The Right Chop to Pop and Spybaiting

I got out a few days last week and was able to find a few on topwater, spybaiting and dropping. Right now the topwater bite is the big ticket item for me so that’s what I’ve primarily been doing. I’ve been using my little emerald popper to catch them but just about any surface disruption bait works right now. I’ve been catching some doubles lately and that tells me a couple things, one, the bass are hungry and two, the bass are competitive. Here’s my philosophy about topwater baits right now on Lanier.

The bass are feeding on bluebacks that they have pushed to the surface. They have probably singled out one little blueback and they are relentless in there pursuit to get that little blueback. If you’ve been out lately you’ve probably seen this going down on the surface in the form of a bass chasing a skipping or fleeing bait on the surface. If you watch and listen you can hear the noise the bass makes when he’s attacking the bait. I try and emulate that noise with my popper and if you’ve watched my videos, it’s been working out well and I think I’ve got that noise down to a science. Right now the bass are very competitive so if they hear that noise they think another bass is chasing a bait and they have no problem trying to steal that bait from their buddy. That’s why you see more doubles being caught on one lure right now. Another thing bass do right now is follow wakes to the source. If you’ve ever watched a blueback swim on the surface they create a wake, bass can see this wake and they will track it to the source, thinking it’s a blueback so I use a combination of waking and popping. With my little popper, I put a dressed hook on the back and tied up holographic Krystal flash on the hook for added attraction.

Now, here’s where the chop comes in. Here’s one of my biggest tips I can give you about surface fishing and bass, if you want more success with your topwater, find a light chop, whether it’s a point or over structure, position your boat up wind of the chop and throw down wind over or across the point or structure and make your retrieve against the grain of the chop. This does two things, it makes the pop and wake more exaggerated and easier for the fish to see as well as distorts his view of your lure, more so than fishing calm or glassed over water. Another thing fishing up wind gets you is a longer cast and let’s face it, the more time that little bait is in the water the more chances of catching a fish. Here’s a video from earlier this week and a 2 hour afternoon run. You can see the chop and how I work the popper.

If you would like to try your hand at Spybaiting here’s a little info on my setup.
I’m using 7lb Sunline FC Sniper flouro on a spinning rig with a medium heavy rod. No leader, just straight up flouro. I primarily throw the 90 size but if you’re fishing the smaller 80 size you might want to use a medium fast action rod. For a rod I recommend the Enigma Aarons Edge. Enigma uses a different design that most rod manufacturers, it’s lighter and you get a longer cast from that design. I’m on Enigma’s Pro Staff so if your are interested in an Enigma rod, I can help you get a little better deal. I’ve lost very few spybaits this year even though I primarily fish it around and over offshore structure. Whether it’s a crankbait or a spybait, I hold the rod loosely in my hand when retrieving it and if I feel resistance it’s one of two things, either I have a fish or a snag. At any rate, I just gently reel down, if it’s a fish you’ll know because it feels way different than a snag. If I feel the fish head shake, I reel down even faster but I DON”T SET THE HOOK in any fashion. If it’s a snag and you don’t want to loose that $15 lure, don’t panic or try to jerk it out of the snag, just keep minimal pressure on the line and move your boat to the other side of the snag and chances are it will come out. If you’re holding the rod loosely and it snags, chances are the hooks won’t bury too far in the snag and just re-positioning the boat to the opposite side works almost every time. To me, $15 is a lot of money for a lure so I try and make sure I don’t loose it. I also check the first 3-4ft of my line a lot. Especially if I’m catching a lot of fish on it. It can get scuffed up after a few fish and with flouro you don’t want any scuffs or nicks.

