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

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Captain Tipsy: and Why We Buy Cheap Fishing Gear.

With the two year anniversary of my blog having recently past, I've had reason to look back and review some of my posts.  I've written some posts I'd forgotten about, quite frankly, and they're pretty good.  I also realized that I never told one story on my number one kayak fishing buddy, Mike.

I've referenced his nickname, "Captain Tipsy".  I think I've even promoted him to Admiral, because of the battleship-sized kayak he now commands.  I tell the story of when we both first went hull up on a cold, January Saturday, many years ago, The Origin of Captain Tipsy....; but I never did explain what happened that earned Mike his nickname and original promotion.  I haven't gone fishing in almost a week, and may not for at least a few more days,... so why not tell it now....

It was early on in my kayak fishing career, seven plus years ago, and I had just bought a new, short SOK (Sit-On-Kayak) for myself, to go along with the SINK (Sit-in-Kayak) I had gotten for Susan for her birthday earlier in the year.  By the way, there's a reason I gave their acronyms here....  Keep reading....

It was a beautiful late summer weekend, and the family was enjoying a perfect day on the beach.  We had gone all the way down to the Point at Buxton, and everyone was enjoying an idyllic beach day.

The Point at Buxton is one of the wonders of the East Coast, in my opinion.  It is one of the most eastern places along the east coast, and consequently, is where the Gulf Stream that moves from South to North, and the Labrador Current, which moves from North to South, meet.  This conjunction of currents, with the Barrier Islands that are the OBX, and the spit of land that is Cape Hatteras, make this spot one of the best places for fishing on the East Coast.  (I would say the world, but I don't want more people there....)  Due to the number of shipwrecks that have occurred here, it is also known as "the Graveyard of the Atlantic".  Play foreboding music here.....
This satellite image shows the Point of Hatteras Island, near the town of Buxton.  It's where the iconic lighthouse of Hatteras is located, and also happens to be one of the best places to surf fish on the East Coast.  You can see from this image, how the waters turn; and that attracts bait fish... and that attracts bigger fish....
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is as much an image of the Outer Banks, as anything.  You drive right by it on your way to the Point at Buxton.
Recognizing that the sands are constantly shifting, this image more accurately portrays the  Point from a fishing standpoint:  The Atlantic Ocean, with its waves, pounds the East/North side, while the West/South side is quieter with smaller waves (but still good fishing).  By the way, when the drum or stripers are running, you want to be right at the point of the Point, itself... at the cross currents.  That is where the "conga line" style fishing occurs in the Spring and Fall.
Now that I've gotten you up to speed, let's continue with the story....

I took my family down there one day, and with everybody happy doing their own thing, I launched my kayak.  I launched it from the southside of the Point, through the smaller waves, and started fishing once I was beyond the waves, in the quieter waters on the left side of the image above.  When fishing open ocean waters like this, I don't use a stringer, I carry a net bag, and keep any keeper fish in the bag, on my lap.  I've seen too many big sharks around here to "troll" for them....

While I'm jigging for fish, I'm catching taylor blue fish, some flounder, and even a spanish mackerel:  but nothing that was a keeper yet.  I carry light tackle, and only enough that I need on that trip, when I'm in the ocean.  After all, one big wave, and you flip.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So I cast my jig again, and I'm jigging, when all of the sudden something different takes it... something bigger.  My kayak is getting pulled around, and this may have been my very first Nantucket Sleigh Ride I ever experienced kayak fishing.  Whatever I was fighting was bigger than the blues, small flounder and spanish mackerel that I had been catching.  I reeled, and let it run... reeled and let it run.  Finally I saw the fish as it started coming towards the surface of the clear, green water.  It was a shark.  But this was no dogfish.  This was a broad shouldered Sandbar Shark:  a shark about 3 1/2 feet long, with real teeth -- something I was not prepared to handle on my kayak.  I had no pliers to grab the jig.  Shoot, I didn't even have a net.
The Sandbar shark is a small but vicious shark to catch on your fishing rod -- even more so on light tackle.  The one I caught was about 3 1/2 feet long, and fought like a baby Mako.  At least it felt like that on the light tackle I had on my kayak. 
Parke caught a small 3 foot Sandbar shark last year on  Boys Weekend.  He released it after this shot, to swim away safely.

The shark was tired out, but I still wasn't going to grab it and bring it into my kayak to unhook it.  With a mouth full of small razor blades, I didn't feel like losing a finger to him, and then bleeding like a stuck pig to attract a nine foot bull shark....  I was in a dilemma. I finally decided I would paddle back to shore and unhook him from the beach where I had more equipment.  Besides, it might be cool to show the kids what I caught.

I headed back to the beach, and though there aren't big waves on the south side of the Point, there are waves.  I had to be careful.  Riding one small wave in, the shark had rested long enough and recovered its strength back from our battle.  While I and the kayak went towards the beach, he decided to go the other way, and my line snapped.  Oh well, I thought.  Maybe that's best.  He lived to see another day, and I had a heck of a story for everyone.  It was a blast.

Later that afternoon, Mike called from Suffolk.  They were coming down, and I told him to bring his kayak, and some light tackle.  Boy did I have a story for him, and tomorrow I wanted to do it again, with him....

Sure enough, the next day our family headed south to Buxton and the Point again, and Mike and his family joined us.
Mike, years ago, before he bought his yellow battleship, sitting in his blue "Cap'n Tipsy" kayak on a later, happier occasion, on calmer, inshore waters.  Another view of a similar kayak, is the one of me fishing on the header of my blog.  His is identical to that SINK.
After parking our trucks together on the Point, and getting the wives and kids settled and happy, he and I decided to head out for some fishing.

He told me he had stopped at Red Drum Tackle Shop in Buxton, and spent close to $100 on a new rod and reel combo, and some gear.  He was excited to use it.  We got a small cooler with some beers, and carried that, too.

