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

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

1 in 110?* Nope. Not Clayton. He's One in a Million.

In honor of April being Autism Awareness Month....

*(The odds of a child being born with autism today.  It used to be 1 in 10,000....)
*( FURTHER UPDATE AS OF LATEST STATISTICS FROM THE CDC, March 2012:  1 in 88!  And we still don't know the cause, and still don't have a cure.) 

A husband and wife were flying overseas for a long-desired, hard-earned summer vacation.  They were going to go to Italy.  They had planned this for a long time, they had worked hard, and they were ready.  They had each learned basic Italian.  They had studied the Italian Renaissance Masters like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael, Donatello and Titian.  They had learned the history of the Roman Empire, as well as the various city/states of Sienna, Florence, Venice, and such.  And they were excited to sample the wonderful Italian wines and cuisine from across the country.  It was their dream trip.  They had their Fodor's Guide to Italy in hand, and they were almost there....

As the plane was crossing over into European airspace, however, the pilot came on the intercom and told the passengers that due to unfortunate, severe weather conditions, the plane would not be able to fly to Rome; it was being diverted to Amsterdam, instead.  There would be no later connecting flights.  He apologized, but Holland would be their final destination.

The couple looked at each other in shock.  All of their planning, studying, learning and hope and anticipation had been dashed in a moment that was not their fault.  What were they to do?  Well, they had two choices.

Their first option was to cry, feel sorry for themselves, complain to the powers that be, and stay in a hotel room until it was time to return home.  All of their ideals for their wonderful trip to Italy had been destroyed.  "It's not fair," they could say, and nobody would disagree.

Their other option was to land in Amsterdam, go to the airport gift shop and pick up a guide, a Dutch/English dictionary, and begin to learn all about the Dutch Master artists, such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, the Breugels and such.  They could tour the canals of the "Venice of the North", which is one of Amsterdam's nicknames, enjoy the beauty of the tulips and the windmills, and learn about the culture, foods and beers of Holland.  In other words, they could either be miserable, or make the most of an unfortunate situation that neither had wanted, but had now been given.

Which choice would they make?

I can't remember where I first heard that analogy more than 15 years ago, but it is one I cannot forget.  You see, 18 years ago, our second son Clayton was born.  And for the first year of his life, everything was fine and "normal".  Without getting in to all the pain and heartache we experienced during his early years after that, however, let's just suffice it to say that by the age of four he had been diagnosed with Autism.  All of our hopes and dreams we had had for our son to that point were dashed with that diagnosis.  Our plans for his future had drastically changed, due to no fault of our own.

Intensive "ABA" therapy, one on one training, paying special attention to dietary requirements, and constant attention to helping him learn the basic skills of life took over -- instead of ball games, playing with friends, eating "regular" foods and going to regular classes -- all the things "normal" kids do.

It wasn't easy... and the truth is, it's still not; because we're still not done.  I don't know if we ever will be.  But we have tried to do our best in appreciating our little "Dutch" boy for who he is, not who we had planned on him being.  And who Clayton is, is a very special, funny, talented, eclectic, and loving boy.

His taste for music is as diverse as music itself.  Johnny Cash, Elvis, Queen, Journey, Louis Armstrong, Lady Gaga, Earth Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson.  Do I need to keep going, or do you get the idea.

His taste in movies is primarily "slapstick", as he doesn't understand more verbal humor too well.  But Monty Python and the Three Stooges are some of his favorites.  He can recite endless scenes from either, verbatim.  And he is a whiz with anything electronic, from video games, to Ipods to the computer.  Everything else, however, is secondary to books.

Books are his sanctuary, his constant companion.  He takes one or several everywhere he goes.  He taught himself to read before the age of four, and his favorite place is the library.  We go there every few weeks to get six new books, exchanging the old ones.  It's even inspired me to read more.  He will plop down and be content to read books for hours.  He literally even sleeps with books piled around his bed.  His tastes in literature range from "Sonic the Hedgehog" comicbooks, to Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Melville's Moby Dick, Aesop's Fables, various African Folktales, and numerous Bible Stories.  Once again, I could go on, but I think you get the drift.  His taste is broad.

Fortunately, he is also a boy who loves to fish with Daddy.  From New York's Finger Lakes to North Carolina's Outer Banks, Clayton and I will spend some time together fishing when we can.... It is one activity that I learned we could share, as any father and son would.  He just needs a little more help and encouragement.  But the joy and the thrill of the catch is that much greater when it happens....
Fishing the Point of Buxton.  Catching fish is a matter of saying, "Here fishy, fishy," with Clayton....
Clayton has always loved the beach.  There is something peaceful, calming and entrancing about watching the waves, and he sits in their wash until the tide is ready to carry him away -- or we  tell him to come up the beach some more.  Once, while down in Ocracoke, we drove to the southern tip of the island in late summer.  The water was bathtub warm, and "gin clear".  The sand of Ocracoke is soft and white, and as we sat in a calm pool away from the surf, dozens of small pompano would come and peck at our legs and bodies.  It tickled, and Clayton was thrilled watching the little "nibble fish" swarm around him.  All of us joined him and shared a fun family moment, amazed at these small white, silver-dollar sized fish with no fear.  To this day, the memory of those nibble fish will make him laugh out loud.
Sitting in the surf as the sun gets low on the horizon  .... Entranced.  Susan and I watch him carefully, wondering what is going on in that special brain of his. 

Late summer is when the spot are running, and you can often catch them two at a time.  It's easy fishing.  It fun and exciting.  And almost every cast is productive.  That's the kind of fishing Clayton likes.  Of course, the fact that it is typically a warm, sunny day on the beach with the family probably helps.  But he likes action.  Otherwise, he's content to go back to sitting in the gentle waves and watching them roll in... and perhaps wait for more nibble fish to come tickle him.  And just enjoy being at the beach.  Who can blame him?  Being at the beach is good therapy for everyone.  Life's difficult issues just don't seem so important in contrast...  We all feel small and insignificant when we look at the ocean, and the sky.  And it allows us to marvel, to wonder, and to dream...  
A rare photo of Clayton with open eyes.  Enjoying the end of a perfect day at the beach a few years ago as a family, after fishing and sitting in the rolling waves.  Does it get any better than that?  

On our trips up to Cayuga Lake, Clayton would join us in our activities.  With no electronic games or television allowed for the week, when we all went down to the dock to sunbathe, swim or fish, he would be there with us.  And he absolutely loved going for boat rides.  He would sit next to his mother on the boat, and enjoy the wind in his face and the bumps when the boat would bounce over waves.
Motorboat or rowboat, Clayton loves to go for a ride.  Catching a fish was a bonus.  He's just not crazy about getting it off the hook....  His eyes are almost open for this photo -- something quite rare for him.