Stop, Top and Drop 7-24 to 7-30 Report

IMAG1822The title just about sums it up for the week. For me it’s been nothing but running and gunning brushpiles, mostly offshore and a few long points and flats mixed in. Early in the week my choice of baits was pretty simple, throwing the spin baits over and around structure followed by the drop shot when marking groups of fish underneath the boat. Early in the week the weather was stagnant with very little wind, plenty of humidity and a blazing afternoon sun. The afternoon heat was stifling and I kept moving out of necessity to cool down after fishing the structure in dead calm waters. One bonus we had was that the Corps was generating in the afternoons which seemed to activate the fish and get them moving around and feeding. Early in the week I took a friend out that I had met on the BFL trail so we did a little spin baiting and drop shot for a great day for numbers but not much for size. We totaled between 35-40 fish but nothing bigger that that 2-3lb mark. One spark of life that really got me excited was the topwater bite out over flats while they were generating. My buddy had to do a job interview over the phone while we were fish so I drifted across a flat kinda out of the way of all the boat traffic and it just so happened that the flat we were drifting across came alive with fish feeding one bluebacks. It was very near deeper water and the current from the generation was pulling the bluebacks across the flat. The bass were schooling all around us and I was picking them off with a 2 punch combination of topwater and drop shot. This time of year the topwater can be slow and with no moving air to produce a chop on the water the fish aren’t fooled by the topwater baits as easily. When the fish get active during the generation periods they tend to push more bait to the surface and feed on it. I saw surface temps topping out at 89-90 degrees on Tuesday afternoon right before they started generating. My buddy was conducting his phone interview while drop shotting. At one point I had 2 fish at one time on my Emerald Popper but we couldn’t get them netted before one shook off. It was a great day for numbers.

On Wednesday I noticed they were generating in the early evening so I called a buddy, Mercer, to see if he wanted to make an evening run during the generation period. He was able to meet me at the ramp after work at 5:30pm so I picked him up and we made a bee line for the flat that was loaded with bass from a day earlier. I knew we didn’t have much time so we needed to make the best of it. Mercer likes to drop and the drop shot was a lock during generation. Anything that moved across the flat was going o get eaten by the feeding bass. We got to the flat and started drifting and it didn’t take long till we started marking fish and catching on the drop shot. Mercer busted a good one right away and then followed it up with a striper on the drop shot which is rare in my boat. We caught some good numbers on the flat and we were back at the dock before 8pm.

I didn’t fish Thursday because I needed to get caught up on work but I had signed up for a charity tournament on Saturday so my plan was to fish on Friday and figure out a pattern for Saturday. I launched at first light on Friday and started out throwing moving baits over brush and since there was a little breeze blowing from an approaching front I broke out the topwater popper. It was before dawn and I could clearly see the thermocline on my graph from about 22 feet down through 40-45. Surface temps hadn’t heated up and they were reading mid 80’s. Just as the sun broke the tree line on the lake I caught my first topwater fish. I was on a long point and there was the perfect chop blowing across the point. When it comes to chop and the popper it’s like Goldie Locks and the three bears. There is water that is too chopping and there is water that is not choppy enough but if you can find that right blend of chop blowing into or across a point your chances of catching a topwater bass goes way up. Friday was shaping up to be one of those days so I just started running and gunning offshore structure as well as long flats and points with the popper. It was almost like every stop over structure had a bull spot swimming around it and once you caught the bull spot the topwater would shut down. That’s when I’d break out the drop shot and come at them with that. At the end of the morning I had amassed several nice spots on the topwater popper and a few more good ones on the drop shot. I was fishing with Lanier Jim, aka the drop shot Jedi Master in the tournament the next day and I felt like that between the drop shot and the possibility of the topwater bite going strong we could do well in the tournament.