We carried our kayaks to the south side shore, and put them in the wash.  The beer strapped to the bow of Mike's yak.  I launched and paddled out.  The tiny 1 foot high waves were easy to cut through on this side, as opposed to the 4 foot waves towards the east, and it was no problem.  I quickly went beyond the small breakers and turned and watched Mike behind me.  He got in his kayak and started paddling.

Now, I will never recommend a "Pelican" brand kayak, for one simple reason.  They don't "track" well -- meaning, it is hard to keep one going in a straight line.  Mike paddled, and was a little wobbly coming out.  The rounded bottom of his Carolina blue Pelican didn't help that problem, either.  The problem was, that he went off line a little, and was no longer bow forward towards the waves.  Towards him came a giant tidal wave, a tsunami all the way from the south Pacific, and he was the USS Poseidon.
Mike was about to make a sequel to the original Poseidon Adventure.  And  his remake  of the movie  has lasted a whole lot longer in story telling circles than this one ever did....
 Okay, we hadn't named his kayak yet, and the wave was only about a foot tall, like all the rest.  But for some reason, that was big enough....  Mike started to teeter... Then he overcorrected and went the other way, teetering some more, but even more.  One last overcorrection is all it took.  I watched in horror, fascination and humor, as Mike tipped past the point of no return, and suddenly had capsized, falling out of the kayak.  He tried to climb back in, and kicked to get back inside the yak, but again, flipped, this time the other way.  Meanwhile, the kayak filled up with more water each time he tipped over.  What he then quickly realized was that we were already in about a dozen feet of water or more, and he couldn't touch bottom.  He tried to flip over his kayak, to empty it, but unable to push off anything, he could get no leverage.  Meanwhile his kayak was filling up with more water.  He went underwater for a moment, to think about retrieving his gear, and that's when we saw them.  All around us were long, thick, yellow braided lines leading from the south shores, into the waters around us.  There were several of them leading to the shore, where several fishermen were now watching something far more entertaining than anything else going on at the moment.

There are a breed of fishermen who come to the Point of Hatteras to do one thing:  fish for large "biter" sharks.  They will go to the cleaning stations of the charter fleets, and get bloody tuna heads to use as bait, and fish for large sharks using these.  They use heavy duty, shorter rods (maybe six feet long, like you use on a charter boat to catch marlin) and massive reels.  The thick braided line is necessary, so that a shark of over 100 pounds won't break your line.  Last year on our Boys Weekend, we saw one young man fight an 8 foot hammerhead shark for a long time, before the shark finally broke the line and swam off.  Big sharks are all over the Point, and when bloody fish heads are in the water, there may be even more....
Okay, the tuna heads the shark fishermen use may not be this big, but you can see how this bloody delicacy could attract a large shark, or 20....

Mike quickly forgot about his gear, grabbed his kayak, and started paddling back to the shore.  Meanwhile I was doing the most important thing I could do -- save the beer that was floating around and away from the cooler that had gotten separated from his yak.  And I was trying not to laugh so hard that I fell off my kayak.  He made it back to shore and thought about rejoining me, but the thrill was gone -- as was his gear.

I paddled in and joined him with the cooler and recovered beer.  There was a look of both shock and relief on his face, as we cracked open a not-so-cold-anymore one, and toasted his survival of the ordeal.  We decided to bag the kayaking, and went back to join the families... and fish from the shore for the rest of the day.  I believe that was the first and last time Mike ever tried kayaking in the ocean, though he has kayaked in the sound and other inshore (i.e. waveless) waters....

I must admit, I am still amazed that the little wave tipped him, and I asked what happened, as we lounged in beach chairs with another cold beer.  He just never got his center of balance and gravity, and it didn't take much to tip him over.  And then, of course, once he had tipped, there was no way he could crawl back in to continue -- even if he did still have his gear.  His $100 gear, that was now resting in Davey Jones' locker, never to be seen again, without ever having even been cast once....

As this event was within a year and a half of our previous tipping adventure together, I realized it was him -- not me -- that was the problem, so he earned his nickname; and I vowed to never again be with him on the same small boat, canoe or kayak. After all, "fool me once..."

A silver "Sharpee" pen later was used to name his kayak, and Mike has proudly kept the moniker ever since.  Of course, now it is his son who is far more stable and balanced, who uses that kayak, while Mike upgraded to the large and more stable Sit On Kayak he now uses -- in calm waters.  And, in Mike's defense, I don't think he has tipped again since.  At least that he's confided to me.  Actually the last time somebody tipped it was our buddy Jerry -- in my kayak, with my gear, dag gone him!  But he's still a novice, so he's just Ensign Tipsy.  And he did it in very shallow water where we were able to recover my rods, while laughing at him, too, much to his chagrin....
Fishing rod floats like these, can save your equipment should you ever tip or drop a rod in the water.  I use them now on my kayak fishing rods, though I have yet to have to have needed them.
Speaking of Jerry, now that we're heading into the middle of September, we're entering the best three months of kayak fishing.  The larger trout are starting to move in our waters, as witnessed by Jerry last Monday.  The puppy drum are fat and happy -- there may yet even still be a keeper or two we may catch... and, as I mentioned before, we're less than a month away from the fall striped bass season.
Jerry sent me this image of his 18" speckled trout from Monday.  His biggest yet in our stretch of the river, though he says he missed several more.  He also finally got a large "battleship" type kayak, so that he couldn't tip again easily.  
 So to all of you anglers in the plastic navy, be safe, stay upright, and enjoy this finest season of kayak fishing we are entering.  Keep those bows perpendicular to the waves and wakes....  And until next time,

Fish On!


P.S.:  You knew I couldn't let Jerry catch a trout and me not try.  So a few days later, I went out one evening; the weather was idyllic -- the first hints of the coming autumn in the air.  The current was moving strongly, and swirls were everywhere.  Jumping mullet were joined by shad, houndfish,... and trout.  Before the 90 minutes of fishing was over, I had caught a nice fat 15" gray trout (weakfish) and a healthy 18" speckled trout.  Tonight I'll be eating some delicious (and healthy) broiled trout.  Yum.
A perfect evening on the water... until the breeze died, and the gnats, flies and "no-see-ums" got to be too bad.  But I was ready to go home by then, anyway.  (Next time, I'll wear bug spray.)  Fish ON!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Heading up to "Guinea-Bunkport" For the Labor Day Weekend Show....

