 50lb. leader.
Early in the day... ready for the big one.  Johnny is second on the left.

Well Johnny hooks up, and is fighting a nice fish.  We don't know what it is, but it definitely has some girth to it, as it is working him up and down the point of the Point.  Other fishermen get out of his way, as he is moving, and the fish is making his rod bow so much, I'm convinced he isn't going to be able to land the fish.  The line will break, if the rod doesn't.  Finally we see the fin of the fish in the waves and wash ahead of him.  It's a shark.  Once again, I go running towards it (why do I keep doing this, I don't know.)  I see that it is a sand tiger shark, an extremely ugly looking shark with "snaggletooth" teeth sticking out of its mouth all over the place.  But what I also know is that sand tigers, even though they have a vicious name and appearance, are quite docile.  Still, you don't want to be stupid.  And this one was big.  It was a good five feet long.  Then I see something that impressed me:  Johnny had fought and landed this fish, and he only had about 18 inches of a leader attached.  How that fish didn't break the line, I have no idea.  But there was no way Johnny was going to be able to beach it with no leader.
The last thing Johnny's bait ever saw underwater was this smiling, pretty face....

I get behind the fish, and grab it by the tail, to help Johnny get it up the beach.  While everyone around me was convinced I was about to lose my hand, or my arm, I knew I was going to be okay.  Once up on the beach, we all stood around it, took our obligatory photos, and then revived and released it to live another day, none the worse for wear.  That's when I realized ol' Johnny knew how to fight a fish.  To this day it is the largest shark any of us have caught on  Boys' Weekend.  (The basking shark doesn't count.)  But shark week wasn't over yet.
You have to appreciate the fact that this is not a 4 foot long shark next to a normal-sized guy; no this is a 6'5" guy with a 5' long shark.  And a pair of chest waders that are still clean....  Keep reading....

Later in the afternoon, we were standing around our trucks on the inland facing side of the Point.  Mike was fishing that side, somewhat lazily, when something took his line.  He fought it for about two seconds, before whatever it was snapped his line.  (Cue "Jaws" theme music with horns.... Da dump.  Da dump.)  Oh well, we don't think anything more of it.  Just, "that was odd...."   (Da dump, Da dump, da dump...  doodle dee).

We're back at the truck, while Mike is rerigging, right by the water when we see a small wave coming in....(dadumpdadumpdadump)...When suddenly, in the middle of the wave a huge red cloud erupts, about three feet in diameter.  Something hit something in the wave.  The wave breaks on the short shore line, and we all look in amazement as a large, nine foot bull shark has beached itself, and starts squirming on the sand.  It looks at us, wriggles slowly around, and reenters the sea, like the Orcas that have learned to catch baby seals down off the coast of Argentina.  I'm just glad none of us were the baby seals....

"That was a bull shark!"  I exclaim.  "Holy $#!%."
"Dan, how do you know all these things about sharks?", they ask.  "Jacques Cousteau, baby, Jacques Cousteau."
The bull shark, swimming away with a mouthful of something tasty....

What the aggressive, vicious bull actually hit in the wave, we don't know.  it could have been a large drum or a bluefish, but whatever it was,...  it was (past tense).... That's for sure.  To be that close to a true maneater, and know what just happened, was awesome to behold.  Something none of us will forget.  But did we learn from it, and think twice before we went and waded into the water again, later.  Naaah.

In fact, we even are worse than that.  When we wade into the ocean in our chestwaders, we wade up to our waist.  And on our side, we each have a "bait holder", a slotted plastic lidded tub, attached to our wader belt.  We put several pieces of cut bait in it, so we don't have to walk back to our bait table when we have walked out into the ocean.  So, while we are out there, in the sunset (prime shark feeding time), up to our waist in churning ocean, I look down, and realize that our bait is nothing but a chumline in the ocean, leading a shark to the motherlode of middle-aged human flesh, if they bite through the rubber lining.  If there was a Darwin Award given out that day, it would have been given to all of us.  And truth is, it should have been.  But I guess the bull shark was, fortunately, full for the day.
Getting ready to be human chum trails at sunset.... "Here, sharky, sharky."

(From that point forward, we now put our bait in a ziploc bag in our bait carrier, so that it doesn't leave a chum trail like before.)  So at least we did learn.

Fast forward several hours.  It's dark.  We now have a nice fire burning on the beach, and we are all sitting around it passing a bottle of Yukon Jack in a circle, swapping fish stories and razzing each other.  This is truly one of the highlights of BW.  the laughter never ends as we enjoy each other's company and look up at the endless stars above us.

Well, Johnny disappears, and is gone for an unusually long amount of time.  "We know he is p----whipped, and has to call his wife every hour, but this is ridiculous," we kid.  But Mike gets up to make sure he's okay, and disappears into the dark.

Then Mike is gone for a long, long time, too.  So Randy now gets up to investigate.  (If this were a teen slasher movie, this would be how many of us would "disappear" due to the escaped axe-murdering psycho  One by one, in the dark, as everyone else is oblivious to what's going on.)  But it's not.  If anything, this was a male-bonding, "The Hangover"-type comedy flick.