Parke, Sheldon and I would go down to the creek near the cottage and turn over rocks and dig up worms.  We'd put them in an old coffee can with some dirt, go back to the cottage, get Clayton and go down to the dock to go fishing.  We'd put a worm on the hook, attach a bobber, cast the rod out, and wait for the bobber to go down.  When it finally did, Clayton would squeal with delight as he reeled the fish in.  But when it came time to getting it off the hook -- well, he'd just as soon let me do it.  The "tactile" feel of a slimy fish was a little too much for him.  He'd touch it with his finger, and we'd praise him for that, but he wanted nothing to do with getting that fishy slime all over his hands.
Clayton doing his little happy dance, when he had brought the fish in.  Now Daddy needed to get it off the hook.
Through the years, as Clayton has grown up, we've exposed him to therapeutic horseback riding, "Challenger" baseball, the Special Olympics with swimming and track & field, and most recently, surfing through the "Surfers Healing" organization.  All of these are terrific organizations that we highly endorse and support.  But the truth is, when family can be involved with him for any of his activities, it's not just good therapy for him, it is for all of us.  We have learned that it is all about inclusion.

Sidenote regarding "Challenger Baseball":  Unlike his brother Parke, Clayton only had an interest in baseball for two or three years.  The Challenger team nearby played on Saturdays, on fields where all the other "normal" kids also played.  It was made up of about 20 kids with various special needs including autism, cerebral palsy, and Downs Syndrome.  The team ranged in age from six to 21.  I helped coach, and pitched to those that did not require a "T" to hit the ball.  The families would come and watch the kids play against each other every week.

But one of my family's favorite memories is when one drizzly day we were short by about 4 or 5 players.  Suddenly, Parke, Sheldon, Susan and her 70-something year old father were all out in the field playing with Clayton, the rest of the kids and me.  Parke later recounted how he noticed numerous other "normal" kids stopped by the field after their games on other diamonds, and sat on our bleachers and watched all of us playing with these special players, and all having a blast.  He said they actually looked jealous of the fun everybody was having.  I remember thinking that there probably aren't too many times in each of those children's lives when others would say they were envious of them.  That moment, alone as a family, made it all worth while.  And it's one more reason why we have such awesome kids, each with a very special heart for special needs -- and not just for their brother.

Every now and then, especially in the Spring when the fishing has first started picking up, I'll take Clayton down the street to fish the lake in the evening.  We grab a couple rods, and walk down together, just father and son.  Clayton and I decided when he was very young, that we need to say "Here fishy, fishy", to attract the fish to our hooks; so that has become part of the conversation we have, while waiting for a fish to bite.  In his way, quite simply and easily, we talk about his day.  Who did he flirt with?  (He is known as the "Big Flirt").  What did he do in P.E.  (Flirt -- and play basketball, kickball, tennis, whatever.)  And did he learn anything?  (No.  Just like my other two kids would say.)  And when a fish finally does strike, the smile comes forth on his face as he reels it in -- and he gives it to me to get off the hook.

One of my favorite stories that amplifies his curious sense of sensibility, is when one spring I took him down to the lake for some fishing.  Clayton caught a nice big crappie and reeled it in.  As always, he refused to touch it, let alone take it off the hook.  I tried and tried to convince him to at least touch it's silvery sides -- with just one finger tip -- and he refused.  I finally turned and knelt down to gently release the fish back to the lake.  While I was still squatting, I felt a smattering of something hitting my back.  I stood and turned around, only to see Clayton getting ready to throw another handful of goose poop he had found on the lake's bank.  In his mind, it was okay to pick that up, but not okay to touch the fish.  I laughed and walked over to him.  We rinsed his hands off in the lake, and then I told him that wasn't good enough.  We had to go home to do a better job.  When I explained to him what he had done, (picking up poop) he laughed.  Of course, he is the boy that once thought that his own feces was a totally acceptable art medium to be spread on the television, computer screen and stair railing... among other places.  Oh, the things a parent of a special child experiences....
Clayton and his crappie....  Little did I know I was about to become crappy, too.  :)
Do I worry about what's going to happen later on in Clayton's life?  Yes.  Sure.  All parents worry about their kids, though.  But what will he truly be capable of?  Will he be able to live independently, and maybe be a librarian?  Will there ever be any kind of cure for autism?  What kind of life will he have -- especially after I'm gone.  All I can do is prepare him and his future as best I can, love him now, and leave it all truly in God's hands.  But for the moments we are fishing, that is all that matters.  That moment.  And for that moment, we are both the same -- just a couple of fishermen, father and son, waiting for the next bite, sharing some time together in a very special way.  And we are content.

"Forrest Gump", with his eyes closed for yet another photo -- but still very happy with the yellow perch he just caught.  Now I just have to get it off the hook.
Now if I could just get him to keep his eyes open for a photo....

Until next time,

Fish on.


Update:  February, 2014.

Clayton has had a busy couple of years since I wrote this a few years ago.  During the Christmas Eve service of 2011, in front of over 800 people, he was one of our church's speakers and read the passage from Genesis 22, where Abraham is asked to sacrifice Isaac.  He blew everyone, including myself, away with his poise and the fact that he had the whole chapter memorized.  For the next year, I heard what an incredible blessing it was to see him speak to the church like that.

Then last year, he gave a credible testimony before the elders and the church so that he could receive communion, as a "communing member" of our church.  Again, he blew everyone away with his biblical knowledge and poise.  And to this day, he is the only person to receive a standing ovation in front of our church, for his testimony.  There wasn't a dry eye in the House.
Clayton being congratulated, as people stood -- and wept -- at such an amazing testimony.  God is great, indeed!
He participated in Surfer's Healing one last time in 2012, and had another wonderful experience.  I encourage anyone to read my blog post about that. A Tribute to Surfer's Healing  But here's a photo from his last time there.  I can't recommend it enough.
The smile says it all.  He's come a long way....
As my own father has suffered a serious decline in his mental health and abilities, it is Clayton who has had a special sensitivity to him.  And they seem to share a special bond now.  And those of us who have learned to handle Clayton's special circumstances, are also able to handle my father's special circumstances better, too.
Clayton and Opa, relaxing poolside at my brother's.  It was a wonderful visit.
And finally, he has become part of an innovative program called Project SEARCH, where young adults on the "spectrum" are taught to work under supervised conditions, in a local hospital.  It is true job training skills, and he has blown away everyone's expectations with what he has accomplished in such a short time.  I look forward to seeing what the future brings, and where he goes next.  No, he may never be independent and on his own the way most may live; but I am far more hopeful and encouraged with the steps and progress he has made in the last few years.  I am so proud of all that he is and does, and continue to be very grateful to all those who have helped him achieve what he has.  He has made all of our lives, special in every way.
Clayton and his constant companion -- his books -- on his way to "work" at the hospital.  He has come so far... and there's still so far to go.  But he continues to be an inspiration to me and so many others.  He is, indeed, a very special young man....
***UPDATE APRIL 1, 2015