First things first:  This past weekend marked the 2 year anniversary of "Angling Participles".  Happy Birthday to me.  And here's to many more good stories to post....  I've lost track of the number of countries, but I know it's at least 90 and counting, with Algeria and the French Island of Reunion being my two most recent that I've noticed.  And as the top 10 most read posts are pretty much the same as last year's, there's no need to restate them.   And total views by readers is in the 5 digits.  So I may not be Drudge Report or Huffington Post (to appease both my right wing and left wing readers), but they don't fish....

Okay, moving on.

"Guinea-Bunkport":  The stretch of beach along the mouth of the York River, that the Douglas Family dominates with their cottages.  A play on Kennebunkport, the city in Maine where President George H.W. Bush had a summer home that the whole Bush family would visit.  Similar to Hyannis Port, MA, home of the famous Kennedy Compound.  Mark came up with the term.  It's clever.  I'll grant him that.

Now, we can proceed.  But first, click this link to learn a little something about brother Jimmy Buffett, and listen to this wonderful, classic song.  Jimmy Buffett: Come Monday

I haven't gone away for Labor Day in years....  That's why I started this blog a couple years ago. I was home, with nothing to do, so why not?  I haven't even gone away for the last few Memorial Day or Independence Day Weekends, either.  So when I was finally given the opportunity to join my buddy Mark and his family at their cottage on the mouth of the York, I happily jumped at the chance.  But first, Friday night there was a football game.  And more importantly, there were cheerleaders.  And most importantly, there was one of the captains of the cheer squad.  And I had to go watch her....  I would join Mark and his family in the morning.
Are you ready for some cheering?!  Sheldon leading a cheer for the first football game of the year.
As the evening set, the game got better...  But the cheering was always great!  Yeah, I'm a proud dad.
The cheers were fun, led by their great captains.  The football team lost a heartbreaker.   Was glad that it's football season.  That means it's late summer.  And late summer is some of the best fishing....  Oh year.  Back to the story.
The next morning, bright and early I hit the road; but not before Mark texted me and told me to stop at Bass Pro (I was already going to) and get one of these... a popper.  This had now become the way to catch puppy drum and trout in the grassy flats near the shore of the cottage and off the pier.
Attach this popper about 3 feet above your light jig with a Gulp, and you have a  great way to attract puppy drum and trout.  They worked so well, I'm going to try one on the river where we kayak fish....
When I finally crossed the Coleman Bridge and then arrived in Guinea, I unloaded my truck just as everyone was coming home from one of the Douglas' family (in)famous breakfasts.  After the hugs, kisses and greetings, it was time to launch the boat.  Unfortunately, launching the boat on its trailer through the soft sand wasn't easy, and required all six of us at the house, but we got it done -- and got a good sweat in the process.  My comment to Mark was, "I hope that was the biggest workout I have this weekend."  He laughed, and agreed.

When the boat was loaded with fishing gear, we headed out for the shallows, inlets, and grassy shores near by.  Several small pups, a small speckled trout, and even a small striper were caught by us with our light rods and "poppers", but then it was time to cross the river to go flounder fishing.

All summer long, I have been asking Mark how the flounder fishing was where we go.  "There are none there," was his reply.  "They haven't arrived yet".  "Nobody's catching any", had been his responses.

Have you gone yet?  I asked.

"No.  My uncle goes there, and says they haven't caught any.  They're not there".

"Well, they're just waiting for me to show up."  I had been telling him, joking when we spoke.  We'll go when I come."  I was there.

We approached the pilings in the boat, and I got my rod ready.  Mark slowed the boat down, and as we came to a stop near the pilings, I cast my jig.  And waited.  The current was moving well.  I twitched my jig once.  Waited.  Twitched it again, and my rod stayed down.

"Dangit!"  I said, "I've got a snag."

Then I felt a head shake.  It was a fish.  A flounder, I could tell.

"Mark, get the f(iretr)ucking net!  This is a fish."  I kept reeling in, and then saw the green water turn brown as a doormat flounder came near the surface.  "Get the f(iretr)ucking net!"  Mark complied.

A minute later we were high-fiving, with a beautiful flounder meal awaiting us in the cooler.
This flounder was no fluke.  I knew I was going to catch him all summer long.  I just needed to get to the pilings and cast once.  Almost 24 inches long, it was bigger than the one I caught here last year.
One more photo of the biggest flounder I've caught in at least several years.  This "Doormat"  (or is it a "placemat", Janie?) was going to go very well with the fine Italian Pinot Grigio I brought -- specifically for him alone....  It was not all for naught.

"Mark, does your uncle love you?"  I asked.  "Because either he's been lying to you, or he doesn't know how to fish."

"Oh, he knows how to fish," he responded, defensively.  (All Douglas's fish and hunt very well.)  I looked at him, eyebrows raised.  The alternative wasn't any better in my opinion, I laughed.

"Well, he doesn't fish as close to the pilings as we are."

Okay, Mark.  (Smirk.)

We fished a while longer, and Mark caught a few fish... but oyster toads don't count, so no, he really didn't.  Of course, I caught one, too.  And mine was a "citation" toad....  Man they're nasty.  But Mark is still the oyster toad king.
Fortunately the 2 boats fishing near us, only saw us catch these guys... and not the large flounder that was safely in the cooler.  We finally had enough, and crossed the river back to the other side, back to the family.
As we came up to the 500' pier that the "3D" brothers have, everyone was on the end, sunbathing or under the canopy, or fishing, or enjoying a beverage.

