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

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!



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