Monday, April 28, 2014

Collecting data the hard way, by Alexi

Sunset at anchor (Great Bay)

     Finally, our hands are salt encrusted.   Parched, dried, with many small cuts just a hair wider than paper cuts.  When wet they sting.  Ten shades darker than before the wrist, I stare long at my strange hands.
     After unloading the boats and lingering on my porch a friend rides by on his bike.... Jim says "You're red, glowing, like you were in the sun too long."  I think to myself  (Is there such a thing as too long?)
    We are crawling into the ocean.  At some point we will attend a meeting with a large bass.  For now,  we play with the children.  What's good and bad about it all?  Observe: the marathon is unfinished.  People stare at the crazed daze (our crazed daze).  Strangers fill in their t-shirts with winter fat while floating by in their kayaks.  I, however, am dressed for Alaska.   The marathon is half run and I'm ready to fall over.  To fall over would be so pleasant, but I keep going.  Eventually the pain is numbed.  We know we won't win the race, but at least we have to finish it.  We catch fish, but we want to know for certain that there are bigger fish.  We hunt.  In the dark.  In strange places.  In the wind.  In the city.  In the Bay.  We hunt.  Just seeking something to pull a little line.  That feeling, the adrenalin rushing.  The excitement.  The moment. The hooks are sharp and the knots are well tied.  The rod quivers in anticipation.  Around every bend.  In every hole.   There is hope.  There is a chance, so we keep going.  We are not motivated by food or economics.  We are not motivated by fame, or competition.  We are compelled.  No one will be waiting at the finish line when we're done.  Just the park rangers waiting for the trash boat.  "Did you get anything?"  The answer is clear due to the hesitation.  " Some bumps."
Expectations are always high this time of year.  It's spring striped bass fishing.  The time of year when cows or "Moose-fish" are caught all over the New Jersey back bays.  And sometimes they are very large, so be ready.  And so we were ready.  We've been ready.

     And now a quick synopsis of three trips in one week:

We started the fishing frenzy in the Great Bay.  The yacht building company was testing some ships. Their wake really messed up our plan.  We caught some short bass on bloodworms and clams.

     Then there was the worst kayak launch ever.  Delaware river by the Commodore Barry bridge.  (We wanted to launch on the Jersey side)

vertical rock climb with kayaks

We caught some catfish.  This trip really deserves it's own story.  But I'd rather not re-live that night.  The wind picked up (a lot!)  The current was against the wind and the waves were hard to hit in the right direction.  The fishing ended abruptly.
one of several catfish, no stripers

     Then there was real fishing.  Fishing I can get behind.  Fishing in Barnegat Bay.  We stopped at the bridge to fish the light line from our kayaks.
one of many bridge fish
The fish were feeding on top.  Mostly in the 20" range, but some a bit bigger.
 We left them biting, striped bass up to 27".   That really got our blood flowing.  I was confident that if we went to Snake ditch with our eels we were likely to hook into some bigger fish.  We went to the sedges.
2014 IBSP pass

This was our first sedge trip of the year.  We were skunked.   But it was still great.  There were seals on seal island.  Skimmers.  Pipers.  Osprey.  Clams. Mussels.  Jellyfish.  I really felt at home.  The water was cold, and the tide was strong.  There were bass around, but either we couldn't find them or they weren't on the feed.
Sunrise at Seal Island
It didn't matter.  It felt good to be back at the Sedge Islands.

Floating in Barnegat Bay

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Official Anti-Fishing Blog, Fishing Blog By: Steve Evans

      "Man and nature forge their will on each others futures"
-Fishing with John
      He materialized from the sand, a figure in grey clothes, I mean, from the direction of the sand, I think, from that side, appeared a man who said something customary, I can't remember, a panhandle, for swapping parlance, like a cup of words shaking. The old men come here, as you know, at the end roads, to sup the platitudes of the yawning delta. Most are the same fish, more or less, we catch them easily with our little boats, they find so curious, and here and there they flip the usual jokes. This man looked thoughtful, so he might have been different, so...
      He asked "How long you guys been at this?" 



      "Few years."

      "Good," He was satisfied. "then you've been some hours out."

      I liked the sound of that, had that feeling that sometimes comes, regarding time put in, condensed, in a sort of accomplished feeling that lasts about a few seconds, it felt good. "Yeah." 

      "I was out in the wind last night," I was. "had a few fish," I had. "did get cold after the sun went down," It did. "Was gonna stay out..." I was.

      "Threw in the sponge?"