We got off on tournament morning without any problems and we were running south from Little Hall. When we past by Port Royale, across from Pelican Pete’s we saw a pleasure boat that had run up on the reef over night. It looked like they hit the reef pretty hard but the boat was sitting upright so maybe everyone was ok. LJ and I just spent the day dropping and popping away, hitting brush, flats and offshore structure. We caught a lot of fish during the day and had a blast. LJ was dropping his fruity worms and I was chunking the popper like a mad man. We both caught fish and managed to bring a 3 fish limit of 8.07 to the scales. The top 4 places had between 8-9.21lbs with us bring up 4th at 8.07. All in all it was a good week and I expect this kind of pattern to be the norm for a while. Stay tuned and hopefully I’ll find a few stripers willing to bite the artificals soon. I really haven’t paid much attention to the stripers lately but hopefully that will change soon. Here’s a few pics from the week.
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The Winter Blueback 110 Jerkbait

This has been one of my favorite winter jerkbaits for bass and stripers for a few years now. For the bass, it’s a favorite of mine for fishing over ditches when I see suspended fish or I’m searching shoreline structure for bass. It comes in 2 versions, clear and holographic and either one will work for suspending fish and hungry stripers. This jerkbait suspends and is a deadly bait in February for suspended fish over deeper water and shallow shoreline fish. Here’s some pics and a recent video of catching a few stripers with the jerkbait.

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The “Go To 2” Crankbait

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This is another old favorite of mine that has been a big success on Lanier. It’s a little deeper diving than the original “Go To” and it has a hole in the bill to create a little more turbulence and add to a little different wobble. It’s been successful in the winter as well as summer and fall. Anytime the fish are a ittle deeper I use the “Go To 2”. Here are a few pictures of the Go To 2 in action.
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My “Go To” Crankbait

imag1051For the past few years there is one crankbait that I’ve always been able to rely on during the winter months on Lake Lanier. That crankbait is called my Go To” crankbait. I believe that the shape of the bill on this crankbait provides a different swimming action and with the color pattern plus rattles it really get’s the attraction of the bass. It’s a favorite of mine if I’m cranking the rocks and it always produces results. Here’s a few “Go To” pictures and videos of the bait in action.

croppedIMAG0510IMAG0508Crankbait bass

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Welcome to the Cold War

cwm-set-basic1Athough I’ve seen the movie at least a half a dozen times I never get tired of “The Hunt for Red October”. It always brings back memories of my service in the Navy during the Cold War. To me, the Cold War was a war that we never hear about and could easily be forgotten but there are stories out there from sailors like me that will hopefully let it live on. -Jim Farmer
I believe the year was 1984 and at the time I had about 2 years in the Navy under my belt and I was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron Three Zero Three, an F/A-18 Strike Fighter Squadron stationed at NAS Lemoore, smack in the middle of the rich farming community of the San Joaquin Valley of California. We were the Golden Hawks and our claim to fame was that we were one of the first active duty squadrons to receive the new F/A-18A Hornet aircraft and we were all eager to flex our muscles with our new formed squadron of a couple hundred active duty and reserve maintenance and aircrew. A fully formed squadron generally consisted of 12 aircraft and on the average 8-10 of those aircraft were usually available for our pilots to fly. In a tail hook squadron you work long hours with very little time off and there is always something going on that makes every minute very important. A squadron plans it’s calendar a year in advance and there are requirements for the pilots to meet to keep current in their qualifications with the aircraft such as shooting missiles, dropping ordinance such as bombs and mines, shooting rockets, Aircraft Countermeasures or ACM (dog fighting adversary aircraft) and a minimum of 20 aircraft take-offs or “cats” and 20 landings or “traps” on the aircraft carrier.

