Anyway, while the fishing may be "slow" for our preferred gamefish, that doesn't mean we aren't going to go and try. After all, someone has to catch the first pup of the season. And we have seen a couple; they just haven't bitten what we're offering yet. Always the eternal optimist, I am.
The last week of June, before Parke's 20th birthday, he and I went out and fished an absolutely beautiful evening, when the water was calm, the moon was near full, and the sunset was stunning. We caught enough croaker to make "PaPa" happy, in addition to a couple of cownose rays, but the rest of the time was just a matter of enjoying a peaceful, tranquil, evening on the water. Wonderful father/son bonding time.... The only way it could have been better, was if the pups had been around. But they weren't so we made the most of it, anyway.
Then, on the July 4th weekend, I took Parke and my nephew Michael out on the Nansemond, and while even the croaker fishing was slow that day, we did catch enough to make their Grandfather happy. And leave it to Michael to catch a fish that we have never caught on that part of the river.... (And so far, I've been just as glad for it....) He caught an Oystertoad!
|Although not a huge oystertoad, care still had to be taken with this vicious little critter, to make sure that neither Michael's nor my fingertip was removed by his powerful, toothed jaws. And they are one slimy fish!|
That afternoon we set out across the York River to the refinery. I'm not sharing any huge secrets by saying that is a good place for flounder fishing. It's deep (for the ships to berth), there are plenty of pilings to provide cover for all kinds of fish, and the bottom is sandy. The trick is knowing what works for the flounder. And the truth is, just about any bait or jig bounced on the bottom will attract strikes. It's just a matter of whether it's a keeper flounder, or some other fish.
We drifted with the incoming tide away from the pier, and upriver in Mark's little johnboat. With a cooler full of ice, and beverages, ready to accept whatever fish we threw in there, we were set for a nice late afternoon of fishing. The weather was beautiful, and the fish were cooperative.
It wasn't long before we pulled in a couple of nice-sized croaker. They weren't monster "horse croaker" like we've caught there before, but they were definitely keeper sized.
*Sidenote regarding large horse croaker: Last August we were fishing the same place and caught numerous horse croaker -- croaker as big as small puppy drum. In anticipation of catching a puppy drum or two that weekend, I had brought along my cast iron skillet, as well as some blackening seasoning, so that we could eat "blackened redfish". (I even brought along a nice Russian River Pinot Noir to go along with it.)
We caught no pups all weekend long, so I decided to try something: Knowing that Red drum and croaker are "cousins", I filleted the horse croaker and looked at the flesh. It was firm enough.... I got my cast iron skillet white hot (outside, of course), dipped the croaker fillets in melted butter and seasoning, and "blackened" the croaker. It was absolutely delicious, and indistinguishable in flavor from a puppy drum, or "redfish". Everybody was so impressed, and the Pinot Noir did not go to waste. I encourage you to try it sometime....
|the Atlantic Croaker, when 15", or longer, can be "blackened" just like it's spotted cousin.|
"Mark, quietly get the net for me. I've got a nice flounder here." I didn't want him drawing attention from the other boats around us. Finally after a minute or two fighting the fish on my six foot "light" rod, the fish came up to the surface. It was a beauty! "Nice Fish!" exclaimed Mark, as he deftly netted it, and put it in the boat. The flapping of its tail on the aluminum hull was like a chorus of drums banging. I was sure every boat around heard it! SHHHH! I was thinking. There was no doubt it was a keeper, but I took my tape out and measured it anyway. 22 inches, I proclaimed. I then gently lifted it, opened the cooler, and put the fish with the others. A while later, Mark caught a keeper flounder, himself -- 18 inches. We would have a good dinner! A few croaker later, Mark got a nice hit. "Dan, I've got a 'doormat' here, myself. Get the net." A minute later when the fish surfaced, it was all I could do to not bust a gut laughing.
"Well Mark, if citations were given out for those things, that one would definitely qualify!" Mark had caught the largest oystertoad I had ever seen. it's head was as big as a grapefruit, and it was probably close to a foot and a half long. The King of the OysterToads still reigned!
|Mark's largest fish of the day, was also the ugliest! Fortunately, he had pliers to retrieve his jig. Otherwise this thing could have taken off his whole hand, I think!|
|One of the largest flounder I've caught in recent years, as I don't get the opportunity too often to target them. Still, I knew it would be delicious!|
|A nice summer flounder in my right hand, and a winter flounder in my left. Both are delicious!|
The next morning, by 6 a.m., Mark and I were back on the water. The tide was outgoing now, so we fished the other side of the refinery structure, and "variety" was definitely the key word of the day. In addition to me catching another keeper (18") flounder, I caught croaker, and then I caught an undersized black sea bass.
|The Patagonian Toothfish, aka Chilean Sea Bass, is no comparison to the Black sea bass of the MidAtlantic.|
|The teeth on even a small blue, are sharp and painful to your finger -- and quickly destroy your supply of "softbaits".|
And then I caught a fish I hadn't caught in years: A sea robin: a fish that "walks" along the bottom looking for food. He found some, alright -- not! But he was also released unharmed, and none the worse for wear.
|The sea robin "grunts", he doesn't "sing" like a robin, when you catch him. And you have to be careful of his spines.|
A beautiful day on the water was followed by us stuffing my 22" flounder full of crabmeat, and then baking it for an hour at 300 degrees. It was delicious, and fed eight people.
|Not the best photo in the world, but you can still see how Mark's "fat hand" had no problem fitting in this flounder, as he prepared it to receive over a pound of crabmeat. It was delicious. Hopefully, Mark had washed his hands first.|
Until next time,