Sunday, June 11, 2017

More shallow water action- Memorial Day, and June 9-10, 2017

Quick recap of Memorial Day first.  It was cool and rainy, like most of our spring. I got the boat out once- on Memorial Day, with my buddy Dan.  It was a bright sunny day, rather warm, and we launched at noon.  We fished the waters all around South Marsh Island, using soft crab exclusively. Two rock and two speckled trout, but nothing to brag about.

Fast forward to June 9.  Opting for a change of scenery, I thought we would fish the shallow waters of the Manokin River, looking for speckled trout.  I've heard in years past that a lot of specks are caught here in the spring.  Dan was once again my co-pilot.  We launched at 2pm, just preceding the peak high tide (at Chance).  I knew there was a creek just north of Rumbley, which actually cut back behind Rumbley.  My thinking was that this would be a good place to fish on a falling tide, as the bait fish should be pouring out of the creek, with rockfish and trout ready to ambush them.  Turned out to be a pretty good calculation, as we turned 3 hours of fishing into a pretty good meal. I absolutely love sea trout and speckled trout, so I was thrilled that we could take home 2 decent trout.  Dan caught the larger at 17", mine was 15",  We threw a fair number of sub-14" trout back, in addition to countless small rock.  The next day, I figured we would get out a little earlier and catch some more of that first part of tide, since day before we had started catching them immediately.  Well, as most fishermen know- no two days are the same. The fishing was far slower than the day before.  Notable is that the water was also 3+ degrees warmer, jumping from 73.5 to 76.5 F.  Still we managed to put a 15" trout and a nice white perch into the cooler after releasing a bunch of schoolie rock, so no skunk. Pic is a proud Dan displaying his first keeper speckled trout on June 9.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Shallow water rockfish and magic Fridays- 5/19/17

There is just something magic about Fridays- can I get an "Amen"?  It's typically the end of a long week, and also the gateway to the weekend- that in itself is cause for celebration.  And for me- this was the 2nd Friday in a row where I simply "got it done".  So like many other folks, I'm at work in my office on a Friday morning.  I got the bulk of my work done early, and now I'm looking out the window of my cubicle, amazed at the sun, which has been rather scarce lately.  And finally, the wind had laid down too.  As is typical of many springs here on Delmarva, the wind has blown consistently for over a month, and rain has soaked us almost every weekend.  Coupled with some technical issues with my boat trailer, which I corrected, I had managed to get out fishing on my boat so far- exactly one time. Tic-toc, tic-toc, about 11:15 AM and I simply can't take it anymore.  That's it- the half day was now declared.

I was on the island by 1:30, and had the boat in the water at Wenona by 3:30 (waiting for the tide to flip). A short cruise later (3-4 miles) and I am anchored off the north end of South Marsh Island.  I had previously outfitted my trip with large trolling rigs, until one of my neighbors advised me to put them away, go get my bait rigs and buy some soft crabs- which I did.  After cutting up the first crab and hooking pieces to the bottom rig with 2 ozs of weight, I threw it toward the shore, maybe 15-20 feet away.  I was in about 7 feet of water, just right.  I know that the rockfish cruise this shore looking to ambush bait fish, particularly after the falling tide had just kicked them all out of the creeks, nooks and crannies that spanned the island. After less than 5 minutes I had my first strike and it was game on.  I could see how the fish were going to bite today- picking up the bait and slowly cruising with it, providing me ample opportunity to power-set the hook.  I was hoping for speckled trout but I'll settle for rockfish as a nice consolation.  This pattern went on for probably an hour and a half, it never slowed.  I put some nice fish in the cooler, threw many more back overboard, and then I noticed it,... Yes, the clear signs of a distant storm forming west of the Chesapeake Bay.  It was an all too familiar sight, and I knew my time was probably short.  Turning on my marine VHF I picked up the NOAA weather station, and they were reporting a really vicious storm threatening the mouth of the Potomac. Great, exactly due west of where I was sitting.  By this time, the storm was visibly growing on the horizon.  Next, I pulled up a radar app on my phone, nearly amazed that I had any signal at my location (usually I don't).  Wow- that was one focused, tight and ugly storm- and it was definitely headed my direction.  Having been smacked by a waterspout a decade before, I had learned my lesson and knew it was time to bail.  And my timing was good- I had enough time to zip back, trailer the boat, get the boat back to the yard and unloaded, and call my wife, just before,.... BOOM!!! The storm hit, and it was a doozy. Until next time.  I'll likely be looking for rockfish, speckled trout, or maybe a drum. Hoping the croaker arrive soon too.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Crossing an item off my bucket list- Spring Gobbler, 2017

