Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Everything is Edible" By Alexi

     My friend Bernard is working on a tall ship that is passing through New Jersey from New Orleans.   It's called the Amara Zee, and right now it's docked in Bivalve, New Jersey.  It's a Thames River style sailing barge.  It doubles as a backdrop for theater performances.  You can read more about it here: Caravan Stage Theater Company.  Bernard's the cook.  He also holds a deep-seated Louisiana based belief that everything is edible.
Steve admires the Amara Zee
     When I was on tour with my band he took me fishing in the Atchafalaya Basin.  The alligators were big.  His kids caught fish, we didn't.  Now I had the opportunity to take him fishing.
Take one:  Steve and I were planning on fishing monday regardless, so without much convincing we had a late start out to meet Bernard in Bivalve, NJ.  I had been there the night before to see the show: It's a politically charged musical about the collection of monetary and political power in the hands of a few and their suppression and oppression of the people in order to maintain their power and authority:  Rife with puppets, aerial dancers, projections, and the apocalypse horse, this play was right up my alley.
    When we arrived at the dock Bernard was there, looking just ever so slightly despondant.  He was going to try to get out of his duties for the day.  He said to come back at three.  We went and picked up some gas and supplies from Wawa.  In the Wawa someone was having an exorcism.   That's a hint as to what kind of town Bivalve, NJ is.
     We were back to the dock to get Bernard, and he hadn't left yet for his shopping, and as it turned out, he would NOT be able to join us fishing that day.
     We launched at a new spot.  The backside of Jenkin's Sound.  We've fished the area plenty of times.  We simply hadn't known about this launch before the old salt ghost told us about it from our last trip out there.  It starts out in a flat, but isn't far from some deeper cuts and creeks.  And so upon getting to the deeper channel I had a short bass on a dapper-dan bass assassin.  I had a bluefish that came unhooked, and another bass; 19" 3lbs.  I saw a large bass by the bank casually feeding on small baitfish, barely minding my presence.
19" summer striper
   Steve was skunked.  The sun was setting.  We made our way back to the flat we had come from.  The water was calm.  The wind had died down as it usually does when the sun sets.  The birds were quiet.  And now I could start to hear the fish around me.  Some bigger sounds were rays.  But other sounds were of fish feeding.  A cast in the right direction and I get a strike on a Zara Spook.  Then Steve hooks up with a bluefish.  Ceviche. We stay a little while longer, but there are no more hook-ups.  Satisfied with our trip we leave the fish for another day.


Take two:  I was back out on wednesday to pick up Bernard and try again.  This time I had a good plan: fish the sunset bite on the flat.  I arrived at Bivalve around three.  Just as we were about to head out we got caught up trying to get a friend of a friend of a friend's truck out of a ditch.  Sometimes that happens.

    At the launch we could feel the wind in our faces.  Because someone ALWAYS has to say something:  A ghost speaks aloud  "You guys are going out in this wind,....brave."
     Bernard threw me a sideways glance.  I assured him we'd be fine.  He'd been on the ship a while and he guessed the wind was about 10-15 knots.  I set him up with Steve's Ocean Kayak Drifter and pushed him off into the wind (He's never kayaked before).  We start off dragging some topwater lures through the water.  This had proven to be effective for me before at IBSP when I know that there are bluefish around.  Now I'm the guide.  I unsnagged his lure from a stake.  I gave him  some tips.  But Bernard will do what Bernard does.  He finds some seaweed and starts eating it.  Then he asked me about eating the mussels.  "They're not the kind people normally eat"  I say.   (He'd already eaten a bunch, I think that this will come to haunt him later in the trip.)  On the lee side of the land the wind isn't so bad and we make our way towards deeper water casting around.  I switch his lure to a Storm Shad.  He was in a foot of water, and I wanted to fish deeper water so I make my way up the channell.  Next thing I know I'm hearing splashes.  I warned Bernard that if it didn't have stripes it was a bluefish and that he should not put his finger in it's mouth.  He had hooked up with a nice school bass.  He wanted to eat it right there and then, but I had to lie to him and tell him it was poisonous so that he didn't.
Bernard and his first Striped Bass

I recall, years ago,  driving around Lafayette, La with Bernard.  He slams on the breaks of the car.  He jumps out and digs around in a ditch by the side of the road.  He gets back in the car and says "Did you see that?"
"No, what?"
"There was a turtle over there.  Delicious!"