"Goose," I said, "I think we need to buzz the tower".
"Okay, Mav", said Mark.  We had earned it.  I took the flounder out of the cooler, and we zoomed the boat by and up to the pier.  No coffee was spilled, but there were a lot of oohs and aahs at the fish.

Top Gun Fly By parody

We then popped for pups along the pilings there, catching a few more, and then joined everyone on the pier.

Saying my hellos to all the family, and a kiss for his mom, we then enjoyed a cold beverage or two, ourselves, while farther down the pier, some of the oysters that they had farmed now for more than a year, were being put to good use -- on the charcoal grill.  And they were delicious!  Especially with a little sharp cheese and sauce...
After eating more than my share of these delicious and surprisingly salty oysters, I'm the one that felt like a toad, or pig, at least.  
There was activity all up and down that pier.  Labrador Retrievers, golf carts, kids fishing, men fishing, girls sunbathing, women talking under the canopy.  It was a typical Douglas weekend on the river.  And when one of the little cousins caught a little pup "popping" his plug, I had to take a picture of him, of course.  Hayden outfishes most of the adults around there.
Proud of his fish?  You bet he is!  There was no shortage of small  pups around the docks and pilings... a very good sign of things to come in a couple years, hopefully, when these fish reach "keeper size", so we can blacken some.
Before we left the pier for the evening, however, I had to catch a bigger pup than Hayden.  So I did.  Just another inch or two, and this guy would have been legal to keep.  So close....  But not quite.
Red drum are a beautiful fish, shimmering with colors.  I can't wait until all these guys are 18-26" long, so we can keep  a couple to blacken.  YUM.  Especially with a nice Russian River Pinot Noir.  Now I'm drooling.
When evening finally came, we returned to the cottage, while his wife made a delicious seafood alfredo dish, with whole grain pasta.  It was tremendous.  And we drank my Russian River Pinot Noir with that.  The flounder would be for tomorrow night.

Then it was time for football.  The Alabama Crimson Tide v. Michigan Wolverines?  Well, we watched that for a minute, but the Tide was rolling the maize and blue, so we went to the game that mattered for Mark's family:  Clemson v. Auburn.  Their daughter goes to Clemson and was at the Georgia Dome watching the game.  The Orange and White was on everybody in the family as we sat down to watch the game.  And I'm realizing, it was coincidently on me, too, in the photo above.  (But by gametime I had changed into khaki shorts.  It was a happy evening when Clemson held on to beat the Tigers, or I honestly think I would have had to leave early....  Then it was off to bed.

The next morning, I had a light breakfast of scrambled eggs with a homemade bean salsa (delicious), and then was told, we were going to his mother's for breakfast.  There, it was a delicious meal for those not concerned about their weight.  French toast so sweet that you dare not add syrup, and bacon and sausage so abundant, I think they counted on three pieces for each of the 20 that were there.  I knew I wasn't going to eat again until dinner.

So we loaded up the boat and hit the water again.  Once again, we caught a lot of small fish, but there was something different today,

As we rode along the river, we could see a change in the water... a red tide had come into the river.  That's never good, as it chases the fish away, or they die.
It wasn't Alabama's Crimson Tide that had just steamrolled the University of Michigan, that rolled up and into the York River....
But it was a red tide... an algae bloom that sucks the life out of the river.  Fish swim away, or they die.  And the tide went to the flounder fishery.... Dang it.
We drove the boat all over, looking for moving currents, green water, and "holes", but we caught nothing but more small pups.  (I'm not complaining, mind you, for reasons I've already stated, but we were hoping for more flounder to accompany the one we had.)

When we finally called it a day, we returned to the cottage.  We could only hope that the tides and current would wash the red tide away before tomorrow's fishing.

Time to enjoy another bottle of wine and prepare the flounder!  But first we sat on the deck, enjoying a nice glass of wine, while watching a thunderstorm roll down the York... Very peaceful.

How to prepare that fish:  Fried?  Heck no!  Not this beauty!  He's too big to justify frying.  So Mark sprinkled some paprika and red cayenne, a little garlic, lemon slices, and we put the fillets on the broiler pan coated with olive oil, and broiled that baby.  With salad and a little left over pasta, the Pinot Grigio, and all I can say was YUM.  It was worth the wait.

A night of good conversation ensued, while more rain fell softly, and we went to bed by 11.

The next day, it was more of the same.  Fortunately, the rain had moved on, for now, however.  We took the boat out and about, but unfortunately, the red tide was still here, there, and everywhere we went.  We'd caught enough small pups to hold us for a while, so we finally called it quits and went back to the cottage.  I got out to drive his truck over to the ramp to bring the boat in.  We did, and then it was time to clean.  And clean we did!  Boat, motor, house, laundry -- and of course, ALL of our fishing equipment.  That cottage and everything else was spotless by the time we left.

I was getting ready to leave, however, when I felt bad for Mark.  Once again, I had out fished him.  I caught the big flounder, and the biggest (albeit, still not legal) puppy drum of the weekend... and he was in danger of becoming just a good boat captain.  A familiar face whom you recognize on the street, but don't know from where... in fishing circles....  Kind of like one of those "That Guy" actors, like Hank Azaria.  Where somebody points him out, and you go, "Oh yeah, I know him... what'd he do?"  Just not the lead character who is the hero of the day, by catching the food for the tribe....

 I'm sure Mark will recover.  He always does....

After saying my goodbyes, it was time to hit the road.  First day of school was tomorrow, and I had to get home to get things ready for that.  But I wondered when I'd be returning here again.  It's always peaceful, and the fishing (at least for me, ha ha) is always fun and productive.  It wouldn't be anytime too soon, however.  I knew that.  Football games and obligations would keep the Douglas' away for a while, and I had obligations as well.  And this being the peak of Hurricane Season, you never know what's going to happen on the East Coast that will affect the fishing -- let alone, wreak havoc.  Sure enough, Tropical Storms Leslie and Michael had both formed....  Here's to hoping they cause no damage.

Until next time, whenever that may be...

Fish ON!

