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

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fly(fish)ing on Standby

A very good friend of mine is getting ready to go on one of my "bucket list" trips.  He's going to go out to Montana for a week of fly fishing for trout.  To say I'm jealous would be an understatement.  But good for him, that he is able to go.  As he isn't much of a fisherman, let alone "fly fisherman", he wisely took a few days and went up to Wintergreen, Virginia, to take a few fly casting lessons.  That way he won't spend precious fishing time, learning to cast his fly when he is out in Montana.  And, he said, he even caught four trout up in Wintergreen!

Shoot, I thought, I'd even like to go out to the mountains of Virginia for some fly fishing, myself.  I used to do it at least once a year.  But now that I live in Tidewater, I just don't make the effort to go to the mountains the way I used to when I lived up in Richmond.

Anyway, I told him that now that he has learned the basics, he can do what I do sometimes, and walk down to the lake and keep in practice fly fishing for bluegills.  It's wide open there, so you don't have to worry about low hanging trees.  It's simple and fun, and keeps your "10 to 2" casting skills sharp.  And every now and then, you might just catch a large mouth bass that makes it even more fun!

Just talking about it with him made me want to go.  Especially since lately the weather has not been cooperative for kayak fishing.  So last night I went down to the lake in the early evening, and fished for about 45 minutes.  More than half a dozen bluegills later, I had had my fill, and the bluegills were wise to my fly.  Unfortunately, once again my camera wasn't working, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Then again, tonight, I went down as well.  In 30 minutes, I caught about 4 or 5, and  this time even got a (bad) picture of me with one of them.  The bluegills were tough little scrappers, and a couple of them were even good "pan-sized", if I were so inclined.  I wasn't.  So they went back to their beds none the worse for wear.

Simple pleasures.  Simple fishing.  On a couple of simply beautiful evenings.  Who knows.  Maybe my friend will get sick and need someone to take his place....  I'll consider myself on "standby" for him.  I'm ready.   :)
Okay, so it's not the best photo, but this little guy was one of close to a dozen  bluegills I  caught the last two evenings keeping my fly casting skills sharp.  A simple way to have fun, that takes some skill.  Are you ready to "fly"?
Until next time,

(Fly) Fish on!


P.S.  Speaking of simple, and priceless pleasures and treasures, I came home from work last night and saw what my daughter had made for me in her art class.  Without a doubt, it's the best fish I've gotten all year!  I love it.
Without a doubt, the coolest, best flounder ever!  I love it and will cherish this priceless treasure.  Let alone, the detail and craftsmanship is amazingly accurate.  It looks real!  Thank you, Sheldon!
P.P.S  Another simple pleasure:  I went fishing with my younger son, Clayton tonight, and he caught a new world record crappie.  It had to be at least 12 lbs.  But we let it go, to fight another day.  Actually, it was a pretty crappie, and it was a good size, but I had to laugh when I saw the photo.  Clayton has taken my trick of holding a fish close to the camera, to the next level.  When you stick the rod right up to the camera, the fish looks simply monstrous!  Cast your eyes on the new world record 12 pound white crappie!  Ha ha.
You are looking at a world record white crappie.  It was 33" long, and weighed 12 pounds.  Well, not really.  But the photo makes it look that way.  Actually, however, it was the biggest crappie that Clayton has ever caught, and he truly did it all by himself.  I was casting the flyrod (to no avail tonight) when he told me he had a fish.  And this is what he caught.  Yay, Clayton!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Long and Short (and Wide) of Fishing....

I haven't posted much lately, because I haven't had the opportunities to go fishing too often so far this spring.  New job and kids will do that to you.  (The job is new, that is... not the kids.)  I'm not complaining, just explaining.  Anyway, hopefully I'll be able to get out there more from this point forward.

I do have a few stories, however, from the last few weeks, so let's get up to date.

A couple weeks ago Clayton and I decided to go fishing down at the point of the lake near our house.  It was a beautiful Saturday evening, and the brim were more than cooperative.  We caught several bluegill, and even a small bass.  Turtles, ducks and geese were all around us, and when we walked home at dusk, we had had a good time.  Clayton even smiled for a photo of him with one of the fish!
"Wanted:  more fish, big fish, and more wonderful  Father-Son time."   We had a  great evening, and then went home and watched a movie with a big bowl of homemade popcorn.  
The following weekend, I was alone and had some free time, so after a full day of doing yard work, I decided to wet a line.  I was too tired to go kayak fishing, and it was cooler and windier than I like, so I went down to the point where I had been with Clayton.  The fish were not as cooperative as they had been the week before, but I did catch one monster....  Okay, well, at least the cigar was good.

