Archive for the Fishing Stories Category

Living the Dream in Tennessee

Posted in Fishing Stories on May 8, 2011 by castaway

Hop in the old Carolina Skiff with myself, Bryan and Todd on a trip up the fertile rivers of Tennessee in search of trophy striped bass during the height of the spawn. Grab a beer, sit back and enjoy the ride!

A cold front was approaching as Bryan and I set out for the drive to Tennessee. I checked the radar an hour earlier and a thick line of rain stretched from the Great Lakes to Louisiana and moving rapidly into our area. It was going to be a wet drive north. We were on our way to meet up with Todd, our trophy striper guide in Tennessee. Bryan and I were looking forward to a couple of days of trophy striper fishing in the fertile waters of Tennessee in the spring. We were hoping that we planned our trip between fronts and the weather would cooperate for us. The water temps were just about perfect according to Todd and we would probably be arriving at the tail end of the spawn. The striper spawn is a narrow window in which female stripers gain weight in leaps and bounds feeding and nourishing their eggs for the spawn. A female striper can drop somewhere between a half million and 3 million eggs during her spawn. The weight of the eggs alone is rather large, plus the fact that she eats constantly until she spawns out. These big girls can put on some serious pounds during this period and it’s a great time to catch a trophy striper.

Bryan and I left the Atlanta area around 2 pm and figured we would arrive in the area for a late dinner. The drive was brutal, battling an approaching cold front through the winding roads of Tennessee. Bryan and I are retired military folks with Bryan being a former Air Force fighter pilot and myself being a former Navy technician on fighter aircraft. We never found ourselves lacking of conversation. As we drove on in the relentless rain I worried that too much rain would stain up the rivers where we would be fishing. I worried that the rivers would be stained and full of debris. Murphy’s Law was always a factor when it comes to my fishing trips. When I plan these fishing trips in advance I’m always at the mercy of the weather. I’ve seen times where heavy rains have blown out the rivers and fishing the rivers becomes non-existent due to water levels and swift currents. About halfway through the drive I got a reassuring call from Todd saying they had caught a few nice fish before the wind and driving rain arrived and he thought the next two days should be good.

As we drove on we hit areas that the rain was heavy and times that it was very light. We finally made our destination and after a bite to eat at a local restaurant we were checked into the hotel and watching the Weather Channel. The front had picked up speed and was moving through the area quicker than anticipated. It looked like we were going to be fine; just a little post front wind to worry about.

Todd called promptly at 6 am and let us know where to meet for the launch. We were up and ready to go. The morning dawn was cold and windy on the back side of the front. The temperature was dropping as the drier, colder air moved into the area. We made it to the ramp in the back of a cove at the lake and sat in the parking lot waiting on Todd. Before long a Carolina Skiff being pulled by a pick-up appeared at the ramp. It was Todd, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to guide us on our quest for a trophy striper. I had met Todd earlier in the year at a Tennessee Striped Bass Club meeting in which I was a guest speaker. I was very impressed with the club and it’s members, a great bunch of guys and some very very knowledgeable fishermen. I knew about Todd from before the meeting and followed his progress as a very good guide in the area. It just so happened that I found an opportunity to make it up to Tn. during the spawn and Todd had an opening to accommodate us. After pleasantries, Todd gave us the skinny on what we would be doing during the day and we got familiar with the boat and tackle selection as we got ready to launch. The wind hadn’t kicked up across the lake yet and before long we were on our way headed for the river to catch our bait. Our plan was to catch a few dozen Skipjack Herring and use them to catch bigger stripers. In order to catch these Skipjack Todd had equipped us with light spinning gear with small crappie jigs. We ran up the river a ways and before long Todd brought the motor back to idle for our first drift for the Skipjack. Todd explained that the Skipjack generally traveled in groups, most times along the shoreline. We would keep the boat pointed up stream and slowly drift and cast to the shore.

Before long all three of us were chunking and winding as we drifted back towards the lake. It didn’t take long and Todd hooked up. Bryan and I threw into the same area and in a instant we were tripled up on jacks. We lost one at the boat and put two in the tank. Quickly we got the jigs right back to the area and pulled another jack in the boat before they moved on. I’ll tell you guys, if you’ve never fished for Skipjack to go catch stripers, you’re missing out. It’s like having big fun and then going on to having bigger fun. These jacks were anywhere from 1-3 pounds in weight and they put up a good fight on light tackle in the current. Stripers love them and the jacks provide the stripers with a very high fat and protein diet while fueling up during the spawn. Soon we were drifting through another pocket of fish and little by little we filled the tank with the jacks that we needed for the stripers. It was getting close to midday as we made our way back down the river and across the main lake only to go up another river with a little less current. The river was running at full pool and the afternoon sun cast shadows just beyond the overhanging trees along the waters edge. To me those shadows looked like a great place for a big fish to hang out and ambush a wandering Skipjack. We dropped the trolling motor and broke out the big boy gear. We ran the big 8/0 hook through the big Skipjack’s back and tossed him in the water to hook up the planer board. A planer board is like an outrigger at water level. They are small and effective for planing the hooked skipjack out away from the boat and into the shadows of overhanging trees. The outside planer ran just outside the shadows of the overhanging trees and the inside board ran closer to the boat in deeper water.

The wind had kicked up and the sky had not yet cleared from the passing front over night. We had a few problems fighting the wind to keep the boat from drifting us off course. The scenery in the area was just beautiful. As we moved along the shore I was in awe at the many ancient rock formations and the shoreline carved out by many many years of water flow through the river. There were a few blow downs along the shore and I knew from experience that a blow down, or in layman’s terms, a dead tree that has blown or fallen into the river, is a great ambush point for a big striper. We approached an older blow down and the Skipjack got very nervous. The Skipjack pulled hard just behind the planer board fleeing the blowdown area. The jack suddenly stopped, rolled over sideways and stiffened up just before a large boil and shadow appeared just beyond the lifeless jack. The jack was playing possum. I lifted the rod out of the holder and unlocked the spool on the big Penn reel. I fed some slack to the jack as the big striper studied the bait. Todd said to pull the bait a little and when I did, the striper made a final swirl and picked up the jack. The striper started moving off with the jack and I slammed the bail forward and layed into the big fish. Upon feeling the cold steel of the hook the big fish made a run for the deeper channel of the river. The drag was a bit loose and the fish made a turn back to the blown down. I thumbed the spool to turn the fish away from the submerged tree but it was too late. I felt the rub of a branch on the line and I knew the fish had buried into the tree. We moved the boat over the area and gave the fish some slack in hopes he would swim out. He was buried too deep and when I re-applied pressure to the fish the 50lb test finally wore through just as I saw a flash of silver in the tree below us. The fish had outsmarted us.

We re-composed ourselves and baited back up to continue our pull up the river. Todd set out a downline with a 6 ounce weight and one of our smaller jacks and dropped it just behind the boat in a few feet of water. It was our idea of a weighted transom bait. We watched the planers and joked back and forth and jawed about fishing stories from the past. I watched as the downline jack rod started bouncing wildly and the rod doubled over, popped back up and doubled over again. Todd grabbed the rod and hollared “Who wants him!!” I was just behind Todd and after Bryan waved him off, I grabbed the rod in a nano-second and was hooked up with my second fish. It was heavy, but it felt a little unfamiliar. It didn’t pull like a bigger striper and had a quicker rhythm pulling on the line. I forced the fishes head up, feeling confident about the strength of the 50lb test. The fish finally rolled at the surface and I saw the familiar grey whiskered shape for a brief second before it disappeared into the depths. It reminded me of catching the huge Blue cats on the shore of the Mississippi just south of New Orleans some twenty years back. It was a big cat; when we finally hoisted the big cat on the boga it was 24 pounds. We took a quick snapshot and we were back at it.

One thing that I’ve learned about big striper fishing is that generally you’re fishing for one or two bites a day. If you put 2 fish in the boat it’s considered a successful day. We felt good about hooking up on two fish by noon but as luck would have it, we went into a slump. It wasn’t for a lack of fish. We had several blow-ups by bigger fish over the next few hours but sometimes the big stripers, in my opinion, become very territorial and sometimes lash out at a bait without eating it. Around mid-afternoon we moved to another spot, much like the first with shadows lining the edge of the shore and the hanging trees. Shortly after putting the baits out, one of the planer boards shot straight to the middle of the river and the board released from the line. The rod was next to me and I grabbed it out of the holder and pulled hard on the fish in an effort to bury the hook and turn her head back towards the boat. The resistance I felt wasn’t the kind of the resistance I’d felt before from bigger stripers. She gave up too easy and I knew the fish was probably a spawned out fish, more than likely fatiqued from the spawn. My suspicions were correct as we lifted the the 23lber up on the Boga. She may have weighed 30+ before spawning out. She was a good fish to warm up on and after a quick snapshot she was released back to the shadows. We had one big Skipjack left by early evening and the sun was setting as we decided to make one more pull back up the shoreline before calling it a day. Todd was frustrated at the amount of blow-ups we had on our bait without getting good hook-ups. Here’s a picture of what our biggest Skipjack looked like shortly before he met his demise.

Todd hooked up our biggest jacks for the final pull, up wind and up river. I sat in the front of the boat and looked back at the planer boards and thought of what a great day it was. Plenty of action, including some awesome skipjack fishing. The blow-ups created by the big stripers were something to witness. Watching the big blow-ups made me very optimistic about tomorrow’s trip back out to this area. The glare of the sun made it almost impossible to see the light colored planer board. From what I could see, the board stopped, which indicated a change in the jacks swimming habits. Todd yelled “Blow-Up”!!! I strained to see the board through the glare and realized it was on the front rod where I was sitting. I saw the jack roll over on it’s side in an attempt to fool the big striper into thinking he was dead. The jack was locked up and the fish was no where to be found. Todd waved his arms and let out a hearty curse at the big fish for spoiling our hopes. I still had the rod in my hand as I laughed at Todds frustration. I felt a hard jerk on the rods tip and knew the fish had returned. For the next few minutes the fish nipped and pushed at the crippled jack. It was frustrating to me that the fish would play a game of cat and mouse with the jack. The jacks head would bob up and down out of the water like he was doing some kind of Skipjack death dance. The fish moved the bait back into the glare and I was working by feel with the rod. Todd was at a different angle and told me to pull hard to take the bait away from the big striper. When I did, I couldn’t see the result through the glare but I felt the fish inhale the jack and in a second I was setting the hook on a running fish. This was a bigger fish. She wasn’t giving ground but taking drag at will.

I’d like to say that the fish was tearing drag at breakneck speed or pulled off hundreds of feet of line, but with 50lb test, I was pretty confident I could put some serious pressure on the fish. For that reason she didn’t run far. I kept the constant pressure on the fish and worked to gain and get her to the boat. In my opinion, the quicker the fish is caught and released, the easier it is on these big spawning females. You can easily kill a bigger fish by prolonging the battle. The first time she rolled Todd said it was a nice fish… in so many words. I knew she was big but I wondered if she was bigger than the 38lber I caught up here a few years back. I honestly couldn’t tell. When she came to the surface a second time she had company with her. Another smaller striper came along side for a brief moment and then disappeared back to the depths. Todd and Bryan assured me that the fish was over 38 pounds. Once I saw the big belly on the fish I knew it was over 40. Here’s a little video to explain what happened next. There is a couple of bad words during the video so I wouldn’t show this to the kids.

