Friday, June 27, 2014

What happened to Fishing in the Dark? week of June 22. Stone Harbor, by Alexi

      Two to three weeks ago we were still discussing launching our kayaks out front and snagging bunker for big stripers.  Now we're talking about fluke.   The transition from spring to summer this year was a a hard pill to swallow.

 Wednesday, June 25

     We stood on my porch, ready to load the truck, and I thought about fishing.   I was much less confident about the day than Steve.  (When I imagined the day, and how it would go, I could only see myself blown against a sod bank.  Drifting and jigging for fluke requires just the right drift.  I had gone out last week and nearly got skunked if it wasn't for a small blue.  My confidence was at an all-time LOW.)  The winds predicted for wednesday were 15-20 mph, and for thursday it was 10-15mph, so I decided to wait until thursday to fish.  While Steve was fishing on wednesday I re-watched John Skinner's videos on fluking.

      Steve was fishing live spot on a jig-head a-la Dan Insomniac style.  He had a nice sized weakfish come up next to his boat and unhook itself, some run-offs, but no fluke.  Not the best report, but we both went back out thursday anyway.

 Thursday, June 26

     We weren't on the water fishing until noon.   I had a wire short out on my Humminbird transducer cable, and it kind of bummed me out.  I caught a couple of short fluke, then,  since I was still close to the car, I drove over to the Kayak Fishing Store to see if Chris had a replacement cable.  He didn't.
Short Fluke
     It was very difficult to get a good drift set-up.  We wanted to ride the incoming tide further back into the spaghetti, but the wind was from the South and West, and it just wasn't happening at a rate where I could present my lure well.  For the brief moments when the wind would slow down, and the current would give me a good drift, I would hook up or get hits.
almost 18"...

     I was beginning to get really frustrated.  The sun was getting lower and lower in the sky, and the route we were heading in had less and less water.   I knew that there were big fluke back there, but my vertical jigging Skinner set-up only works well in at least 6ft of water.   With no depth finder, and a feeling of desperation, I started casting my pink fin-s.  I've watched Steve catch large fluke on a similar lure.  I've caught large fluke on lures at the sedges.  I know that it works.  Also, all fish love the pink fin-s.  After just a few casts I hook into something big.  It takes some drag.  It feels heavy.  It feels like a ray, but I know it's a big fluke.  I'm getting subtle head shakes.  It takes more drag.  I get some line back.   I'm confident I have a good hook-set.  We are at a truce in our tug-of-war.  I tighten my drag by one click and put a little more pressure to bring it up,'s off.

sunset, no wind, no fish...


Thursday, June 12, 2014

This is what I do for fun. by: Steve Evans

      Speak in me, Muse, of the haunted hunters, the whale riders, the untucked drailers of the swishy squashy salt-swamp flatlands, 'em sentinels, like clam stakes nigh the sandy launches, 'em flotsam o'er the scattered bones'a ol' dead King Nummy! Speak of our heroes carried far from home on sloppy tides, loft'd over husks of crab, oyster chunks and whale detritus, lost buoys. Speak of how, Poseidon having scoured the earth from under them, each became his own country lost to the will o' the wisp.

      The windows were down, the sea rush coming through, airy and smelly with salt and anaerobic putrefaction. The hum of the small wind turbine at the one million dollar bathroom, at area #21, on Island Beach State Park New Jersey, is a perfect white noise. Ross and Steve and Alexi each somewhat upright, each in a bucket seat, asleep, each with his chin on his own chest, like a cult suicide. The sound of boots on gravel woke me gradually, paranoia reading authority in them, like a railroad bull's baton tapping a "move-a-long hobo, can't sleep here. This here outhouse cost one million dollars. You got one million dollars hobo?".

      Opened a crack of an eye, a gentle old soul in waders, god, I was seeing another ghost, tedious one at that. He floated up, entirely indifferent to our having been asleep. Ghost talk is always hard to remember, maybe because it starts unexpectedly common, like, "Howdy you do?". I wanted to take a million dollar shit.

      "Huh?" I was still awaiting the bat. "Oh, uh, nothing, I mean not today, yet, uh."