I did have to forward this photo to my son Parke, as well as my brother Ted, and my good fishing buddy Mark, with the caption:  "I bet I caught a bigger bass than you did today", knowing that none of them had had the chance to wet a line at all.  I was right.  As short as it was, it was the biggest fish any of us caught that day.  But Ted would get the last laugh....
Even if I were to do my "hold the fish close to the camera to make it look bigger" trick, there is no disguising the fact that this was a small, short largemouth bass.  To its credit, however, the fish jumped four times, and fought hard for such a little guy.  Hopefully one day I'll catch him again, and he'll be a citation size.
Then one night later in the week, I finally had the opportunity to go out kayak fishing for the first time this year.  The evening was pretty, and there were several people fishing along the river bank as I paddled to the dam.  It was great to be back out on the water.  The ospreys were circling and crying out, and a great blue heron was never too far away, searching for his own fish.

I saw two older men fishing the dam from the riverbank, and paddled over to them to ask if they'd had any luck.  I'm not exaggerating when I say, between the two of them, they had two teeth.  (PSA ALERT:  Kids, brush and floss every day .)  Well, they had caught a couple of nice crappie on live minnows, so I went and fished the other side of the river by the dam, not to disturb their spot, and before long, my rod bent and there was a fish on!  I brought it to my plastic boat, and was pleased to see a 14" spotted bass (a first cousin of the large mouth).  Only the second one I've ever caught.  Unfortunately, my camera on my phone wasn't working at the moment, so you'll just have to take my word for it, but as dusk settled in and I paddled back, it was nice to know I wasn't skunked.  And I watched a couple guys land a nice sized blue catfish, too.
Slightly more coppery in color, with a slightly smaller mouth, the spotted bass can easily be confused for its more well known cousin, the "large mouth bass", but for the fact that it's lateral side is more spotted than lined, and its mouth is slightly smaller (though not nearly as small as a "small mouth bass".   It's kind of like 3/4 largemouth, and 1/4 smallmouth in its looks. 
I look forward to getting out there again, for more bass, and maybe a bowfin or big blue cat, myself.  As I stated, it was great to be back out on the water in my "Agent Orange" kayak.

Then, Friday afternoon, I was in my office doing paperwork, when I got a text message from my brother.  "What have you caught today?"  Was the text.  And this was the photo:
Nothing makes you more jealous than, while you're at work, getting a photo of this -- Ted holding a beautiful 43" striped bass caught from the surf of Fenwick, Delaware.  He and Buckley (his Golden Doodle in the foreground), had gone down for the day, ahead of the rest of the family, and it had been worth it.
I called Ted to get the details of the catch.  He had gone down ahead of his family for the weekend, to surf fish for the day, and had his hands full, catching skates, rays, and three large dog fish.  When suddenly, his rod bent, and he fought the fish, not knowing it was a striper until seeing its silvery sides with stripes as it came to the surf.  Then the big cow shook her head and started really fighting.  Caught on a big bunker head, he said he was the only one he saw up and down the beach catch anything worth keeping. It's a great feeling, when YOU are the one that everybody else sees catch a fish, when they aren't....

When he took it to the bait shop at the end of the day, it weighed 25.5 lbs., so it was probably around 27 pounds when he first caught it, as it was too big to fit in his cooler. It was the biggest fish he's ever caught, from the surf or anywhere.  A wonderful achievement.

And then, the next day, the guy fishing next to him brought in a striper every bit as nice as his.  Hopefully the schools of stripers will still be around in a month when I go up there for the weekend.

I forwarded his photo to our fishing buddies, and got a call from Mark.
"Dan, what are you doing this weekend?"
"Nothing, why?"
"Let's go to the river house for the night and fish the high tide tonight and tomorrow morning.  We need to catch a fish, too."
"High tide is at 8:45 tonight, and with the Super Moon this weekend, the fishing should be good."
"I'll meet you there around 7:30."
"See you then."
The "Super Moon" was this weekend.  The moon, at its "Perigee" was the closest it will be to the earth until 2029.  Appearing 14% larger, and 30% brighter, it would also affect tides... and fishing... we hoped. 
It was a beautiful evening on the river, even if the only thing biting was one skate that I caught, as well as 100,000,000 mosquitoes.  But there was always the morning tide.