Before we released her we took a length and girth measurement and her stats came to 42 inches in length and a girth of 29 inches. She swam off after a little coaxing and last I saw she was headed back to the shadows. High fives and fist pumps followed and we were all elated at our success. I had a new personal best striper and we had another day to work on Bryans new personal best. It was after 7pm and we were exhausted. A solid twelve hours of fishing was behind us but it only felt like a few short hours. It seemed like everytime I looked at my watch another hour or two had past. It was time to call it a day. The sun was setting behind the trees, we were getting tired and Todd had done more than his fair share to show us a good time. We parted ways at the ramp and agreed on the same time, same place in the morning.

When Bryan and I stepped out of the hotel early the next morning we were greeted with record low temps. It was 37 degrees at sunrise and when Todd called to check on us, he said he had an inch of ice in the bottom of his boat. When we met at the ramp we were a bit discouraged at the layer of fog over the lake. It was thick and we decided to wait a few minutes before heading up the river. The warmer water and cooler air temps made for a tough situation to navigate through when heading up lake. We took it slow and hit pockets of less fog till we hit the river. It was thicker in the river so we decided to drift a little ways to see if we could locate any Sikipjack. It started slow but we finally hit our stride and pulled in a couple of dozen jacks of various sizes over the course of the first few hours. We had a few mongo jacks in the 2-3lb range and we decided to hit the same area as we did early the day before.

I was banned from touching the rods since yesterday I caught all the fish as Bryan was a humble rider. Today was Bryans day. His personal best was 24 lbs and we felt very optimistic that his record would be shattered. I took my place in the front of the boat as we made our first drift. This time we put a big jack straight out the back on a float and our 2 planer board baits running parallel to the shore. It wasn’t long until we had our first action. The big jack on the float took off for another zip code with a large wake in tow. The float dissappeared in an instant and Bryan grabbed the rod. Bryan pulled hard as the big 8 foot rod doubled over. Bryan keeped the fish in front of him as the big fish paced back and forth 30 yards behind the boat. Todd warned Bryan that there were trees in the area of the fish as we tried to reposition the boat for a better angle on the fish. Bryan pull hard and tried to impose his will on the fish but the fish found the strcture she was looking for. The rod went to dead weight and our fears were confirmed as the line snapped and the rod came back to neutral. Another loss to the trees. She was a big fish and before the line break, I thought for sure Bryan had his 30’s fish. It wasn’t meant to be and soon we were baited back up and moving along. We joked and cut up for the next couple of hours. Every once in a while we would see some sign of fish in the form of a tremendous blow-up or a nervous jack trying to escape what was lying just beyond the shadows. It was getting close to lunch and Bryan was still on the hook for a fish. Finally, as we were talking about making a move a fish slammed the jack on the float behind the boat and the float was headed south at a high rate of speed. Bryan snapped to life and grabbed the rod. Once again Bryan faced the fish a kept the pressure on her. She stayed up on top as Bryan worked the fish to the boat. Todd brought the fish in the boat and Bryan was on the board with a solid 27lber.

She was another spawned out female. During the height of her spawn she was a much larger fish, possibly a mid 30’s fish. We decided to make a move and hit the spot the 46lber came from the day before. It was early afternoon by the time we got the baits back out. Bryan and I decided to make this a much earlier day as we knew Todd was tired and we had a long drive back to Georgia. We worked hard over the next couple of hours trying different tactics and bait presentations. We had our share of blow-ups but getting a fish to commit was not in the cards. We decided to make one more pass before calling it a day. It was getting into late afternoon and we were getting a bit desparate for one more fish. These big stripers seem to take a break through the afternoon and they don’t get cranked back up till early evening. I feared that would be the case on this day. We pulled out all the stops and put our best baits out for the final pull. If it was going to happen it needed to happen soon. As if on que, our outside board skidded backwards as the big fish hammered the fresh jack. Bryan grabbed the rod and layed the hook into the fish. The fight was on. We knew it was a bigger fish by the way she ran towards the deeper water. Bryan kept the pressure up and the fish slowly gave ground and eventually pulled along side of the boat. Todd snatched the fish from the water and soon the big fish was hoisted with the Boga. Bryan had his 30 pounder. The big girl weighed just over 30 and provided more high fives and fist bumbs.

Bryan was pleased with his fish and we both knew it was time to go. We all felt the same way. Pulling in the baits to end the day was like pulling teeth. It’s the most painful time of the day. Bryan and I both left with a great feeling. Our experience is one of those fishing trip neither of us will ever forget. I’ve been on a lot of fun fishing trips, and fishing in Tennessee with Todd and Bryan was one of the best fishing trips I’ve ever been on. Todd was a gracious guide and really over extended himself to show us a good time and put us on a trophy fish. Fishing the spawn is a small window to getting a trophy fish. Stripers are an elusive fish and a worthy advisary for fishing. If you’re ever in the mood for a trophy striper or maybe some great fishing action give Todd Asher a call from Shadnasty Guide Service (www.shadnastyfishing.com/)865-789-1991
Tell him Jim and Bryan sent you. You’ll have a blast!