      We waffled over useless shuttlecock, some ghosts just need to pretend in tragic movements the purposeless effluvium of chit-chat, since it's such a living human behavior. Why do they come after us? Why haunt us so?

      Many times so far the story has landed our heroes here, on this spit of land, this island beach. Expectations were high for spring in this fishery, and though, on one trip, we got into some gator blues, the bass have been few and small and the weakfish, non-existent. Alexi and I launched there last week, we had three days, were prepared to stay two nights. First week of June...
      A bluefish on a white smack-it jr.popper happened first, up on the flats. With an eleven foot surf rod or a seven foot salt striker Alexi can usually get a blue at sunset. One theory I have: blues can't see at night, not very well anyway, so they run in manic pods tearing it up around the last fire, a good time to toss a popper anywhere in the salt. I've been throwing topwater, walk-the-dog style lures like the mirrolure topdog and the heddon zara spook, the blues don't seem to respond to the action much but the bass blow up on them all over, I had one retrieve with about seven strikes, no hookup. I had bass blow up on 'em the whole three days, didn't land one, don't ask me why.

      There was so much dead algae (snotgrass, monkey guts) in the water that the usual gang of bank casters were not there, one with a fly-rod showed up while we readied our boats, took one cast, left head shaking. This was going to be the condition, the next three days, nearly every cast, each drift, clearing hooks and knots of the mucus like plague, but we are nothing if not persistent. To quote the late Jim Varney, better known as Ernest P. Worrell, "I've never known when to quit!".
      When the fishing is slow, Alexi and I disagree about everything to pass the time. For instance...

      Alexi: "We can ride the tide to oyster creek channel"
      Me: "Sure we can, in six hours when the tide flips."
      Alexi: "The tide is going out"
      Me: "The tide is coming in, just turned"
      Alexi: "Just turned outgoing."
      Me: "Then why is the current going southwest from here?"
      Alexi: "That's northeast not southwest, and that's just the pull of the sedges"
      Me: "That's not the pull of anything it's a push, the moon is pushing water from the ocean into Barnegat inlet, up Oyster Creek Channel and around that point to here and past us to over there."
      Alexi: "No it's not"
      Me: "So up is down and down is up then?"

      Alexi didn't answer that last line. I figure he was just thinking it was the pull of the sedges. So it was that Alexi rode the outgoing tide while I meanwhile paddled like hell against the incoming tide as we made way up, I mean down, Oyster Creek Channel. We'll never know how this is possible, nor how on so many occasions we have simultaneously opposite experiences of reality.
      In this much, we are in accord: Alexi jumped up onto the disappearing sod island and got a bass on a pink Fin-s. A photo taken at that time substantiates the claim. I fished with a 1 and 1/2 oz. bucktail, tipped with a live eel. My thinking: If there's a big fish here, and I can get this lure in front of it, it will bite. My eel got bit in half by a bluefish.

      At camp we had a bag of wine. We drank and talked about last spring, about other seasons in the sedges, the fat times fat with fish, when fish for others were hard to get, not for us.

      "On the one hand I can't complain, I set a mark for myself with a couple of big fish this spring because conditions and timing made that possible on a good day ocean side. On the other hand, where are the bass in the low to mid thirty inch range we are used to catching back here, back bay style?"
      I was getting tuned up. "Fish move. Structures change. Patterns shift. Every season in an area is different. The fish are on a certain flat or in a certain creek channel when they are because of genetically imprinted survival driven behaviors. The fish don't know that the fishing was really hot at this or that drop last may and that they are supposed to be there or here. So I'm not going to say that those bigger sedge bass are gone, I can only say that they have adapted to a change and I have not. Not going to say either that there are not less fish, not going to say that bass numbers are not in decline. I'm saying there are fish out here and if I'm smart about what I'm doing I can catch some." I took a gulp of wine. "That's a tough pill for some to swallow, for me too sometimes, it's much easier to blame some abstract and distant cause for failure. I try to say: be humble, be willing to fail, work hard, think through the problem. So that's what my fish mean to me, they mean I succeeded at doing those things. I'm not going to take a piss on someone else's accomplishment because I failed. In fact, comparing my goals and achievements to anyone else's is a failure in itself because I'm not in their game! Then the wine really started talking....

