Thursday, December 8, 2016

Veterans Day 11/11/16, a basket of Crabs, and onto deer season

Veteran's Day,... Seems to me that Veterans simply ought to have the day off.  Maybe Donald Trump can make that happen.  So in the meantime, as a veteran of the United States Army, I gave myself the day off this year.  And what a great day it was.  November 11, and a sunny 65 degree day- that is hard to beat.

I got the jon boat out into the impoundment around 12:15 pm.  As usual, it was windy.  So, windy, one battery for the trolling motor, I didn't go far.  Turns out I didn't have to.  I picked a nice straight stretch with a wide enough area and a deep enough bottom, and set my two anchors fore and aft.  Threw my turkey neck baits all around the boat, and around 1pm it as game on.  For the most part, by the time I got one line in it was time to pull in another.  The crabs were really nice, big and heavy, and about a 50/50 male female mix.  Not being allowed to keep the females, I kept them aside in a cull basket.  The Jimmy basket was about 3/4 full by 3:30, and that was enough. 

I took the crabs home the next day and was very happy to have my favorite crab eating buddy help me attempt to demolish them- my 88 year-old neighbor Miss Pat.  We put a pretty good dent in them too.  We have a great arrangement- I supply the crabs and she brings a few beers.

Fast forward to the following weekend, at which point I started my 17-day vacation.  Making a stop at WVU to watch a football game, I headed to Elkview, West Virginia.  My buddy from college has welcomed me the last couple of years to come hunt the opening couple of days of deer season on his property. The first morning was cold and crisp, around 28 degrees.  As I sat in the stand that morning I was treated to a decent buck cutting across the hillside just in front of me.  And fortunately for that buck, I quickly raised my 30-06, got him in the cross-hairs of my scope and without any hesitation pulled the trigger and,..... missed. Unbelievable.  It was an inexcusable terrible shot.  I rushed it and I did everything wrong.  He bolted and I never got another opportunity at that or any other buck in 2016.  Luckily, later that day around 4pm I spotted a nice doe far down the hill from my stand.  It was a decently long shot (~125 yrds?) and through many tree limbs, but I had killed one there the year before and felt that if I took my time I could repeat the success.  Well, time was something I had plenty of with this deer.  She kept her body behind a tree for at least 15 minutes, but I knew exactly which was she was headed.  She took two more steps which put her lungs directly in my cross-hairs.  This time I was plenty ready and very prepared.  I pulled the trigger and the shot sailed true.  Score- meet for the freezer!  The next day was perfect, and colder, but no deer were seen.  My time there was over.

After returning home for Thanksgiving, frying the turkey etc, I next departed on the 27th for Deal Island.  Plan A was to hunt the week and return home Saturday Dec 3.  I saw a small doe on Monday morning but passed on a shot as she was really small.  Tuesday and Wednesday were warm, up to 70 degrees Wednesday, and no deer were moving or feeding. I did not see another deer until Thursday morning..  So, Day 4, wanting another deer, when I saw one I immediately took the opportunity for the harvest.  If it's brown it's down was my mantra at this point.  In hindsight, I wished I had let this one go too.  But I didn't, and deer #2 is now in the freezer too.  Having to return to work, the family, and the real world, I won't get another chance until the two-day season in January.  Until then!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

October 29, 2016- Rockfish

I finally found a spare day in between my business traveling and everything else going on in my life to get the boat out again on Tangier Sound.  This late in the year, you never know when it might be your last shot.  As I crossed the Deal Island bridge on a sunny and relatively warm Saturday morning, the winds were completely calm- a.k.a. "slick cam". Two and a half hours later at target launch time 1030, it was blowing 15-20 mph out of the southwest.  This was indeed forecasted, but it was supposed to be a little bit later and a little less intense.  As I exited Wenona harbor and had a look at Tangier Sound, I made a judgement call not to proceed across to South Marsh Island, where I had caught plenty of fish 2 weeks prior.  As it turned out, this was a very good decision which I'll get to in a bit.