Clayton excelled in Project SEARCH last year.  He learned all kinds of important job skills -- in addition to some big life skills, too.  And before we knew it, it was the end of the school year and it was time to graduate.  I could go on and sing the praises of this program for an entire blog post, but it would probably be easier for me to just link you to their website, Project SEARCH, and encourage you to learn more about this great program teaching our special young adults how to be productive members of society.

The day before he graduated, I asked his instructor what he should wear.  She informed me that the other boys would be wearing ties, but that it would be okay if Clayton just wore a nice dress shirt.  At this point, however, I wasn't willing to settle for less....

The boy who had refused to wear 2 shirts layered, had learned to wear a shirt under his scrubs -- because of Project SEARCH.
The boy who hated to wear name tags or stickers on his shirt, had learned to wear a plastic name badge clipped to his scrubs -- because of Project SEARCH.
He had lived 21 years without ever wearing a tie.  He refused to wear one to church -- and even to weddings and funerals had never been willing to do it.  Could this day be different?

I told him that his fellow graduates would be wearing a tie, and asked if he would be willing to put one on, as well....  Well, the photos show the answer to that.  Our boy had truly become a young man in many ways....
Clayton was very proud to wear his bright blue tie on his Graduation Day!  After all, he was now a "Gradulate!", as he called himself.  A graduate to be congratulated!  Ha ha.
 When Clayton received his diploma, he shook hands with the mayor of Portsmouth, and the two of them shared a moment, talking about their favorite book -- the Bible.  It was quite a testimony for all who witnessed it.
Clayton was so proud to receive his diploma, he had to stop and read it before being congratulated by the mayor who was patiently waiting to shake his hand.  It was a touching moment for us all.  And I'm not ashamed to say I was crying much of the day.
The staff that worked with Clayton throughout the year had become like family, and with this -- the inaugural class for Project SEARCH for Hampton Roads, they too, were very emotional that day.  But they had done a tremendous job, and all the graduates were ready for their next step in life.
Clayton with the staff of Project SEARCH.  A great group of people who truly care for their students!
Clayton showing off his diploma with his favorite assistant, Janae.  She still has a special place in his heart -- and I suspect he is in hers, as well....
When the ceremony was over, we had a nice family celebration with his favorite food -- PIZZA!  It was a wonderful day, that gave us great hope.
It must be noted that Clayton wasn't the only one who graduated last year.  His sister graduated from high school and his brother graduated from community college, and all three were ready and prepared to go to the next level.  It was a wonderful and busy summer for us all....

But there still was the question of whether or not he could actually find a job that paid him a decent wage....  Otherwise, what would he do every day?

Well after a couple months of "summer vacation", Clayton had not just one, but two job offers... and both paid more than minimum wage.  We weighed the pros and cons of both, and in the fall, Clayton started working in the warehouse of a local business, doing the skills he had learned through the previous year, and with the help and encouragement of his job coach -- and staff who understood his unique abilities.
Working in a warehouse involves vacuuming, dusting, stocking shelves, emptying trash cans, and cleaning -- among other things.  And his job coach is wonderful at keeping him motivated and working hard.  And Clayton is very proud of the job he does.  She only needs to check in on him occasionally now... He's gotten pretty independent, and only needs some encouragement now and again.
Of course after he worked that first week, he received that wonderful thing that all employees look forward to receiving -- a paycheck!  And so we promptly went to his favorite store in the world, and spent half his paycheck!  Woohoo!!
Clayton showing off his prize after his first week of work.  In the many months since, we have become fairly regular customers of both Barnes and Noble, as well as  Clayton loves his books, and he is very proud of the fact that he can now buy whatever he wants, and how ever many he wants -- with his own money....
So, as we enter Autism Awareness Month, I encourage all of you who know a loved one who is somewhere on the "Spectrum", that there is hope.  And there is a future.  And while I'm not sure that Clayton has found his ultimate career -- he's in a place where just a few years ago, I wasn't sure he'd ever reach.  And so that's the good news.  The goals I now have for him have only gotten higher, because of the growth I've seen in him... because of the love and care he's received from so many.

Do I still hope for a "cure" for autism?  Absolutely!  But I also appreciate all that our very special boy  -- I'm sorry, young MAN -- has accomplished, and how he has grown and continues to grow.
What he has learned, and what he continues to teach us all... is priceless.  Oh, and as you can see by these most recent photos,... he's even learning to open his eyes for photographs... sometimes.......  :)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A "Whale" of a Weekend!

When you've had as many Boys' Weekends as we've had, while I wouldn't say any are forgettable, I would definitely say some are absolutely unforgettable.  For the past several years, the fishing itself has alternated between good and bad each year.  2007, which followed a lousy "fishing" year, was one for the ages, and not just because of the fish we caught.  It began, however, quite inauspiciously.  It's just a good thing we don't pay any attention to weather reports anymore.

Boys' Weekend has grown from going down early Saturday morning and coming back Saturday night or Sunday, to now we go down Thursday afternoon and don't return until Sunday night.  One day, we may make it a whole week.

Well, the forecast for Thursday and Friday was not promising.  Windy, with highs in the low 40's, making windchills downright frigid, with rain and showers Thursday through Friday morning.  Still, three of us went.  There would be five of us there by Friday night.

When Mike and I began driving down to the Outer Banks Thursday afternoon through the wind and cold rain, it didn't take Mike much to convince me to stop at the Weeping Radish Brewery and Restaurant on the way down for a "flight" of their samples of beer.
one of my favorite beers at the Weeping Radish Farm Brewery/German Restaurant

We only had one flight (each) of six samples, and then continued down the rest of the way to Nags Head.  Still, it's a good thing it's a wide, straight road.  They make good beer.