Suddenly, Randy comes back in hysterics, with Mike and Johnny laughing behind him, and we hear the story.

After Johnny had spoken to his wife (yes, he really did, again) he had to go to the bathroom.  And not "Number 1".  Going to the bathroom is never an easy task when you are in chestwaders, and it is only more difficult when you have to do the other....  Especially in the dark.

Johnny got some toilet paper from Mike's truck (we're always prepared for anything), and went around it, to have some privacy in the dark.  There, he undid his waders and lowered them.  Without getting into the toileting details, let's just say he dug a hole, squatted, took care of business, cleaned up, and then stood up to get his waders back on.  Twisting around he grabbed one of the wader suspenders, and whipping his body forward to get some momentum, pulled the waders up against his back, flipping the suspenders over his shoulders.


In the dark, unable to see what he was doing, he had "missed the dropzone" and dropped his bombs on his own bomb bay doors.  When he flicked the waders back up, he was pelted in the back by his own, er, by his own undooing, so to speak.  And there wasn't anything he could do about it at the moment.  Then, when Mike came up, he called to him for help.  He needed someone to clean his back, since he couldn't even come close to reaching it, and didn't want to pull his sweatshirt over his head for obvious reasons.  Mike, being the excellent nurse that he is -- and an even better brother in law, I would add -- got some paper towels, and cleaned up Johnny's back, while trying to wipe away his own tears (of laughter, or disgust, I'm not sure.)  But that's when Randy showed up, and the rest is history.

After a heck of a good laugh by all of us, Mike was asked why he was truly willing to take so much time and clean up Johnny's,, um, mess.  His answer was honest, and straight forward, filled with the heartfelt emotion we would only expect Mike to say about his brother in law -- this man who is his best friend from his youth, and twin brother to his beautiful wife whom he loves so dearly; a man who has dedicated his life to protect and to serve....

"That's easy," he said.  "I knew Johnny was riding home in my truck." 

You know what?.... Now that I think about it, Johnny hasn't come back to Boys' Weekend in several years.  Was it the sharks or the sh--.?  Maybe he's afraid of putting his waders back on....

Until next time,

Fish on,


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Teaching an Old Salty Dog New Tricks....

Through the almost quarter century that we have been enjoying our Boys' Weekend in November, it has evolved as our experience has grown, and as the migrating fish patterns have changed.  Our initial quarry when we began "B.W" was the large, "chopper" bluefish.  A fish that can weigh 20 pounds, that can be in schools that are literally miles long, and that, when they "blitz" a beach feeding on smaller fish, their prey would rather beach themselves and take their chances breathing air, than face the onslaught of the sharp teeth that line a large blue's mouth.

Through the years the large schools of blues seemed to diminish, and in its place, schools of striped bass began to hit the beaches.  Our fishing tactics changed to accommodate the lack of blues, and we started targeting stripers -- which in my opinion are a far better tasting fish, anyway.

While bluefish like the open ocean and hunting in packs like wolves, who force their prey into shallower water where they can't escape, stripers prefer moving water.  They like choppy, dirty mixed up water where prey may be tossed about in the waves and injured; and they like moving currents, where they can hide behind structure and ambush passing baitfish that are moving with the waterflow.  And while they may be caught during the day, they feed even more at night.

Fifteen years ago, while we still fished the beaches during the day, we switched our gameplan at night, and started fishing the catwalk of the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet at night.  We learned very quickly that bridge fishing is a very different animal than surf fishing.  Instead of a 10 or 12 foot surf rod, a shorter stout rod is needed.  And you also need a large hoop net to lower when you've caught a fish.  And you need a large waterproof light to lower and attract the baitfish which will attract the large rockfish.  And you need a source of power for that light.  Most people would wheel out a portable generator and extension cord.  We realized a car battery worked just as well, and it had no fumes or unbearable engine noise.  Of course, we still had to hear everyone else's generators and smell their fumes -- in addition to all the passing traffic, but at least we were more environmentally friendly.  It was such a pain in the tail to haul everything from our truck down a quarter mile of catwalk to find a spot to fish, that we wanted to keep our stuff to a minimum.  Oh yeah, and it was COLD at night, too.  And it could be downright unforgiving if it was windy, too.  A concrete bridge with metal catwalk late at night toward the end of November is not a warm and inviting place.  Still, we went, and we fished.

Well, this year was our smallest contingent of boys ever.  It was just three of us.  Mike, me and our friend Lee.  Lee, a dear friend out of Richmond, is a country boy stuck in a preppy financial advisor's body.  He was raised in Colonial Heights south of Richmond, and while he would go fishing or hunting with his father or brother, he always looked better in a starched shirt and tie.  His hair never moved and was always perfect.  He never got hat head.  And I swear, even his chest waders were dry cleaned and pressed.  Unfortunately since our move to Suffolk, I don't keep in touch with him as much anymore, but he has always been a good friend.  And he taught me a very important lesson that weekend....

