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

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!


Monday, June 4, 2012

An Angler's Book Review: The Snowfly, by Joseph Heywood.

A novel that was recommended to me... that I'm recommending to my readers -- especially if you love fly fishing.  Please continue reading for my full review.

There haven't been too many posts that I've written where I mention books that I've enjoyed.  I know I've mentioned a few in the past, such as "On the Run", and "A River Runs Through It", as well as various "How-To" books, especially regarding stripers and inshore saltwater fishing.  But rarely have I enjoyed a book so much that I feel compelled to recommend it to my fellow Angler-philes (as opposed to the Anglo-philes who are all aflutter over the Queen's "Diamond Jubilee", the celebration of her 60th year of her reign.  But I digress).

After I wrote my most recent post about fly fishing, and my love for it's art and simplicity, I got a message from a friend of mine from high school who writes a book blog.  She asked if I had ever read the novel, "The Snowfly", by Joseph Heywood.  I hadn't.  She strongly recommended it, saying she had been giving it to family and friends who enjoy fishing, for years.  I was intrigued.  I called our local library, and they had it.  I picked it up on my way home from work one evening, and was glad I did.  So here is my first official book review... and don't worry, Leslie, I'm not going to make this a habit and invade your turf that you cover so well with your Book Addict Blog.

If I had to characterize Heywood's novel, "The Snowfly" in one sentence, it would be something like, Nelson DeMille writes "Forrest Gump" in "A River Runs Through It."  How's that for three different styles.  Let me explain:

I'm not familiar with Joseph Heywood (though I'm now intrigued enough to read another of his novels).  But I do know Nelson DeMille.  DeMille writes in a number of styles, but often in first person, and often his stories involve international settings and intrigue -- check.  You've got that here with Heywood's book.

The protagonist, Bowie Rhodes grows up in Michigan, learns about trout fishing, and becomes a writer for UPI.  As a young "cub reporter", he is sent to Vietnam, and then England, and finally the Soviet Union, before going up to Canada, and then back to Michigan, while pursuing other writing endeavors.  Various spies, scientists, cops, and even the KGB all play a part in the web of suspense and mystery that become the plot of "The Snowfly."

While Winston Groom's novel, "Forrest Gump" is quite different than the movie made famous with Tom Hanks, it does describe a "special" young man who happens to be placed in a number of situations that were an important part of our history in the 1960's and '70's.  Rhodes is in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, in the UK during troubles between the IRA of Northern Ireland and England, and the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.  And he even meets an internationally famous celebrity.

"A River Runs Through It", (the novella written by Norman MacLean) tells of a family, and it's passion for trout fishing in Montana, using very descriptive, even metaphysical language in its pages, as it describes the relationship between two brothers and the art that is fly fishing.  In fact, one critic (Chicago Tribune critic Alfred Kazin) wrote of the book that "there are passages here of physical rapture in the presence of unsullied, primitive America, that are as beautiful as anything in Thoreau and Hemingway."  I only point that out because of Hemingway....  And that's all I will say about that -- beside the fact that we all probably had to read his epic tale of "The Old Man and The Sea".

Throughout his novel, Heywood plants the seed, grows, weaves and intertwines Bowie's love for trout fishing all over the world (yes even in Vietnam), as well as his increasing obsession with the mystery that is ... the snowfly.  What is the snowfly?  Why do some men risk everything they have, and even die for it?  And is there any truth to the legend, and the monster trout that follow it, where ever, and when ever it so rarely hatches?

When Bowie is fishing, casting the various flies it takes to entice different kinds of trout that are rising below the surface under any number of waters around the world, the reader definitely feels like he is standing there with him, thanks to Heywood's description of the art and the sport that is fly fishing.  And we all wish we had Bowie's talent or gift for finding and catching fish -- even in waters previously unknown to him.

Add a little sex, love, political intrigue, murder, ongoing unanswered questions that even a persistent reporter can't get answers to, and colorful characters throughout the book from around the world, and you have over 450 pages, that when you come to its satisfying (and somewhat unexpected) ending, you feel as you often do at the end of a good book -- that you have gained, and just said goodbye to, a good friend.  I can't think of a better compliment for the author.

It's not a new book, as it was published back in 2000, so this review isn't anything cutting edge.  But I will say this:  if you enjoy fishing (which if you're reading my blog, you must) and you enjoy reading (which if you're reading my blog, you must), then I believe you will enjoy this book.  Go by your library today, and give yourself a treat this weekend.  And Leslie, if you have any other suggestions, I'm all ears (or eyes, as the case may be.)

Until next time,

Read on!


Postscript:  My next door neighbor is a retired former Marine, and U.S. Army colonel, who doesn't fish, and reads nothing but non-fiction.  Recently he was laid up for a few weeks, because he had both his hips replaced.  He came over one day, and asked if I could give him a beer (his wife wouldn't let him drink while he was on pain meds, so he had to sneak one if he wanted it -- some tough guy, huh).  During our conversation, he told me how bored he was.  I had the book on the table next to me, so I gave it to him and said to give it a shot.  He returned it a week later, and said how impressed he was.  He really enjoyed it.  It grabbed his attention early on, and that there were enough twists and turns in the plot -- especially towards the end, that it really kept his interest.  I can't use the salty language he used, but let's just say he was also impressed with Bowie's women and fishing skills....  So, for what it's worth, there's another objective opinion.