Our squadron had been to the Nevada desert a few times earlier in the year, as well as a few other trips to different areas of the country but we were planning a 2 week detachment to the USS Ranger (CV 61) for carrier qualifications. This was going to be a detachment designed to qualify all of our pilots on the carrier as well as qualifying the maintenance crews for certain job details that could only be done on the carrier. The plan was to fly the squadron personnel from the base to NAS North Island, a small air base on Coronado Island just south of San Diego and board the Ranger to head out to sea. A small detail of squadron personnel would stay behind to launch the squadron F/A-18’s and send them down to North Island in lieu of flying out to the carrier once it left port. My job was going to be to stay behind and make sure every jet we had available made it to North Island then I would hop on a Navy DC9 flight to North Island and jump on a Navy Sea Knight helicopter to fly out to meet the carrier somewhere in the pacific. My job on the aircraft was an electrician. Our shop consisted of about 8 other electricians besides myself and we ran 2 shifts when we were at home and on the road. As an electrician on the F/A-18 we were responsible for just about everything electrical. We took care of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance on a daily basis and there was always something to do. For a maintenance man on the aircraft the work never stopped. Generally speaking every shop always had something to do, it was just a matter of prioritizing the maintenance effort with a goal of meeting the demands of the next days flight schedule. Every day there was a flight schedule which required just about every available aircraft the maintenance team could ready for the day. There were always flight hour requirements for the pilots and each squadron was graded on the years total flight hours as well as how well the squadron completed all their assigned tasks for the year. Each year each squadron competed with other squadrons in our Carrier Air Group for awards like the Meritorious Unit Commendation award or “MUC”, the Battle Efficiency Award or the “Battle E” and the Safety “S” award. It was a big competition for us and it was always an honor to receive the award. The Battle E award meant that we got another ribbon or hashmark on our uniform as well a big “E” to display on the side of our jets. Going to the carrier was just another test for the squadron in the year long competition.

The time finally came and the main body of squadron personnel were gone to North Island and myself and a hand full of other maintenance personnel were launching the aircraft to head to North Island. The launch went without a hitch and spent the next 2 days waiting on a DC9 to take me to North Island. In the mean time I worked on the remaining few aircraft we had in the hanger that were broken and didn’t get to go to the carrier. Out of 12 aircraft assigned to the squadron we always had a couple of what we called “hanger queens”. Hanger queens were aircraft that were in some kind of scheduled maintenance cycle and while receiving the annual scheduled maintenance we robbed parts off of them for the aircraft that were flying. Sometimes parts were hard to come by so we would take parts off the hanger queens to use to meet flight schedule needs.

I finally got a ride down to North Island on a DC9 transport aircraft and soon there-after I met a Sea Knight helicopter on the tarmac at North Island for a ride out to the Ranger. This was my first ride on a helicopter so it was kind of a big deal to me. This wasn’t some ordinary helicopter ride, we were going to be flying out over the pacific for a 2 hour flight and meeting the Ranger somewhere off the coast of Mexico in international waters. When I boarded the Sea Knight I was greeted by a couple of aircrew guys that were assigned to the helicopter and took care of the passengers and cargo. There were about 8 other personnel on the flight that were headed out to the Ranger, plus a few boxes, bags, mail and our personal baggage. There were jump seats along the wall inside the helicopter and I’ll never forget what the aircrew instructed us to do before the flight began. They asked everyone to remove their hats and hold them in our hands. Any bolts, nut, screws or any other hardware that fell from the ceiling of the aircraft were to be picked up, placed in our hats and given to the aircrew personnel after we landed safely on the carrier deck….if we landed safely. That was very comforting information for my first helicopter flight. Here’s a picture of a Sea Knight helicopter:

120910-N-KB563-242 PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 10, 2012) A CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, assigned to the Flying Tigers of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 262 approaches the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) during flight operations. The Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), along with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU), is participating in a certification exercise. The evaluated event determines if the 31st MEU is capable of doing certain missions such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations or non-combatant evacuation operations with the ARG. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Russell/Released)