P.S.  I'm sure by now you're wondering what Hank Azaria looks like.  He's this "That guy".
Voices on "the Simpsons" and countless movie/t.v. appearances, Hank Azaria is one of the quintessential "That Guy" actors, in my opinion.  He probably is a better fisherman than Mark, though.  But definitely NOT a better boat captain...
I love you, Mark!  Just kidding....  (Please invite me again....  Pretty please.... I'll hand over my fishing rod to you, if I catch another big fish....)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Tribute to "Surfers Healing"


Recently my son Clayton had the opportunity to participate in Virginia Beach's Surfer's Healing event for children with autism.  This was the sixth time he has gone surfing with the pros, and I must say, he absolutely loved it.  But it wasn't always this way.
Surfers Healing is a terrific organization, with a unique approach to helping families dealing with autism.  Rather than get into any more about the Foundation, I'll just link you to their site:  I encourage you to check them out.  And if you are able, please contribute to them, or any other worthy Autism organization.
While I have spoken of Clayton's love for the ocean since he was very small, the first time he participated in Surfers' Healing he wasn't as crazy about it.  In fact he was downright NOT into it.  We had to convince him he was going to like it, and then when we got to the beach and got Clayton signed in, we were impressed with the number of people involved or participating in this event.  We had spent the night in Virginia Beach, having gone to the Luau the night before the event, and then went to the beach with family that had sponsored one of the oversized surf boards that the pro surfers use to carry and surf with their special doubles partners.

The event was eye opening to us, in that it provided an occasion where our son, who like others with autism may often be neglected by others, was one of the stars!  The outbursts, tics and actions often associated with those affected by autism were commonplace, as excited children everywhere were letting their feelings show.  And, on a beach where perhaps any other day these hand flaps and squeals may be met with a critical eye by those unaware of their affliction, here there was none of that.

The children were all embraced and encouraged, and the parents and family members had a chance to meet, share, socialize and cheer on their special surfers in a comfortable and loving environment.  I would be lying if I said there weren't several times that day, when my eyes didn't get "misty".

And who was taking these often-first-time surfers onto the boards?  Why, none other than professional surfers from all over the country, who come to Virginia Beach to participate in one of the oldest Surfing championships in the country -- the East Coast Surfing Championship.  My older son and daughter were looking at all these surfers with bug eyes and open mouths.  "I have his poster on my wall!", Parke and Sheldon said more than once.  And their brother got to go surfing with these guys???  Perhaps it was one of the first times that they were jealous of their brother..

When it was Clayton's turn to surf, he was given a life jacket and escorted to one of the awaiting surfers.  Many kids weren't enthusiastic about getting in the water or going surfing.  But they were lovingly taken and  "encouraged" through strong arms and kind words to the surfers, who have a natural knack for getting these kids on board -- pun intended.  And once they are in the water, it is nothing but smiles.  The anxiety disappears, and for several minutes it's all about fun and doing something they don't get the chance to do too often -- if at all.
Riding the board sponsored by SteelMasters, Clayton's smile on his first day surfing beamed brighter than the sun.

On the beach is nothing but cheering and the clicking of camera shutters as everyone tries to capture these precious and rare moments of their children having the time of their lives.  Even as I write this, it brings a lump to my throat, as I remember how special it was to feel so embraced and encouraged by the community; and to watch your child as the center of attention once -- and not just someone in the background, while everybody else does their thing.  Nope, today it was all about these special kids.  And we loved it!  And just as importantly, Clayton did too.
Once with one surfer wasn't enough for Clayton.  He wanted to do it again!  And the  kind and supportive volunteers and surfers were willing to oblige this first timer.  The smiles say it all.
The only thing as cool as the surfing, is the "Gold Medal" each of the surfers is awarded after their adventure.  Every year, Clayton wears his medal literally until bedtime that night....  This photo from 2008 shows his joy in his medal.

The following year, we made sure we did it again.  And the next.  And every year since.  Clayton has gone from hating the day (we had to bribe him with a pizza party afterwards) to now he looks forward to it, and will happily do as many rides as the surfers are willing and able to give him.
As Clayton is not one of the smaller surfers, he had some of the bigger, stronger surfers helping him.  Kilani, a surfer from Hawaii, was Clayton's pro for three years straight.  And they both remembered each other each time.
Clayton with Kilani in 2010.  We got to the point where we looked for him.
Clayton with Kilani last year... on the original SteelMaster board again.
Clayton and Kilani one more time in 2011.
Of course, once word spread of how much Clayton enjoyed his day surfing, others who love him came to see him in his glory, too.
Family that have come to watch Clayton include Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, cousins, and friends that are  "Family".  And everybody gets something out of it.  But Clayton absolutely loves his day of attention.
As Clayton has gotten older, he has enjoyed the day more and more.  And he has gotten better, too.  So even though this year it was just his mother and me that accompanied him, we were thrilled with his experience.

We got to Virginia Beach just as a hard cloudburst erupted for about 30 minutes or so.  We stayed dry until the rain stopped, and then made our way to the beach.  The next thing we knew the sun was out, and the weather turned quite beautiful.  We got Clayton signed up, went right in the line and waited our turn.  We searched the surfers for the broad, muscular body of Kilani, and were a little disappointed we didn't see him.  When it was Clayton's turn, he was appointed to a slight, wiry Californian named Justin.

"This should be interesting", I thought, as it was obvious Clayton outweighed his pro.  But with Clayton's enthusiasm and Justin's encouragement, they went out into the surf and had a great time.  Justin even encouraged Clayton to get up on his knees for several rides, highlighted by riding backwards for his last one. Even Kilani never did that....
Justin worked with Clayton, getting him on his knees for several rides.
He even got him kneeling up for a bit....
But going backwards on the last wave was the most impressive.  Way to go Justin and Clayton!
When it was all said and done, Clayton ran to get his "Gold Medal" and his lei, and we posed for photos with our new surfing hero, Justin, the boy wonder!
Justin and Clayton.  I don't think I've ever seen Clayton with a bigger smile.  It was another successful venture.
Looking at the sun and blue sky, it's hard to imagine that it had been a heavy downpour an hour earlier.  Now it was time to have lunch (thanks Chick FilA) and watch others surf... while we enjoyed sitting on the beach.
When we were ready to leave, we finally saw the original board (sponsored by family, through Steel Master), being used as a prop by one of the volunteer tents.  We got one last photo with it, and then hit the road... happy and tired.
Mama and Clayton, as we were getting ready to leave the beach.   Clayton had the most fun I think he's ever had at this year's Surfers Healing event.