Man Camp

Posted in Fishing Stories on December 3, 2010 by castaway

No women allowed! That was the first rule of Man Camp. It was a standing rule that had been in place for the last 10 years. The reasons for this rule we’re written in blood over the years. It didn’t matter to me. In my opinion Man Camp was no place for women in the first place. Man Camp was a private fish camp located deep in the marshy bowels surrounding Barataria Bay, south of New Orleans. The camp itself sat atop a small island in the middle of a small brackish lake only accessible by boat and heavily guarded by the only full time occupants, 2 large german sheppards. Not everyone could come to Man Camp, it was by invitation only and not many folks got that invitation.
It was the mid nineties and I had finally left California and headed east to start my new tour at a small air base south of New Orleans. I was looking forward to the change of scenery and I knew that Louisiana was refered to as the “Sportsman’s Paradise”. That sounded like my kind of place.
Shortly after arriving at the airbase, I bought an old 14 foot flats boat from my dad up in Oklahoma and brought it down to Louisiana to fish the marsh. My job in the military was slowing down a bit just after the first Gulf War and I had a lot of down time to fish the marsh for reds and specks. I had a few buddies who had been stationed there for a few years ahead of me and they showed me the ropes for fishing the marsh. After a few trips out with them I started going more and more by myself and learning as much as I could. I learned the habits and feeding locations of reds during the different seasons. I learned tackle and tactics, as well as what to look for when looking for signs of actively feeding fish. The most important thing I learned over a few years was navigating my way around the massive maze of channels that were integrated into the marsh. A friend of mine from the base, Eric liked fishing the marsh as much as I did. We got together every chance we could and hit the marsh in search of reds. We knew of three or four different spots where we could catch reds just about every time we went. We meet up with another fisherman, Jerry, who was in our squadron also. He had bought a Sea Ray walk through ski boat after fishing with us for a few months. Eric bought an old aluminum 14 jon boat, so myself, Jerry and Eric all had our own boats. We either fished with each other in one boat or we each took our own boats out and made a wager on who would catch the most fish. We had a lot of fun. Jerry met a kid who had grown up in the marsh and joined the Navy to see the world, only to be stationed 3 miles from his birth place. His name was Trent and he knew the marsh and redfishing like the back of his hand. Trent was tall and thin and a true marsh rat from way back. Trent and Jerry fished together a lot. They got to be good friends and soon after Trent introduced Jerry to his neighbor, Mr. Tom. Now Mr. Tom was an old retired Navy Chief from Louisiana. He was a big man, well over 6 feet tall and well respected around town and in the political circles. He was the type of man who was always looking for a reason to smile. He was good natured and came to be a good personal friend of mine.
Jerry, Trent and Mr. Tom would have a few beers from time to time, usually in Trents back yard while throwing horseshoes. One ofternoon Mr. Tom ask Jerry if he and a few of his buddies from the base would like to come out to his Camp out in the marsh for a weekend. He said that the camp slept 14 comfortably and had a 100 foot fishing dock complete with 12 boat slips, running water, heat and air and a big diesel generator just in case we lost power. Yep, power. Mr. Tom had the Parish electrical company run electricity to the camp, 8 miles across the marsh. Mr. Tom had friends in high places. Jerry passed the invitation on to myself and Eric giving us all the details about camp. We all cordinated a weekend when we could take off work early on Friday and get to the camp at a decent hour. Well, like any well laid plan in the military it all went to hell in a handbag. Eric and I wound up getting the whole day off but Jerry and Trent couldn’t make it out till the evening. Mr. Tom was going to ride with Jerry in the late afternoon and Trent and a couple of his buddies were bringing up the rear later after dark.
Eric and I decided to take his boat since my motor had been acting up. We loaded up the gear in the boat early Friday morning and Eric and I set out to fish the marsh all day and meet up with Jerry and Mr. Tom at 4 pm. At the entrance of the lake from the main canal and follow the power lines to the island. Since Eric’s boat was just a bit small for running a marsh lake in adverse weather, we planned to have Jerry cut a wake in the Sea Ray and we would follow close behind. I don’t know that I’d ever attempted that manuever before but we figured it would work. As it turned out, the weather was adverse. It was late fall and a cold front was passing through the day of our departure. Fishing was good for Eric and I as we boated several smaller reds and a few short specks but nothing worthy of the Igloo cooler. The weather was a little windy at times but when you’re fishing canals sometimes you can find canals that are fishable in the wind. We found a canal with a small grove of trees that made for a good wind break and we decided to anchor and fish the bottom while waiting on Jerry. Eric like to have the occasional cocktail and pulled a fifth of Seagrams Seven out of the cooler and made a big tumbler full of 7 and 7. We chatted and caught a few rat reds and hard heads as the afternoon past. The front was getting closer and it started raining as we pulled into the canal out of the marsh to meet Jerry. We could see his Sea Ray coming up the canal from our position. As he came by we pulled in behind him and we were off. Jerry’s Sea Ray was a 21 footer with a Volvo inboard. Eric’s little flats boat had a little Merc tiller motor. Needless to say Jerry had to lay off the throttle for us to keep up. When we got to the mouth of the lake at the power lines the wind was kicking up some large chop across the water. We all looked across the lake and then each other. It wasn’t good. Jerry yelled over “what do you guys want to do”? We both wanted to go but Eric and I both knew there was going to be an element of danger involved. I asked Eric how he felt about it and he ask me if I wanted to drive the boat. He knew he had one to many of those 7 and 7’s to handle the boat in those kinds of conditions. I was pretty good with a boat, have had on most of my life. I looked at it more as a challenge than anything else. Yes, there was an element of danger but I felt confident we could pull it off. It wasn’t going to be easy because there was driving rain as well as a good beefy 2-3 foot chop on the water. It was like a 2-3 foot wash tub to be exact.
I told Jerry we would try it. I told him not to get far ahead and keep a close eye on us in case we decided to bail and head back. I switched places with Eric and grabbed the tiller. I got behind Jerry and we entered the mouth of the lake. Jerry sped up and we tried to stay about 50-100 feet behind the Sea Ray. We were soaked in the driving rain. Eric had moved to the center seat in the jon boat after getting hammered by water coming over the bow in the front. He was facing me and hunched over covering his head. His body actually shielded some of the rain as I squented hard to keep Jerry’s boat in site. Sometimes I could see Mr. Tom looking back and watching us from the passenger side of Jerry’s boat. I’ve been it some tough conditions on the water, but this was by far the most dangerous position I’ve ever put myself in when it comes to boating. The weather was brutal. It was just about all I could do to work the tiller in the driving rain. With Eric in the middle sometimes the bow of the boat would rear back when taking a wave. The boat would slam back down onto the water. I shuttered everytime the boat would slam down. We had aother mile or so to go when I started hearing a popping noise. We were sitting in ankle deep water in the boat so I reached back and pulled the drain plug. We had a lot of rain in the boat. We kept on going, getting battered by waves as we went. The popping noise continued and it seemed we were taking on water. I decided to just keep going. I knew we were getting close and pulling the plug helped drain the water as it came in. Eric was hollaring saying that the bottom seam was splitting and the popping was the loose rivets giving out as the boat slammed hard in the water. I told Eric we didn’t have time to worry about the leak, just pray that the boat doesn’t fill up before we get to the island. Jerry and Mr. Tom had no idea what we were dealing with back in the jon boat. They were battling waves also. The lake was dotted with shallow reefs and oyster beds so navigating around these areas could be tough. I kept checking the bottom of the boat and the depth of the water. I felt good about our chances. I could see a dark shape in front of Jerry as the island and the camp came into view. I was relieved. We just needed to beach the jon boat as quickly as possible and drag it ashore. We pulled the boats to the leward side of the island and Mr. Tom pointed out a little area of the island to beach the boat. I circled the boat on the leward side of the island to drain more water out of the boat before beaching. I got a run at the mud bank and ran the boat up as far as I could in the mud. Eric and I drug the boat up on the bank and unloaded the gear to get out of the rain. As we walked up to the camp, Jerry and Mr. Tom were coming up the dock from the boat slips. Mr. Tom stuck out his hand and said “my name is Mr. Tom and welcome to Man Camp”. And so it began….. It was the start of something that has stuck in my mind for years. Mr. Tom’s camp was surrounded by water with heavy pillars below the camp and a good 10 feet from ground to the floor joists over head. There was a 100 ft dock on the front side of the cabin facing the bay with 6 boat slips on either end of the dock and a lighted cleaning station on the dock. There was an old rusty barge that was half sunk in front of one end of the dock that served to cut down on the erosion of the island from heavy tides and the numerous storms the island had weathered. Mr. Tom’s two German Sheppards greeted Eric and I as we surveyed our new surroundings. The two dogs were introduced to us as the only two full time occupants of the island and I knew from being around dogs, these two dogs would tear a man to shreds had he dropped by unannounced. These dogs were big and very intimidating but tolerated us without getting too friendly. Mr. Tom gave us the tour of the camp and we found our bunks for the night. Once the gear was brought in and stored we headed out to secure the boats for the night and prepared for a long night of rain and rum. Trent pulled into one of the slips as we were checking the extent of the damage to Eric’s boat. “What happen to the boat” Trent asked as he was walking towards us. “She’s broke big time” Eric said. Trent looked at me and just shook his head and laughed. I didn’t realyy know Trent that well until that night. I guess you really get to know a person over a few gallons of rum and a few late night poker games. By the time we left the camp it was like we were old buds. Trent was much like me, we both loved to fish and you could see it in our eyes as well as the dedication we put into our fishing. I was like a sponge when it came to fishing the marsh. I observed and absorbed everything I could possibly learn on every fishing trip. Trent was the same. When it came to fishing he was very serious and very good at it.
Trent opened the ice chest in the jon and looked at Eric and I with a disappointing grin. “No fish for dinner”? I laughed and told Trent that I would take care of that problem in short order, and grabbed my spinning rig. On the far end of the island there was a small channel or “cut” as we called them. During tidal movements and wind drive currents, those small cuts can hold redfish in an ambush mode at or near the entrance and exits of these areas. My absolute favorite jig for redfish was a 1/2 ounce lead jig head in a hot pink or bubblegum with a soft plastic cockahoo minnow in a black over pearl color. It was a deadly combination for reds and the occasional speckled trout or flounder. As I made my first cast with my trusty bait I thought I could have set myself up for embarassment if I failed to catch a fish or two around the island. As I fan casted the mouth of the cut I thought about how cool the camp was, complete with a big brick woodburning fireplace in a western style living area with leather sofa beds and a couple of leather lazy boys. The dock out in the front had big sodium lights pointed towards the water to attract bait, shrimp and fish. The fish cleaning station was large and had lighting and a plug in for my electric filet knife. We were set.
I worked my way around the cut and scoured the shoreline. If you’ve never walked the muddy areas of the marsh, I have to tell you, it takes practice. The area we were in was rich in the mineral sulphur, and the smell of the sulphur leeched it’s way through the ground, to the surface. The surface was very soft and the mud was very grey, very soft and very smelly. One thing I learned quickly was to stay away from clear muddy areas. There were big clumps of marsh grass and all around these clumps were big clear exposed muddy areas that served as landmines for sinking up to your waist in mud. If you have never experienced sinking up to your waist in mud, take it from me, it’s no fun and getting out of that situation can wear you out very quickly. Once you do free yourself from the mud, you have to carry around the stench of caked on sulphuric mud which attracts flies and those little jewels of the marsh called “noseeums” or knats. They are not your run of the mill knats but the little biting knats that left little red itchy welts on your skin. They attack any exposed skin and they attacked in numbers, not just one or two. The best way to navigate the marsh is to step on or around the big clumps of marsh grass and stay away from open muddy areas.
Just as I was getting ready to move to the other end of the small cut I saw my line quickly move from the shoreline where the jig had just entered the water. I very quickly realized something had the jig and was headed out of the cut. I set the hook on the running red and the fight was on. I worked the fish to the shore near my feet and pulled a 5-6 pound red onto the muddy shore. Finally, a decent red to add to dinner. The rain started again and very quickly the cut was filled with large droplets coming down in blowing sheets. I placed the red up on the bank in the grass and went back to work in the same vecinity as my first catch. A lot of times if you find one redfish in an area, others may be close by. In this case, there was a big ole muley trout nearbly. My second fish caught from the same area was a nice 4-5 pound speckled trout. Campared to the bulldog style pulling of the redfish, the speckled trout was far more active and wiley on the hook. A speckled trout has a head shake that can throw a hook in a heartbeat. I can honestly say that I have lost just about as many specks as I have caught. From experience, I knew to keep good pressure on the fish and get it in as quickly as possible. If you give a big trout the chance to escape the hook they will. My philosophy was the less time in the water, the less time for escape.
I piled the big trout up next to the redfish and went right back to work in the same area. I could see Jerry and Trent back at the camp on the front deck. They were watching me through the rain. Jerry gave the universal “any luck” signal with a wave of both outstretched arms and I walked back over to the fish and held up the red and trout for them to see. I could barely make out the sounds through the driving rain but I was fairly certain there was a positive comment judging from the thumbs up from Trent and a quick bird from Jerry. I laughed and went back to work. I felt like I could get a few more as I worked my way down the cut towards the exit. Another red jumped on my little cockahoo jig and much like the first, a nice sized fish to put with the others. The redfish in this area were deep and rich in dark gold and copper colors with randomly placed black dots around the tail area. They were strong, thick shouldered and a relentless advisary for the casual angler. As table fare, they were excellent. I had learned different ways to prepare redfish from the locals and each dish was nothing less than delicious when it came to redfish. I heard voices coming from the marsh behind me towards the camp and I turned to see Jerry and Trent coming my way. They stopped by the pile of fish on the bank and I walked over to chat with them. They didn’t have any tackle and Trent ask if they could take the fish to the camp to filet and prepare for the grill. “Heck ya, have at em” I said to Trent. Trent explained that he had a pretty good recipe that involved a mustard paste on the whole filet side of the fish and cooked scales down on the grill. I soon learned that Trent was a master at grilling redfish as well as another way to prepare redfish. After I let them know I’d be up to the camp soon, they departed for the cleaning station and the much dryer camp.
It was very near sunset and I had worked my way to the exit of the cut and scoured the area at the tip of the island. I looked across the marsh in the direction we had crossed the lake and I saw the power lines heading towards the east and I could barely make out the distant flames of the refineries along the Mississippi near the mouth to the gulf. The rain had tailed off and I could see a bass boat coming towards the island along the power lines. I knew Trent was expecting some friends from his squadron and I figured that was them coming in right before dark. Every once in a while the wind would carry the scent of charcoal and lighter fluid down to me on the shore behind the camp. I had one more sizable redfish for the grill when I called it quits and headed back to camp. I could hear loud voices and laughter coming from the front deck and I knew we were in for a great evening. As it turned out, I knew Trents buddies from our softball league, but we didn’t really know each other except for pleasantries during softball games. They played for a rival team, and I knew them by their abilities to hit the ball. Ken was the biggest, well over 6 feet in height and broad shouldered. At the plate during softball games I knew Ken as a ringer home run hitter. He was the reason we were in a “3 home run rule” league. His job was to crush the ball over the fence with his bat. He was also the coach of our base All Star team and I was trying to make the All Star team. It was great to have Ken in the camp. Steve was Ken’s friend and the owner of the bass boat they rode in on. Steve was a little older that most of us. He was another softball player and pretty good for his age.
As I made my way up the steps to the deck the party was in full swing. Trent was working the grill up on the front porch and just about everyone was standing around with a cold drink. I could hear talk of crossing the lake in the weather earlier and I knew Eric was sharing our story with the group. I had another redfish to clean and it was getting dark fast. The sun had set across the lake and I could see a clearing sky of orange and blue looking west off of the dock. It was a great feeling, hearing all the laughing and chatting as I dressed out the red filet for the grill. I wanted to try Trents redfish recipe and I had the perfect filet to put on the grill. Jerry came down to the dock with a cold drink for me and we chatted about our game plan for the morning. With Eric’s boat crippled and unusable, it was ging to be a bit cramped with the three of us in Jerry’s Sea Ray. Trent and Mr. Tom would fish out of Trent’s skiff and Ken and Steve in the bass boat. The three of us had fished out of Jerry’s boat before so we knew the drill. Jerry told me that Ken and Steve had brought Mr Tom a gift from Puerto Rico. It was a full case of Puerto Rico’s finest rum freshly flown in a day earlier courtesy of our local P3 Orion Patrol Squadron returning from a parts run to Puerto Rico. Jerry and I discussed our strategy for the nights poker game. The way it stacked up was Eric, Jerry and I were fighter squadron guys and the rest of the guys in camp came from the P3 patrol squadron. That could make for an interesting poker game, especially if we added a little of that imported rum.
Dinner at the camp was nothing less than five star. We had plenty of fish, cooked several different ways and side dishes that would make Long John Silvers jealous. Everyone wanted to know about fishing locations in the morning and the best tackle to use for the day. I was really interested to see a few new places in the marsh and I looked forward to the challenge of catching fish in unfamiliar waters. Darkness fell on the old camp as we cleaned up after dinner. There was no lack of help for the clean up, as we all knew what a gift it was to be at the camp and we definitely wanted to leave a good impression for Mr. Tom. A few of us smokers went to the front deck overlooking the water for a after dinner smoke and some fishing chatter. The big sodium lights were on along the outer edge of the long dock and the water was lite up in small half dome shapes cast out by the lights. Off in the distance, across the bay I could see a shrimp boat working the surface with it’s butterfly nets and familiar navigational lighting. I don’t think a beer and a cigarette ever tasted better than that moment in time.
If you’re not familiar with the Navy and it’s ways, your probably not familiar with how important “Sea Stories” are to us. By this, I mean there is an art to telling sea stories and there is also a pecking order to the stories told. The more senior members who told their stories got a little more attention and respect. Sometimes there was a lesson to be learn from some stories so us younger guys listened intently to the more “Salty” or as I like to call them “Crusty” sailors. Generally the fighter squadron guys had the best stories and as a seasoned fighter squadron guy with 12 years experience in sea going fighter squadrons, I had a few stories myself. Most sailors these days will rotate from 3 years on a sea duty tour to 3 years on shore duty tour. In my case, I was back to back to back to back sea duty tours in fighter and fighter attack squadrons. It would be unheard of today but I really liked jets and I was good enough at my job to stay in the fighter community way longer than I should have. Most folks never get a glimpse of what it was like in a full blown fighter squadron as a maintenance man with a bunch of young men and women who are very good at what they do and what they do is charged up with adrenalin during every waking hour. When you work in an environment where mistakes can cost you your life or limb, things are pretty serious. There is an intensity that starts just as soon as you walk out onto the flight deck or tarmac and it doesn’t end until you collapse from exhaustion at the end of the day. Fighter jets are big and dangerous. They suck like giant vacuums in the front and blow like cat 5 hurricanes out the back end. They make enough noise to drown out every sound around them which takes away a persons sense of sound while working around them. If you put your foot in the wrong area, they can smash your foot into something that makes road kill look palatable. Loss of life was not uncommon in my early years in fighter squadrons. A lot of lives lost were caused by work related stuff but I think just as many were lost to alcohol related incidents. I can remember my first detachment to the Nevada dessert with eight of our brand spankin new F-18 Hornets. We had just received our eighth jet and went to Nevada for our first training mission in the hot Nevada dessert. By the time the 2 week detachment was over, I had lost every penny I had to gambling on my first trip to the casino. I had also met a girl who had a big boyfriend and I promptly wound up in jail with a fat lip after fighting and resisting arrest. It was all in fun until the last day when one of our pilots crashed one of the tax payers 50 million dollar aircraft into a shallow water lake in the middle of the desert. He augured in upside down and never had a chance to eject. Probably didn’t even see it coming from the vertigo of flying over water. That was one of my sea stories for the evenings poker festivities.
Jerry and I walked back into the camp and we began making preparations for some poker.