Plan B was to cut back behind Little Deal Island (a.k.a. Lil' Island) and troll the endless banks around Lil' Island and the back of Deal Island.  With high tide at 1:45, there was at least plenty of water to troll my swim shads.  It wasn't until about an hour later and well into the troll on back side of Deal Island that I finally had my first fish.  I had a couple of hits before that, and was puzzled as to why they let go.  Anyway, fish# 1 was around 18".  Heading back toward my old croaker hole in Law's Thorofare, I hung another fish, the first keeper at 20", right at the mouth of the creek drawing out of the back end of Pinky's.  Focusing on this area for several more passes, I caught two more fish, the larger being about 19".  Heading back toward port, I hung the last fish not far from here, and this one was the largest at 21". 

I was astounded to find deep pockets in the trough that comes out of the Thorofare, and was equally surprised to see fish stacked up in them, suspended just above the bottom.  I got my jig rigs out and worked it for a few minutes, but the increasing winds and narrow channel to work in made this very difficult.  I'll try this again however.  I never did get to use my new top water popping cork rigs, but I've got these ready for future use.  Anyway, I was planning to troll all the way back to port.  However, winds had picked up by this time to 20-25 mph, and I was dealing with 3-4 foot seas in the shallow water of the Manokin River.  This was no fun, so I concluded fishing efforts and focused on just trying to stay dry the rest of the  way back in.  Once I got back behind Lil' Island, I was protected from the S-SW winds. I can't wait to do this some more.  I've never been a big fan of trolling, but there is something cathartic about it, something very relaxing.  All i need now is more time.  Time, precious time,....

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Finally, back on the Bay- Oct 14-15, 2016

After traveling for business 4 out of the last 5 weeks, I couldn't wait to get back on the water.  This time things started with my first attempt at crabbing since spring.  Unfortunately, since it was October I was restricted to electric motor only in the impoundment.  This limits my range, with one battery.  Note to self- bite the bullet and acquire a 2nd battery for next year.  Anyway, gorgeous mid-70s sunny October afternoon.  Water was a little low in the Dames Quarter reservoir, and rather clear.  I was frustrated to watch the crabs swimming past my baits without being very interested.  Crabbing from 1-3:45 yielded about 13 decent crabs.  Maybe next time.

Saturday was magical in Tangier Sound.  Winds out of the west at about 5 mph, I set up two trolling rods and pulled my sassy shads in avg 4-6 ft of water around South Marsh Island.  Started at 11AM on the northeastern side of the island, I was frustrated by grass fouling the lures and no fish.  Things changed suddenly once I rounded the north end of the island and started hugging the massive and highly contoured northern edge of the island.  It was pretty much one rockfish after the other. After 8 total, I called it quits.  Four were keeper eligible(>20 inches), while the other four were 18.5-19.5 inches, very close.  

One noteworthy thing was the boiling mass of baitfish being mauled in 3 ft of water by schools of rock in one of the coves.  Oh how I wish I had my new popping cork rigs which I used a few weeks back in North Carolina (Oriental) to catch this nice 38-inch red drum.  I'll be ready next time. Although, trolling through this feeding frenzy was fruitful too.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

More wind, end of summer, Hermine, and Labor Day

I had really hoped to put some serious fish in the freezer in the latter part of August.  So, my final August opportunity was the 19th and 20th.  It was also a chance to hopefully show some good fishing to my oldest son and his fiancĂ©, whom I had taken out back in late June and gotten skunked.  Friday 8/19, a bunch of wind and 3 hardhead in the cooler.  Saturday, more wind (although not as bad) and we did put a few more fish in the cooler.  It’s not even worth going into a lot of detail, other than on Saturday it really was a mix of species- with hardhead, spot, kingfish, and sea bass all represented (not to mention my favorites- the skate and toadfish).   So for the weekend, 7 fish in the cooler.  Hardly worth the effort, but at least we did make it over to the tiki bar in Rumbley, which I had not been to all season (I usually sneak in there for a beer at least once a year).