      "Yeah." I was grinning.
      Looked like white clay but with a gold dangling jolly roger earring. He had a gentile beneficent magnetism. "Damn legs," He cursed, "damn knees." doddered around. There was an invisible parrot on his shoulder, "Damn legs," parrot wise. "damn knees." He took inventory of our kit, took interest in our float plan, our provisions, safety equipment and so on. There was thoughtful almost maternal concern, since, looking out on the water we saw, all souls who were there, the big bay standing up in twenty knot gusts, white capped and rolling, not pleasant looking at all, not inviting. 

      "Got a marine radio?" "Good." "I've got one." "Listen in sometimes." "Had a sailboat..." He disappeared in sweet-bitter thought over that sailboat. 

     1bit·ter·sweet 1something that is bittersweet; especially :  pleasure alloyed with pain

       Reappeared in a sudden awareness of time, or something else maybe, and disappeared finally, actually kind of vanished, with an enigmatic "Thank you for talking to me".
      First, last week, Alexi forgot his tent, last when we were first at the launch, found he forgot his paddle. Too much stuff now to keep track of last and first, on top of that I bought a chumpot, god knows why. We're going to make a checklist now, tape it to the dashboard of my car, of both our cars. Maybe we'll make a checklist to tape to each thing that stores things with the content of each thing and the respective content of the things within the things and so on, then a master checklist of  the most essential items: water, food, matches, ropes, straps, buoys, rods, seats, paddles, anchors, remote control helicopters, airsoft rifles, the chumpot, etcetera and so on... and including the kayaks too, just in case. 
      Incidentally, I really was out the night before, incoming tide, at anchor, two different spots off the point, fish-finder rigs: 50lb braid, slider, bead (red, it doesn't matter), swivel, short 40lb fluorocarbon leader snelled to 6/o circle hook, clam and bloodworm respectively. Three striped bass to twenty inches. I gathered, earlier, first hand, the first report of a drumfish, Gonna clam in this area, and chumpot, over the next months, looking to catch my first of that species.

      I was beginning to wonder. Had we seen that man, the old sailor? Or was he one of those wandering apparitions that christen the voyages of brave mariners, or damn them to their doom? Was he the guardian of the souls of warrior vikings to the golden shores of valhalla, where the virginal maidens frolick in the tidepools wearing only football jerseys that belong only to you, and tacos grow in the fields and you can dig them up like potatoes, and everyone gets a big hammer, and you can only drink a beer if you shotgun it? We cannot now know for sure. But I believed then, as I do now, that he's on our side, that old salt, tinkling good vibes all around.
      We fished in the teeth of a cruel wind all day. Clam juice saturated everything, the very air reeking of clam. Catfish crawled out onto the land taking big gulps of air, literally feasting on the stench. I need to remember to bring more towels, dry ones. Some things on a kayak you can never have enough of, dry towels are one of those.

      We fished past dark, from land, lines baited, rods in the back kayak rod holders. Baits had to be replaced often enough and we were getting enough hits that I was bounding over the kayak or charging back and forth around the boat working. We were freezing cold, and the wind blowing hard, so keeping moving was a little help. I slipped on the wet grass, went down hard onto my right side, came up half covered in mud Alexi laughing out loud "This is a contact sport!!"
      We were fishing from the sod islands, the last that might still be regarded boundaries of the mullica river before its shape erodes entirely into the great bay. The wind coming at the banks straight on, big waves actually shook the ground and froth and suds tumbled up onto the muck.

      The sun was setting. At some point Alexi said "I think the wind is slowing." but actually he spelled it out like "I think the W-I-N-D is slowing." so not to jinx it, but we both knew anyway that he was full of shit. 
      This wasn't going to be an easy paddle. Just launching the boats in the dark chop was clumsy enough. We might not even have been a mile from the launch, but the tide was still coming in, against us, and the wind which had been close to twenty all day, was still very against us. We're damn used to these situations by now you understand, I'm just saying, wasn't going to be an easy paddle, and it wasn't. What it was though, also, was some great kayaking at night. Nick Karas, in his big Striped Bass book, on the subject of night fishing says "It feels that one is perpetually doing it for the first time." I agree as much as that the sense of sight, at night, is not going to gain beyond a certain point, but after a lot of night fishing, and night paddling, I've learned to trust my other senses, and my instincts more. I don't know how to describe what it's like, on the water, in the dark, I can't take a picture of it. When there is a lot of chop I can only focus on the water closest to me, and under me, and I'm just thinking "Stay upright, paddle straight." the concentration has me forget about everything else. It's awesome.




Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Susquehana Flats Jamboree: or "Day of the Basstronauts", by Alexi

     Kayak fishermen: a species related to but a distant offshoot from kayakers and fishermen.   Every once in a while they gather in large groups up and down the east coast.   It is unclear as of yet why they do this.  Generally solitary creatures, these occasional gatherings may serve, at best, as a way of sharing information.  One such gathering was the Susquehanna Flats Jamboree hosted by Mullet Miller.

    Steve and I woke up totally pumped.  We've had pretty good success in the Mullica for the past couple of trips and we were very confident that the warmer air temperatures would get things going.   We went into this tournament expecting the weather to be horrible, as that is how it's been the past according to sources.  However, the weather was as near perfect as it gets.

     I had decided to order 100 bloodworms from Maine.  I calculated that in three full days on the Mullica we would have used close to that many.

     What I didn't calculate is that tournament is fishing is different.  There are time constraints.  Constraints which are bothersome enough to us that it has become a major consideration for our participation in future events.  After-all, why do we do tournaments?  we can fish wherever and whenever we want.  We can look at Google maps and pull over at the side of the road and launch our kayaks for three days almost anywhere.  So WHY?

     We had to turn around after about half an hour of driving because I had forgot my tent.  I-95 was totally blocked northbound, so we went through  the back roads of Marcus Hook.  We probably drove past hundreds of 40" plus fish in that part of the Delaware river.  But that's just how it goes.  It took us almost all day to gather our supplies with stops at Walmart and the beer store, and getting lost at the State park.

    When we pulled up to the gate as I was registering Steve recognized a fellow kayaker from the NCKFA Oak Island Tournament.  We were staying at the same hotel down there and had a good conversation about other events like Jamaica Bay.   It's always a good feeling to run into friendly familiar faces at these events.  But really, we are there to fish.  And so we dropped off some gear at the State Park campsite we had pre-registered for, and found Mullet Miller who told us several options for launching.  We went into Havre de Grace and used the boat ramp there.

     We started pretty late in the day, so we fished through sunset in rough water and were skunked.

     Back at the campsite we were pleased by the lack of neighbors.  It was thursday night after-all.
     the next morning we got a casual start.  A little distraught by getting skunked, we tried a slightly different tactic.  We went onto the flats and pitched lures around splashing fish.  Only after a while we realized that these were just carp.  Again we were skunked.

     We had to be back at the captains meeting by five.  We left off fishing long before we normally would have.  I have a saying "you haven't really fished if you weren't out for at least six hours."  this is in response to people who go toss a lure for an hour, and then report that there were no fish.  Maybe this comes from my surf-fishing background, where you really have to put in the time.   So far, after two days, we still hadn't fished for more than six hours a day.  So here it is, 5 o'clock, and I'm drinking beers.  we spent more hours drinking beer that day than we did fishing, which is very unlike us.  Normally, when we fish, unlike what most people must think, we do not consume alcohol.
     There was quite a good speech given by the Heroes on the Water representative.  He read aloud a letter written by a female vet. describing her ptsd she had from sexual abuse while in the service though she had never seen combat.  

     Back at the camp, it being friday, we now had a neighbor.  He was blasting the worst kind of poppy dance country music you can imagine out his brand new hummer.  Things were starting to get ugly.  Any good feelings were quickly dissipating.   The wood wouldn't burn.  there were no fish.  the worms were all dying.  the peace and quite of the campsite was gone.  We were ready to leave.   We were ready to leave, or go fishing.  We should have gone back out and fished even though we had each had a couple of beers,  but instead we sat and drank more beers trying to drown out the bad country.

    Totally hungover we were at the launch at 6:00 a.m.  We thought this was early.  Apparently it wasn't.

At the boat ramp there was another tournament.  A "bass" tournament.  With "bass" boats.  250 hp engines on small flats boats.  They zip around from one spot to another casting white spinnerbaits at the shore with light spinning gear in the hopes of catching a 20" Large mouth bass.

An example of a "Basstronaut" 
They ALL drive new oversized pick-up trucks.  They ALL have fast boats.  They are quite aptly called by our intrepid host Mullet-Miller, the "Basstronauts."  He warned us of them at the Captains meeting, but now, hung-over, and seeing them first hand was quite an experience.  the good news was that they were mostly fishing in different spots than us.  
Me asleep on my kayak

     We were skunked.  Towards the end of the (half) day we ran into another kayaker that said he lost his phone, but that he saw what appeared to be a 42" fish caught.  With renewed hope we trolled tube-n-worm for another hour.  Then, with renewed disenchantment and disappointment we returned to the ramp.