To be continued……

A Story of Canadian Pike and Bears

Posted in Fishing Stories on November 28, 2010 by castaway

It was the early summer of 1988 as I recall. The movie Top Gun had been released a year or so earlier, and I had just reported to a Navy F-14 Tomcat fighter squadron at Naval Air Station Miramar in southern California. It was a great time to be in a fighter squadron. We were all posing as some version of Tom Cruise or “Maverick” parading around the country with our F-14 Fighter Jets. It was prior to the first Gulf War and the mood of the military was light and relaxed. Our squadron traveled within the states mainly doing training missions with the aviation Marines, Air Force and performing at “dog and pony” air shows across America. At the time I was in my late twenties, 6 years in the Navy and a family man trying to ride the straight and narrow in a very vast and crooked environment. This was during a time when our fighter pilots would paint a red star by their name on the side of the aircraft. The red star signified that they were a “Mig Killer” or they had shot down a mig fighter jet. They were few and far between but we had one in our squadron and we were all very proud of that red star and our “Mig Killer”.
The Canadian Air Force had just formed their first F/A-18 Hornet fighter squadron and requested that our F-14 Tomcat squadron come up to Canada for a couple weeks to join them for a little ACM (Aircraft Combat Maneuvers) or “dog fighting” in old school military lingo. The Canadians offered us full per diem pay which meant we would be eating Canadian steaks for dinner every night. Our squadron motto was “Work Hard and Play Hard” and for a bunch of us fighter guys this invitation had “Play Hard” written all over it. Believe me when I say we were a bunch to be reckoned with. We lived in search of the adrenalin rush we got from launching fighter jets from the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier, in a 35 knot head wind, in the dark, in the rain, and in very foreign places. We all ran wide open 24-7 when we went on the road, chasing that adrenalin rush where ever we went. Among other things, fishing was our gig. There were four of us in the squadron that were avid fishermen so as soon as we got the word that we were headed to Canada the four of us got busy looking for fishing spots in the area and gathering information on bait and tactics.
Our C-9 transport plane touched down in the early summer evening at a small Canadian air base outside of a town called Cold Lake, in the northern province of Alberta. One thing that will always stand out in my mind was the welcome we got from the Canadians as we departed the C-9. As I walked down the ladder departing the plane, at the bottom was no less than 30 Canadian Air Force personnel standing by 4 or 5 big barrels filled with Labatt Blue on ice. Each one of us was greeted with a hand shake, a welcome and an ice cold beer. Now, I’ve had a few great greetings in my life, I’ve had a lei and a kiss in Hawaii, a kiss, a fruity drink in Jamaica, and I even got a tooth knocked out entering a bar in Rosarita, Mexico, but this was jam up here. How many times is a fella greeted with a iced up 55 gallon drum filled to the rim with Labatt. Now this was a welcome!
You know, it’s a funny thing, how fishermen will seek out and gravitate to other fishermen. It didn’t take long before we were all checked in to our quarters and at the bar on the base chatting about walleye and pike with the local Canadians. It took many many beers, several shuffle board games and my personal favorite, snooker games, but we finally came away from the nightly festivities with the fishing 411. I’ll say one thing for those Canadians, they can put down some beer. We thought we were heavy hitters when it came to “a casual cocktail or two” but these guys don’t play.
One of the Canadian Air Force guys offered to take my buddy Les out in his boat on Lake Primrose fishing for walleye and pike. We all figured it would be a good way for Les to do a little recon mission and maybe find a good place for us to shore fish on this Lake Primrose. Lake Primrose straddles the border of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The lake was probably an hours drive from the air base and according to the locals, a great lake for pike and walleye. One thing we always liked to do whenever possible was catch enough fish to have a cook out complete with a fish fry. Hopefully we could get enough of those tasty walleye filets to feed the squadron folks. We also wanted to try some pike fishing and maybe cook up a few pike to add to the cookout.
We had a weeks worth of work ahead of us before we could get to the lake. This is where the “Work Hard” part of our motto starts. They say it takes 72 maintenance man hours for a F-14 Tomcat to fly one flight hour. We worked around the clock with twelve on twelve off shifts and as an electrician on the F-14, it was greasiest nastiest never ending nightmare that would re-emerge day after day. The Tomcat was like a box of chocolates. A box of chocolates that leaked gas, oil and hydraulic fluid by the gallon and caught fire on occasion. On a positive note, it was the most bad ass fighter jet in the sky. During the week we changed engines, repaired wiring and changed parts day in and day out. The pilots would chat about teasing the Russians into getting into little aerial skirmishes designed to test and observe their tactical capabilities. Believe it or not, we used to paint a Russian phrase on the side of our aircraft that when translated read “watch your ass” or “check you six”. This was all unofficial of course; after all we were still in a cold war.
Friday finally arrived and Les and his fishing host left out for the lake as soon as Les was relieved from his night shift duties. I was on the day shift and worked through the day wondering how the fishing was going. When I got back to the barracks Friday evening Les was already back from his fishing trip sitting outside smiling from ear to ear. He said “your not going to believe the fishing today”. Now he had me smiling. Les explained how they had launched and within 10 minutes they were hauling in walleye on bait in a pocket off of the main lake. They were done by noon and had boated 3 limits of walleye for our cookout. They had also caught a couple of nice pike and gave Les instructions on exactly where we could fish from the shore and get a few walleye and some nice pike. Les told us how to get our temporary fishing licenses for Alberta and he also borrowed us a full array of tackle for our trip. Our new found fishing friends had set us up good for our fishing trip. They recommended that we fish the afternoon and evening bite explaining that the larger pike would move in to the shallows in the evening, pushing bait towards the shallow rocky shore. Since the lake was on the provincial border and we were fishing from shore, we were warned not to cross into Saskatchewan along the shoreline road access. The authorities across the border didn’t take to kindly to foreigners poaching on their lake. We made plans to procure a ride to the lake from one of our little storekeepers who was given the keys to a Canadian van. Everything was coming together. Our plan was to leave out around lunch time and pick up our licenses on the way out of town. We would be on the water by mid afternoon and back out at dusk.
After a quiet Friday night on the town with 30-40 of our closest friends from the squadron, we got a good nights sleep and woke up refreshed and ready to go fishing. Yea right! Anyway, we all survived the night and after a couple hours sleep, several cups of coffee and a few aspirin or “fighter mints” as we preferred to call them, we were on our way. It was a nice sunny day and after getting our license we arrived at the dump off point. The lake was surrounded by trees. Trees everywhere between the road and the lake. We unloaded the gear and gave our driver specific orders to be back to our rendezvous point at dusk. It was I and Les, my old room mate Frank and another close friend Steve. Les was my boss and probably the most responsible of our group. Frank was the youngest, a lanky kid from New York and Steve, from California, was the muscle of our group. He was always the finisher if there was trouble. The four of us carried our gear down the hill and through the trees to a small clearing at the rocky waters edge.
I was using a heavy spinning rig with heavy mono and a old Red Devil spoon tied to a steel leader. Les and Frank used similar tackle with spoons and Steve was using a big top water plug. It was hard to spread out and cast due to the Aspen and Birch branches that hung over the waters edge. We had to wade into the lake and stand in knee high water to make a cast. After an hour of casting, looking and wondering where the fish were Les told us about a big rocky clearing he had seen up lake about a half mile. He thought the guys in the boat had mentioned that it was in Saskatchewan, but it was a perfect looking spot. We had seen a few fish boil but they were way out of casting range and things were looking bleak as we stood in the cold water up to our knees. Since this was our only shot at fishing this lake we were getting desperate and we decided to head up the road to see if we could find that clearing Les had seen on his fishing trip on Friday. The road was a wide gravel road with huge Aspen, Pine and Birch trees lining both sides of the road. We were in the sticks to say the least. At some points along the road the lake would leave our view as the big line of timber was thick and the shore line was a good ways from the road. As we rounded a curve in the road a big sign came in to view. The giant sign stood out like a sore thumb. It was the size of a billboard, weathered and hand painted with bears and fish and other wildlife from the area. The top line read “Welcome to Saskatchewan” and the small letters below read “You are now leaving Alberta”. We stopped along an imaginary line in the road at the border and weighed the risk vs reward of going any further. We were in a foreign country, in the US military and getting ready to break a foreign law. We took a vote and as usual, the odd man out was Les. Myself, Frank and Steve were ok with rolling the dice but Les tried his best to talk us out of it. Les was the type of guy who used logic make his decisions but would reluctantly go along with majority vote even if it went against his grain.
On we went into Saskatchewan watching up and down the road and through the trees for any sign of the lake and the law. After a half mile hike up the road we finally found what we were looking for. A beautiful clearing along the shore of the lake with a rocky shore and plenty of room to move around. It was secluded from the road and we were glad the area was hidden behind the cover of the trees. We spread out and started fan casting around our new found area. Les was the first to catch a pike. It wasn’t very big and we all gathered around the fish to check it out. It was the first time I had seen a pike. My first impression of the toothy fish was that crazy looking flat snout and some very mean looking eyes. We dug an old nylon stringer out of the borrowed tackle box and strung the small pike up at the waters edge. It wasn’t very long after catching the first pike we started noticing more and more boils and swirls about a hundred yards off shore and moving closer by the minute. They were well out of casting range but since we were already wet from wading at the last spot we all started wading out to greet the fish as they moved closer to us. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity of casting, something grabbed my spoon and moved it to the right at a high rate of speed. It took me a minute to realize that a fish had the spoon and was headed back to Alberta. Quickly I thought this may be my only shot at a pike and I loaded up to drive those trebles deep into his boney snout. I set the hook and the fight was on. I could tell right away this fish was bigger than the one we had on the stringer. It didn’t give an inch for the first couple of minutes. I waded a little further out in the lake while fighting the fish and found myself up to the crotch in lake water. After the pike pulled for a while he tried making a run straight at me. I cranked as fast as I could to keep up with the fish and keep pressure on those hooks. As the fish came straight at me I realized a few things, first was that this fish was close to 3 feet in length and just below the surface with his evil eyes and sharp teeth. Another thing that came to mind was that I was up to my crotch in cold lake water and the only thing that separated my nads from the water was a thin layer of material from my jogging shorts. When all of this new information was processed, the charging evil toothy pike beast and I were in a race to see who could reach the shore first. I wasn’t going to let go of the rod, but I was determined to get my boys out of the water. I held the rod in the air in my outstretched hand and ran at mach speed to ankle deep water. I could feel the fish pulling and when I turned around the fish was in some kind of death roll wrapping the line around him as he rolled. I finally dragged the fish up on the rocks and Les came over to help. About the easiest way to handle a pike is to stick your thumb and index finger in the fish’s eye sockets and carry him like a six pack. Les picked the fish up and held him high as we marveled at the size, color and contour. We slipped him on the stringer and went back to fishing. Frank and Steve both hooked up with respectable pike and before long it was wide open. The pike seemed to be everywhere. We would bring one in and two more would be following the hooked fish. They were everywhere around us, swirling and chasing bait. Steve’s top water plug seemed to work for the bigger pike while the spoons were great bait for the smaller pike and the occasional walleye. We had caught 3 or 4 pike a piece and a couple of nice walleye mixed in when someone ask about the limit on the pike. None of us thought we would get into so many pike and none of us knew the legal limit for illegally poached fish in a foreign country while fishing without a license. All we knew is that we were having a blast catching these pike and walleye.
We loaded up a whole stringer of pike and walleye and we dug back into the box and found a length of twine to make into a second stringer. For another hour we were bringing in fish in waves. We could see the sun setting and we knew that we had a long walk up the road to the van in Alberta. None of us wanted to leave. The fishing was just too good. Finally, after loading up a second stringer, Les made the call and we decided it was time to head back. Actually it was past time to head back. We calculated that it would take around 45 minutes to get back to the rendezvous and the sun was sinking behind the trees around us. We knew we would be late and Steve said that he hoped the young storekeeper wouldn’t leave us if we were awol from the pickup point at the prescribed time. He was probably task with taking pilots into town for the evening and wouldn’t stay and wait if we didn’t show. After we chewed on the thought of being left out in the sticks we suddenly had a little extra giddy-up in our step.
The setting sun cast shadows across the road from left to right. Every once in a while we would get a glimpse of the sun setting across the lake through the Aspens. We wanted to get back to Alberta as quickly as possible. We walked up the road and laughed and chatted about the fishing. We would be heroes when we got back to the barracks with this load of fish. We took turns carrying the heavy stringers of fish. As we walked on we started noticing noises beyond the tree lines. It sounded like something large moving as we moved, crunching brush and snapping timbers. We strained our eyes to find the source of the noise but it seemed to be just out of view. The noises would stop as we would stop and listen. Every once in a while we would hear what sounded like moaning from the trees and it didn’t take long for us to realize we were being followed or worse yet, stalked by a bear. We thought that even though we were carrying a nice meal for the bear, we didn’t think the bear would clear the tree line onto the road to challenge us. We continue on watching and listening as we went. The bear continued to follow and we decided that if the bear cleared the tree line into the road we would offer the bear a stringer of fish just before we hauled ass up the road at breakneck speed. Steve, being the protector of the group, finally had enough. He turned a snatched up a handful of rocks and threw them into the trees screaming obscenities and waving his arms. We listened and watched the line of trees. We thought we were rid of the beast and continued on. Within a few minutes the bear returned, only this time he had friends. Louder crashing and grunting came from the trees. I knew we could probably hold our own with one bear but taking on multiple bears wasn’t something I wanted to experience. Our situation was getting serious and we started getting serious about our options as we walked on. There were now at least 2 bears, following on both sides of the road, and for all we knew a pack of Timber wolves may have been mixed in the hungry group. We thought about leaving Frank tied up in the road as a sacrifice but he was too boney and would probably just make them mad. We thought of possibly leaving a few fish in the road, but why give them a teaser. We decided to keep moving, briskly I might add, and hope they didn’t decide to test us. The noise was getting louder as the bears were slowing moving closer to the tree line. We could see the outline of at least 3 good sized Black bears and possibly a cub or two. We reached the Provincial line and hoped the bears would keep their asses in Saskatchewan, but we soon found out that hungry bears have no boundaries. It was getting darker by the minute and we knew it would be long till four crazy sailors and a gang of hungry bears would be very possibly be doing battle over a couple dozen dead fish. If they wanted the fish they were welcome to a few but they were gonna have to come and get em. One stringer was all they were getting, one stringer and no more. We were not going back to the base squawking about catching a bunch of fish only to have a gang of hungry bears steal them from us. That kind of story had BS written all over it.
Two of the bears began fighting in the trees by the lake and we could clearly see one of the bears standing on two legs in a dual with another bear crouched below. The cubs were squalling and bouncing around clear of the bigger bears. We thought it was our chance for a quick exit. I told Frank to drop his stringer of fish because this was getting ready to get ugly. It was only a matter of minutes before their anger turned to us. Steve hollered out as we heard an engine and gravel crunching as a van came over the hill just up the road in front of us. The little storekeeper laid on the horn, gravel flying as he came. He had no idea what was going on in the trees but those horn honks couldn’t have come at a better time. Les pointed in the bears direction and I caught a quick glimpse of a gang of fleeing bears. Luckily the storekeeper knew enough to come on up the road when we didn’t show at the drop off point. He was our hero.
We chunked the fish in the back of the van and headed to a little country store a few miles up the road to clean the fish and grab a beer or two. We needed it after our ordeal. When we got back to the base, we turned the bags of fish filets over to the Canadians and the next afternoon we had a big cookout complete with those Canadian steaks and our catch of pike and walleye, fried, grilled and baked. We were the heroes of the weekend. A few people had a little trouble believing the story about the bear stalking, but the four of us had found that adrenalin rush we were looking for, while walking up the road with our bears in tow. That’s all that mattered. I made a couple of trips back to the air base at Cold Lake over the years and had the awesome pleasure of experiencing the sight of the Northern Lights for the first time in my life on a cold winter night. The northern province of Alberta is a vast open area of wilderness full of lakes teaming with walleye, lake trout and those evil looking northern Pike. I don’t think I’ll ever make it back to that area but the memories we made will never be forgotten.