      Hungover the next day, I found a few more minutes of sleep while Alexi found some skinny bass by a spilling pond with his salt striker and his pink Fin-s. It was only the second day but I was already stale, bitten, and talking to my eels. The rest of the day is a blur. Took a land break, actually slept on a park bench, "Hobo, hobo, hobo..." baton slapping a closing fist. Came up with some really good Ideas and then spent another night in the sedges since we couldn't agree on any of them.

      I was getting big blow-ups on topwater when Alexi patched in. "This is unfishable, I'm stuck on the sandbars going out to horsefoot, there's no water back here"

      I came back "I'm getting blow-ups on topwater, gonna try and film some, maybe catch a bass"

      "I'm glad you're having fun, this really sucks out here."

      We hit an almost crisis in the inlet, arguing over the breakers. Alexi was being reasonable: the snotgrass was impossible for fluke; the only bass around were small; conditions would be deteriorating later while we slept; we'd be waking at dawn into a full blown shit-storm. The time was now to cut our losses and get the fuck out. I was being unreasonable, we are here, let's fish, that's what we're here to do. Of all things Alexi decided to agree with this.

      Maybe one good drift with my eel, got some taps too, Alexi was getting a few bass off the sod banks with the pink Fin-s. Then another wave of snot killed everything.
      Dawn, the third day. I'd only played with fish so far and now it was time to catch one. When I got up I went to Alexi's pond with the bubblegum Fin-s. I cast it off on the first cast, was beginning to fear a curse, maybe the big fish, maybe the ghost. I went back to break down camp while Alexi jumped in to catch some bass.
      "Perchman, something hit me, I'm not good... I'm not alright, I need to head back"

      "Copy that Castro, I'll meet you back there."

      I still had to catch a fish. "Perchman, I threw up in my scupper hole"
       Well, that's something.
      After three days. Alexi laid down to die in the swamp, saw his end in the picking pecking hunger of the shore birds. He was caught up in a sensation of sinking deep into the black microbial muck, it closing over him after, a slurrious darkness, dimethyltryptamine would flood his spine and fill that darkness with light for a radiant dying minute. For now he thought of that pelican skull we found at the winter anchorage, saw horseshoe crabs clamoring one over the other and heard somehow despite his deafness the sound of their wet smooth senseless skin's tractions. He could see and hear all sorts of very, very small things. He thought about the wetness of himself from these three days on water, it was like the wetness of being born. He was slick like a seal. He thought about his mother, when she lived in Greece, before he met her, then how he always thought he'd have got run over for not looking both ways at some crosswalk in London, like in the public service shorts they'd play before films there, that always horrified him. He wondered who "they" were after all but quit that thought when he realised that the turn of phrase "after all" was suddenly intensely meaningful. Thoughts of Europe then to thoughts of Germany too, and the neatness of it quieted him and he felt resolved. He thought of these and many things there, waiting to die. He did not know that he was in the throes of extreme dehydration, that all he needed was water, psychosis and vertigo having gained purchase on his mind hours before. So it is a miracle, and still is to me, that he then gathered strength enough to come back from the dead, and to ride his boat on flagging adrenaline back to the living.
After All.




Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Washing Machine, by Alexi

     Steve had a party.  That's the thing most people do on memorial day weekend.  Stay away from the shore.  That's what we do most weekends, and especially on holidays.  Our mutual friend Ross was at the party and he took little convincing to join us for our next surf launch.  Magic Seaweed said the waves were going to be 1 ft, there was no lightning in the forecast, and the bunker were still around.   We were planning to be in the ocean around sunrise, but this time of year first light is really early, like 5:30 A.M.   We were about an hour and a half late.  We would have had to have been passed out on the beach the night before to get there at first light.