The next day, we were back at it, and the fishing was still slow.  Mark finally hooked into a nice sized "horse' croaker, but that was it.  Then, of course, right when I had to leave, I brought in my rod and hooked a big cow nose ray.  This would be a good test for my equipment, I figured, so the fight was on.  The thing ran, and my reel started spooling.  Then it tired some, and I reeled it in.  It ran to the side and around the pier we were fishing, threatening to wrap and cut the line on the pilings.  I stayed a step ahead of it, keeping the line away from the pilings as the ray continued to run from side to side.  Mark got his net and waited for it to tire.  Finally after about 10 minutes, I was able to bring it to the dock where we were, and Mark netted it, scooping it up.  It was nice to see my equipment held up after a long winter, without having changed the line....
This 3 foot wide beast barely fit in the net.  Tonight we'll see how  it tastes.   When hooked, they like to run, and definitely test the drag on your reel, and your line test strength.  But this time, I won.  Schools of them were everywhere this morning, and I'm surprised we only hooked and caught the one.

The Cow Nose ray is overtaking the Chesapeake Bay, eating more crabs, oysters and shellfish than is healthy for the ecosystem of the bay; so there is an effort now to encourage people to catch and kill them when possible. And similarly to the Patagonian Tooth Fish (which is now called the Chilean Sea Bass, even though it is not from Chile, and definitely not a Bass), there has also been a name change to encourage people to eat them.  (The Patagonian Tooth Fish used to be considered a "trash fish", was discarded, and perceived to have no economic value.  Now it is a staple on many restaurant menus.  In fact, most of the time when you see "Sea Bass" on the menu, it is this, not the far superior "Black Sea Bass", which is native to the the waters around here, and known as "Black Gold" by the fishermen who catch them.)
Is there anything"Bass-like" about the Patagonian Toothfish, aka Chilean Sea Bass?  No, but it tastes better with that new name.  So, hopefully, will the Chesapeake Ray....

So, now the rays are seen on menus, as the "Chesapeake Ray", which sounds far more appetizing than a "cow nose".  As these rays are difficult to land, and more often break off (or I purposely break them off), however, this was my first chance to put them to the test.

I called up good friend, and chef-extraordinaire, Randy, and asked if he wanted me to bring him "Chesapeake Ray wings" to prepare for dinner.  He said, absolutely!  So we killed the ray, sliced off the wings, skinned them and put them in a bag on ice.  I delivered them to Randy, and we'll see how they taste tonight.

Meanwhile, I got a text message from Ted right as I'm going to church, and he just had to one up me, again.  "I caught one, too," was the message along with this photo.  But I'm thinking mine was a better fight, because I wasn't using heavy surf casting heavers and equipment.  So there.
Ted caught and landed a cow-nose ray, as well.  The difference between his ray and my "Chesapeake  Ray", is that I'm going to try eating mine tonight for dinner,after Randy prepares it.  It has a reddish-pink flesh, and is supposed to be similar to veal or flank steak in its texture (unlike skates, which have white, sweet, firm flesh, and can be prepared similarly to scallops.)  Anyway, we'll see how it fares for dinner.  I'll add a postscript later, if it doesn't kill me, as I'm sure if anyone can make it delicious, it's Randy.
So now, we head into the middle of May, when the inshore fishing should really start to pick up.  Hopefully that means I'll be able to get out on the water more, and have more fishing stories, too.  I look forward to my next entry -- and my postscript with the critique of the "Chesapeake Ray" dinner.  Until next time,

Fish ON!


POSTSCRIPT:  Okay, so here's the scoop on dinner being a "Chesapeake Ray".

As I mentioned, I gave the wing fillets to Randy yesterday, as he had an idea of how he wished to prepare them.  He did the following:

He brined it last night, soaking them in salt water and orange juice, to get rid of some of the blood and strong flavor.  Then he marinated them in milk during the day today. The fillets were then coated lightly with salt, pepper and House Autry seasoning and then sauteed in a thin layer of olive oil until golden brown.  Then he drizzled them with a homemade basil beurre-blanc and caper sauce, and placed them over eggwashed scalloped potatoes.  Spinach was the side vegetable, and (because it was a darker seafood, like salmon, tuna or blackened redfish) I brought a nice Pinot Noir to serve as the wine.  It was absolutely delicious, and I look forward to the next opportunity I have to eat another one.

So how about that!  The next Chilean Sea Bass has officially been created, I believe.  It's all in how you prepare it and "market" it.  Even my daughter (who two years ago, hated all seafood) ate hers and liked it, as did Randy's wife, who admitted ahead of time she was nervous about eating it.  And Randy's boys had second helpings, and even thirds -- as did Randy and me.
"Chesapeake Ray", marinated, lightly sauteed, and served on a  scalloped potato, with a  basil beurre-blanc and caper sauce.  Paired with a nice Pinot Noir, I would absolutely eat this meal again, and would highly recommend it to whoever catches a cow nose ray!

So save our crabs and oysters, and eat a cow nose, er, Chesapeake Ray, today.  Until next time, Eat ON!