When we got down there, we were greeted by Jerry who already had a pot roast and fixin's ready to be heated and served.  Since it was too miserable to go fishing, we decided to eat, drink and "get our gear ready."  (This habit of sitting around the living room putting new line on reels, cleaning out tackle boxes, making rigs, and jawing about fishing reports and past escapades, all while sipping good bourbon is one of our earliest traditions.  I think we enjoy this as much as anything during the weekend.  And it gets you psyched with anticipation.  Now if we could only sleep.  It's funny, but that first night, you're like a kid at Christmas....)

Friday morning.  It was cold.  It was dark.  The cottage was creaking, the wind was howling so much.  It was cloudy with 30kt WNW winds.  And it was cold.  Did I say it was cold?  What were we thinking?!  I'd seen this picture before more than a decade earlier, when we actually got "blown out" of a BW, when Charter Member Mark muttered his infamous line, "It's, it's, it's gonna blow!", before he got swept away from the porch in galeforce winds.  An oyster toad was the only catch we had then, so we went home to be with our wives, get warm, and have a home-cooked meal by the fire.  (Don't worry, that's a blog for another day.)

But not this time.  We hit the 7/11 for coffee and a bagelwich, then hit Oregon Inlet to await the rest of the BW recruits and fish.  It was 7 a.m., and dang it was cold!  Still we were there, so we might as well wet a line and fish.  We just wouldn't need any ice in the coolers.  We baited the hooks, cast the rods out, and waited... and got colder.  Was it too early to start drinking yet?  After all, isn't beer just liquid bread?  Hhhmmmmm....

To add a sense of competition to the Weekend, we had split into teams (Redfish/Bluefish) the previous year when eight had gone.  Each team counted their fish to see who caught the most.  The winning team would get bragging rights only, but that was enough of a prize among fishermen.  At this point, I was outnumbered two to one.  But my teammates would be arriving later.

9:45, Wake up!  Back to reality.  A rod bowed, and a fish was on!  See, that's why we come.  Just when we were questioning our sanity, Jerry brought in a nice 26" puppy drum.  Blue Team had 1.  But no sooner was his in the cooler, when I hooked into a 24" pup.  Red Team had 1.  Then Mike caught a 21 incher.  Blue Team - 2.  It was only 10:30, and we could have gone home because we had each limited out on keeping one puppy drum.  That was a first.  But of course, we didn't leave.  There was still plenty of fishing to do.
Jerry, well wrapped up on a bitter morning -- just made better by his first -- and only -- fish.  He was not heard from again the rest of the weekend, much to Mike's chagrin.  I guess he went hibernating in the cold....
I caught another pup while talking with Mark on the phone.  He was on his way and couldn't get down there quickly enough!  It was 2-2.  Then Mike caught another.  2-3.  Jerry then got a major bird's nest in his reel, as his line got all tangled up.  While Mike was helping him untangle the mess, I brought in a nice 17" speckled trout.  The only problem was, it was on Mike's rod.  1/2 point each, we decided.  Then I hooked into a nice 28" yearling drum.  It was 3 1/2 to 3 1/2.

When Mark finally arrived, he caught a small black drum, a bluefish, and a pup to add to the cooler, while Mike caught three more pups himself.  As the sun was setting, a skein of white tundra swans flew directly overhead, shimmering like angels in the gleam of the golden low sunlight.  A beautiful vision to end the day.
There are angels among us.  Sometimes they just look like Tundra Swans.
Day One drew to a close with a  6 1/2 - 6 1/2 point tie, and we drove back to the cottage, each of us with a puppy drum and that trout.
4 happy fishermen, and their fish.  Notice how both Mike and me are holding the trout....
Randy was waiting there with a couple of bottles of chardonnay, and so we proceeded to make a (rare) Boys' Weekend FISH (not spaghetti) dinner.  Now why we let Mark make hushpuppies, I'm not sure.  Not counting my brother, Mark is the oldest guy that goes on BW.  His eyes must be bad.  That's the only excuse I can think of.  Because I guess where the batter's recipe called for a pinch of salt, he must have thought it said a pint.  BOY OH BOY, were those the saltiest hushpuppies we've all ever eaten.  We couldn't drink enough water that night!
When Mark made hushpuppies, even though it had rained, this was pouring.... until it was empty....
Fortunately, Basil Hayden showed up (to mix with the water), so we turned on ESPN to watch some football, and the day was complete.
Fortunately for Mark, he also brought along his friend Basil.
Saturday morning, not bright yet but definitely early, we took the hour drive down to Buxton to fish the Point of the Cape Hatteras Seashore.  But first, we had to stop at the Orange Blossom Cafe for a couple of cardiac-arresting, fried, chocolate-covered "apple uglies".  Mike and Mark each got two, and all I remember thinking was it's a good thing we know CPR.  I'm pretty sure one of those apple uglies has as many calories as you're supposed to have in a week.  And the only thing that will help it get through you is a 24 oz. cup of strong 7/11 coffee.  But, MAN are they good!  And hey, our wives weren't around.  And it's not like we eat this crap every day (or we'd never make it to the next BW.)
You must go here before you die.  And this might actually be the place you do....
Mark trying to figure out where is the best place to "unload his apple uglies and coffee."  It's a whole lot easier to find a place at night.... Or maybe it isn't.  Just ask Johnny....
On the beach at the Point, we set up right near the point, and Jerry asked if he could use my sandspike.  No problem.  Jerry, one of our newer members still, proceeded to hammer my spike into the sand until he broke off the plastic handle that holds the rod onto the metal spike.  Thank you very much, Jerry.  (I'm still waiting for a replacement spike.)  Actually, it's still somewhat usable.  I just enjoy giving Jerry a hard time for breaking my only, my favorite glow-in-the-dark sandspike.

The winds shifted to the southwest, and we knew it was going to be a great day.  We caught so many taylor bluefish in the 10 - 16" range, that we lost track and decided that blues no longer counted for our point tally.  They were still a load of fun to catch with light tackle, slinging lures into the school.  We did that for well over an hour before moving on.  We did keep a few for bait, however, and that proved to be a smart move....
Mike holding a blue about to be bait, before he started cooking lunch.
One of a surfcaster's favorite birds is the gannett.  This large gull-like bird, with black wingtips feeds on baitfish.  And when you see them in a white tornado, spiraling down and diving into the water, that means there is a school of larger fish below feeding on the baitfish, as well.  They may be bluefish, or striped bass, or in this case... red drum.  Channel Bass.  Redfish.  So you just wait for the gannetts to fly within casting range, because that means the fish below them are, too....
This sea bird, when he's with all his friends diving into the water, is a good sign to fishermen.
Sure enough, during the course of the day, we saw numerous large drum get caught, including one guy (what we call a local "pro") who hooked up twice on two successive casts, and another guy who caught a "citation" or "paper" drum (a drum 40" or over) with only an 8 foot rod -- with no leader!  Sometimes there's no rhyme or reason, it seems, as to who gets hooked up with these prized fish.  We also saw numerous pups and yearlings get caught, but we were just biding our time....
the view to the Point.  Paradise to the surf caster....
In the middle of the day Mike broke out his table, hooked up the propane burners, and heated up some North Carolina barbecue with cole slaw, and some lentil soup.  This was a vast improvement over our early days of white bread, packaged deli meat, and slabs of American cheese.  But we weren't done eating yet.