When we got home, the day was far from over -- at least for Clayton.  He wore his medal until bedtime, and put on his new Surfers Healing shirt after he had his shower.  Then he put on his t-shirt again Sunday morning, and insisted on wearing it -- and his gold medal again -- to church.

No, that medal, and all 5 of his others, will lose their luster (but not their place of honor in his room) long before we lose our memories of the joy that so many families get to share.  Special families, with special kids.  And these special kids, at least for one day, are stars on the beach.

Thank you, Surfers Healing.  There are families all over the country that appreciate your efforts -- and the break from the day to day grind that you provide, at least for one day each summer....

Until next time,

Surf ON!

(Or Surf's up.)


P.S.  Again, I want to give you access to the link, so that you can learn more about this organization, its founder, and all the good that it does.  Thank you.

Going to the V.B Surfers Healing Facebook site, I found these photos of Clayton taken by someone with a "GoPro" type waterproof camera.
The view from the water, as Justin and Clayton wait for a wave....
While they were waiting, they saw us waving encouragement, so Clayton waved back.
Justin then tried to help Clayton give us the "Hang Loose" sign.
Hang Loose, Clayton!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Of Trucks, Trains, Transportation, Trout, "Trolling" and ... Tacos??

Yesterday I finally had the opportunity to go out kayak fishing with Jerry around the Western Freeway Bridge over the Elizabeth River between Portsmouth and Norfolk.  We've wanted to get out there for more than a month now, but tides, timing and weather have not been in our favor until yesterday.  I wanted a high tide early in the morning, so that we could fish the outgoing tide.  I also wanted to get out there early, because this is a major stretch of water for Hampton Roads, and is used frequently by both commercial ships, as well as recreational boaters.  Marine terminals, such as that for A.P. Maersk nearby, can be very busy when ships are loading/unloading cargo to be delivered by trucks and trains to cities around the country.  I wanted to be fishing this "big water" when it was quiet... not when I would have to worry about ships and boat wakes threatening to tip me over.  And noise and high sun also don't help the fishing.

I got to Jerry's a little after 7 a.m., and Mr. "I-Want-To-Leave-Early-Because-I-Have-Things-To-Do-Later" hadn't even finished loading his kayak and fishing gear on his truck.  AND, he still had to go online and update/buy a new Virginia fishing license.  So, it was 8 a.m. before we finally launched from a client's house who lives 15 minutes away from Jerry.

Compared to the "skinny" shallow water I'm used to fishing, this water was much wider and deeper -- okay for Jerry with his 12' Field & Stream Sit-On, but had there been waves, my 10' Sit-In kayak can get swamped more easily. Especially because this is a major commercial highway for marine traffic. Fortunately the winds were calm, and the boat traffic was light.

We paddled downstream toward the bridge, and saw the channel I wanted to fish.  But first, as a boat sped by, I told Jerry if one of us was tipped that the other should gather whatever gear he could, while the tipper stayed with his kayak.

With heavier jig heads to reach the bottom, we fished the pilings and bulwarks along the shore and bridge -- hoping to catch a flounder or two.  Nothing.  The current was starting to move along a little stronger, so we drifted  and paddled down further to an area I had heard that was good for speckled trout.
The Western Freeway connects North Suffolk, Portsmouth and Norfolk together.  This section of the Elizabeth River here  is surrounded by commercial businesses of all sizes -- including A P Maersk.  The first channel we fished is visible in this shot, as the main opening under the bridge.  Not visible is the beautiful neighborhood from which we launched -- basically directly under where this shot was taken.  The area we fished for trout was off to the left of this shot.
When we arrived to the section I had heard about, a father and two sons were already fishing nearby in a boat.  I watched them catch a couple of small fish before they moved on.  Meanwhile Jerry and I still hadn't caught squat.  We each tried different areas around the point we were near, and I noticed another boat had pulled up and was fishing near a line of crabpots.  Knowing that crabbers often put their pots near a channel, I paddled over within a hundred yards of the boater.  But unlike him (he was fishing for trout by casting down current, and twitching his lure back up toward him, I cast up current, and did my normal "trout" retrieve -- slow, with twitching.

A hit.  Fish on.  I brought it in and was pleased to see a 13" speckled trout.  I carefully tried to show Jerry, who was too far away to see, and then gently released the fish back into the water.  I cast again, and almost immediately was rewarded with another strike.  This time I brought in a beautiful, fat 16 incher.  I put him on my stringer, and finally got Jerry's attention.  I signaled for him to come over to me, and told him to use his lighter jig head with the soft shad tail like I was using.  Meanwhile the boater pulled away, frustrated at no signs of fish.

No sooner did Jerry come over and do as I say, when I'm rewarded with another 16 incher.  On my stringer he went, as I noticed yet another boat pull up near the point.  This one had a guy and girl, both about 25 or so, with rods and "popping corks".  Both were in bathing suits, and Jerry made the comment to me, "There's the perfect woman."

"What do you mean," I asked.

"She looks good in a bikini and loves to fish."

We both laughed.  Then we watched her get her line hung up and snagged.  Well, maybe she had a little more to learn before she was perfect.  But she was still young.  The guy caught a small trout, then helped her.

Meanwhile, Jerry was finally getting strikes, but unable to convert to a catch.  As I caught two more "shorties" that I released, the couple finally pulled away.