It's funny how hindsight provides you with perspective, but by that year Mike and I had been going fishing down to the OBX for about 10 years.  We figured we had learned a lot through the previous decade, and maybe even more than those around us.  For example, stripers in the inlet love to eat eels.  Live ones.  And Mike and I had already learned that when you are trying to hook a live eel onto your line, we don't have to act like little girls and scream and squeal at each other.  We had already done that.  No, live eels do NOT have sharp teeth with which they try and bite you with.  And NO, their bite is not poisonous.  And NO, they don't shriek, like on "The Princess Bride"  (one of Lee's favorite movies... Shoot, one of mine too.  Who am I kidding.)  But YES, eels are extremely slimy, and they are a real mess to try and deal with -- unless you drop them in the sand first.  Then they are easy to grip and hook.  We knew all that, already....  And more.

After all, it was Mike who came up with the idea to use a car battery instead of hauling the generator back and forth like every other redneck, moron bridge fisherman.  And it was I who had perfected the hanging beer huggy.  A can koozy with an athletic shoe string attached, so you can hang your drink around your neck, handsfree, while you are fishing.  And this was Lee's first year with us.  What could he know?! 

After it got good and dark, we hauled our stuff out to the catwalk and found a gap where we could fit and not bother any other cold, redneck, nocturnal, stupid, smelly fishermen.  We pulled out our waterproof lantern, attached it to the battery and hung it over the railing lowering it down to the water.  It lit up the flowing inlet beautifully.  We leaned our large hoop net against the back fencing separating us from the Mack trucks zooming by behind us at 60 mph, and we were almost ready.  Our bait was either fresh caught finger mullet (a small baitfish found in these waters), or 1 ounce jigheads with large hooks to which we attach large soft plastic tails to lower and jig up and down around the perimeter of the light cast by the lantern.

Now it was just a matter of waiting for the fish.  Eventually it was late enough that traffic behind us was minimal.  The night was quiet and thankfully windless, so the cold was bearable.  the moon was high and close to full, and the outgoing tide was moving strongly.  Then we heard it.  "Slap".  Then we heard another slap.  And another.  The large rockfish were moving in, and were smacking the surface of the water.  To hear the haunting echo of slapping fins across the water in the quiet of the moonlit night is a memory that is still vivid to me.  I had never experienced that, and it just filled us with excitement and anticipation.  Finally we saw it... a large dark green shadow was just at the perimeter of the circle of light our lantern shone on the inlet.  Then another was visible.  We readied our baits, and that's when Lee spoke up.

"Hey guys, my dad gave me a bunch of freshwater shad he caught up in the lake that he fishes for big blue catfish."  I froze them, and I brought some with me in my cooler."  Mike and I looked at each other, and it was everything we could do not to laugh out loud in his face.  We smiled and said no thanks.  We've got our routine down.  We knew what the stripers liked.  And it certainly couldn't be a freshwater fish that they had never seen before... that was frozen, no less!  I lowered my jig and started jigging, while Mike lowered a dead, but still fresh finger mullet.  And we waited.

Meanwhile Lee took out his plastic bag of frozen freshwater shad, and put one on a hook, and lowered it with ours.  Mike and I shared another knowing glance at Lee's expense.  "Poor Lee.  He just doesn't know any better....   Oh well....  He'll learn soon enough."

A rod bowed, and a fish was hooked.  It wasn't Mike.  It wasn't me.  It was Lee, and he was fighting a horse!  He played it beautifully, letting it run, then bringing it back, not letting it go anywhere it may try and break the line.  Eventually it tired, and we lowered the net.  Lee led the large rock into the hoop, and we raised it up.  Lee had a beautiful rockfish pushing 20 pounds -- caught on a frozen freshwater shad.

We put the fish in a cooler, and Lee put another frozen shad on his hook and lowered it.  Before long, BAM, he had another hookup.  Another good fight.  Another good fish.  We lowered the net, and Lee had limited out on striper.  He was done for the night, and he sat back and cracked open a cold beverage.  Meanwhile, Mike and I were still at the railing, waiting for our first hit.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  I took off my jig, and grabbed one of those stupid, no-way-in-the-world-should-this-work frozen freshwater shad, and put it on a hook and lowered it into the water.  BAM, a rockfish took it, and a few minutes later I also had dinner.  Mike tried one at that point, but stripers are funny.  They come, they eat, and then dinnertime is over just that quickly, and they don't hit anymore.  The bite for the night was over, and we went home.  Since Mike didn't have a fish (ha ha), he took a picture of Lee and me.  Yeah, Lee's were bigger, but at least we had learned an important lesson. 
Lee with his 2 unfinicky, large rockfish, an me with some humble pie... or was it crow?

First, apparently when hungry, stripers don't really discriminate against fish they have never seen before.  Even if they are frozen solid.  Second, never be so stubborn, or think you know so much, that you miss out on an opportunity to learn something -- and catch some fish.

