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

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's the End of the World, So I went Fishing....

It's May 21, 2011, and according to Harold Camping, the end of the world is coming today before 6:00 p.m.  So with that in mind, did I want to do yard work, or take advantage of one (final?) beautiful day, and go fishing?  Hmmm, let me think about that....  Well, since this isn't a blog about me pulling weeds and mulching....

Off I went.  But I decided to do something different today.  After all, it could be my last time out (if Camping is right)....  Where have I wanted to go, but haven't yet.  That's easy.  The beautiful little town of Smithfield, Virginia (, home of Smithfield Foods, is less than 30 minutes up the road from me on the Pagan River.  And in downtown Smithfield is the Windsor Castle Public Park which has a nice, new public kayak/canoe launch.  (Go to for details.)

Now, the thought did occur to me that a Christian on the Pagan River during the Rapture might just get confusing.  But I figured if Mr. Camping was correct, then the good Lord would certainly know where I am, regardless of the river's name.  Hopefully, it wouldn't disqualify me.

Besides, I've heard there are some monster blue catfish in the Pagan; but whether the fish were biting or not was irrelevant, as I probably wouldn't be around to eat them for dinner (sarcasm alert.)  I just wanted to explore and paddle the river as it winds through town.  Catching fish would be a bonus.  Today was about seeing and learning.

I pulled up to the parking area/launch site, and a couple was there setting up their kayaks for rental.  Yes, the Pagan River Outfitters is on site for people without kayaks or canoes, who want to rent or even have a guided tour.  A very nice couple they were, so here's their plug:

We talked for a few minutes about the river, the launch, the tides and -- since they were there all the time -- I asked where people often fished.  They told me of a spot in a bend in the river where the water is very deep -- over 30 feet deep -- and that's where the bluecats lie waiting.  I thanked them, took my kayak to the launch, and went on my way.
Without a doubt, the easiest launch I've ever had.  And getting out is just as easy.

The tide was incoming, and the wind was pushing from downstream, too, so I decided to paddle against the tide and wind, and drift back with the current.  With all the rain we've had this week, the water was the same color as the chocolate river in Willy Wonka's factory, so I knew catching any fish would be difficult today, but for once I really didn't care .
I saw Augustus Gloop by the riverbank next to the launch... and then he disappeared.  Was it the rapture, or did he fall in?

None-the-less, I paddled a mile or so down river, under the overpass, past Smithfield Station, and towards the mouth where the Pagan meets the James, and then started drifting back.  I got my rods, put on a couple jigs and jigged them as the wind and tide pushed me back.  The river is busy, and boats passed me courteously, asking if I'd had any luck.  Nope.  Just enjoying the river.  I guess we were all enjoying our last day.

Ospreys were circling above, but the water was so muddy and cloudy, they weren't having any luck, either.  I drifted back under the overpass, lost a couple jigs, and kept drifting past the bend in the river where it's supposed to be deep.  Still no luck. 
Looking down river towards Smithfield Station, but drifting up river with the wind and tide pushing me.
I passed the fishing pier, where nobody was fishing, and then pulled up my lines, paddled back up a couple hundred yards, and drifted back again.  I did that a few times, with no luck at all.  But then I noticed I was listening to someone playing classical, acoustic guitar over an amplifier.
The fishing pier and the overpass in the distance are two good areas to try and "wet a line" in a kayak.
I looked to the riverbank, and saw numerous white chairs set up, and a white altar.  Dozens of people were sitting down, and then a golf cart, decorated in white lace, came down the hill.  The guitarist switched from Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (is there anyone who didn't have that song played at their wedding?) to "Here Comes the Bride", and suddenly I had the best view in the house, as colorful bridesmaids and ushers came through the seats towards the riverbank, followed by the bride with her father.