Shortly after cleaning up our late lunch, we grilled five fat angus beef rib eye steaks.  The largest, a 20 ounce, two inch thick monster, went to our biggest carnivore, Randy.  A nice French cabernet sauvignon and California zinfandel accompanied the perfectly seasoned steaks.  After we were done, we settled down with a hefty "beef buzz", for a rest and a good cigar.  All of us, however, except Mark.  Mark had eaten his steak faster than a dog eats a dropped morsel from a table, so that he could be fishing the point at sunset.  The rest of us just sat back, ate, drank the wine, smoked, savored the moment, and talked as the sun went down.  Among the stories we retold again, one that never gets old, was Johnny dropping his "bombs" off target, and then getting hit in the back by his own "flak".  (A blog post worth reading if you haven't yet.)
A good steak, a good "buzz", a good smoke, good friends.  Randy, on the right, didn't realize what he was about to do. Where's Mark????
Now, whether or not you are superstitious, there are a few things in sports you don't do.  You don't talk to a pitcher about the "perfect game" that he is currently throwing.  You don't talk to and bother the kicker right before he's about to kick the game-winning field goal.  You don't talk to a golfer as he is setting up for his final putt.  And you don't talk about how you haven't had any "zingpows"* if you are still fishing.

*Zingpows  are the fisherman term for when you are casting your heaver with eight ounces of weight and baited hook, and the bail flips on your reel, midcast, or maybe your reel is too loose, and you "birds nest" your spool.  either situation causes your line to "zing" through the rod's eyelets, until it gets caught, and "pow" the line snaps loudly, and the "8 & bait" go flying into the ocean.  You're left holding an empty rod.  Everybody up and down the beach hears your zingpow, turns to look at you and laugh, while you turn around to walk back to your truck embarrassed... and humiliated... only to have to untangle your mess, tie on another weight, leader and hook, get more bait, and try again.  We've all done it, which only makes it that much funnier when it happens, and it isn't you.

Well, Randy started talking about how he hadn't had any zingpows yet.  Oh no.  The dice were cast; his fate was sealed.  We all stepped back away from him.  He was a leper -- a pariah.  he was left alone.  I guess he just didn't know any better.  We all felt sorry for him, and he didn't even know why....

When it was finally dark, Mike and I walked down to see Mark at the point.  He was one of only three guys fishing there at the moment, so we all decided to join him since it wasn't that crowded.  But when four guys all walk down to the point at the same time with their heavers, others think that something must be happening.  Before we knew it, there were over 20 people there.  Next time, we learned, we will stagger our approach....  We all took turns and cast into the dark, and waited....

Randy cast.  You already know what happened.  "ZING POW!"  He walked back to the truck to the snickers of 20 guys.  Mike cast next to me.  A few minutes later his line went limp... always, potentially a good sign, as it could mean that a drum picked up your bait and is swimming towards you.  He reeled in the slack, tightening his ... line... and... the run was on!  He had hooked a monster!  Up and down the beach he went, as I reeled in my line to give him room to move.  About 15 minutes later Mike had beached a 40" paper drum.  The only thing bigger than the fish was his cheesy smile for the photo.  Blue team took the lead by 1 -- a big one!  Randy came back and cast again.  "ZING POW!"  He walked away, again.  (Snicker.)
A beautiful citation "bull" drum, that was as long as Mike is tall.  I kid.... jealously.
Mark's rod then bowed as he hooked into a nice one, and a few minutes later we measured a 38 1/2 inch drum.  Tie game, again.  Both fish were caught on pieces of bluefish that we had caught earlier.
Mark getting ready to release his nice drum.  I was too busy with my camera to fish anymore.  Darn it.
Randy came back one more time, and this time cast very gently.  His bait went about 100 feet.  Unfortunately, it was no longer attached to his hook when it landed.  "That's it.  I'm joining Jerry in the bottle of Wild Turkey!", he declared, and walked back to the trucks.  The bite stopped shortly after that, anyway.

When we finally made it back to the cottage late that night, we were bleary-eyed but happy.  What a day!  A Basil Hayden later, we were ready for bed.  But we got to sleep in on Sunday!  All the way until 5:30!  End of Day Two, and both teams were still tied.

The ocean was filled with sea grass, making it unfishable at Oregon Inlet when we got there Sunday morning, so we decided to drive up the beach a mile or two, and fish Coquina Beach.  The day started slow, as the water was calm, flat and clear -- which typically means it's not good for fishing.  But our eyes watched the ocean and the horizon, scanning for signs of life.

Then we saw something spout.  A fountain of steam arose from a moving black island a few hundred yards out.  Humpback whales were swimming right in front of us!
Seeing this just offshore was the highlight of an already amazing weekend.
for the next 20 or 30 minutes, we all watched in disbelief as at least two humpies chased each other, spouted, fed, and played in front of us.  Then one of them rolled sideways, stuck his large white, wing-like flipper straight up in the air, and proceeded to slap it on the ocean's surface.  This created a large splash and sound echoing under the ocean.  It was a male, signaling his whereabouts to other males, telling them to back off, and making a display....  Perhaps the other was a female he was guarding and trying to impress.

A male, with his right flipper ready to slap the water, while even his tail is exposed.
Starting to bring down the flipper....
Building up the momentum for ...
the big splash at the end.  This behavior was repeated again and again.

"How do you know those are Humpbacks?", Mark asked me.  Why do you guys still question me when it comes to identifying marine life?  Then what did we see, but a pod of pilot whales following closely behind....
A pod of pilot whales followed close behind, perhaps looking for leftover scraps after the humpies fed.

You know it's a pilot whale by the curved dorsal fin. 
I don't think anyone will question me when it comes to what we see next time... whatever it may be.  Maybe I'll tell them it's a plesiosaur, regardless of what it is.