And the reality is this.  How many soft plastic baits really resemble any foods that gamefish eat?  How many baitfish are really chartreuse in color?  None?  Exactly.  Yet a fluorescent yellow grub tail is one of the most productive of colors.  What is a "spinnerbait" really supposed to resemble, anyway?  Yet it works quite well for bass.  So, I guess I was a little late in coming to the "Don't-Be-Afraid-To-Try-Anything" Party.  I was stuck in the "I-Think-I-Know-It-All" slow lane.  But eventually I got there.  I just had to get out of that lane, and realize I still had plenty to learn.  Fast forward 15 years, and I am still learning..., and I still remember.

Yesterday I went kayak fishing with Mike, and another friend Jerry, who is still a "newbie" to kayak fishing.  We never use live bait when we kayak fish on the river, never; but Jerry wanted to get out there early, and throw his cast net for some live minnows.  He caught about 100 shad in one cast.  So we put them in a large minnow bucket, and we used live shad as bait.  It was a slow day, and we didn't catch the first fish with any of those shad.  When we got off the water, we still had plenty of shad left.  But you know what?

They're in the freezer now in little plastic bags.... Waiting for striper season.  And Boys' Weekend is less than two months away....

Until next time,

Fish on!


Monday, September 20, 2010

A Remarkable "Boys' Weekend": Two Great Stories in One Day

"We're Gonna Need a Bigger... Bait!"

In the movie "Jaws", Chief Brody has one of the most memorable lines of all time, when he has first seen the great white shark while chumming from the stern of the old charter boat, Orca.  In shock at the size of the maneater he had just stared at eyeball to eyeball, he backs into the cabin where Quint is, and utters "We're gonna need a bigger boat."  Classic.  Iconic.  And fitting.

Well, for almost a quarter century, a group of friends and I have been heading down to the Outer Banks every November for a weekend of nothing but fishing.  We're very hardcore about it, too.  We literally do nothing but fish -- with a little bit of sleeping involved.  We call it Boys' Weekend, and I guess the name has stuck, because we all act like boys for the weekend.  Whether or not we ever catch anything is secondary to the good-natured ribbing, joking and fun we all have.  There will be other blogs recounting some of the other stories of all these years worth of weekends (consider that your warning, boys) but every now and then, we actually have the unique experience of catching some fish -- and sometimes even more....

About 10 years ago was one of those times.   It was a year when only four of us went, and after an uneventful Saturday, at O'Dark:30 on Sunday morning, we were already on the road to hit Oregon Inlet.  Oregon Inlet is the channel that separates Hatteras Island from the southern part of Nags Head and Coquina Beach.  Right where the fishing center is, you can also access the beach by vehicle to park and fish.  Driving on the beach is one of the reasons I love the Outer Banks.  It's also why I only have 4WD vehicles.  Anyway, the sands and currents are constantly changing the terrain there, and we knew then that with the incoming tide, if we wanted to "get around the southern corner" of the beach to face the inlet, we had to be there very early.  Otherwise we would be stuck on Coquina beach facing the ocean with all the other late sleeping fishermen.

Our quarry was the striped bass, or rockfish, as it is also known.  And they love moving currents like the inlet provides.  with our 7/11 coffee and breakfast sandwich in hand, we made it to Oregon Inlet and around the southern corner strip of sand as the tide started coming in.  We were the only ones down there.... (You don't know how unusual an event that is, unless you've ever seen how many trucks drive up and down the beaches of the OBX.)  We had that whole southern strip of beach to ourselves!  Let the fishing begin!

We put on our chest waders and storm coats, baited our surf rods, or "heavers", added 8 oz. of a lead weight pyramid and bait, waded into the surf, to cast into the breakers beyond to where the fish may be.  After a while, I had to go back to my truck to change my bait, when I glanced out into the water a hundred yards to the left of where my friends Mike and Randy and my brother Ted were all fishing.  Something caught my eye.  it was a huge black dorsal fin about a foot and a half high.  And then I saw a tail fin almost 10 feet behind it.  Something was thrashing in the surf.  Something huge!

Instinctively I started running toward the leviathan.  (I know that sounds funny, as you would think that "instinct" would make me stay away, but I wanted to get close to this unique creature.)  Meanwhile down the beach Ted, Mike and Randy have seen the thrashing about, too, and then see me insanely running towards it.  Their initial thought was that these fins were two dolphins or a huge ray flopping in the surf.  Then they realized it was a shark!  Panicking, they started yelling at me to stay back!  "It was a shark!  Don't get close!  Stay Away!"  And yet I kept running into the surf, closer to the giant fish.  Randy and Mike looked at Ted, and said "Your brother's gonna die."  Ted was not happy.  It would not be fun delivering the news to the family that Dan was dead, naively eaten by a shark.