    Here were the old men.  The local men.  The talkers.  These guys, if you listened, and gave them some time, had quite a bit of information.  At first some might find them annoying, but we had nothing to do. We were totally beaten. And so, as we took our time packing up all of our gear with our tails between our legs, we chatted.  We learned that generally it was early.   That live herring (which of course is off limits) is the key.  But mostly, that the big  fish haven't shown up yet.   Now that I've been there for three days and familiarized myself with the area I can also find this article much more useful.   

     The results of the tournament pretty much confirm this: 119 paid participants and a hand-full of guest participants and 4 striped bass were caught.  14", 28", 34", 46".

     Will we return to the Susquehana flats later this month to try to get a trophy bass?  All I can say is, probably.......

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Two Days on the Mullica River By: Steve Evans

"...the tidal mark where it puts off majesty,
disintegrates, and through swamps of a delta,
punting-pole, fowling-piece, oyster-tongs country,
     wearies to its final..."
                                           -From River Profile by: W.H.Auden

      The way home through dark space, black track, punctuated by dots, and dashes, screaming fast, melting through time, constellations of lights revolving and splitting through glass dimensions and disappearing in tiny apocalypses. The wind cycloning in the seams of my vacuum from outside, I hear that, no other sounds, except the big machine I'm in, with the Japanese engine, I'm off the map.

The End.

      The map was a birthday present, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration chart number 12316, I see it almost daily since it hangs on my kitchen wall and sometimes without warning I become absorbed in it, very deeply. With the map came fixation with the idea of traveling inside the map. The feature of a river in the lower left hand corner of the map catches my attention often.

      Mostly the rivers of my past share the convenient feature of  being of the sort that, obedient to the earth's gravity, lean to moving in one direction, rocky on the bottom, with riffles, pools, runs, and rapids. My dad and I would drop a car down river, get in the big old town canoe and drift congenially with the flow, occasionally picking up a paddle, righting the bow through a quick rapid to avoid spilling, or turning upstream to retrieve a snag, mainly coasting, shooting casts into eddies and strainers. "Float trip" is the name for this trip type since the river does most of the hard work.

      The Mullica River from Lower Bridge to Gravelling Point, inclining more to the tug of the moon, is tidal, does not always flow in one direction, is a wide coiled river, estuarine in character, gaining two small rivers on course to Great Bay. Any point reasonably close to a road is an easy launch or landing for light kayaks like ours but there aren't too many roads along this piece of the map, so we picked two and planned to drop a car at the mouth, on Great Bay, and launch upriver, fishing and paddling the length between over two days and a night.

      Paddling with all the extra tack and tenting on wet marsh are familiar to us, so this all shouldn't seem so exceptional. But this was the first fruit of the seed planted by the map, touring from A to B, camping, and fishing, collecting pieces of the map, tacking experience on each abstraction.

      Kayak Trip. Back Thurs. Eve. Thanx. Please Don't Tow!

      We left a note on each car, there aren't usually instructions for this sort of activity. Lots of outside destination trips have whole books on what to pack and where to park and all the planning so meticulously thought out. I like other kinds of trips.

      Scott's Bait and Tackle had plenty of bloodworms, We would split five dozen. More than most shop clerks, the guy at Scott's (Scott?), seemed to have a reasoned understanding of our plan, that is, of certain considerations specific to kayak fishing, which is unique, since knowledge of the subject is conspicuously absent in the average jersey  bait shop. He at least seemed to grasp that we should take advantage of the cuts between the wide snaking coils of the Mullica to enjoy the shelter from open water, wind, and the big wakes kicked up where Viking Yachts have their proving grounds, he showed on the map where some were. He wished he could come with, so he said.

      Everyone else, of course,  is a comedian. "How many rods are you bringing!?" an old heckler is a fixture at every drop-in, in an effort to exhaust them I always ask them to repeat a few times, as if I'm hard of hearing, their seemingly shared inventory of jokes, they're never deterred. "What's all that Stuff!?" "You guys going to Maine!?"
      "Gravelling Point." I said. He didn't believe me.

      There was no wind at the beginning, the tide was nearly high slack, about to turn outgoing, paddling was effortless. We hadn't exactly planned it that way but it's how we would have if we did. We coasted through familiar waters, where we've fished before, this and last march, the one part, at least, we knew we'd catch fish. We drifted an hour or so, left without a bite. The next stretch was a burden with snags, hard snags I couldn't pull, and my line and knots so heavy I actually bent hooks pulling loose. There were oyster beds for sure, stumps, who knows what else. I hate losing rigs. I stashed the rods, the wind was opposing progress, so I set up to troll a tube and worm, down river a bit, to move us onto the map.