Picture time: You can click on the photo to enlarge
Frank with his first Pike

Steve and Frank loading up the stringer

Les and his pike

Yours truely, Mr. Sexy with a couple of the evil beasts

A River Trip To Remember

Posted in Fishing Reports, Fishing Stories on October 31, 2010 by castaway

 

            There is usually a time during the fall when the lake is turning over and the fall leaves are blowing off the trees with a strong north wind. When I see this I know that a large group of stripers are starting a migration north to the cooler, cleaner waters of the rivers. Generally conditions need to be right with water temps, water color and water levels, and often river fishing is a crap shoot. Brett and I had scouted the river two days earlier and found warmer dirty water from the recent rains and decided the bite may have moved south because of the water conditions. We fished down lake the day before and caught nothing but smaller stripers. We made the decision to go back up river and take our chances for the tournament day. My partner Chris, the other member of our team had never been up the river and he was looking forward to pulling big baits in the cool shallow river water.

    Launching went off without a hitch and we were on our way up river for a two mile run in the dark of early morning, navigating by moonlight and the tracks I had laid with the GPS days earlier. As my 21 foot Carolina Skiff planed out heading north, I thought back to a time a few years ago when I was doing the same thing, running the river in the dark and ran over a big log floating just below the surface. I felt the log sliding down the hull of my boat and watched as my graph went to 0 feet and flashing. I knew right away the big log had taken out my transducer. That is definitely a sinking feeling first thing in the morning. River fishing without a graph is no big deal if you know the river, but it sure comes in handy to find the deeper holes that the bigger stripers like to lay in. Anyway, that was then and this is now. I learned from that trip to be a little more cautious and keep a close eye out for floating debris, even if it’s by the moonlight.

It was a cold morning on the river with the outside temps around 40 degrees and the water temps around 57-60. The river had a foggy haze just above the surface which made it even harder to watch for floating debris. Chris and Brett were covered and huddled behind the center console as I made the twists and turns through the river channel up to our fishing grounds. We finally arrived right on time and we were thankful to see that no other boats were within site as we dropped the trolling motor and started getting the tackle ready. Our spread was 2-3 planer boards per side with big monster trout on the outside boards and nice frisky gizzards on the inside boards. I like to run a big bait straight out the back on a balloon at about 100 feet and smaller bait out the back just behind the boat.

Once our spread was out, we all grabbed our coffee and started to warm up from the cold water of the bait tank and bait handling while getting everything out just the way we wanted it. The sunrise was a pink and blue glow in the east and the water was like a sheet of ice, smooth with a hint of fall leaves reflecting in the dawns light. Everything was right. You couldn’t of ask for a better morning on the river. The water temp was 58 and we were trolling through 6-8 feet of water. The area we were in had produced nice fish for me before and I was hoping for another successful trip. It was that magical moment of the early morning for a striper fisherman when the planer boards are all out and running smooth over a glassy surface and inevitably someone will say “It doesn’t get any better than this”. 

We were all warming up with freshly poured coffee and a few hand warmers Chris had brought from his last deer hunting trip. We heard a splash and a pop and looked over to the right outside planer board just as a nice striper disappeared after a near miss on one of the big trout. It’s not uncommon to have a striper miss or short strike big bait up river. Although frustrating, I’m an optimist and I said “at least we know there’s one striper up here”. Brett brought the offering back to the boat and saw that the big trout’s head had been crushed. It was a striper alright. A nice one at that. Brett and Chris got busy re-rigging the gear and I watched the trout on the balloon start getting nervous. I moved closer to the rod in the holder and positioned myself to take up the rod in the event the fish nailed the big trout. It wasn’t to be as the fish moved away with a big swirl. It was starting to look good. The inside planer board closest to Chris torpedoed back and disappeared into the depths as Chris grabbed the rod out of the holder. The fish pulled hard against the drag of the reel. Chris kept the rod tip in the air as the fish bared down and as quickly as the fight was on, the fight was off. The line snapped at the hook and the fish won the battle. After a quick re-rig the bait was back out. Break offs are a fact of life. The trick is to minimize the break offs by tying good knots and changing your line and leaders often. Usually when I have a break off it’s followed by another break off. Well, it happened. A fish hit the short bait we had out the back and I finally had a shot at my first fish of the morning. I backed the drag off a bit remembering Chris and his break off and sure enough, I felt the fish pull hard and the line snap up and break off. At this point we were all trying to figure out what was going on and analyzing the point of the break. We knew there were fish to be caught so we didn’t spend much time wondering and got to re-rigging the rods.