Now I grew up watching nature shows.  Jacques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins (and his brave, stupid assistant Jim) were some of my favorite television stars.  I loved nature, and I loved learning about God's creatures.  And even though I had never ever in my life seen one (other than on television), for some reason I knew this fish thrashing about in the surf was a basking shark.  A basking shark is the second largest species of shark behind the whale shark -- but fortunately, like the whale shark, it is a plankton eater.  It can grow to 40 feet long, and it's harmless.  this one looked to be an adolescent -- it looked to be under 20 feet long.  And it was obviously very lost, and very sick.  I got within a few feet of the massive fish and admired it.  I realized it was going to get beached and I beckoned to the others to come over.  The three of them, upon realizing that I had not gone the way of the naked skinny dipper in the opening of "Jaws", came closer.  That's when I explained to them what it was.  And that, while it had a massive mouth, it also had no teeth.  It was nothing but the "Bumble" from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, AFTER Hermie had pulled out the teeth.
Me with the shark and Randy... The shark is the one I'm touching.

We assessed the beautiful fish, and all came to the agreement it was going to get pushed onto the shore with the incoming tide, and die.  We had to do something to help it.  Could we get a rope and tie it to the tail and pull it back out?  Could we push it?  We couldn't get any help, because we were still all alone.  Just then Randy and Mike were near the tail of the massive beast when it waved its tail into them both, pushing them back in the water several feet.  "It's a goner", Randy said, dismissing it after he recovered his footing and balance.  "There's nothing we can do.  Nothing I'm gonna do.  It's too big."  Now Randy is an attorney, and I would have thought a little professional courtesy between him and the shark would have been expected.  But he was right.  We were helpless.  It was doomed.

The tide started to receded and the fish was beached.  There was nothing more that could be done for it.  Mercifully, death came quickly when the water was gone around it.  And as the sun shone down on the fish, it was amazing how much it dehydrated -- to probably half its original bulk.  We measured its length and found it to be almost 18 feet long.  Had it been a great white, it truly would have been almost as big as Jaws.  And there is no denying that its mouth was large enough to swallow any one of us whole.  Maybe Jonah was swallowed by a large basking shark, I thought.  Well, we had one hell of a fish story, and the day wasn't even over yet.  In fact it wasn't even noon.  There was still plenty of fishing to do, and the tide was now low enough around the corner that other trucks could come join us on the south side of the beach.  What a surprise lay beached for them all to see.  And what a memory we had.  Now back to fishing....

WRESTLEMANIA Hits the Beach, with Mini Macho Mike vs. The ROCK(Fish).

When the outgoing tide really started moving, the fishing heated up.  There were numerous fellow surf fishers around us now, including one large "local" man standing about 30 feet beyond Mike, who was standing about 30 feet beyond me.  Bearded and beer-bellied, he looked like a redneck sausage stuffed into a chestwader casing.  A smoked sausage, because the Marlboros never stopped puffing, except to take a swig of beer.  A smoked beer sausage redneck.  With an attitude.  And for some reason he seemed mad at us!  Even though we were there on the beach looooooonnnnng before he ever got there.  But maybe he figured he owned the beach. Who knows.  Regardless, he wasn't nice.  Anyway, the fish wrestling match was about to begin....

Mike had never caught a large striper before, and he finally hooked a nice one.  Here's the play by play of how it went down.  Mike's adrenaline was pumping as he fought the large fish that was screaming line off his reel.  Back and forth they went, up and down the beach, playing tug of war with the line.  The fish would run, then Mike would reel him back in.  The fish went right.  Mike went right.  The fish went left.  Mike went left.  Bob Evans and I got out of his way.  Finally, the fish was in the surf... and then in the wash, as Mike made his way pulling the fish up the beach.  DING.  The wrestling match was over, right?  Mike won.  Right?  WRONG!

DING.  Round Two began when the fish coughed up the bait and dehooked himself in the wash.  (Now if there's anything a redneck likes more on a Sunday afternoon than NASCAR, it's attending the WWE WrestleMania Pay Per View Event Live!   And the smoked beer sausage and I had front row seats.  We looked at each other and laughed at the unfolding drama.)

Mike instantly throws down his rod and reel into the sand (a cardinal sin with fishing equipment) and awkwardly runs in his waders towards the flopping rockfish.  He pounces on it, giving it an elbow drop to the chest and attempts a choke hold, but The ROCK(fish) counters, squirting through his legs up the beach.  Mini Macho Mike spins around and attempts a leg lariat move on The ROCK.  But The ROCK counters with a double tail slap to the body, which stuns Macho Mike, and it's anyone's match again.  Mini Macho Mike attacks one more time with a flying forearm smash mixed with a legsweep, but The ROCK has one last move, himself.  He does the never-before-attempted "stinger slash with a forehand chop with a flying clothesline finish", and Mini Macho Mike is down for the count!  ONE!  TWO!  THREE!  The ROCK has won, and he slithers back into the deep with his Championship Belt still in his grasp.  The human sausage and I are too busy dying of laughter to see Mike get up and humbly, dejectedly begin to clean his rod and reel.