Back in New Jersey.  Back in reality.  The sun was setting.  I had radios for us, but they were the shitty ones that barely work.  I heard Bernard saying something, then he disappeared from sight.  I was a little worried about it.  There was a headlamp for him, but it was in my dry-bag.  Fish were feeding along the banks as a I paddled back towards the car.  I was satisfied with the trip, even if I was missing some prime time fishing.  Once within radio range I make contact with Bernard.   The wind was still blowing hard, and so I wasn't so confident about the topwater scene.

Lucky for Bernard there was a port-a-john at the launch.  The free-range seafood caught up to him.  We packed up the car and headed back.
I asked "where's the seaweed?"
"I don't know about that stuff."

On another note, I recently received my first return on a tagged fish from the American Littoral Society.
it appears to have grown 4 to 5 inches in a year

So, the best part is that I also got this great patch to go with it!  Who knew I'd ever become part of a secret society?
secret society fish tagging patch

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Don't Drink the Boat Water! By: Steve Evans

"It felt good to be in the wilderness again" -Richard Proenneke
      We brought some things, We left some things behind, living more with less, in the rough for seven days. On the Adirondack isles of Middle Saranac Lake we set up camp. Foods from the hot fire, away from the places called "town", tuning out the white noise, the quaking asphalt from diesel garbage trucks, all exhaust, hot torpid air, and robot sex. Unplugging the monkey button pleasure escapes of virtual reality, tuning in, to something, a better proximity to the version of reality I like to believe in.
      Part first: Popeye the Sailor Man.
      I look through my pictures, I've got a lot of pictures of fish, and pictures of the sun and moon, rising and setting, enough for the part of the story about great fishing and beautiful mountains, not enough for the whole story. The first part of the story should really be about this guy, I'll call him Popeye, who hitched a ride up with me and my girlfriend Jane. 

      A bunch of Philly folks I know, mostly from work but from other intersecting circles too, in an approximate tradition, loosely agree, to set up on this lake around the same time every year. Some of these go to hike up the high peaks and paddle canoes; some hack around with hatchets or throw knives at tree stumps to blow off steam for a few days off from the city; some go to vacation with their lovely families, and stupid dogs; some just want to drink beer, and fish; and some just want to drop acid, and howl at the moon, it's a different mix each year, always fun, never predictable. Some people reserve sites months in advance, some jump in last minute and catch as catch can. One of these latter, Popeye, calls me up, a day before liftoff: can I give him a ride? Sure. Does he have a boat? Sure. (The camps are only reachable over water.) I say be ready at 6am and he says OK. 

      I was Up at 5am with Jane, I was up three hours before in a tangle of hooks, putting lure boxes together thinking about big northern pike. I knew Pop was at a Phish show, enough said, and I know the guy's a party animal, infamous, among other things, for his habit of carrying a backpack loaded with enough contraband to anesthetize a mule. Popeye has some things in common with mules incidentally, he's big, strong, brown and hairy. People that don't drink would say Pop starts pretty early, people that drink say Popeye's a regular, people that drink like Popeye know the ladies entrance is unlocked at Ray's before the bar officially opens at 8am. I was curious as to whether he'd be ready or what general state the man might be in, at 6am. 
      Me: "How was the show?"
      Popeye: "OUUAAAAAAGHaaaaauu!!!"  "Left the water boiling and passed out, burnt the pot."
      Me: "Hey Pop, this is Jane, my Girlfriend."
      Popeye: "Hey Jane! Nice ta meet ya!"
      Popeye (to me.): "I gotta take a shit, just hit me"
      He had something which resembled a kayak paddle and something which appeared to be a rolled up air mattress and a backpack that smelled like dope.

      Popeye: "Gonna have to pick up a battery power air pump for my raft."

