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!

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