Jimmy Dean was a lot friendlier with us the rest of the day, and we laughed and talked for a long time -- mostly at Mike's expense.  Fortunately for Mike, he had another match later that afternoon, and this time he had learned a few extra moves himself, and came out on top.  My brother, who had also never caught any large stripers before, won both of his events, and took home a couple of beautiful fish, himself.  But his catches were not nearly as exciting as the "Death Match" that was, between Mini Macho Mike, and The ROCK -- who was still undefeated, and still champion.

"Can you SSMMEELLLLL what The ROCK(fish) is cooking!!!"  Well, it wasn't him that night....

Until next time,
Fish On!

Ted with his 2 stripers, and Mini Macho Mike with his 2nd opponent

Monday, September 13, 2010

What You Remember Most.... (A Fishing Trip to Alaska.)

A few years ago I was blessed enough to take my son Parke on a long-desired trip to Alaska, for a week of fishing the Kenai Peninsula.  It was going to be a time to spend together, father and son.  To build and rebuild our relationship during those troublesome, tough teenage years.  It was not going to be anything glamorous.  Except for the first night and last night, we weren't going to have a real bed, or shower.  And it was going to be pretty hardcore fishing.  Even after the 11 hour flight on the misty day we arrived in Anchorage, Father's Day, we went just outside of town and did a little rainbow trout fishing in a local park's lake.  My best friend from my youth lives in Anchorage, and he had set us up with several trips during the week.  We could hardly wait....

The first day involved getting up at 3a.m. and driving to Seward.  Not a problem in Alaska in the summer, it was light by 4 when we hit the road and left my friend's neighborhood outside Anchorage.  Taking his Subaru, and a cup of coffee, I was getting ready to turn right onto the main road when I saw a deer next to four saplings.  As I took another glance, I realized they weren't four saplings, but the legs of a large moose, and the "deer" was its baby... and they were both right by the road!  "Holy F---!"  I exclaimed loudly, turning wide to make sure I didn't hit them - or drive under them as the case may be.  Jet lag or not, I didn't need my coffee at that point; I was wide awake for the rest of the drive south.

When we arrived in Seward, we drove to the docks, where a day of halibut fishing lay ahead of us.  The day was amazing.  We each caught two nice "chicken" 'buts (under 50 lbs. are the best for eating) and our captain toured us around where we saw groups of Steller sea lions basking on rocks, humpback whales breaching, teal-streaked glaciers, and the beauty that is the rocky Alaskan coastline.  The trip was beginning wonderfully.  And I knew our freezer at home would be full by the time our week was over.

The next day we drove out of Seward and took a float plane ride to fish for sockeye salmon with the bears around a stream feeding into Cook Inlet.  Our fellow passengers for the plane and boat were a television news anchor from North Carolina with dyed red hair, and his trophy wife.  Our guide was a former lawyer who had seen the error of his ways and now led fishing and hunting trips.  Once again, the beauty of God's creation around us was breathtaking.  We each caught our limit of three sockeyes, or reds, as Alaskans call them; as we stayed in our johnboat, out of range from the bears that were also feasting on the sockeye run.  When we were finished, we took a tour of the inlet where we were, and saw some magnificent tundra swans as they ran on water and finally took off, like a couple of white jetliners.  An incredible snack of both sushi sockeye and grilled sockeye -- all while in the confines of the boat -- was the highlight that assured our guide a generous tip.

That evening, when we flew back to the Subaru, we drove to a state park, set up our tent, and explored the area for several hours.  In June, the Kenai Peninsula doesn't get dark, just dusky around 2a.m., so it was  after midnight before we even thought about settling down.

Me, Parke and Joel with our catch on the Russian River, after "combat fishing"
The next morning, my buddy joined us for a day of "combat fishing" on the Russian River.  Combat fishing is when you stand about 8 feet away from the person next to you, and in synchronicity, hundreds of people casts flies to the sockeye that are running.  Another day, another blessing of limiting out on sockeye to send back home.  And more incredible memories of the beauty we saw.  I have never seen so many fish swimming in such beautiful green, glacial water!

After another night of camping, we joined my friend's family, and drove to Homer, where we loaded his boat and traveled SSW to Tutka Bay where he had a yurt for his summer vacation home.  Never have I seen such incredible beauty in the wilderness.  We felt like we were at the end of the Earth.  A day of halibut and codfishing followed, with his neighbor who guided for a nearby lodge.  Afterward we threw the carcasses of our catch onto the beach, and watched "majestic" bald eagles act like bratty seagulls, fighting over the remains.  But only the halibut were good enough for them.  The other lesser scavengers got the cod.  That evening as the sun circled low on the horizon, my son and I got into my friend's tandem kayak and quietly toured the bay, watching sea otters toy with us, swimming around and under our kayak.  We also spotted a Dahl's porpoise.  Words were not necessary during that time.  Our feelings were shared silently.  God is great, I remember thinking.

At last it was time to head back to Anchorage.  After we had returned to Homer by boat, my buddy decided to ride with us, as his wife drove their other car back home.  Conversations began about our various adventures during the week, and my friend then asked Parke a very good question, I thought:

"Parke, what would you say is the one most incredible memory you have of this past week?"