When the helicopter started the engines and the rotors started spinning I realized why there would be nuts and bolts falling from the ceiling. That thing vibrated worse than anything I’d ever rode in before. Things were shaking and banging around and when it lifted off I was white knuckling my seat for sure. I couldn’t see much out the port hole windows but I could definitely see the blue of the ocean as we headed out to the southwest. I tried to sleep for a while but I was looking forward to getting out to the carrier and getting to work. I had been on 1 other carrier before so I was pretty familiar with what it was going to be like. A year earlier while I was still in school at my training squadron or “RAG” outfit, I was offered the opportunity to board the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) for a 2 week detachment out of North Island and worked for 2 weeks as a Plane Captain or what’s referred to as a “Turd Shirt”, mainly because of the brown shirt that the plane captains wore on the ship. The primary job of a Plane Captain was to take care of the aircrafts servicing needs and launch and recover the aircraft on the flight deck during flight operations. It was a dirty job and you were always covered in grease, oil, fuel, hydraulic fluid and anything else that you could collect on your body and clothing. The aircraft required chaining down anytime it was on the flight deck of the carrier and one of the jobs of a Plane captain was to chain the aircraft when it wasn’t moving. The aircraft required a minimum of about 9 chains and each chain weighed about 15lbs. The plane captains always had a load of chains thrown over their shoulders waiting for their assigned planes to come in to be chained down after a flight. The job of a plane captain was a hard tiring job but it was good training for me and it got me familiar with life on the carrier. The Carl Vinson was a big Carrier, much bigger than the little Ranger I was going to be working on this time around. Here’s a picture of the Carl Vinson and the Ranger:

050315-N-3241H-001 USS Carl Vinson (March 15, 2005) -- Prior to the first launch, nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson or the "Gold Eagle", teamed up with Carrier Airwing 9, steams through the Indian Ocean at over 30 knots. The Carl Vinson Strike Group is currently on a six-month deployment to promote peace and stability and respond to emergent events overseas. USS Carl Vinson will end its deployment with a homeport shift to Norfolk, Va., in support of a three-year refuel and complex overhaul. U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer's Mate Third Class Dusty Howell

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You really can’t tell the difference in the two until you step out onto the flight deck but the Carl Vison was much newer, larger and nuclear powered carrier and the Ranger was an older, smaller non-nuclear powered carrier.

While on my ride out to the carrier I looked around the inside of the helicopter. Everything was exposed and along the ceiling there were hydraulic lines, fuel lines, oil lines and actuators everywhere. The jump seats we were sitting in were old and if you’ve never ridden in a military jump seat, the first time you ride in one you realize very quickly they were not designed for comfort. The bar across the front of the seat aids in putting your legs to sleep very quickly and the vibration from the helicopter eventually will put your butt to sleep also. It is very uncomfortable to say the least. The noise is deafening and ear plugs are a must. There were 2 aircrew guys that were sitting in jump seats also and they were wearing giant bulbous white helmets with boom mics to talk to teach other and the pilots during the flight. As we approached the carrier the helicopters engine pitch changed and we started circling the carrier below. The carrier flight deck sat about 70 feet above the waterline and we circling at a few hundred feet. I watched out the porthole window next to me and I could see aircraft taking off from the flight deck of the carrier. We were told by the aircrew that as soon as all the aircraft were off the deck we would land. Behind the carrier and to the starboard side there was a smaller Navy ship, a Fast Frigate, and it was there to guard the carrier from any unwanted guests in the area. At the time we were in a Cold War with the Russians and it wasn’t uncommon to run into Russian trawlers or Russian Navy warships that were out in the ocean spying on our operations. The frigate usually had loaded guns and missiles ready to go in case another ship got to close. Here’s a picture of our Fast Frigate escort. Notice the gun and missile launchers on the bow of the ship:55117

We hovered off the starboard side of the carrier for 15-20 minutes and I could see the never-ending trail of prop wash from the carrier that went on for miles. Finally we rolled the helicopter and headed for the flight deck. The helicopter pitched and banged around lining up for the landing. The carrier was still traveling at 20-30 knots of speed into the wind which was normal for a carrier during aircraft take-offs and landings. Finally the Sea Knight hit the deck right in front of the super structure of the carrier and we were instructed to get up and depart at the rear ramp. I jumped up and immediately got some feeling back in my legs and got the heck out of that flying coffin. I thought to myself that I hoped I never had to do that again. Once we got out of the helicopter I was met by some squadron mates who immediately took me and my sea bag to berthing. Berthing was where we slept and it was always tight quarters. Here’s a couple of pics of what carrier berthing looks like. If you were lucky you could find some blue curtains for privacy:

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Once I found my sleeping arrangement and got my gear stowed it was time for me to got to work. One of my electrical shop mates showed me around the carrier and I found my workcenter as well as the galleys and a few other areas I would need to know about. On the carrier the galley is where we ate. There were at least 2 operating most of the day and into the night. They were small but efficient. They fed up to 3000 sailors a day and the food wasn’t bad. Food was very important on the carrier because of the work. You were constantly going up and down stairs and if you worked on the flight deck you were moving around all the time. The average sailor on the carrier burned a lot of calories in a day. On most modern day carriers there were 4 galleys, 2 main galleys somewhere near mid ship where the main hot meals would be served 3 times a day and 2 forward galleys that were almost always open and served sliders and dog or hamburgers and hot dogs. If you went to the forward galleys on the ship, as an enlisted man you had to stay out of officers country unless you were an officer. Officers country was just forward of mid ship and was only on certain decks. You could tell officers country by blue tile on the floor. The enlisted areas used green tile and officers used blue. We avoided officers country like the plaque. If you were enlisted and got caught there, there would be hell to pay.

During this detachment on the ship I was working as a green shirt which meant I was maintenance crew. I was working as an electrician and mainly working on aircraft in the hangar bay area during the day shift. I would also be working part time with other electricians as a troubleshooter on the flight deck during launches and recoveries. The way it worked was when we launched our aircraft each work center had at least one troubleshooter on the flight deck at all times during flight operations. There were a hand full of work centers such as the airframers which took care of any airframe or hydraulic problems as well as engine guys or “mechs” that took care of any engine or fuel issues, electricians like myself and a few other folks that took care of seats and environmental control issues like the heating and air conditioning in the cockpit of the jets. We all wore green shirts and we had special codes on our shirts and head gear to identify us and our job descriptions. On the carrier you fall into a routine. Everything is regimented and you can easily forget what day it is. Basically you work, eat, rest, rinse and repeat. That’s what I did on this detachment. There wasn’t much to write home about, it was just the same thing day after day. We just cruised around the pacific for a week or so without incident, pilots flying off and on all day and into the night with us maintenance guys fixing problems with the jets as they arose. If a jet had a problem that kept it from flying it would be hauled down the massive flight deck elevators to the hangar where it would be strategically parked and repaired as quickly as possible so it could get back onto the flight deck and ready for flight. The hangar bay on the carriers are massive and at times filled wall to wall with aircraft to be repaired.  Some aircraft would be down in the hanger overnight and the night shift guys would work all night just to get it fixed for the first launch in the morning. Here’s a picture of a carrier hangar bay:

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For the first week everything went as planned with flight operations and the maintenance effort. On the flight deck during flight operations it’s a very dangerous job. I think working on the flight deck of a carrier is one of the top 5 most dangerous jobs in the world. As long as everything is going good it’s fine but it only takes one little thing to happen for it all to go bad. There are crashes, fires, people caught in the wrong places at the wrong time and any number of things that could happen….and they do. On this detachment it was all good. About the only excitement we had after the first week was the fact that we were operating in an area where the pacific was very rough with huge swells tossing the Ranger back and forth. These big waves in this area were called the “Troughs” and they were big, some reaching heights as high as the carrier and it really made the carrier roll back and forth and up and down. There were a lot of first timers that were getting sea sick during the period we were operating in the troughs and a lot of sailors were walking at odd angles down the passageways and anything that wasn’t tied down would fall off shelves. Our plates and glasses in the galley would slide back and forth. It was an interesting ride for a few days.

The Commanding officer of the ship was very nice to the crew and very personable. He talked to the ships crew every night over the 1MC which was a loudspeaker system throughout the ship and could be heard from anywhere and everywhere. He would talk to us about current events and let us know about the next days goals. On the first Sunday aboard the ship he hosted an Ice Cream social in the galley and anyone could come to the galley and have ice cream and meet the “skipper” or Commanding officer.