A few minutes later when the pastor asked, "If anyone knows any reason why these two shouldn't be married, let him speak now, or forever hold his peace", I was tempted to scream, "DON'T DO IT!  The world is ending today!", when I realized for them, it was the end of the world as they knew it.  (Cue REM song, now.REM: End of the World).  So I said nothing, and just watched... and kept fishing.

Actually, it was a "precious" ceremony, and whoever they are, I wish them well.  What a beautiful day to get married.  I just hope they get to the honeymoon part before 6:00.  (wink, wink.)
"Do you...?  Yeah, yeah, come on honey, we gotta get to the honeymoon part now.  We don't have long!"

Apparently, Windsor Castle is a popular place to have a wedding, and why not?  When you can sit and watch some obnoxious fisherman in an orange kayak paddling around.  I'm just sorry I didn't catch a fish so I could hoot and holler and distract them all.

But, I guess I'm just the sentimental type.  It was beautiful, and I then understood why fraternity brother, and current mayor of Smithfield, David M. Hare, told me that his daughter is getting married there next weekend (uh, um... assuming the world doesn't end tonight.)

I continued drifting back, and up the river a bit.  Past the launch and around the corner and passed some docks.  I saw four other kayakers during my time on the water, and while the fish weren't cooperating, I really didn't care at this point.  It was a perfect day, and a nice change of pace.
The Pagan River is beautiful and busy.  But not so busy that you ever feel threatened in a kayak.  I'd go back -- hopefully, when the water is clearer, and the fish are hungrier.
I paddled back down river one more time, and drifted back to the launch one more time.  I looked at the launch and watched an elderly couple get out of their tandem kayak together, and then get their small dog -- also with a PFD -- out, too.  How cute, I thought.  It would be the end of the world for them, too, I realized.  Did they know it?  Did their dog?
One last time on the water for this couple, and their bichon/poodle looking dog.  At least it was a perfect day for it.
I paddled up to and onto the launch, and dismounted far more easily than any other time I've gotten out of a kayak.  I tip my hat to Mayor Dave Hare and those responsible for building this attractive and useful site in the heart of such a quaint town.

I carried my kayak and equipment back to my truck, and the Pagan River Outfitters people even offered me a water.  No thanks, I said.  I've got some.  But their thoughtfulness was appreciated.  We chatted for a few more minutes, and then I said my goodbyes and drove back home.

But I'll be back.  In fact, I'll look forward to it....  Uh, assuming I'm still here after 6:00 tonight.

So, for you pagans that are still here....  Until next time???  We can all hit the Pagan together.  And if I'm not here, you can go without me now that you know the scoop.

Fish on!


P.S.  It is now Tuesday, 5/24, and Mr. Camping (who did not get raptured) has come out and said that Friday, October 21, 2011 is the REAL end of the world.  We better get all of our fishing in before then.  I'm just bummin' because that's typically when the striper fishing starts to get excellent!  Personally, I believe Matthew 24:36.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gearing up for the Season! And Then Let's Go Fishin'!.... Finally.

It's  May.  One of my favorite months of the year!  The dogwood blossoms have come and gone.  The daffodils are a pleasant memory.  The azalea colors have faded.  The birds are nesting.  The temperatures are getting warmer.  And the fishing is finally picking up again.  It's time for me to hit the water.  In fact, had I not been so busy with other things going on, I'm sure I would have hit the water already a few times.  But before I do, I figure I'd go through my check list of items before I hit the water in my kayak.

*  Change fishing line on all reels.  Start the year with fresh mono, so no dry rot can claim that first big fish.
*  Check the kayak thoroughly for black widows and other spiders or creepy crawlies that may have been calling it home since the end of 2010.  Clean it out well.
*  Check my PFD to make sure it has not had any dry rot, and still floats.
*  Go online and start checking tide tables again, for when would be a good time to hit the water.
*  Clean and lube reels, and make sure drag is set properly.
*  Dig out my old fishing clothes, and goofy fishing hats, as well as the old SPF lotion.