I waited to hear his answer.  He has always had such a love of nature and animals, and we had experienced so much during this brief time, I really didn't know which memory may stand out.  The various moose we had seen, the humpbacks, the majestic glacier, the swans, the bears, the fishing, the sea lions, the Dahl's sheep we had seen on a mountain side, the sea otters, the eagles, the flying and boating... the scenery....

Finally, out came his reply,... "Well. . . . I've never heard my father drop the F-Bomb" before."

The laughter lasted all the way back to Anchorage.  I guess, in a way, that's a backhanded compliment to me.  I'll take it.  That was the summer he turned 16.  When he learned to drive shortly after, he may have heard me say it a few more times.  But nonetheless, now he's in college.  And I miss him.  We will always, however, share that special memory of the beauty that is Alaska.  I can't wait to return again with him, and the rest of my family, and once again say,

"Fish On!"


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Yakking About Suffolk

About five years ago, I discovered kayak fishing.  I thought I may have invented it at the time, but none-the-less, it has become one of my favorite ways to pass the time.  In fact, when I finish this blog entry, I'm going to go.

My son, Parke, and I are the subject of an article in the Autumn issue of Suffolk Living Magazine, so I won't repeat anything that the article states.  It's all about our experiences kayak fishing in the area.  I think it's worth reading, obviously, and you can read it at  Go to that page, but I encourage you to read all the articles... not just mine, which is toward the bottom of the site.  You will understand why I have come to love this community, and apparently I'm not alone.  Suffolk now ranks in the top 100 towns to live in, for the U.S.

Among the attractions of this small, but growing Hampton Roads town, are its proximity to the beach, the ability to have waterfront at a more reasonable price, the wonderful restaurants, the culture, the natural beauty that one can be a part of when hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, or participating in other watersports.  Also, we have wonderful festivals and events; the Peanut Festival is the biggest, coming the second weekend in October.  And it is highlighted by and kicked off with the Shrimp Feast -- sponsored by the Suffolk Ruritan Club, of which I am a proud member and former past president.

My wife is a native Suffolkian, and we moved here at the end of 1993.  I hadn't lived here for six months before I knew I was "home".  (I also had never actually met anyone named "Bubba" before, and within those first six months, I met three!)  The people here are real.  The community is tight, and it is a great place to raise a family.  Last night, I went and watched my freshman daughter cheer for her first Friday night Varsity football game.  An exciting one that went down to the last play.  Even though we lost, everyone applauded for the effort both teams made.  That's what Suffolk is all about.  From watermen crabbing, to high tech computer animation labs; from a history that proudly goes back to the 1600's, to beyond that with its Native American history, to a city that is growing as one of the fastest in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and whatever promise the future holds.  From families that trace their lineage back in the region for generation upon generation, to the more transient, but just as important presence of military families.  It's a great place to be a kid.  And a great place to retire.  This is Suffolk.  It's surprising!  It's closer than you think. In fact it's home.  And I guess now, the secret is out.  (As long as my secret fishing spots stay secret, I guess I'm okay with that.)

Well that's enough yakking about Suffolk.  High tide is in about 2 hours.  It's time to go yakking around Suffolk.  You know, now that I stop to think about it, I wonder if any of those Nansemond Indians several hundred years ago, went fishing in their canoes.....  Perhaps they also said,

"Fish On!"


A Frying Pan, a Beach Chair, and a Bus

The Outer Banks of North Carolina.... Just saying those words brings a smile to my face.  Those barrier islands are truly one of my favorite places on Earth.  And to me there is nothing like the OBX in September.  The crowds are gone, the bratty kids are in school, and the fishing really starts to pick up!

One of my favorite September memories of the Outer Banks occurred more than a dozen years ago.  Two friends of mine (I'll call them "Bob" and "Bandy") and I went down one September weekend to have a getaway of just us guys.  To set the scene, "Bob" is a redneck.  There is no other way to describe him.  He is a contractor, and hunts and fishes as easily as he breathes.  In fact, one time I saw him grab a dead duck, while building a house, spread its breast feathers with his thumbs, then split the skin, reach in and grab that mallard's breast like the high priest grabbed the heart of the human sacrifice in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom".  Man, did that impress me.  No tools, no knife, no plucking feathers, nothing!  And he had a beautiful duck breast to take home for dinner.

I, on the other hand, while no slouch at fishing, look like a preppy investment guy.  Oh yeah, 'cause that's what I am.  "Bandy" is also a white collar professional who looks the part and hadn't grown up fishing.

Well, Bob and I had gone fishing before, so Bob knew that I could hold my own when it came to surf fishing.  To quote his wife, the very fact that I had brought along Ziploc bags the time before, was all he needed to know -- that I knew how to fish, expected to catch fish, and was ready to fillet and take them home.  Bob was not so sure about Bandy, however.  And maybe I wasn't either.

