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

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!


1 comment:

  1. Love the article Dan. I really enjoyed reading it. But what about the women who love to fish. Right Jenny. We hoot and holler!