      I had to stop at my folks place in New Hope, your typical idyllic suburban cul-de-sac home, to pick up the big old town canoe and some coolers. My brother's a chef, he lives there now and he has an unbelievable collection of  high end scotches, brandies and bourbons. "Sorry Pops, the good stuff isn't mine to offer" I advanced to Popeye, then I went to the second floor to use the bathroom and heard the secreted sound of glass on slate, I smiled. I was figuring Pops was mixing a discreet amount from each of half a dozen or so expensive bottles into his water bottle. Hey, I figured, gotta feed the monkey. I was ready for a beer myself, but there were too many miles to go yet.

      We drove 6 or so hours, Jane napped occasionally, between we three chatted some about mundane sorts of things, Popeye took big hits of grass and hacked and coughed intermittently. We stopped through Queensbury Mall and Pops got his air pump, Jane and I got fishing licences. 

      So It happened when we got to the south creek fishing access canoe and kayak launch, in the commencement of the ceremonious canoe loading, Popeye found that his air pump device required a twelve hour charge so he'd just have to blow up his raft the old fashioned way. He cracked a Budweiser and unrolled the thing on the hood of my car. Alexi was there, with his family, so it happened, in the midst of loading their boats, and he saw, as I did, the "raft" which Popeye the sailor man was intending to ride to Norway Island in the middle of Middle Saranac lake in the present 15 knot wind, was, in point of fact, an inflatable swimming pool lounger complete with a daiquiri holder and armrests. 

      Alexi: "You're going out in that!?"
      Popeye: "Yup."
      Alexi (to me): "Do you see that thing!? He's going out in that!"
      Me: "Yup."
      Alexi: "You won't be able to steer to which way you're going!"
      Popeye: "Yup."
      I was really enjoying this now. Suddenly I really believed in what was happening. The boat launch was real busy and here's all these soft and stuffy weekend warriors in prismatic, expensive, crisp, store bought synthetics with the tags still on, the stuff designed for discerning, fair weather, outdoor enthusiasts, loading and unloading their sleek racing canoes and thousand dollar sea kayaks with all the top-of-the-line shit; here's me with my grill, dry ice in my cooler, the big old town heaped with gear, provisions all really well thought out, and all tarped down to keep dry; and with my ocean kayak too, with all the bells and whistles, and my multitude of shiny fish lures and bullshit, and then here's Popeye the sailor man, a shirtless hairy cartoon Buddha, standing in a growing pile of crushed spinach cans, heaving lung fulls of air into his ten dollar pool toy and taking breaks to hack and cough and smoke grass in the open air. 

      Me: "Pops, you are the man."
Part Second: Great Fishing and Beautiful Mountains.
       I only travel to the lakes in the Saranac chain once, occasionally twice, per year, almost always in July and/or August. I don't know the seasonal flux of this water in the same way that I'm familiar with Jersey's seasonal changes, but I do know, well by now, the summer patterns, and catch fish with consistency. Since I was sixteen or so, I've annually fished these lakes with family and friends, fishing from Lake Flower in the town of Saranac, through to Middle Saranac lake. I can take actual credit for inspiring the choice of this spot to the first of these Philly migrations, a friend's pre-marriage celebration back in 2010. After that, people just wanted to keep coming back, the place has that affect.
      In my experience, when the weather up there is nice and stable, fishing is concentrated around sunrise and set. Fish in the afternoon you have to work hard for, unless some clouds and rain come through. Summer fishing is like this in many places in fact. The stable summer weather is defined by pressure steadily rising throughout the day and dropping late in the afternoon or evening. Precipitous drops caused by storm fronts, no matter what time they occur, will typically trigger very steady action, and often bigger fish.
      After the first night, camp settled, I slugged an afternoon beer and I figured I'd troll a spinnerbait over to camp Norway, not expecting fish but intending to circle the island to find if the inhabitants were friendly or hostile, and, either way, to have some beers with them. In addition to my curiosity about whether or not Popeye had managed to run aground there and, if so, what general state the man might be in, I also wanted to check in on some other pirates and friends. I packed a few more beers in the kayak and trolled over. Popeye was there for a minute, "Holy shit!!" said he, just fine, in fact getting back in his pool lounger, to town for more beer.
        Barry was there, spirit of the lake, an entity which might take any form which pleased it, though typically a snapping turtle, a bar stool or a bicycle seat under a fine woman's behind, or often a grey bearded human who resembles a black cloud on a coat rack wearing a Hawaiian shirt. I'd gone looking for him and heard his voice first.