The trout on the freelined balloon skittered across the top of the water with a wake directly behind him. It didn’t take long and the fish was on. Brett grabbed the rod out of the holder and worked the fish towards the boat as Chris moved the rods that would get in the way. Soon our first fish was in the boat, a nice 10 pounder to start the day off. The striper was slid into the Live System tube and we were back at it. Chris took the next fish, as the right outside planer board went skimming backwards down river, the fish pulled hard on the Tiger rod. Chris guided the fish through the other lines and within minutes our second fish was in the boat. A nice 12 pounder was placed in the second tube and without delay Chris was fighting another fish while Brett and I tended to the tube wiring. For the next 15 minutes Chris and Brett took turns bringing in stripers and by the time the smoke cleared and the frenzy was over the tally was 6 stripers with yours truly without a fish to my name. Nothing to contribute for me. Every time I got near a rod that looked promising, the fish would leave me hanging. It felt good to have 6 fish in the boat before my second cup of coffee. We had a respectable starting weight and we had all day to upgrade to bigger fish. The three of us felt good about our chances and agreed we were glad we took the gamble of running up the river. As quick as the bite had started, it had stopped. We saw a few fish boil up on our baits but clearly the action had slowed. I told the guys that since it was my boat and I was basically the captain of our jam up team, I wanted to catch a fish. We agreed that the next fish would be mine. After a few more boils and swipes at our bait, we settled in to a long dry spell.

Now I’ve always believed in making my own luck so I had to bear down and make it happen. I knew that most of our fish came off large or medium trout and most of the fish came from the center of the river channel. I pulled in the closest planer board on the left which had a small gizzard in trail. I looked in the bait tank and found the biggest medium trout we had. I baited up with the trout and fed it back out hooking up the planer board 10 feet forward of the bait. The board was back in place and we went back to chatting and watching boards and bait. I glanced over at the board I had just set out and watched as it stopped in place. I thought for a brief second that the trout had found the bottom. In the next instant the board torpedoed backwards and I reached down and grabbed the rod. I felt a strong pull and the fish stripped off a good 30 feet of drag crossing lines as it looked for deeper water and structure. I knew the line was strong on the rod and I just let the fish head up river with constant pressure on the fish. I knew it was a bigger fish by the way it was head shaking and pulling. Nothing huge but I felt like the fish was bigger than what we had. I worked the fish to Brett who was waiting with the net and the fish cooperated and planed right into Brett’s waiting net. We looked at the fish once it was safely in the boat and agreed it was over 15, but less than 20. We culled out the 11 pounder we caught earlier and after a few high fives and chuckles we got back down to business.

We figured that if we could get one more upgrade we might finish in the money. By 11 am a half a dozen boats had run up and down the river in the area we were concentrating on. River fishing is fun and up close and personal but boat traffic can turn the fish off in the confines of the shallow narrow river. For the next 3 hours we ran our baits through holes and flats but it wasn’t meant to be. We pulled in the lines and headed to the weigh-in with what we had. We felt like our weight was respectable, but not a winning weight. The competition was tough and we knew there would be bigger fish brought to the scales. Running back to the ramp and trailering to the weigh-in was uneventful.

As luck would have it, we wound up with the second biggest fish of the tournament and finished 4th in the tournament. I think we all had visions of a first place finish but it wasn’t meant to be on this day. I have learned over the years not to dwell on what could have been, but to look at each trip as a gift. You take what the lake will give you and enjoy the moments you get to spend with friends. That’s what fishing is all about, making memories.

Jim

A Sharks Tale

Posted in Fishing Stories on September 22, 2010 by castaway

 


       Take a ride aboard “The Bill Collector” with Captain Eddie, Captain Hoop and the four of us in search of giant Yellowfin Tuna in the Gulf south of New Orleans. This is our story so grab a beer, sit back and dig in. You won’t be sorry.!!!