Fast forward to Labor Day weekend.  So, if you have been reading this blog you probably know that Labor Day is the biggest weekend of the year on Deal Island.  A Homecoming of sorts, culminating in the Skipjack Races on Monday.  I’ve been enjoying this weekend down there since I was a teenager.  There are bands to be heard on Saturday and Sunday, and also a parade on Sunday which begins at the school right next to my camper.  And for most of the last several years I’ve been fortunate enough to ride on a skipjack for the Labor Day race, which I just LOVE LOVE LOVE.  These old dredging vessels are so gorgeous.  Anyway, this particular weekend was in peril from the get-go, as a major tropical storm/minor hurricane named Hermine picked this weekend to emerge from the Gulf of Mexico and shoot up the east coast.  Storms like this really have opportunity to create havoc on a place like Deal Island, where most inhabited property is at best 3 feet above sea level.  Friday, 9/2 I ventured out in my boat in what was supposed to be 12-15 mph winds, ahead of the storm.  Yeah, more like 20-25 mph easily.  Once again, I’m bobbing up and down in my 17 ft center console in 3-4 foot seas, trying to find bottom with 4 oz of weight on my rig.  About 30 minutes of this and I was done, as the wind was not subsiding anytime soon.  Below is a pic of the much calmer sunset.

Later Friday night, the serious wind and rain came in, and Saturday was a sure wash-out.  After jetting back to DE to watch the WVU football game with wife Candy, I returned to the island, and “improving” weather conditions.  By this time, the weekend festivities on the island were in serious jeopardy.  The captain of the Skipjack I had hoped to ride on had cancelled on spectators in the interest of safety, the concessions at the harbor were cancelled for Sat., and it was uncertain if the race would proceed at all.  Sunday morning rolled in and it was still breezy, but sunny and things were looking up.  Took a drive over to the harbor, and Capt Stoney (Skipjack Minnie-V) informed me that everything was a GO.  That meant my annual fish-fry in the yard was on, and I had to start getting food ready for hungry parade watchers.  Got all my fish, soft crabs, and oysters breaded, then fried up just in time for the start of the parade.  Many of the folks in the neighborhood like to stop by and have some fresh local fried seafood (featuring croakers from my summer’s bounty).   After about a 5-minute parade it was all over.  Later, I made contact with Captain Art Benton (Skipjack Helen Virginia) and confirmed that everything was a go for the race and I was going to be able to have a ride.  I appreciate these Skipjack captains so much for welcoming a non-Islander (ok so I’ve got one foot on the island) to be part of this annual celebration.  Check out the pics below.  We didn’t win or place, but we did make a good show and it was an honor to be aboard this skipjack for the race.  Next Saturday is the Skipjack 5k foot race and I will be giving it my all.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Aug 5-6, 2016: Lots of wind = Few fish

Been on the computer far too much at work lately, so I'll make this brief.  As I've explained previously, when I plan on heading down to the camp for a couple of days of fishing, I really have a small window to get it done. And at this time of year, it almost has to coincide with it being late in the day.  As my luck would have it, both of these days had forecast of windy conditions.

Let's start with Friday the 5th.  Blowing 15+ out of the SW.  I managed to catch a total of 6 decent croaker drifting one mile south of buoy 12, on the east side of the channel.  The wind and incoming tide made for a really fast drift.  But not as fast as the southerly wind pushed me on the 6th.  This was ridiculous, and no fish (well except for one) was able to see the bait long enough to get hooked.  I worked it hard too, for 4 hours plus, and moving to several locations off of Wenona.  And of course, the wind was forecasted to increase with approaching dusk, only to actually do the exact opposite. So, I got to watch a nice sunset from a beach, with my toes dipped in calm water.

I had planned to turn it around and go again the following weekend, but forecast is for even windier conditions so that is not looking good.  This summer has been a real challenge at bottom fishing, more so than any in recent memory.  Of course, I'm always dreaming of that next time, when the fishing is sure to be better,....... So until then, here's a bit of video from the last trip.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Whacked them again, July 21, 2016

You know the old saying about "striking while the iron is hot"?  Well, that's exactly what I set out to do.  Heading into a "short weekend" (one where I needed to be home on Saturday), I jump started this thing by bailing out of work spur of the moment on a Thursday afternoon.  By 3:30 I was in the middle of Tangier Sound off Wenona, ready to coincide with the peak high tide.  With a steady light breeze (5-7 mph) out of the SW, I was pulling a nearly straight west-to-east drift with the remainder of the incoming tide, drifting slightly north too.