      Barry: "Did ya bring beer!?"
      Me (Shouting into the woods.): "I brought about five or six, that I was gonna drink!" 
      Barry: "Well you can just leave those here on the beach and go away!"
      Me: "Am I talking to a tree or am I talking to Barry!?"
      Barry: "Ha Haa! Oh, so you took the acid too?"

      At that, the very tree to which I had been speaking, gave forth the grey statue of a grinning Cheshire cat of a man. I smiled and dragged my boat up on the rock. We stood there, we pirates of the isles, and drank to and among the good mana of the earth. A bird shit on Gerald's forehead and he took a swim, Barry changed in and out of snapping turtle form to scare him. 

      Barry wanted to cast my new shimano baitcaster, and, unexpectedly I found myself giving a casting seminar for him and them, which soon turned to the great fishing sermon on the rock of Norway. After all, I was here to do some fishing.    
      Sunset, we found the surface boiling with bugs and fish. I have a pretty set group of lures I use here, but I always throw a few wild cards in. So Alexi starts getting smallmouth on top, on some popper we'd each picked up in a captain's bag at some dumb tournament.
       I had one too, so tied it on, and was catching straight away, cast, pop, wait, fish on. Hits, hookups and fish in the boat came on almost every cast for the last hour of sunset. It was one of the best topwater bites I have been on, definitely the best topwater smallmouth bite ever, all the fish measured between 15 and 20 inches. We found that bite there nightly, same time and place, on poppers, for the first half of the trip.               
      The coves where we did most of the fishing were loaded with yellow perch, schools of bait which I think were gizzard shads, or smelt were  also abundant, these fed on the mayfly hatches that came on throughout the trip, especially around evening and the bass and pike fed on the perch and other bait. A damn food chain.
      Along with the poppers, classic summer choices worked well, pike and largemouths came on a mix of lipless crankbaits, senko worms, rapala floaters, and spinnerbaits, all of which worked on the smallmouth too. Bigger yellow perch, cannibals that they are, were caught in numbers on perch colored rattlebaits.
      Our most consistent bites throughout the trip were early and late in the day. Afternoon the last day, we agreed to fish for meat, the goal was a classic north woods fish fry over the campfire. Now there was some pressure to dig up a midday bite, we turned to rattle baits, deep water and trolling. Hooked up! Meat for the flames! We kept about seven fish total, bass and yellow perch.

      Alexi went back to his camp as the cloud cover rolled in. I was fan casting my perch colored rattling rapala and catching bass and perch consistently. Now a classic low pressure bite was building, by the time the rain started spitting I was catching quality smallmouth bass on almost every cast. Left them biting to ready the fire.

      I cleaned the fish on top of the cooler and Jane got the fire started. The Papa's came over with breading in a cut open 3.5 gallon water jug we dropped the fillets in, and shook it up. We heated up an inch or more of veggie oil in the cast iron and started those fillets going. That's a north woods FRY! What a fry it was!!

      After, for some reason, we had to fish more. Of all things the bassmaster Tv crew showed up which was unbelievably irritating. I took a leak, drunked a beer and caught some pike.
        Screw 'em.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Weird Trip, July 2 By: Steve Evans

      Summer morning! 2:30 am. Coffee, breakfast, clothes, rods, crate, seat and paddle. Don't wake the woman! A message from Alexi: "ready!", his stuff heaped on the porch when I get there, at 3:00am. How else we gonna get there at first light? The coffee is strong. We burn down empty highway, due south, one stop for ice.
sunset, nummy.
      When we say on here that we're fishing  "Nummy" we are, in fact, referencing a massive backwater "salt-marsh" behind Stone Harbor and North Wildwood respectively, which is largely circulated by Hereford Inlet. There, we usually shove off from Nummy Island itself, final resting place of King Nummy, last chief of the Unalachtigo, as you well know, you who know the great quilt. This launch, for the sake of clarity, we dub the "shitty launch", since kayak and gear have to descend shitty concrete chunks, rip-rap, straw, mud and sod bank to the water's edge, and because the drop is strewn with broken glass, garbage, and other artifacts left behind by land based fishermen.