Another father and son pulled up, and started fishing nearby.  I cast, let my rod set for a moment, then felt a tug.  I was rewarded with a short puppy drum with 6 spots.  My first one of the season, and I gently released him, hoping to catch him again in a couple years when he would be good eating size.

I saw Jerry's rod go down, and watched him fight a nice fish.  He netted a beautiful 18" speck, and finally had something on his stringer.  I hooked a small croaker, and then just like that, the fishing died.

The clouds were starting to build around us, and the wind picked up a bit, so we decided to start working our way back.  Between the wind in our face, and the strong current, we were definitely getting a work out.

I did tell Jerry I was a little nervous about towing a couple of fish from my kayak in "bigger water".  

"Why", he asked.

"This is why,"  I answered.
This classic picture is real, not photo shopped.  It's why I don't have a "yum yum" yellow kayak... like Jerry.
Or, more recently (like last weekend)...
This 12-14' Great White trailed a "first time kayaker" off the Massachusetts shore last weekend.   The question is, was it also his last time?
Typically when I kayak fish in the ocean, I don't keep my fish on a stringer, as I feel like I'm trolling for sharks.  I carry a net bag, and keep the fish I catch in that.  Because you just never know when this might happen to a fish that you've caught....
Big A$$ Shark Takes Girl's Fish

And we all know that bull sharks love to swim up rivers, and are a deadly man eater....  I certainly don't want a shark to think I'm ringing the dinner bell for any reason, by trolling or --even worse -- being mistaken for being the meal.  Ha ha.

An hour or so later when we finally and safely made it back to the launch, we were spent.  Jerry got out of his kayak on the boat slip, and he was soaking wet and fatigued.  

"Did you get wet from the waves, or is that sweat?" I asked.

"Sweat", he responded.  I laughed.  But I wasn't too much dryer.

He got up and I told him to hold up his fish for a picture.
A sweaty, exhausted, but happy Jerry, as he held up his 18" speck.
"Dude," I said, "That is not how you hold a fish.  Do it my way," I kidded.
Jerry holding his fish closer to the camera to make it look bigger.  It didn't help too much, but it was a nice fat fish anyway.
I docked, got my stuff on the slip. and then we faced the unenviable task of carrying our kayaks all the way back to our trucks.  With jello arms, no less.  We lugged our kayaks back to our trucks, (taking several breaks this time) and called it a day.  I was exhausted, but was also looking forward to dinner, as Jerry was kind enough to give his fish to me, since he had other plans.

Having had "carnitas" at Randy's the night before, I looked at all the leftover fixings they had had, and told them tomorrow night I would make fish tacos with whatever I caught, and we would use up the rest of their sides.  I went online and found a Bobby Flay recipe that called for a "white flaky fish", and decided to go with that.  I used his recipe as a guide, but must confess I didn't stick to it all the way.  Having said that, the basics were his.
The 6 beautiful trout fillets marinading in lime juice, canola oil, chili pepper, cilantro, and chopped jalapenos, right before I quickly pan-seared them in my cast iron skillet.  Then we laid a fillet in a flour tortilla, and built our tacos from there.  They were outstanding!
Randy and Kim brought over two nice chardonnays, and we had an enjoyable evening with great food and conversation.  It was a good day, and I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Having said that, today, as I write this, I must confess my shoulders and upper arms have never been more sore.  I feel as if I spent two hours yesterday, doing nothing but bench press 100 pounds again and again and again.  Still, I can't wait to go back and do it again.  Especially because I've heard that there are citation sized speckled trout there, yet to be had....

Until next time,

Fish ON!



Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Surprising, "Speck"tacular Morning.

After years of borrowing other people's kayaks, my buddy Jerry finally was ready to join our "Plastic Navy", and got a kayak of his own several months ago.  The problem was that it had literally not moved out of his dining room or hallway since he got it.  It was in his house for more than FOUR MONTHS before he ever decided to go use it.  He talked to me at work, and said that he was free Saturday morning, so did we want to go try and fish a new stretch of water he knew of, about 10 miles away from where we normally fish.  It was bigger water, with the potential for flounder near some structure, in deeper water.  As I had just met with a client that had caught a 28" flounder last weekend, I was psyched to catch a "door mat", myself.  I was game, so we called Mike (since he has the pickup truck) and got him to join us.  He could carry all the kayaks.

Unfortunately, the wind did not cooperate.  A few days ago, a system came through and the wind hasn't died down yet.  As I've stated before, I don't mind heat, or cold, or rain or snow, but wind will get me off the water... unless you are in water protected from the blow.  So we had to put our hopes of catching a big flounder on the back burner, and we decided to break in Jerry's new kayak on our normal stretch of water.  Typically this time of year, it's good for croaker and small fish, and not much else.  But at least we were kayak fishing.

When I first arrived at our launch, the wind was only getting stronger and I could hear waves lapping on the beach.  Regrettably I knew we had made the right decision.  I walked to look at the river and the pier.  Two boys were fishing off the end of the pier, and there was some splashing in two feet of water, right next to them.  A porpoise was chasing fish that were in the shallows....  That should have been a hint to me that this morning was going to be special.  Mike arrived with the kayaks, his son, and Jerry.  The porpoise was gone, but the boys were still fishing and catching some small croaker.

After unloading our kayaks, including Jerry's fancy-dancy aircraft carrier sized yum-yum yellow Sit-on-kayak (okay, so maybe I was a little jealous at how nice it is....)  we dedicated Jerry's kayak, (which I named the "Jerry Rig") on the pier.  Jerry then said Judge Smails boat speech from "Caddy Shack",
Judge Smail's dedication to his new boat.,
and we launched and headed right to our channel, before Rodney Dangerfield could come and sink us.  The channel would also provide some protection from the growing whitecaps in the big river.

As I neared the mouth of the channel, I glanced toward a dock and saw two more porpoises leaving its mouth.  Interesting, I thought.  But now that they were gone, whatever they were feeding on, could come out and feed itself.