                          “Who Dat”! If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times since turning on the radio on my 9 hour drive to New Orleans on the eve of Super bowl Sunday. I was sitting in the International Airport in New Orleans waiting for my son Derek’s arrival on a 7pm flight from Houston. I sat in the terminal and thought back to 8 months ago when I had a conversation with Derek, a Sergeant in the Army, who was then on his forth month of a year long tour in Northern Iraq at a small Army outpost. I knew he was having a tough time with the job he was assigned to. I knew that if I set us up a tuna trip it would give him something to look forward to while working in the sand box for the next 8 months. It was cold outside and the wind was really howling. I was hoping the wind would die down over night and provide us with some calm seas for our offshore trip in the morning. I had talked to our guide Captain Eddie earlier in the day and he assured me that we were looking good for some offshore Wahoo and Tuna in the morning. I had my fingers and toes crossed for good weather. Travelers were coming into New Orleans by the hundreds wearing black and gold jerseys and flashy Mardi Gras beads. “Who Dats” were coming from all directions. The New Orleans Saints were finally playing in a Super Bowl and the city was just about to come unglued. I wanted to get Derek and get on our way to Venice. It was going to be a 2 hour drive and it was going to be late by the time we got to the lodge. I was already tired from the drive and a lack of sleep from the night before. I was so excited about the trip I couldn’t sleep and tossed and turned the night before. I was in desperate need of rest before our offshore trip. My cell phone rang and when I answered it was Fred letting me know that he and his son were checked into the lodge and getting ready to hit the sack. Fred was an old friend of mine from Atlanta and we had done some fishing together in the past. When I planned our fishing trip I thought of Fred telling me he and his son would love to go some day. I called Fred and he said to count them in. It was all coming together perfectly. Another “Who Dat” came from behind me and I recognized the voice right away, it was Derek arriving. He was looking as strong as I had ever seen him and I couldn’t help but get a bit choked up at the site of him reaching out to shake my hand. Thankfully he had nothing but carry-on and we were on my way to the parking garage. We talked about his flight and his family while hustling through the airport. He told me he was starving and the only thing he had in the last few hours was some peanuts and a rum and coke. I knew the perfect fix for a hungry fisherman on the way to fish camp. If you’ve ever been on the migration to Venice, La. you know that stopping by Salvo’s Seafood in Belle Chase is a must. A shrimp Po Boy is just about as good as it gets down there. We chatted about fishing and old times when Derek was growing up and we resided in Belle Chase while I was in the Navy. Derek spent 4 years with me down there and we fished for reds and specks every chance we could get while living there. I was a single parent at the time while juggling a Navy career and raising a young son. We laughed about some of the things we did and times we spent in the marsh. Salvo’s parking lot was just about as packed as it could get on a Saturday night with all the locals loading up on their delicious seafood. I found a spot right up front and Derek ran in to order a shrimp Po Boy to go. I watched him through the window while sitting in the truck and thought of how many Po Boys we’ve ate over the years. Within a few minutes he was back in the truck and we were back on highway 23 pushing onward to the south. I could smell the shrimp and begged Derek to save me the last couple of bites of shrimp which he did reluctantly. He finally gave me the remaining few bites and it was as I had remembered it. A little slice of fresh shrimp heaven. We passed by the oil refineries and I could smell the all so familiar scent of the Mississippi river, oil, marsh and all the other memories of years past. Finally, after what seemed like forever we were checking into the Lodge and I was ready for some rest. We were staying at the Cypress Cove lodge and it was nice. Probably the nicest accommodations I’ve stayed in down there. The alarm was set for 4:45 and I was finally in the bed. Once again tossing and turning and thinking about a hundred different things. Very little sleep was to be had for me and before I knew it the alarm was sounding and I was in desperate need of coffee. We got dressed and loaded up our gear to head to the marina. I filled my thermos from the coffee pots in the lobby and we were off. Even though the coffee was burned and probably left over from hours earlier, it was just the ticket to wake me up. There’s nothing like burned, thick grainy coffee to bring you to your senses first thing in the morning. We arrived at the marina and saw Fred and his son Chad standing behind their truck dawning the cold weather gear. There was still a slight breeze in the air as I looked across the marina at the parked boats. I saw Captain Eddie’s 36 foot Palmetto in the backdrop and I saw a large shadow milling about on the boat and knew it was Captain Eddie getting things ready for the trip. Captain Eddie is a tall 6’ 6” lanky young man with strong grip, steely eyes and a cheesy goatee. He’s very well known in the area and is one of the very best seasoned Tuna Captains in the gulf. As we walked towards the marina for some last minute supplies I ran into another familiar face, Captain Hoop. They call him Hoop and next to Captain Eddie he is one of the best. Hoop is older, well into his sixties, but just as strong and able as any of the younger deck hands around. I exchanged pleasantries with Hoop and introduced him to Derek, Fred and Chad. I was really surprised to find out Hoop was working our boat with Eddie and very happy to have that much talent in one boat for the day. Before long Eddie came into the marina and more introductions followed. I could tell Eddie was not feeling well. I ask if maybe he had partied a little too hard the night before but he quickly squashed that notion. Eddie wasn’t a complainer and although he was visibly not feeling well, we never heard another word about it during the day. “Let’s load up Jim, we’re all set”. That’s all I needed to hear and headed down to the boat with my gear. After taking on gear, ice and a box of chum we were making our way down the Mississippi for the oil rigs in the gulf. It was a cold wet ride out and the waves were still rolling at 3 feet. Everyone was huddled behind the center console chatting and watching the horizon. I stayed up front and caught up with the latest news with Eddie. I had been down fishing with Eddie on the eve of the Super bowl last year. We had caught several large Wahoo the year before but the big Yellowfin had eluded us. I had fished for Yellowfin once before while stationed in San Diego, Ca. I was Derek’s age at the time and I was just about as strong as I was going to get. My biggest Yellowfin was around 150 and it was all I could do to bring the big fish in some 25 years ago. I knew Derek would be up to the task with a fish of that size but I was too old and had too many repairs on my body for a fight with a 100lb+ fish. Fred and Chad had never tussled with YFT before but they were both avid outdoorsmen and I knew they would be fine for the fight. A large oil rig came into view on the horizon and I ask Eddie if that was our first stop. He confirmed my suspicions telling me we were going to warm up on a couple of Wahoo to start the day. As we got closer we could see that we had company on the rig as another large boat was already trolling the rig. We decided to troll the deep diving Stretches around the rig once just to see if we could pick anything up. On our first pass there was nothing to be had but we were entertained by a commuter helicopter landing above us on the giant rigs helicopter pad. That was an awesome site for the first timer. We pulled the divers in and headed further out to the hump some 50 miles offshore. As we approached the hump, I saw 3 cut-off rigs in a triangle and Eddie pulled the throttles back on the big Palmetto and it’s 2 big Yamaha 250’s. We tossed the plugs out the back and fed the line back to start our troll. It didn’t take long till one of the rod tips started bouncing and our first fish was on. We had agreed to let Derek start us off and he soon got the feel of the heavy Penn reel. It was awkward for Derek at first but he soon settled in to reeling in the fish. Eddie said it was a nice King Mack and before long the other two rods were bouncing. I got out of the way and let Fred and Chad have at it. First hook-up of the day was a triple. Eddie said the lump was loaded with thousands of nice kings. He then said something that really surprised me, the nice 10-20 pound Kings would make great bait. I knew right away he wasn’t kidding. We got the 3 Kings in the ice locker and fed the plugs back out the back as Captain Hoop went to filleting the kings at the back of the boat. We quickly hooked up with 2 more Kings that would warrant celebration for anyone on the FLW Kingfish tour. To us it was more big bait. After landing the next two Kings we cut the motors back to neutral and Hoop started a chum line out the back port side. Hoop had loaded a case of chum earlier and Eddie started rigging the rods for freelining big chunks of bait. Our drift was to the starboard and Hoop continued to chum the port stern. Eventually we had the rods rigged and Eddie was freelining the first bait out the back with the rod in the gunnels holder. No weights, just a big chunk of meat on a big circle hook. Eddie showed us how to feed the bait out slowing hand lining the offering. Just as the bait drifted out of site the line came tight in his hand Eddie dropped the line and quickly threw the drag lever forward just as the tension hit the reel. Drag was screaming and the rod was bowed. “Who wants him” Eddie yelled. Chad was the closest and grabbed the rod, drag still screaming. All you could do was hang on. Chad quickly moved to the starboard side with the fish while Eddie was loading another big chunk of meat on a hook. He gave me another rod just forward of him and I placed the rod in the rod holder and mimicked Eddie. It wasn’t long before my line gave a quick tug and I knew it was time to throw the lever in gear. Once again, drag screamed as I wrestled the rod from the holder. It came to me very quickly; the old familiar pull of a large YFT. I knew right away that it was a marathon and not a sprint. If you’ve never caught a YFT, let me tell you, they are stronger than you and they don’t get tired. They mostly just circle the boat and try and wear you down as you try and wear them down. It’s a contest of brut strength on their turf. I quickly realized that I was not young any more and I was going to have to pull out every reserve I had to get this fish to the boat. Hoop dug out a couple of rod belts and back harnesses which made fighting the big tuna more tolerable. My tuna took me around the boat a few times as did Chad’s big fish. Within a few minutes the area around the boat was teaming with fish. As I fought my tuna I could see schools of bonito swarming the chum at the back of the boat. About a half dozen 6 foot sharks started circling at the back corner of the boat where the chum line started. Eddie and Derek were feeding free lines out the back corner and moving out of the way as Chad and I would circle the boat with our fish. They would have to literally jerk the bait from the swarming shark’s teeth to keep from cutting off the heavy mono leader. After thirty minutes of going around the boat several times I finally gained enough to get the fish close enough for Hoop and Eddie to gaff. It turned out to be a nice seventy pounder. Chad followed me with a little larger fish at around ninety pounds. We were both spent and headed to the comfort of Eddie’s bean bag chairs at the bow of the boat. Derek was still trying to hook up a fish and was really battling with the sharks. Finally the drag started screaming and Derek was hooked up. I was relieved because I really wanted to see him get a hold of one of these fish. Before long Derek’s tuna was dragging him to and fro, up and down and around in circles. He was jerking and pumping and pulling and squirming before he finally settled into a long battle. I believe Derek thought the Army would show these fish a thing or two. It was a little different than a 15 pound King. I knew his fish was bigger than mine from the way it pulled him around. Derek is pretty stout but the fish was having his way. At one point, I was laying on the bean bag as Derek made a circle around the boat. He stumbled and dropped to one knee right in front of me. He looked at me and said “Do something would you”! I couldn’t help but think of a time when he was around seventeen and came home drunk. The only time by the way. I heard him come into the house late one night and run upstairs and start puking in the guest bath. I got out of bed and hurried down the hall to find Derek slumped over the toilet. I remembered he looked up at me and said the same four words “Do something would you”! I ask “What do you want me to do”? He said “Rub my back or something”. When he asked me while fighting that tuna I had to laugh. I ask if he wanted me to rub his back. Damn that was classic. Anyway, Derek got back up and I followed him around, coaching him as we went. In the mean time Fred had hooked up and was well into his fight. After feeding several sharks and 45 minutes later, Derek and Fred’s fish were in the boat and we were all tired from running around the boat with fish and running around the boat with no fish. It was a workout to say the least. Eddie wanted to move because there were just too many sharks. We put the motors in gear and push to a different location on the hump. Less than a mile away we cut the motors back and started another drift chumming as we went. All rested we were ready for another fight. Maybe not very anxious but ready none the less. With no pesky sharks around the back of the boat we freelined some big chucks out the back. It wasn’t long till a school of hungry bonito showed up and started eating. We needed more bait so Derek and Chad caught 4-5 bonito for fresh bait. Eddie put a good sized chunk of meat on a circle and fed it back into the depths. Very soon the drag started screaming again and Eddie handed the rod off to Fred who happened to be standing nearby. The drag continued to scream and Eddie made a waving motion at the line as it tore off the reel. “Good bye” Eddie laughed as the drag continued to scream with Fred holding on for dear life. We all knew it was big. It was bigger than we’d seen yet. Fred continued to fight the fish in an epic battle. Fred is in his sixties but very tall and stout. After 30 minutes we were peeling off Fred’s jacket and hat as he was visibly wearing down and heating up. Hoop asked if he needed relieved but Fred shook him off and continued. Derek and I stood by Fred for moral support and an occasional straightening of the waist belt and back harness. Fred finally said uncle at 45 minutes and prepared to unhook and pass the gear to Derek. Chad and Eddie were in the back trying to hook another monster. That’s when I heard it. “Mako”, “Big Mako,” “Huge Mako” Eddie screamed. Eddie and Hoop came alive. As I was helping Fred and Derek I saw a huge rolled up steel cable and an unusually large Hook in Eddie’s hand. I looked off the starboard bow and saw a dorsal fin out of the water and a wake being pushed by this huge shark. It still seems unreal to me. The shark circled around the bow in a large arc and started back towards the boat. I watched the shark approaching and at times not only his dorsal cleared the water but at about a car length behind was a tip of a tail. It couldn’t have been real. It was so far behind the dorsal I thought it was another fish but quickly realized it to be the tail of the same fish. I had to get back to work with Fred and Derek and lost site of the shark. Derek was hooked up with the harness and fighting the fish that Fred started. I glanced back at Eddie, Hoop and Chad as they searched the waters for the big Mako. Apparently the Mako had dove deep and disappeared before reaching the bow of the boat. Next I saw Eddie hook up about a half of a King Mack on the large hook. Derek and I were on the port side about mid boat and I was looking down into the water hoping to see Derek’s tuna come up to color. The next thing I saw is permanently engrained in my mind. As I was looking into the water a large dark grey shadow moved slowly into my view from the stern. It was a large grey shadow against the oceans blue backdrop and it was big. It made the sandy colored 6 footers we’d seen earlier look like babies. This shark was big. I could see its gills move in and out as it moved and I saw the familiar point of the Mako’s nose. It was far larger than anything I’d seen in years. The way it moved was reminiscent of a whale shark we came along side years ago off the Florida Keys. This fish was majestic as it moved through the water. I yelled at Eddie telling him the Mako had reappeared moving forward of the port side. The shark barely missed scrubbing Derek’s braided mainline as he passed. Derek continued with his battle as the Huge Mako surfaced again in front of the boat and made a turn. I watched as the Mako move toward the boat on the starboard side just where Eddie, Hoop and Chad waited. I looked at Derek again and then looked back at Eddie just as the big Mako took the bait. Drag screaming, Eddie took the rod from the holder. I abandoned Derek and ran over to see the fish strip line. No sooner than I got to the back the mammoth fish breached the surface and shot straight up in the air with a half summersault. The fish made a large splashing thud as he hit the water. The Mako did this again and again while running aft, for a total of four breaches. The drag was tearing off the reel at an incredible rate. The distance the Mako pulled made the big tuna look like child play. Chad was hooked to the fish via the rod, reel, waist belt and back harness. The Mako swam a good distance from the boat then decided to come back and go deep on the port side of the boat, right where Derek and the big tuna had set up camp. The ultimate fight was on. Fred and I, the two old dudes were letting the youth have this fight. Chad was on a monster Mako and Derek was battling a monster YFT. It just about took an act of Congress but Derek finally gave up the fight on the tuna. I took over the tuna fight and Derek rested up for a crack at the Mako. Over the next thirty minutes nothing changed. I fought the tuna and Chad held on to the Mako. Derek took over the tuna fight for me as we got the tuna close to the boat. Finally we had the gaff into the 140 pound tuna and drug him in. Pictures were taken as Chad and Eddie battled the Mako. After the tuna was put away our only focus was the big Mako. We let him pull the boat around for the next hour while we discussed what to do with the fish if we ever got him close to the boat. Eddie and Hoop guessed the fish to be around 1000 pounds and a length of 10-12 feet. It was a behemoth and not far off of a record. Our options were release or capture. Just about any captain down there, respectable or otherwise wouldn’t hesitate to bring this fish in by any means available. They are good table fair and extremely popular for bragging rights with all the captains. Another problem was getting the fish in the boat. We figured it would take a captain and crew from one of the nearby boats and us to get it into the boat. Derek took over on the fish and spent the next 45 minutes just holding on. I took a turn of about 20 minutes and Chad took over again. For the next 45 minutes we all took turns on the fish. At around the two and a half hour mark we gained enough line on the fish that we could see a line splice that Eddie thought to be at 50 feet which gave us some hope. We tried like hell to gain more but a few minutes later the big fish dove again and we watched the splice leave the last eyelet and head for the depths. That was the final straw for me. Derek and Chad were just about spent and I didn’t think it was worth wearing ourselves out anymore. We had the tuna and that was good enough. I looked at Eddie and he looked at me. We knew we were just about out of options. At that point, for some odd reason the fish started coming up, and I mean coming up quick. I briefly thought he was going to breach again, or worse yet, attack the boat. He came up fast and we saw the splice again as it quickly wrapped into the big Penn spool. At that point Eddie got on the radio and called another Captain to bring over the 12 gauge and a flying gaff. Yep, a pump 12 gauge and a flying gaff with around 50 feet of heavy nylon rope. The shark was within 40 feet of the boat under the port side as the other Captain pulled along side in his Glacier Bay. He handed Eddie a black pump 12 gauge which I quickly recognized as a Remington 870, just like the one I grew up with. The deck hand handed Hoop the flying gaff and rope. Eddie ask who wanted the honors and I figured if there was going to be gun play I wanted to be the one with the gun. It was an 870 alright. A black 3 inch magnum with a vent rib barrel. Eddie handed me a box with 5 three 3 inch magnum slugs. I walked forward to the bow, checked the safety and slipped 2 shells in the mag and dropped a third in the open ejector. I slid the action forward chambering the third shell and thought long and hard about it. I knew Eddie and Hoop wanted the fish and I thought if anyone was going to shoot it, I wanted it to be me. I thought about the right angle if the fish remained on the port side and I positioned myself just aft of Derek and the fish. The final decision was made to shoot the fish, hit him with the flying gaff that was tied off to a stern cleat, and hope he dies quickly. Hoop was on the flying gaff just forward of Derek and I was waiting with the 870 just aft of Derek. The Captain of the boat that gave us the gun and gaff had some experience and said the shot had to be in the back of the head, between the eyes. The fish’s head needed to be above water for the slug to be effective. Nothing to it. Soon the fish came into site just where we thought he would be, at 20 feet in depth and on the port side. Eddie was keeping the boat straight moving with the fish. At the site of the big fish Hoop dropped the gaff, grabbed the line just forward of the reel with his gloved hands. He pulled line while Derek cranked the excess Hoop provided onto the reel. Slowly the fish came up. My God it was huge. As the fish rose I selected my mark between the fish’s eyes and set my finger on the safety of the 870. It was about to happen. Guys, the adrenaline was overwhelming as the fish rose. I could feel my heart beating in my chest. I watched Derek and Hoop work. The steel leader hit the end of the rod tip and Hoop grabbed the steel to pull up the remaining few feet. Three feet, then two feet, then inches from the surface the fish just glided closer to the surface. I clicked the safety off as Hoop and Derek slowly leaned back away from the gunnels edge. I saw the fish’s wake and my mark as I lowered the vent rib down to his head. I heard Eddie scream “Shoot now” as I squeezed the trigger. The fish and the water exploded as the gun went off. Blood and saltwater spray splattered in a huge explosion. For a split second the fish started to roll and I thought it was the end. In the next instant the fish came to life and started thrashing wildly. I could tell he was hit just behind the left eye judging from the flap of meat dangling to the side. It was like that scene from Jaws where the sharks head was above water thrashing around with meat hanging down. I heard Eddie scream “Shoot him again” and I jump to life and chambered another round. I quickly lowered the barrel on the thrashing fish and squeezed off another round into the head of the fish. I’ve never shot a large moving Mako shark from a pitching boat before and I quickly realized it was hard. The shark was just getting more pissed off and I was getting pissed off along with him. I wanted to put an end to this shit as quickly as possible. I lowered the barrel again to the thrashing sharks head and squeezed the trigger from around 4 feet. Nothing. Just a click. Within a split second I thought jam, empty, only fired two shots and didn’t chamber the third shell. I quickly chambered the third shell and lowered it to the fish again. I squeezed off the round as the fish took a dive down out of site. Blood was streaming from both of his gill ports as he went. I could smell the spent powder and I could hear the drag pulling again. We were all in shock to a large degree. We were in shock so much Hoop still had the flying gaff in hand. Derek, Hoop and Chad were speckled with blood and I was riding an adrenaline rush like I hadn’t felt in years, it was unreal. The fish had to be dying, but he was still head shaking and pulling. He went straight down around 50 feet and just swam forward. I kept thinking he had to die soon. The whole event is still very surreal to me even now as I write this. I told Eddie the fish was surely dying and there was no way he could have survived the firepower we unleashed on him. Eddie said we never got a shot between the eyes and he was probably wounded and mad. We tried to budge him from his 50 foot depth but if we gained on him he went right back to 50 feet. Derek gave the rod a pull with everything he had and the drag at full forward. The fish started to rise again. Derek and Hoop worked the rod and Fred handed me the remaining 2 shells. I couldn’t believe I was actually reloading. Closer and closer the fish came. Twenty feet, then ten then five and we got into position. Hoop pulled the leader up again and I removed the safety. The big fish was still streaming blood from both sides as I lower the 870 for the next volley. It was like the fish remembered the last time he surface and just before he reached the top he quickly started diving. Derek held his ground and the fish pulled hard. The rod bowed over and then quickly snapped up. Just like that it was over and the shark was gone. He made his escape pulling a broken leader and our hearts sank. We were defeated, wore down and exhausted. Completely spent, we were all pretty speechless for a long while. The day was done and we were heading home. I know that a million things went through all of our minds on the 2 hour ride back to the marina. I’m still trying to digest it all. We cleaned the tuna back at the dock had a few beers and chatted about our day. Another smaller Mako was brought in and we just had to chuckle at the little 6 footer. I can’t think of an ending to this story as the ending sank along with the dying Mako. After an evening of a Po Boy in our room watching the Saints kick some butt in the Super Bowl, we both got a good night’s sleep and we were somewhat rested for our trip back home. I can only relate the way I feel right now to the way I felt the day after running my first marathon. I’ve got muscles that are waiting in line to be sore as I write this story. I definitely sent Derek back home with some lasting memories. I think I have caught my last YFT and have definitely shot my last Mako.