When the whales were gone, my rod bent.  I ran over to it, and a couple minutes later pulled in a sting ray.  No points, but it broke the monotony of not catching anything.  I pointed out the differences between a sting ray and a skate, and released it to swim away, being careful not to do a Steve Irwin.  (Although I did tastelessly do a bad Australian accent, while I released it.)
Crikey!  I don't want this thing to sting me in the chest! 
Shortly after that, MVP Mike caught a 23" puppy drum and the Blue team had the lead with time running out.  Fortunately for us, he then fired up the grill again, and roasted some hot Italian sausages, because you can't have too much artery clogging foods on Boys' Weekend.  But boy were they delicious.

The day was warming up, and the fishing was dying down.  Randy was ready to go, and started to pack up, when his rod wiggled.  Fish on!  (That's why your rod is the last thing you pack....)  A nice fight later, Randy brought in his first redfish ever.  A nice 26+ inch pup that was right on the edge of being too big to keep.  As he looked to unhook the fish, we noticed something very odd.

This fish had been hooked before, and in its mouth was a small white/green "squid" jig that had broken off above a short leader at the snap swivel.  The metal loop of the snap swivel was what had gotten hooked on Randy's circle hook, just beyond the barb to keep it there.  How on God's green Earth his hook actually hooked that small snap swivel in the moving currents and waves below the surface, while still attached to a living, swimming fish we will never know.  But a fish is a fish, and Randy and his pup had tied the score as the clock finally ran out.

I took a picture of Randy holding his drum, and it is now framed in his house -- with the jig and leader wrapped around the matting under the glass.  it was truly a once in a lifetime catch, and another story that hasn't gotten old yet.
Randy holding his oddly hooked pup, to tie the score as the clock ran out.
The day was over, and it was time to get back, so we went back to the cottage and cleaned it.  I hosed down my equipment and put it away in the shed, and began the drive home.  As I watched the sun set as I crossed back over the WoohooBoohoo Bridge back to the mainland, listening to some Allison Krauss, I remembered the weekend's events and thought to myself, "This is why we come.  This is what it's all about."  And I could hardly wait for next year.  And it wasn't just because of the fish....
A beautiful ending to an ideal weekend; now heading back to reality....

Until next time,

Fish on.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Sheldon Joy, my Fishergirl....

She's beautiful, prissy enough to like pedicures, yet has just enough "tomboy" that she can fish with the best of the boys.  She's my daughter, Sheldon Joy.  And when the Lord blessed me with her almost 15 years ago, I knew she was going to be something special.  After all, you don't survive being the baby bird in a nest full of brothers if you don't fight for your fair share.  And let me tell you, she does.

Sheldon may be my youngest, but in many ways her mother and I say she is the most mature one in the family.  Maybe it's because she has a naturally nurturing personality.  She has been always been a helper around the house, and having a special needs brother has given her a compassion that I don't see in many adults, let alone other children.  But she also has a strong passion for her hobbies.  She loves to cook -- especially desserts.  And like many girls, if you take her out shopping, she will shop until you drop, the check bounces, and the credit card is rejected.  She'll still be going strong at the end of the day, and happily carry numerous shopping bags from the mall.  Just ask her mother.  Yet get her outside, take her fishing, and even if the fish aren't biting, she will be patient and quiet and continue to fish long after any other child would have given up and moved on to something else.  Because she knows it can always happen on the next cast....

Her interests are varied, too.  At age three, when other toddlers would watch Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network, Sheldon preferred watching TLC or Discovery -- especially when the shows were about surgery.  Brain surgery was her favorite.  She would lie curled up on a chair, rapt by the drama of the operation, engrossed and intrigued by the video of scalpel or saw cutting through flesh or bone.  And even though the camera never blinked at showing some of the "gore" of surgery, Sheldon was just more enamored by it.  To this day, she wants to be either a neurosurgeon -- or a fashion designer.  'Cause you have to look good, too. 

Because she loved watching surgery, whenever I cleaned a fish, I knew she always wanted to see me do it.  As I gutted the fish, I would point out the various organs inside the abdomen.  When I cut open the stomach to see whatever my catch had already eaten, her eyes widened, intrigued with the partially digested remains of whatever fish, crab or shrimp that had been as unfortunate as the fish itself, ultimately was.

Some of Sheldon's first fishing experiences were up on the Finger Lakes of New York when she was very young.  For a period of several years, our family went up to Cayuga Lake, outside Ithaca, and stayed at my Uncle's cottage for a week in July or August.  We had one rule.  No TV or electronics of any kind.  It was a week where we had to read, play board games, or (God forbid!) talk to each other....  The kids all loved it!  (Of course this was before they all had cell phones and Ipods, just video games and Gameboys -- and they were only allowed for the drive.)

My uncle's cottage was small and not winterized; and upstate New York summer nights get cool, so we always looked forward to wearing sweatshirts by an open campfire, making S'mores and just having a week of isolation as a family -- with no humidity or mosquitos at all!  You have to have lived around Southeast Virginia to appreciate those last two things. 

Because of the rustic nature of the cottage, I had to convince my wife Susan that the proverbial "escaped axe-murdering psychopath" was not going to break in at night, since the locks were made more to keep raccoons out, not people -- or bears.  (Don't worry, we never saw any bears, either, though the odds were greater to see one of them.)  I must say, she wasn't as crazy about the cottage as the rest of us, because she never slept well there with all the noises of the night coming through the screen windows.  But she was always a trooper about it, because she saw how much the family enjoyed it. 

The kids and I, however, had no problems with the solitude of being on the lake in a generations-old wooden cottage.  Who cared that the water from the faucet was lake water you couldn't drink.  We would wake up early, go down to the lake, and fish.  In fact, Cayuga Lake was the only place I have ever been able to get my kids up early, where they have wanted to get up early. 

Sheldon was an independent little something, right from the youngest age.  She wanted no help with anything, especially once she had been shown how to do something.  Whether it was catching numerous rockbass, bluegills, perch, or other panfish, she was never too prissy to put a worm on her hook, or take the fish she had just caught off the hook to throw it back.  If she got pricked by fin or hook, it only happened once.
Sheldon proudly holding a beautiful little red ear sunfish
 She also holds the record for the largest largemouth bass that any of us ever caught up there.  A nice four pounder she caught on a worm late one afternoon.  At that point, that was the largest fish she had ever fought and caught all by herself.  Her rod was bending so hard, and she was squealing so delightfully that we were absolutely thrilled it didn't get away.  She was very proud of it.  She still is.  (Of course, her big brother Parke had to "encourage" her, and "help her land it" so he could get a little of the credit.  But it really wasn't needed.)  After catching so many small panfish, it was a pleasant surprise to see her bring in such a nice largemouth.  Especially when for all my life of going there and fishing (which goes back to the 1960's when I was younger than her), while I had caught several smallmouth bass, I don't ever recall catching a largemouth bass there at all.
Sheldon (and Parke) holding her beautiful largemouth for the obligatory proud photo before its release.
When we stopped going to the cottage a few years later, that certainly didn't stop Sheldon from fishing.  One August afternoon three years ago, she and I went to Virginia Beach for a little puppy drum fishing for a daddy/daughter date.  I caught one, and put it on my stringer, when I suddenly saw her yank her line.  The rod stayed down, and I thought she was snagged.