The tide was still high, the water level higher than normal with the wind pushing it in, and we could look in the water and see baitfish everywhere.  I mean everywhere.  And it was baitfish ranging from less than an inch in length, to jumping mullet and shad a foot long or more.  The water itself, though, was murky, having been stirred up by days of wind.  Only croaker like murky water, I was thinking....

SIDEBAR:  Everytime I think I understand fish, they do something that makes me realize I don't know half as much as I thought.  High tide had just occurred 30 minutes before we launched.  The water wasn't moving yet, and the level hadn't dropped at all.  I've had more success two hours after high tide, than most other times here, so I wouldn't have launched yet.  But boy was I glad we did.  And I have to completely rethink my fishing strategy going forward.  I just don't know when is a good time to fish.... Yes I do.  Anytime you can!  Because you never know what's going to happen....  Even when you think you do.  As Mike likes to say of himself, "Often wrong, but seldom in doubt."

I tried a few different soft baits in different colors, avoiding the known "croaker colors", but finally decided to go for the "electric chicken" shad -- knowing that it is not the preferred color of croakers, but I have had good success for other fish with it.  I'd rather catch something different than a stringer full of small croaker.  I cast up the channel, drifted, twitched, reeled slowly, and repeated.  Fish on.  It felt like a shad, I thought, so I didn't ready my net.  Bad mistake.  I bring up the fish, and it's a 14-15" speckled trout -- that spit the hook just as I lifted his head out of the water.  Dangit!  I cast again and readied the net.  Drift.  Twitch.  Reel.  Fish on again.  This time that 15" bugger came right to my net and he was on my stringer.  The Specks were around, and they started boiling the surface all around us.  It was a sight to see, and I knew we better take advantage of it while it lasted; because a trout bite starts suddenly, and then typically turns off just as suddenly....  (Usually.  But today was anything but.  Often wrong, but seldom in doubt.)

I had the lucky joojoo or mojo today, because I had three fish on my stringer before anyone else ever got one.  We caught several small ones, but every now and then I'd catch another keeper.  I cast again, did my usual retrieve, and suddenly had another fish on.  I fought the fish with a steady pull.  The fish was swimming towards me, so I thought it was another typical fish for these waters.  Then the fish realized he was hooked and coming towards my orange boat.  He turned, ran, and my rod bent in half.  That's when I realized he was not my typical trout.  "This might be a striper", I said to the others around me as the fish pulled me against the current, headed up stream.  Finally he tired, but he still kept diving down to the bottom, as opposed to coming to the surface.  I reeled and waited patiently a little longer.  When he finally showed himself under my kayak, I got an adrenaline rush.  This was a special fish for these waters.  I quickly lowered the net, but the fish dived again, and went into my stringer of other fish.  I could only pray he wouldn't get tangled with the others and break free.  He didn't.  He swung around one more time out, in front, around and then under my kayak, and as he came out the other side again, he went head first into my net.  I let out a small shout, and pulled up my stringer.  I knew immediately this was the biggest speck any of us had ever caught here.  It was definitely bigger than any of the nice trout I had caught the previous fall, and it was FAT.  I found that as surprising as anything, since the fall trout are usually the fat ones, having feasted all summer long.

The guys around me "oohed and aahed" as I hooked the "gator" onto my stringer.  I was pumped.  A couple more keepers later, and I was ready for a photo on the water of me holding the fish.
An unexpected treat turned a disappointing day of not flounder fishing, into a terrific day of speckled trout catching.  Including this new record for our stretch of water.  A 21" fat speck, that will taste wonderful broiled with dill, lemon and butter.  While I was on this shoreline, I watched a couple cownose rays swim up the channel, looking for shellfish to devour.  But we didn't hook any of them today....   
The guys around me all caught a few, with everyone catching at least one keeper fish.  Colin showed his proficiency at catching croaker, while every one else was catching specks.  A bit of a highlight was when Mike's rod bent down and he grabbed it, reeling in a small 10" puppy drum.  A year old fish, that showed that our little fishery was recovering from the two cold winters we had had before this past milder one.  Two more milder winters, and this and all his brothers, sisters and cousins, will be prime puppy drum for catching (for blackening!  Yum!).

As far as Jerry... well, the wind was pushing him and his Field & Stream sit on kayak all over the channel.  He spent more time cursing and paddling than he did catching fish.  But, he did break in his new yak and rod with a few fish.  And that's all that mattered.  And it was he who took the photo above of me with some of my fish.  So I was glad he was there.  And I was glad he could finally go fishing, and encouraged us all to.

When we finally headed back to shore, the trout were still flopping and baitfish were still all around us.  Only because we had had enough did we leave the water.  The fish were still biting, and I caught two more on two casts right before hitting the beach.  It was a memorable morning, for sure.  By the time it was all said and done, I honestly don't know how many total specks I caught, but I kept six or so.  And between all of us, we had 10 fish.
I like it when at the end of a fishing excursion the bow of my kayak looks like this.  A successful day on the water, it was.  "Agent Orange" was quite effective, to say the least.
We loaded up the kayaks and all our stuff, and I glanced and saw that the fish were still flopping and feeding.   We talked about going out again the next day, Father's Day.  But it would conflict with church, and I honestly doubt that tomorrow could be anything like today.  Better yet, tomorrow we'll eat these babies for a delicious Father's Day dinner.

When we got to Mike's, we filleted and bagged the fish.  It was a good day.  And it will be a good meal tomorrow.  So maybe we didn't get to "flounder" around in a new body of water.  The morning was even more "speck"tacular, because of the unusual trout bite we had in our normal hole.  I even said, had we fished the new water and had this happen, we would have thought it was awesome, and couldn't wait to go back.  The fact that it happened where we fish all the time only made it more so.  And we can't wait to go back.  So...  Until next time...
This 21" gator will be my Father's Day dinner tomorrow.  With a nice Pinot Grigio, broiled with lemon, dill, a hint of garlic and butter... and mmmm, I'm drooling already.

Fish ON!