A Fall Striper Story

Posted in Fishing Stories on September 22, 2010 by castaway

 

                I left my house for Lake Hartwell at 4 am. My plan was to meet my partner Chris and two buddies from the striper club at a Waffle House close to the lake, drop off some planer boards, eat a little breakfast and my partner and I would launch at around 6:45 am. Today was a special fishing trip for my partner and I because we were fishing in a tournament against some excellent striper fishermen from all over the south. Everything went according to plan right up until the time the waitress at the Waffle House informed me that they were out of gravy for my biscuit. That set the tone for the day of fishing. So after finishing a hearty greasy breakfast and a trip to the head my partner and I were on our way to the launch, on time I might add. Our launch went without a hitch and after parking the truck we were on our way to the mouth of a feeder creek on the south end of the lake. Everything in the creek looked familiar even though we hadn’t fished the area in two years. The last time we fished the area was in early winter and we were still in late fall with leaves still turning a dropping to the ground. It was worth a chance, and we knew there were plenty of fish and bait present on our previous trips. We positioned our first pull to run down the inside of the first point just at the mouth of the creek. Gizzards went to the outside planers and trout to the inside planers with my largest bait in the tank going straight out the back at 140 feet. We ran a shorter free line with a frisky gizzard zipping around the back of the boat at 60 feet. Next was four down lines deployed with various sizes of trout, bluebacks and gizzards. Once the baits were set I no sooner got my coffee poured when we saw our first sign of a fish. A large boil appeared just behind the port outside planer board close to the shore. After a good pull back, my gizzard quickly skittered around the planer board and eluded a big wake directly behind him. My outside rod is generally set in my spreader rod holder along the left or right side of the boat. I have to reach above my head to pull it out of the rack. After seeing the attack on my gizzard I reached above my head and threw the spool out of gear and thumbed some line out in an attempt to slow the speedy gizzard. It was no use, the fish was gone. After we were sure the fish was clear we brought in the gizzard to see how he had faired. It wasn’t good. He had a bite mark close to the head and more than likely died of fright.

I decided to make a big circle and try another pass along the shore. This time I armed the outside hook with a large active rainbow trout. My thought was that if the fish was still there, he may be a bit gizzard leery and may try a shot at the trout. On the next pass over the same area the large trout started pulling wildly just before a distinct pop was heard followed by a small boil just next to the trout. It was another near miss by a big fish. My partner and I decided to let the area settle down a bit and we moved to deeper water after seeing some gulls working over some bait in the creek channel. The nearer we got to the action the more surface activity we were seeing. They appeared to be smaller fish, sometimes coming out of the water to chase the smaller threadfin shad. Our suspicions were confirmed when we caught two smaller stripers and a hybrid passing through the area of activity. As the sun came up the surface activity subsided, the gulls quit diving and the lakes surface went from glass to a small chop. I’ve always preferred a small chop when pulling baits near the surface. My guess has always been that the bait is under less scrutiny from a hungry striper due to a choppy back drop. The wind had switched directions and was blowing from the east at 5-10. I found cover from the wind in a small cove off of the creek and trolled around while trying to conserve my battery power expecting a long day of wind. We weaved our way in and out of the cove along the wind break, watching the graph for signs of fish and bait. We wondered if fishing may be better deeper in the creek now that the wind had shifted and was blowing straight into the creek. I shook off the notion and decided to stick to our plan. The plan being that we would work primary points along the mouth of the creek. For most that know me, it’s common knowledge that I don’t move much after getting to the area I plan to fish. I’m not one to start the big motor and chase fish or search for signs up and down the lake. I have a good idea of patterns and hold a mental history of where fish show up during a given season. The plans rarely change in mid stream. We decided to make another pass through the area we were getting the blow ups along the shallows of the shoreline. It was getting close to lunch and I was getting desperate for a decent fish. The weigh-in was at 4 pm and we had to trailer the boat and drive 45 minutes to get to the weigh-in. We needed to be leaving the fishing area by 2:45 pm which gave us just a few hours to catch 2 nice fish for the weigh-in.

We decided to reload the hooks with fresh bait just before pulling through the area of the big blow-ups. With all of our hooks dragging the fresh trout and gizzard shad we put the baits right in the area and slowed the trolling motor to a crawl. Like clockwork, the largest trout on a free line at 140 feet behind got very nervous. We watched the surface of the water boil and the 14 inch trout came straight up out of the water as we saw a foot of daylight between the trout and the water. I just knew we had the big fish on this pass, because that big trout was stunned and an easy meal for the hungry striper. The trout hit the water with a splash as I flipped the lever to release the spool on the reel. I fed out a good 20 feet of line for the fish to work with but there were no secondary signs of the huge fish. I thought that was just the way our day was going. I just knew the gravy problem at the Waffle House had jinxed us on this trip. It was the third strike at the fish and we were running out of time. We continued on into the creek and ate lunch. The next two hours were uneventful with a lot of down time and idol chatter and silence.  My partner Chris and I were in the Navy together and we retired around the same time frame and settled in the North Atlanta area around Lake Lanier. We’ve never ran out of conversation and often passed the time reminiscing about old friends and good times while in the Navy. Sometimes we would just sit and silently think about old friends and old times without ever saying a word.

We had around 30 minutes before time to head to the weigh-in and I told Chris that since we were basically skunked up to this point for the tournament we should think about just blowing off the weigh-in and make the best of our trip here and just fish till dusk before the long drive home. Chris is like me, a fisherman. There’s not much that could beat a beautiful fall evening on the lake. Our belief has always been that if you can just stick it out till dusk, good things could happen. It was agreed to make another pass through the hot spot for the day and if we came up empty we would make our final decision to stay on the lake or go to the weigh-in empty handed. As a last ditch effort we put new fresh bait on all of the lines and started the pass. We got to the sweet spot and could see the bottom just a few feet under the boat. We watched the inboard planer boards as they scooted along parallel to the shore. The fresh gizzard dug into the bottom as he was pulled along. The gizzard nearest the shore dug into the bottom hard and hung himself into some structure. Just as I was about to tell Chris to give him a jerk, out of the corner of my eye I caught my outside planer board flying through the air and the sound of drag pulling. Now there is a difference between drag peeling and drag screaming. This pull was of the “drag screaming” variety. I reached up to pull the rod out of the rocket launcher and quickly realized it wasn’t coming out without a fight. The drag was still screaming as I managed to pull it free from the rocket launcher to work the big fish. I saw a big boil in the middle of the bay and realized the fish had pulled off 160 feet in a matter of seconds. He started another run and I looked down at my spool. It was getting smaller with every run the fish would make. I thought about the line and leader I replaced before the trip and knew I couldn’t horse the fish too much with 25 pound Big Game on the main and a fresh leader of 17 pound Yozuri fluorocarbon. The only worry I had was that the fish would find some structure to get into. I remember seeing plenty of brush and small trees below the surface in the area the fish was occupying. Finally the fish turned and tried to parallel the boat staying close to the surface as he pulled. Chris kept the boat in a good position and I slowly gained on the fish with constant pressure. After 5 minutes, finding a free line and a few planer boards to get tangled in I was able to get the fish close enough for Chris to get the net under and hoist the fish into the boat. While Chris was removing the hook from the fish, I was hooking up the wires to the striper tube. Once the pump was on we lifted the fish and slid him into the tube. We knew the fish was around 28-30 pounds and would provide a respectable finish at the weigh-in.

We took a breather, laughed and hit another high five. We decided to get packed up and get to the weigh-in quickly to get the fish weighed and released with as little stress to the fish as possible. My tube was churning fine and the weigh-in was 45 minutes away. I knew the fish would be fine for the ride. The drive was short as I thought about weighing the fish and getting him back to the water. As we pulled into the marina I could see the tent and the scales. We wasted little time getting the fish from the tube to the scales. The fish was weighed and our estimations were close as the fish weighed in at just shy of 29 pounds. We got the fish back into the water and with a few pushes and pulls the fish swam off into the deep along the edge of the dock. I fully expected to be out done by a few of the more seasoned anglers entered into the tournament, but as luck would have it, it was a rough day for many teams and Chris and I wound up with a 2nd place finish in the tournament and a second place finish for the Big Fish pot. Not a bad finish to a slow day of fishing. Fall has always been my favorite time of year. You have the World Series, college and pro football, the nascar chase, basketball is kicking off and some of the best striper fishing of the year. Not to mention the turning leaves and cool breezes that remind us that winter is just around the corner…

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