In 2013 I decided to finally try my hand at turkey hunting.  Unlike deer hunting, this is not a sport that I had opportunity to learn from my friends.  Rather, it was sort of "figure it out as you go along". I already had the basic tools. A box call my Dad had given me years before. A full camo 12 gauge Remington shotgun I had actually won by raffle. And some camo clothes.  However, I didn't understand turkey's behavior where to find them, or how to call them in to get a close shot.  This all slowly began to change through the next several years.  I began reading on-line about turkey hunting, reading articles, watching videos.  I also spend some time in the woods, under the guise of turkey hunting but hardly any threat to our local turkey population, even with a loaded shotgun.  My wife thought I was out doing anything but turkey hunting, when actually- I was trying. And I was definitely learning.

Things really opened up for me this year. It finally started to click in terms of habitat, and I made some changes to at least put myself in good proximity to turkeys, and lots of them.  First day of the January 3-day season, I managed to call another hunter right up to me. Scary thought actually, both of us armed and wearing full camo, and he didn't even see me. However, I realized I was getting better with my calling. Second day of January season, I repositioned to a more remote area, and this time managed to call some birds in to about 125 yards out- out of range but now I was hooked.

Spring season rolled around, and I got out once in April for two days.  This time I saw birds both days, and both times it was two hens and a gobbler. But again I was not able to coax them in close enough for a shot.  Then the magic day arrived- May 12.  I got out into the woods plenty early- 5:10 AM and was surprised to see the day already breaking from night.  I hastily made my way to my spot- about a 1/4 mile from where I parked. Almost immediately I was hearing gobblers in front of me, behind me, and to my left. I'm working the call pretty hard.  At 0645, I spot 2 hens and a gobbler probably 350-400 yards away- I had to see them through binoculars to know there was a gobbler in the threesome. Was it the same threesome I saw in April? Maybe,... I continued to watch these birds for the next hour and a half, and then suddenly something changed.  The hens started running my way in response to the yelp calls I was offering.  And they were yelping back as they ran, with the gobbler hot on their trail.  I kept calling, mixing in some clucks with the yelping.  And they continued right at me.  Finally, the hens are within 50 yards with the gobbler about 15-20 yards behind them, and I start to mentally prepare to take the shot.  I was in my gillie suit and pretty well camouflaged, plus I was hiding behind a small cedar tree, sitting on my camo bucket.  I knew that I would have to break my mannequin-like motionlessness, stand up and almost instantly sling some #4-shot lead at the gobbler. The hens continued closing in until they were literally 10 yards away, with the gobbler 15 yards behind them.  They were so close and I was so amped up, I knew I was shaking.  And then it happened,... It had to happen right there, not a moment sooner or later.  I stood up and raised my shotgun, previously resting in my lap but already with the safety switched off. As soon as I had the front sight on the gobbler's head, which didn't take but a split second, I pulled the trigger, and BAM! The gobbler started thrashing all around, and 10 seconds later it was all over.  I had dreamed of this moment for years, even before I started turkey hunting.  It was a great feeling, and one certainly worthy of being on my bucket list.  

Mr. Gobbler was huge.  I didn't get a weight, but he was quite a load to carry in one hand on my way back to the truck.  I can say that he had an 11 1/2 beard (which is pretty long), and a sharp spur measuring 13/16".  I think I'm hooked, and I can;t wait until next year.

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.