"Do you need help?", I asked.
"No Dad, this is a fish!", she declared.  By the way her rod was bent and not moving, I found that hard to believe for a moment.  Then the rod tip started bouncing, as the pup started running and taking drag.  She tipped her rod perfectly, like a pro, allowing the fish to take the line.  Then when it tired, she raised the tip and reeled it in some.  Puppy drum typically "run about three times" I once heard from a wise fellow angler, and I told her that.  When the fish ran again, she again lowered her tip and let it go.  Whether she had heard me or not didn't matter.  She was handling this fish perfectly.  And she did not need to be bothered by her Dad telling her what to do any more than she had needed her brother's help years earlier.  When the pup was finally netted, Sheldon had a new personal best fish.  A beautiful 25 inch, almost six pound pup that was about to be blackened!
Sheldon holding her nice personal best puppy drum.  The hat cannot hide the smile!
While that day was a wonderful day, and a great success, Sheldon does not just fish when Daddy is around.  She has taken to it on her own as well, and has often times called me up while I'm at work and asked if she can get the fishing rods and walk down to the lake down the street with a friend and go fishing.  Who am I to refuse that?  And in fact, just this Spring, she surprised us all, again.

One evening when Sheldon had her best friend, (my "second daughter") over, she came and asked me if she and Carlyne could go down to the lake. 
"Sure," I said.  "Take the little ultralight rod.  Because you should be able to catch a bunch of bluegills right now, since they're all nesting around the shore line.... "  Of course, what do I know....

Twenty minutes later she called me on her cell phone.  "Dad, come quick!"

I was there in less than two minutes.  She had caught a big 24 inch pike on that little ultralight with four pound test line, and a tiny jig.  And yet she acted like it was no big deal!  Of course, when I took her photo of the fish and Carlyne, they both had to "Oooh and aah" at the fish, acting goofy the way teenage girls do.  But she needed no help unhooking or releasing the toothy critter back to the lake to swim away.  She just wanted me there to take her picture.  I was very proud of her.  But I guess I really shouldn't have been surprised anymore.
Sheldon and Carlyne holding the largest, toothiest fish she's caught!  And she still has all her fingers.
All I can say is this:  One day, hopefully not for about 30 more years (I kid), she is going to meet a boy and fall in love.  And when he asks her to marry him, she is going to tell him she has always wanted to get married on the beach.  She has already decided that, we know.  So, while I doubt that her bridal shower is going to consist of a bunch of girls surf fishing, I do know that the young man who is worthy of taking my daughter's hand in marriage better know how to handle a fishing rod, and be able to catch a fish. 

And what a fortunate and blessed young man he will be.  Married to a neurosurgeon with outstanding fashion sense, who can catch her dinner, clean it, and prepare it like the best of them.  But here's the kicker.  Here's my daughter; a Tidewater girl through and through, who has fished since she could walk.  And yet it is only this year that she has finally decided she actually likes to eat any seafood.  Oh well, at least she finally does.  Did I mention she is my favorite daughter in the whole wide world?

Until next time,

Fish On!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Give a Man a Fish and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man to (Kayak) Fish and You "Feed" Him for a Lifetime.

19th Century poet, author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau said, "Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after."  Except for perhaps the fact that this quote ends with a preposition, it is still a perfect expression of why I enjoy the activity so much.  (I hesitate to say "sport", when your adversary - the fish - don't know you're playing).  Anyway, I have realized why I fish.  It is not to bring home dinner, though that's a bonus.  It is my sanctuary.  It is where I commune with God, and where I admire His Creation.  It is where I have some of my deepest thoughts; and it is where I have no thoughts at all.  It is where I spend time with my closest friends and family -- and yet often say nothing at all.  It is where I am learning constantly; and it is where I can show and teach others the skills and joys of being out on the water.

When I started kayak fishing, I didn't know the first thing about it.  It was very much a learning experience of trial and error:  what jigs and lures worked, where to fish, what times and tides were better for what species, and so on.  The success I have eventually achieved is hard earned and appreciated.  And I don't mind sharing -- well, to a point....

Shortly after I began, one of my best friends Mike also caught the fever and bought a kayak or two, and eventually four.  He now has two at the beach, and two at home.  I guess if I was a "founder" of our kayak fishing Plastic Navy, well Mike is certainly the charter member.  Together we have tried, and learned, and shared all our secrets and tricks.  And we celebrate each other's successes.  Even if we laugh at each other's misfortunes.  (Mike's blue kayak is called Cap'n Tipsy, because one of his first ventures out in the ocean cost him $100 in equipment when a small wave flipped him. I got a Sharpee silver pen, and his wife was certain that the "Cap'n Tipsy"  I had drawn on the bow was part of the original standard decals and paint.)

When Mike and his son first caught striped bass in the river near where he lived, we were thrilled because it meant we didn't have to go all the way to Norfolk or Virginia Beach to catch them.  That fall, we caught several stripers as we tried different lures, during various times and tides.  And I learned some awesome rockfish recipes!

Cap'n Tipsy of the Plastic Navy, with a striper from our first year catching them in the river.
The following summer, I was catching puppy drum in Virginia Beach in a little inlet on a fairly regular basis.  My neighbor's son, Michael, a Marine who had served in Iraq and was almost killed by a suicide bomber in a truck, had had a bad relapse and was back in the hospital.  His father, a Colonel in the Army, came over and was telling us about him, and he broke down in front of my wife.  Apparently Michael's condition was far more serious than we had thought.  All we could think about was Michael's wife and three very small children.  Our hearts went out to them, and we told him we would help any way we could.  My wife helped by watching their kids while his wife stayed with him in the hospital as long as she wanted.

Knowing he enjoyed fishing, I decided I would send him text photos of my catches to inspire him and encourage him.  I told him to hurry up and get better, and I would take him and teach him how to kayak fish for puppy drum.  I'm not saying that was the medicine he needed to recover, but two weeks later we were on our way to Virginia Beach with a couple of kayaks and fishing rods.