Done, and done!  Now on to the fishing.....

I've actually been a couple times now.  The first time we went, it was Mike, his son Colin and me.  We hit the upper Nansemond, near the dam, and while we expected to catch catfish, both bullheads and blue cats, we were surprised to see that the gizzard shad run was going on.  Gizzard shad are a nasty fish.  They swarm the dam where they lay their eggs and a few weeks later, thousands of small shad provide food for many other predatory fish in the area.  Bass, bowfin, gar, catfish, and croaker will all feed on the young shad, while the ospreys and eagles flying above will target the shad and any other larger fish swimming near the surface without an eye looking up.  In fact we did see one of the resident ospreys with its catch, but it looked more like a catfish.  Still, they are always impressive to see.  We watched him fly to a post where he digested his catch, to regurgitate later for his young chicks in the nest on the water tower half a mile away.
One of the upper Nansemond ospreys taking its dinner to a post where it ate it, so it could regurgitate it later for its hatchlings.  He had better luck than we did, overall that day.

With all the shad swimming and "finning" along the dam, I cast a small jig along the waterfall, and was rewarded with catching two shad, the larger being close to 20 inches.  Not a bad fight, but a useless fish.  Messy and stinky.  And quite stupid, really.  On one occasion, Mike just dipped his net by the dam, and the gizzard shad were so thick, he came up with two in his net.  Still, it was my first kayak fish of the new year.  (Don't forget my citation rockfish was my first fish of 2011.)

Then Colin started yelling, and his kayak started moving.  He had hooked something large in one of the quiet deeper sections.He fought it for a few minutes, enjoying the ride, and I paddled over.  It was a three-foot long gar.  He had snagged it with his jig, and we watched and laughed as it jumped clear out of the water.  I've never seen a gar do that before.  It was like watching the "Old Man and the Sea", except it was the young man and the gar.  Hemingway would have been proud.
What Colin experienced was kind of like this... just on a smaller scale....

When the fish had finally tired, he pulled it next to his kayak, and we were able to give the jig a quick tug, and it released from his "freshwater marlin", which quickly swam back into the deep with a flick of its tail.
Colin with his snagged gar, tired out after towing him around the river.

Outside of the gar, the only fish we caught were the gizzard shad.  It wasn't a hugely successful day, but it was good to be back out on the water again.  Fishing season was here again!
A few of these nasty fish (which, none-the-less are an important species for the ecosystem) were all we caught, besides Colin and his gar.
We went one more time in the upper Nansemond, but once again, just caught a couple of gizzard shad.  No bass, bowfin, not even any catfish.  So we decided the next time we went, we'd hit the lower Nansemond.

Fast forward a week or two, and we've been on the lower Nansemond a couple of times now.  The croaker are in, and we're catching them with no problem, but the surprise for me has been that I've caught half a dozen fat and very healthy small striped bass up to 16 inches long.  Their fat bellies and healthy attitudes are encouraging, even if they are less than half the length they need to be "keepers" right now during "striper trophy season."  "Still, it tells me the lower Nansemond is healthy.*

*There is an organization called the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance that has recently made our local press because they want to make sure our river is, and stays, healthy.  As there may be issues in any river with chemical runoff and sewage that drains into it, the NRPA is doing its best to educate people about what they can do to minimize damage and keep our waterways clean and healthy.  See for more information about this worthy cause.  Limit your own fertilizer use, and clean up after your dog.  Those are two simple steps everyone can do. 
Not the best photo in the world, and it's certainly not the biggest striper I've caught, but this small striped bass and every one that we've caught has been fat, healthy and a good fighter.  It's encouraging for the future of these fish and the river.