      Now we are beginning to use "Sam's launch". Last week I used the "shitty launch", paddling back, end of day, lightning strikes closing in behind me, I landed close, at Stone Harbor bridge, as a precaution. I'd walk to my car from there, as the storm moved in. A guy, who introduced himself as Sam, saw me, barefoot going, and gave me a ride most of the way. Sam said, "Why'd you park over here and bring your kayak all the way over there?" What can I say. Thanks Sam, I name this launch for you, a hospitable launch, not far from some good water.

      Night before, we looked at the weather, and over the map: Noaa map 12316 part #2 (middle of ocean city to cape may). The wind would come up strong from the south in the afternoon, so we found a new launch that gave us an area to fish out of the wind, and worked into our plans too, since we wanted to start near where we'd ended last trip. This third launch we'll call clam launch, because of the many clams there. When we launched, Alexi said "Look at all these good clams here!", "These are good clams!" and "We ought to take some for bait!"....
sunrise, nummy
       A clammer dropped his gear right there and went off to get his skiff. Few know that some people make their living off the marsh, now, just as many people have done, for hundreds of years. Few think, how thousands of years before that, one of King Nummy's ancient grandmothers, she who would knit the great quilt, which told the story of the Unalachtigo, was born in a dug-out canoe, on the hottest day of july. Back then gasoline was still trapped in the earth along with another family quilt belonging to a family which carries the latin name Limulidae, some of the very oldest inhabitants of the marsh, and of the earth for that matter: the horseshoe crabs. Both those histories are largely burnt up now. Pity.

      Spelled out here, however useful it may be, is the anatomy of a plan. Look at weather (especially wind), look at tide, and look at maps. It is more important for a kayak than for any other vessel, and more important for a fishing kayak, than for any other kayak.

      Going for fluke, we started off drifting, getting small hits on every drift. Alexi got a small croaker. Moved over and around while the wind was still down. Alexi zigged and I zagged. Low tide, I was looking to cut through a creek to a deeper channel. The creek wasn't there at low. Wasn't, barely, it was there. There enough for me to get stuck in it, bad. Don't get out here, sinking, stinking, quicksand, mud, I kneeled on my kayak, poled my way out with my paddle, lost an hour going that way, not fishing, Alexi got two short flukes, and another croaker.                                  
      The wind came up at last, and we worked back over to the lee side of it, crabbers on the bridge were getting dinner. Thought we were done, I shook off a short fluke boatside and figured that was it for me. Once we got into the creek the water was slow, quiet, and easy. I found a hole and got a croaker out of it, nice size too. So we drifted along a little further past the launch. Good drift there but nothing. Thought we were done again, rolled up on the launch when I said "Where's all those clams?" then, Alexi says "Right there under you", the tide had come up, then Alexi: "Let's use clam, use clam pieces on small jigs!", "Gotta work, gotta catch something!"

      Done fishing, and now we were fishing again. Sure enough first drift I'm on, "Woah! This feels like a real fish!"

      "It was my idea!" says Alexi.

      Up comes a one pound croaker, That's a personal best for me, for that species, plus rescue from an otherwise shitty day, felt good. Since this was a meat trip, back late afternoon with fish to grill is success. Thanks to Alexi's hail mary idea, we had another fat croaker for the fire.
      The old man came, just in time, outstretched arms, tanned like a barbecue chip. Said he this, "Know a guy's got a kayak, launches from shell bay boulevard just over there, says he gets lotta sea trout there, just gotta find the holes"

      "Story of my life." says someone, says we all. I guess we got a new launch to try....