The morning we went, I quickly had a nice puppy drum and a black drum on my stringer.  SSGT Michael Donnelly, USMC, however, was getting skunked, and not too happy about it.  I'm glad there were no children present, as his words were as salty as the water below our kayaks.  (Glad to know he was feeling well enough to cuss.)  When he finally caught an undersize pup, he was excited until I told him it was too small and had to be released.  More salt and colorful language followed.

As the morning progressed, we became separated from each other, as Michael had paddled around a bend and was probably a good half mile away from me.  But when all of the sudden I heard hooting and hollering echoing in the distance, I knew what was happening.  I paddled around the corner to confirm my suspicion, and was pleased to see Michael enjoying a full-fledged Nantucket sleigh ride.  He was being pulled by a beautiful 24" pup.  And he was officially hooked on kayak fishing.  He went out and bought a couple kayaks that week, and has been a fairly regular member of our Plastic Navy when he's in town.  We happily enlisted him, as every navy needs marines....

A beautiful Lynnhaven red, caught by SSGT Donnelly, USMC
I must admit I was happier for him that day, than I was for myself with the two beauties I had caught.  If I had been skunked I would have been okay with that, because he was the reason we went.  My fish were just a bonus dinner.

The next summer was the year of the puppy drum.  They were everywhere!  And lots of them.  Including our "secret holes" in northern Suffolk.  Mike, Michael and I were up there fairly regularly, and I perfected my "blackened redfish" recipe, we caught so many.   We learned what they liked, and when they wanted to eat; and we knew before we hit the water whether it was going to be a good day or not.  Most days were.  And on the days the pups weren't there,  there were also always croaker and speckled trout.

One day I took my son Parke out there.  It was just he and I for some more father/son bonding time.  And it was one of those afternoons where I knew the conditions were close to ideal.  The first hour was uneventful, so we moved to our second hole.  My very first cast, I hooked what is still my biggest drum in a kayak -- a beautiful, fat 31 incher.  He pulled me around the flats, and through the grasses, around in circles, and then out further into the river.  Parke was laughing and yelling encouragement to me as I was pulled farther and farther away from him.  When the fish finally tired, I netted it and took it to the shore where we measured it, took some photos, and revived and released it, none the worse for wear.  As exciting as it was to catch the fish, I was even more thrilled that Parke was there to see the fun.  It made my experience that much more real!
Parke holding my 31" yearling, right before we released it to fight another day.
The day wasn't complete, however.  I still felt somewhat empty, and I knew why.  I wanted Parke to experience the same thrill he had just witnessed.  Fortunately, we didn't have to wait long.  Minutes later, Parke was getting dragged away from me for a couple hundred yards, as he had hooked a nice 24" pup, himself.  Of course, he was 'too cool" to hoot and holler -- at least in his "out loud voice", but I suspect he was inside his head.  So now we had one for dinner, as well as our released fish.  We were done.  But I couldn't have been any happier, now that he had caught one, too.

What's more fun that catching a big fish?  Watching your son catch one!
Sidenote:  Parke has really become an excellent angler.  This summer, the pups just weren't around.  I believe last winter's harsher than normal temperatures were the culprit, killing off all the juveniles that don't migrate.  Regardless, we kept trying -- just mostly, to no avail.  I caught only two this year, and they were both in May, for crying out loud.  Yet the week before Parke went off to college, I took him out there just for fun.  It was a beautiful sunset, and the moon was full; and I just wanted to spend time with him, and maybe catch some large croaker.  So what does he do?  He catches a beautiful 23" pup on one of the jigs we never had a lot of luck with.  I was honestly more thrilled when he showed me that fish than if I had caught it.  And then he cleaned and cooked it for his mom and me.  It was one of the best nights I have had in a long time.  I was so thrilled that his last night fishing before going off to college was successful with a beautiful - and tasty - pup.

A beautiful sunset and evening fishing -- highlighted by Parke's 23" pup, which he prepared and blackened, too.

So now, it's October, and it's striper season again.  I called another friend Jerry, to recruit him to join the Plastic Navy, and the two of us headed out early Saturday.  Jerry may not have experience kayak fishing, but I'll say at least the boy knows how to fish.  Using my second kayak, and my jigs, I took him to our secret spots.  We each caught some speckled trout, but there's no Nantucket sleigh ride with them.  Once you've had that kind of ride, you're hooked. But filling up the stringer with specks isn't bad, either.

Well, I guess I'm a damn good teacher, and maybe an even better guide.  All of the sudden (in a spot that I had suspected as much) Jerry hooked up, and I saw the kayak getting pulled away from the shore we had been fishing.  A few minutes later, Jerry was smiling, and saying he can't wait to get out there again.  A fat 24" striper helped convert him.  Maybe he'll go buy his own kayak now.  If he does, I've already got it named -- the "Jerry Rig".  Ha ha.  His fish was filleted and in his refrigerator before I even got off the water....
Jerry holding his striper, along with a couple of trout.  You're welcome, Jerry.

I went out again today, for a couple hours after my church's early service.  Alone.  But not really.  Not ever.  It was a great day.  One of the resident bald eagles was cruising in circles around and above me.  The ospreys were, too.  Two snowy egrets were resting high in the trees nearby, overseeing the water.   If they were neon pink, they couldn't have been more obvious with their beautiful bright white feathers.  The blue heron was walking the grass line -- until I startled him and he flew away with a loud, guttural  "Aaaack".  The fish were jumping and breaching around me.  The water temperature was cool and the current was moving.  There were no bugs, and low humidity, and the sun was shining.  I caught numerous fish - more than perhaps I had ever caught in one venture - including a beautiful 19" flounder.  The biggest flounder I've ever caught in a kayak.  It's now in my refrigerator waiting to be cooked tomorrow night.

I didn't catch a striper, but I also didn't care.  (Well, maybe I cared a little.)  I just didn't want to get off the water; but there were other things, other obligations I had to do.  So reluctantly I left the water.  Mike had joined me by then, so I gave him a few tips, a couple of jigs that were working that day and wished him luck, paddling to shore with a stringer full of fish.

As I've said, catching a fish is just a bonus to a beautiful way to spend some time on the water.  Whether it's sharing with family... teaching your children...being with friends...being alone... or being with God.  These are the reasons I fish.  And if I can share the love I have for all this with others who are willing to give it a shot, well so much the better....  Until next time,

Fish On!