Going strictly with squid now, I picked up a few croaker in the first 2 hours.  What was immediately noticeable was the larger size, as these fish were falling in the 11-13-inch range, with one at 13.5".  And boy were they fat too, mostly females bulked up to spawn. At 6 pm, 2 full hours into the outgoing tide and finally a slight bit cooler than the 92F I was fighting earlier, the fish turned on like magic.  It was basically one right after the other until i hit my cooler limit of 25, at which point I had to stop.  Oddly once the bite really turned on I caught the fish at all depths, from 32-62 feet.  For the first two hours, I caught the first 8 fish exclusively in the 42-50 ft range.  Note to self,...

The next day held forecast of wind 12-15 all day, with forecasted increase after 5 PM to 20 mph.  So, despite the now 95F heat, I put out around 1:30-2 PM, ahead of the 4:30 PM high tide.  Wow, I found myself fighting 3-4 ft seas in my little 17ft center console.  I took quite a pounding too for several hours before I finally headed back to the creek behind the island and anchored in order to save my spine. Unfortunately this move did not bear fruit either. With one fish in the cooler, darn near heat exhausted, and with the prospect of increasing wind, I called it a day around 5:45.  At about 7:30 that evening I began to regret my last choice, as the wind and seas laid down to about 5-7 mph and 1ft, perfect conditions for an evening fish.  Oh well,... the forecast is often the best info you have to go off of for making key decisions, and I had no reason to doubt this one. My Windfinder App is usually pretty accurate. Not so today.  Looks like I'll spend the next 2 weeks dreaming about and planning for my next opportunity.

Oh, and by the way I've decided to begin referring to the much-maligned croaker as "Silver Drum".  I believe that will garnish a significantly higher level of respect for the fish, don't you?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The fish FINALLY show up, July 16-17, 2016

I have never EVER had to wait until mid-July to simply begin catching fish- but this was THAT year. Well, the croaker finally arrived and without any further delay let me tell you the details.

Friday July 16 was hotter than the hinges of hell.  One of those 92-95F July days with stifling humidity. So how that I actually used my bimini top.  Along with me was my cousin Darko. Well, he's not actually my cousin but I'll claim him as such.  Darko had never fished with me, and also had never caught hardhead. We launched around 330PM, it was calm waters and oh did I mention it was HOT.  We started on the west side of the channel out of Wenona, where I had so much success last year.  We picked up a couple of fish right away.  The falling tide was pulling us straight down Tangier Sound (north to south), and it was quick drifting, to just 1/4-1/2 mile north of buoy 12.  We caught almost all the fish in 34-40 ft of water. The water temp was 85F, a full 7 degrees warmer than a few weeks prior. Squid was the bait of the day, and we used almost a whole box. We fished until nearly sunset, and put 50 fish in the cooler- 49 croaker (one shy of our collective limit) and one kingfish.  The croaker were all in the 10.5-12 inch range and nice and plump.  Only tossed one fish back in the water. Darko seemed to have a blast. I had mounted my Chinese GoPro clone on the center console and captured some cool video of Darko catching his first croaker.  If you have an extra 5 minutes, have a look.

Saturday was a different animal- overcast and breezy out of the south.  Because the temps were cooler and thunderstorms were forecasted for later in the day, I opted to fish starting at high noon. Launched and tried the same spot as the day before.  Caught 3 right away, then nothing.  Moved down to buoy 12, nothing.  Noticed there was a charter boat about 3/4 mile south of buoy 12, so headed down there and began drifting.  With the outgoing tide and a southerly wind.  I drifted perfectly due east, which was fine.  Caught fish starting in 50 ft and they continued down to 42 ft, at which point I had to move for a new drift. This went on for quite awhile and I ended up putting 22 croaker on the cooler (one kingfish too).  Same as yesterday, only one throwback but these fish were a slightly smaller class, 10-11 inches period. Here's a weird twist- caught a pretty decent size shark (sandbar shark?), about 2 1/2 feet.  Not sure what to do with these, if they're good to eat or what or even if you're allowed to keep them.  Anyway, he had a mouth full of teeth and I wanted no part so I cut the hook and said "adios". Wind picked up  and it got rough as snot.  Finally left at 5:30 PM because it was so rough I was no longer able to set the hook, despite still having frequent bites.  I can say that next day (Sunday) my elbow actually hurt from catching so many fish and holding a rod so long.  Hoping to sneak back next weekend for a Friday fish, but have to return Saturday due to a commitment : (