The other good news is that the water is now warm enough that we've seen a few puppy drum.  In fact, the other morning after I had a stringer of croaker I was giving to Dennis, who was fishing with me, I was drifting along and glanced down into the water.  Lazily swimming by me was a nice 22 inch pup.  It did my heart good to see him, even if he wasn't interested in taking anything I was offering at the moment.  The cownosed rays were also around, and we saw their wings breaking the surface of the calm water, looking like fins....
Hooking one of these guys is a guaranteed sleighride.  Unfortunately, they do have a stinger, as Captain John Smith found out in 1608 when he "spearfished" one.  His limb swelled, he got a fever, and had to be treated by the ship's doctor.  None-the-less, he ate it that night.
There is now a movement around the Chesapeake Bay to encourage people to target cownosed rays, as they are growing in number and eating/destroying oysterbeds, as well as crab populations.  The meat is supposed to be similar to veal.  Maybe I'll try it one day....  Especially if Parke follows through on his wish, and goes "bow hunting/fishing" for one of these from his kayak.

Later that same day, Colin and Mike went out and saw a few pups "breaching", and Colin hooked a cownose, for another long sleigh ride up the creek, before finally getting tired and cutting his line.  Colin was getting good at catching large "trash fish", snagging them, and being taken on a sleigh ride..  Sshh, don't tell him I said that.  

A couple evenings later, we all went out and saw many more rays, and caught dozens of croaker, but still that first elusive puppy drum of the season has eluded us.  But some of the croaker were the biggest of the season, so far, and for a while we were catching them on every cast.  It was a good evening, in spite of no puppies, yet.  And yes, Colin hooked another cownose.  Maybe we should call him Cownose Colin.

The Atlantic Croaker.  The blue gill of saltwater fishing....  easy to catch, and delicious when fried up.  When nothing else is biting, you can usually count on catching some of these guys.  And if they are big enough, aka "horse croakers", you can blacken them just like a puppy drum -- and I challenge you to tell the difference in taste....

In addition to all the croaker, however, I did watch the resident bald eagle flying overhead in the evening sky, while a chocolate brown raccoon walked the riverbank looking for dinner. The orange sun was just getting ready to set behind some lavender clouds on the horizon.  It made me wonder if the eagle was thinking of having him for dinner....  It was a pleasant and peaceful evening on the water.  The first, hopefully, of several to come this year.
Watching these guys fly overhead never gets old to me.  It's a thrill everytime I see one.  It's probably a thrill everytime the chocolate brown raccoon sees one, too; but for a very different reason, I'm sure.

 So we will keep on trying for puppy drum.  The good news is, now, it's just a matter of time.  The season is here.  Yes, it's still early, but I expect it to be a good summer of pup fishing...  Perhaps my next post will have details of that first pup of the year.

In the meantime, it wouldn't be a complete post of my first adventures fishing this spring if I didn't include a paragraph of my times fishing with Clayton down on the point of our lake.  We went a couple nights ago with my fly rod.  We cast toward the bluegill beds, and sure enough they didn't disappoint us.  While Clayton can't cast my fly rod, he certainly knows how to reel it in, especially when there's a fish on it.  We caught two bluegills.  Here's a photo of the first (and much smaller one.)  But this is the better photo between the two.
Clayton and his first fish of the year -- a little bluegill with a big ego.

Of course, just like every other time, Clayton wanted nothing to do with taking the fish off the hook.  So when he caught the second one, I told him to at least just touch the tail before I released it.  He absolutely refused, because he thought it was yucky.  I turned around and gently returned it to the lake, to swim away back to its bed.  Before I turned around again, however, a wad of something splashed in the water next to me.  I looked at it, and recognized what it was:  The boy who refused to touch a fish because it was "yucky", had picked up a handful of goose poop and thrown it into the lake next to me. 

I laughed at the irony of my special boy's thinking.  He laughed when I told him what he had done!  I made him rinse his hands in the lake, but it was time to go.  We needed soap, and the sun was almost down anyway.  And there's always another day.  Yes, it's springtime.  We've got LOTS of days....

Until next time,

Fish on!