no matter how calm it looks, it's good to count sets of waves

 PART ONE: Too Much Bunker

     We were high.  We were high off of Steve's success from the previous week.  We were ready for some even bigger fish.  30lbs is now small, we need a 40lber.   We will do whatever it takes.  We will launch into the ocean right where Humpback whales are breaching.  We will get little to no sleep.  We will float around the ocean with snagged bunker for 6 hours straight with not a single run-off.  And I will eat shit in the surf when I return to the beach.  And I will do it all again as soon as possible.
     After six hours of floating in the ocean among seas of bunker I started packing away all of my gear.  I scoot back and forth to the front of my kayak putting one thing inside, then another.  The moment of admitting defeat.   I  put everything inside of my kayak except for the crate itself and my cheapo kayak light which was stuck in my crate.   I help Ross prepare his kayak for landing in the surf, put his rod in his hatch, and I paddle over to what looks like a good place to land.  So far this year I've had no problems surf launch/ landing, and I was confident this would be no different.  I counted two big waves, and started my decent.  Before I had time to do anything about it, a third wave was cresting onto the nose of my kayak.  I had time to make two strong paddles, then I was underwater.  I was in the washing machine.  Wave/ undertow/ wave/ undertow....I was separated from my kayak.  I noticed quickly that we were moving at the same speed in the same direction.   I also noticed that it was still upside down.  Steve was pretty much right next to me, attempting to get my crate which had become detached.  As he got closer all I saw was a wave behind him and his boat on a trajectory for me, so I shouted something like " SAVE YOURSELF! GET OUT OF HERE!"  Right where I happened to be was a shoal, and the waves were breaking high and fast over it.  After a couple of minutes I was able to catch up to my boat and turn it right side up.   I half walked, half floated it back to the beach, and watched my crate float away.  Steve attempted to retrieve it, but with surf-fisherman's lines in the way, and a ever increasing surf, it was lost.
     We decided it was picnic time.  I was physically exhausted from the washing machine.    We went to the winter anchorage at IBSP, ate a snack, and stared into the wind at the bay.  The wind picked up while we stood there, and we decided to call it a day.   (I learned later that that evening two kayakers were blown out to sea by a 40mph gust, and had to be rescued.)

     I felt like I was well prepared for flipping in the surf, but there's always one more thing to put away, whether it's as simple as a hat, or sunglasses, or underwear.  I lost my crate and light.  I needed a new one.  When we need kayak fishing stuff we go to the Kayak Fishing Store in North Wildwood.

PART 2:  Too Much Water

     Despite a really good plan to drift eels in Oyster Creek Channel and throw poppers on the flats at night behind IBSP, the need for "stuff" steered us towards North Wildwood.  We arrived at low tide.  Stopped by Chris' store.  Bought some rod holders and a light for my new crate, and headed out onto the water.  
     I was drawn towards the inlet with the hopes of getting into some bigger fish riding the beginning of the incoming tide.  It wasn't so. I rode with the tide to try for some fluke between the bridges.  I think the drift was too fast, the wind and current were going the same direction, and my bucktail, though heavy, still wasn't staying in the strike zone.  I gave fluking about an hour, then did what was succcessful the week before: trolled with the current along the sod banks with tube-n-worm.  I had a 24" fish on in a familiar spot pretty quick.
trolling tube-n-worm along the sod banks

     I wanted to keep going forward instead of going back up-current to go over the same ground, so I kept moving.  I had another fish that came unbuttoned soon after that.  Then nothing for a while.  I met Steve out on the flats, and the sun was setting.  I pulled a short bass from a hole on a pink Fin-S with 1/2 ounce bullet head.
     As the sun set I prepared a rod for eeling.  The plan was to eel with the current back to the truck.  Unfortunately, the only action I had was bluefish eating my eel.  Steve had a strong run-off that didn't come to fruition.  With the new moon, and the strong wind from the East there was a ton of water in Grassy sound.  Theories abound, but as for the slow action that night, I think that the bass were way up in the grass taking advantage of the extra-high water, eating small crabs.

     As summer approaches my chances of catching a bass bigger than 28" dwindles.  I wonder if I've been doing something wrong?, but in the end I can't help but think that with all of our exploring and experimenting and the extra long cold spring....  I might have missed my chance.  There's definitely still bass migrating, and big ones too.  And tons of bunker out front.  So I'm not saying it's over, that would be ridiculous.  In fact it may just be beginning....