It's a beautiful September Saturday morning.  We're on the beach near Buxton, on Hatteras Island, and it's going to be a hot one.  I cast my line out with a hook, weight and bait.  And wait.  After about 20 minutes, I reel it in to check my bait.  Something is definitely on the end, but it's not fighting very much.  In fact it feels heavy, but it's just dragging, holding the bottom.  I bring it near the surf, and see something flat with a long end.  Crap, it's a small skate or ray, I think.  Wrong.  I bring in my line, and we all start laughing.  It was a Teflon-coated frying pan.  Don't ask me how, but I caught a frying pan.  I am still sometimes called "Frying Pan Dan", because of that.  So now, in addition to having the ziploc bags.  We had a way to cook our catch, too.  But the fun was just beginning....

Not too many fish were biting there at the Point that morning, so we decided to drive up to Oregon Inlet and fish the pilings of the Bonner Bridge for sheepshead, or whatever else may be lurking around them.  We drive on the beach and over to the sound side, under the bridge.  It's somewhat crowded with people fishing and enjoying the beach, but we are able to park and claim one of the pilings for ourselves.  As soon as we set up, however, a wood-paneled Jeep Grand Cherokee pulls up with 2 middle-aged men, dressed right out of the Orvis catalog, and their trophy blonde wives.  Bob and I don't want to share our piling, so we try and "crowd" it as best we can.  Bandy outdoes us both, however.  You see, if there's something an experienced fisherman doesn't want, is to be around an inexperienced one fishing in tight quarters.  Bandy reaches back to cast toward the piling, and whips his rod forward, releasing his line.  Unfortunately, his line stayed behind him.  He looks back to see why, as do we all... and we see he had hooked a beach chair.  The tears started coming, we all started laughing so hard.  Unfortunately it didn't stop Orvis and Cabela from sharing our piling, anyway.  They came, they caught a few sheepshead, they impressed their wives, and they drove away.  Then Bob and I finally stopped laughing, only to watch Bandy cast again.

Now there was no way Bandy was going to catch any more objects behind him.  Women had moved all of their children down to Ocracoke or north to Corolla, and the Beach Patrol and National Park Service had set up a rope boundary around him giving him plenty of room to operate comfortably.  No, he just had to focus on what was in front of him... The bridge, it's pilings, and all those wonderful fish swimming around them.

TANGENT Alert:  You know that saying about "What goes up, must come down".?  Not true.

Bandy casts his line up and out.  I guess the boy had had his Wheaties that morning, I don't remember, but there was a lot of heft in that cast.  It went up, up, and out, and out, ... and over the railing of the bridge, and -- is that a Greyhound bus going by over us right now?   "Hey Bob, Where'd Bandy go?  I thought he was standing right here between us.  He just took off, and I don't even think he paid for that bus ticket!"

Bob and I drove home alone that night.  Bandy, well....

Well, that's the way I (choose to) remember it!  Bandy, where ever you are, thank you for one of the best laughs we've ever had....

  Oh, I don't even remember how many fish we may have caught.  They were completely irrelevant to the memories made that weekend.

Until next time,
Fish on!

Fish Tales

A few people have been after me for a while to start writing, or at least blogging.  And I've always hesitated for some reason.  To write successfully, you have to write about something you know and love.  For me, that would be my family and fishing.  And well, since I don't want to embarrass my family any more than I already do, I figured I'd write about my second love, fishing.  Especially now that I am a world-famous fisherman!  (At least I've been professionally photographed, interviewed, and published catching fish).  So I figured strike while the iron is hot! 

I've been fishing for more than 40 years, and have always loved it.  I've fished for trout in Europe, salmon, cod and halibut in Alaska, and all kinds of fish, both fresh and saltwater, here on the East Coast. Especially Virginia and North Carolina.  It has been written about me that I would fish in a swimming pool if I thought I had half a chance.  I fish alone, I fish with my family, and I fish with friends -- and once a year, every November, I fish with many of them.  I fish with God, and sometimes I go fishing to find God.  I have taught many people the basics of fishing, and I continue to learn more every year.  I don't consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination -- just someone who has a sincere love for the beauty of all God's creation. And this is how I prefer to see it -- broiled, blackened, smoked or fried on my plate.  (That's a joke.  I practice catch and release most of the time.)

While the premise of "Angling Participles" is about fishing, I suspect sometimes I'm going to leave you hanging, like a dangling participle, and go off on another tangent.  So consider that your warning.  I can be very opinionated at times, and I sometimes have much to say.  And you are probably reading this because you know me and you love me and you care what I think, or you don't like me and I am paying you money to read this.  Or you are just interested in reading what are hopefully interesting anecdotes mixed up with my thoughts.  And yes, the stories I tell here may or may not contain elements of truth and fiction.  After all, these are fish tales.  It is up to you to figure out the difference between when a tale is true, and when I may be, well, exaggerating a bit.  (Though some of my stories are just too good to be fiction.)

So thank you for signing up, and taking the time to read Angling Participles.  I welcome your thoughts, comments, suggestions and ideas.  Until next time,

"Fish On,"