      "Swan Bay" is the start of the Mullica on NOAA chart #12316. This bay is relatively uniform in depth, and there are fish traps with red flags along the banks in a few places. The sun was moving low, neither of us having yet caught a fish. Readings from both our depthfinders showed marks, suspended, near bottom but spread out. Right near sunset I had the first fish of the day, a small striper, and along that ledge downriver as we went saw lots and lots of marks on the sonar, between 15 and 25 feet or so, though none of these fish took notice of our baits.

      By the mouth of the wading river, north of the route 9 bridge, we dragged up our boats. We thought we might as well end up camping here. The tide was pretty well out now. Some smart ass probably says in a sea kayaking book somewhere to pick your camping spot in the daytime, or at high tide to spot some hypothetical high ground. Truth is, it gets dark, and it's low tide, and it's all flatland swamp anyway, you throw down a tarp and make the best of it. Alexi smuggled out a beer for each of us. We took notice of the life we hadn't noticed before, the sound of spring peepers carried in from away, I don't know how the hell I knew the sounds were spring peepers some inexplicable fact I'd picked up somewhere, diamond spiders (we don't know what they're called actually) glinted green light under the sedge grass, probably a Mole Crab, I don't know Alexi saw it, described it to me, I said probably a mole crab, I heard surface splashes, "What was that?"....... "What?" Years of loud music have left Alexi with a perpetual ear ringing called Tinnitus.

      Our kayaks were set up so we could stake our rods on them, with lines out. Bloodworms on spot/kingfish rigs and fishfinders. I reeled in to check my bait, thought I had some weeds, and there was a small channel catfish on the high hook. For the next couple of hours we caught more than a dozen small catfish, actually the first true night fishing of the spring.

      At night we'd drawn the boats up to the tents, maybe thirty feet from the bank, or less, either the water would or wouldn't come up that far. Sometimes you rest on that. The water didn't flood that high, but the rain came down from the sky and we woke up in puddles just the same. Where we caught catfish at night we caught perch now, and some nice ones too, with one or two "catbass" still  mixed in. We brewed and drank hot coffee and packed our camp back into our boats.

      Day two we'd have to paddle more, the morning tide was against us, and the wind too. We agreed that bank fishing was the best strategy. Drifting had not produced day one, the water was cold, paddling between points, creek mouths, cuts, islands and junctures we'd stop in the likeliest spots drawing onto land and dead-sticking bait, not glamorous or engaging, just what we figured would produce.

      By the time we got past the mouth of the river and were nearing gravelling point Alexi had caught two short bass and a perch I hadn't had any fish since the morning. When you're fishing bait next to someone, the same bait on the same gear, with the same rig and all other factors being equal, who gets a fish is reduced to a matter of pure chance. The above is a little meditation I use to keep focus when the someone next to me is the one catching all the fish.

      We tried our new anchors in a couple spots, the second spot out from the point itself. What worms we had left we balled up onto our hooks and bottom fished at anchor from our boats for the first time.

      Gravelling point is well known by jersey surf and boat anglers as a spot that produces striped bass early in the spring, because it's a shallow area, with shellfish beds, that warms quickly as the days warm and lengthen. There are many spots like this along the jersey shore but this one has easy access, a daytime parking area and people talk about it, so people go there.

      Alexi: "I'm glad we're doing this now so we never have to do this again!"

      Me: "What do you mean!" (as you well know, we always have to shout)

      Alexi: "Doing the Gravelling Point thing! I'm glad we're doing it now so we don't have to come back!!"

      Just then Alexi's rod went down and he was fighting a fish.

      Alexi: "This is AWESOME!!!"

      A fine note to end a trip. We beached by the car at dark and started to load out our camp, and tackle, and anchors and ropes, and extra clothes and all the souvenir buoys we found out in the grass. Of course an old comedian was there, an old timer with a long grey beard and a cigar sitting in his Buick with the window down just watching us for kicks. "It's a wonder those boats don't sink with all that stuff!"
      "They're pretty stable boats." I said, hopelessly.
      "SO WAS THE TITANIC!!" I suddenly envied Alexi for his Tinnitus.
      "Say where'd you guys put in anyway?"
      "The bridge up from Hay road" said Alexi.
      "Lower Bank Bridge! You guys are CRAZY!"

The Beginning....