During the start of the second week the carrier spent the majority of a morning taking on supplies and fuel from a supply ship. This isn’t an uncommon event and it happens all the time on a carrier. Flight operations stop during this period and it’s quit a show for the first timer on the carrier. Fuel hoses are strung from one ship to the other and both ships move through the water, side by side in close quarters for miles.

The fast combat support ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8), left, conducts an underway replenishment with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) Jan. 15, 2007. Eisenhower and embarked Carrier Air Wing 7 are on a regularly scheduled deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command area of responsibility in support of maritime security operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Miguel Angel Contreras) (Released)

This is where it got interesting. Once the supply ship finished the replenishment and broke away from the carrier to sail off into the sunset, our Fast Frigate escort departed with the supply ship and the carrier was on it’s own. Sometimes it happens but as a rule the carrier always has some kind of escort within a few miles. The next morning when we looked out into the ocean from the hangar bay doors we saw that we had a new visitor. It was a strange looking ship off the starboard side of the carrier and it was very close to us. I could see some strange looking numbers on the side of the bow and there were some folks on the ship looking, waving and some were taking pictures. The ship looked something like some kind of large fishing trawler but it had some strange looking electronics and antennas on the masts. Here’s a picture of what it looked like:trawler

As we were standing in the hangar bay looking at the ship along side of us a hangar bay worker from the ships company walked over to us. The ships company guys generally wore purple shirts and were in the Navy just like us but were stationed on the ship full time. We just borrowed the ship to qualify our squadron crew but the ships company were there full time and had usually seen it all. The ships company guy looked at us and our puzzlement and said “welcome to the Cold War”. He told us it was a disguised Russian spy ship and they were interested in taking pictures of the new F/A-18’s on the flight deck. The rumor was that our escort had left to escort the supply ship back to American waters because there were Russian Navy ships in the area and the supply ship had no way to defend herself. Our carrier had more than enough firepower to fend for ourselves so the decision was made to leave us on our own. We watched for a while longer as the crew of the Russian ship continued to take pictures from very close by.

As soon as we started flight operations for the morning the Russian ship disappeared but then reappeared again as soon as all of our aircraft were back on the flight deck after the first launch and recovery. The Russians again came in close to snap photographs and wave as if they were our friends. This went on for 2 days with the same thing, if the jets were off the deck the Russians would disappear and reappear as soon as all the F/A-18’s were back on the deck. They were very interested in the jets and flight operations and had no fear of getting close to us. After 2 days of this little game with the Russians we had finally had enough. On the third morning the Russians were still hanging with us so we went about our business as if it were just another day. The Russian trawler was once again off our starboard side but on this morning we left one F/A-18 hidden from view from the Trawler behind the super structure of the carrier. It was out of view of the Russians and they just assumed all of our jets had left the area to fly the mornings missions. The Russians kept their distance until they assumed every jet was back on the deck before they made their move to get in close but during the recovery of all of the aircraft we snuck the extra F/A-18 off the catapults and the Russians just assumed that every one of our aircraft were back on deck. They were making their move in close and the skipper came over the 1MC to tell everyone who was interested and available to gather on the starboard side of the flight deck and hanger bay for a little mini air show. He said that if the Russians want to get a look at our aircraft we’d give them a up close and personal look at the jet and it’s capabilities. Keep in mind we had snuck a jet out into the area for our little surprise. It went off just as planned. When the Russians thought the jets were all on deck they made there move to get in close. We were all watching as the trawler got closer and closer. The skipper called out on the 1MC, “off the fantail aircraft 303 incoming for a mach run” which basically meant our aircraft #303 was coming from the back of the ship and was going to break the sound barrier very close to us. If you’ve never seen a fighter jet break the sound barrier it is a sight to behold. The aircraft is basically hauling ass at over 700 mph and when it breaks through the sound barrier or the speed of sound the concussion is enormous, especially if your are close by. This is what it looks like at the moment the sound barrier is broken:

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In this case the jet came in fast and low and was only about 100 feet off the water and bearing down on the trawler. It was amazing as the jet dropped down from high in the sky and leveled out on the Russians. We all knew what came next. As the jet got closer to the trawler the vapor cloud started building around the jet and just as it reached the trawler there was a eardrum shattering BOOOOM that shook the carrier to it’s core but what was even more interesting is that the trawler actually squatted down in the water and we actually saw pieces of the trawler like maybe windows and radar parts go flying. The trawlers smoke stake bellowed black smoke from the diesel engine and it started shifting it course away from the carrier. We all cheered and yelled with some jumping up and down and giving the Russians the bird. The F/A-18 made a vertical climb and disappeared in front of the carrier. Within a minute or so we heard the 1MC go off again and the skipper said “from the bow aircraft # 303 incoming for mach run # 2”. We all cheered wildly as the jet dropped back down out of the sky and leveled off on the fleeing trawler. We could see the jet put the hammer down in full afterburner as it approached the trawler and we knew it was going to be good. The jet once again approached mach and the vapor built up around the jet. Just as it closed in on the trawler BOOOM very near the trawler and once again the trawler squatted deep into the water with more pieces of the trawler flying everywhere. More smoke poured from the stack and the trawler turned away even sharper than before. We all cheered wildly and some flipped the trawler off again as some grabbed their crotches at the Russians as they limped away never to be seen again. It was something I’ll never forget about the cold war. We spent some of our time messing with the Russians at sea and up in the northern reaches of Canada but a lot of the times we played with the Russians it was just that, play. They knew as well as we did that someday we might be fighting each other for real but a lot of what we did was designed for us to test their capabilities as well as them to test ours. Shortly after the end to the cold war one of the Russian Navy warships pulled into San Diego bay and they docked in San Diego for a few days and we got to meet our counterparts. We drank together, swapped stories, traded cigarettes, Levi jeans and the old Walkman cassette players for pieces of their uniforms and personal items from Russia. They were no different than we were, just a bunch of sailors looking for a good time.

 

 

 

Baker’s Hedgerow

It was the Christmas of 1970 and all I wanted for Christmas was a Daisy BB gun. I’d been hunting with my dad for a few years without a gun and I was ready to go it on my own and get my first gun. By the time I was 10 my dad had taught me about gun safety and I had learned a lot about hunting. Whether it was dove, quail, pheasant, ducks, geese, rabbit, squirrel or deer I had learned a lot from my dad when it came to guns and hunting. I watched, learned and mimicked his every move when it came to hunting. I could work our bird dogs and I knew exactly what to do when a dog went down on point and I had good training in gun muzzle awareness and how to handle and care for guns. My dad spent several years in the Army and Army reserve so he knew a good bit about firearms. We usually loaded our own shells and I spent many days as a kid reloading 410, 12 gauge and 20 gauge shells for a winter of hunting. My dad especially liked bird hunting and working with bird dogs so I helped my dad train our Brittney Spaniels so I was used to dogs and I knew what we required of them on a hunt. I was a little too young for our towns hunter safety course but I knew exactly what I could and couldn’t do when it came to firearms and hunting at a very early age.

Christmas finally arrived and we had a white Christmas in 1970. There was at least a foot of snow on the ground that year and I knew I was going to get that BB gun. Of course I played along with my parents when they told me I may or may not get a BB gun depending on what Santa thought but I was way past that Santa stuff. I planned it out in my head and I was ready to take myself, my new BB gun and 2 of our best bird dogs out for my first solo hunt. When I unwrapped my Daisy my grandparents were there and I can still remember it like it was this Christmas. I can remember the ouuu’s and the ahhh’s from my family as I tore the wrapping paper off to expose the long rectangular Daisy box and I was ready to start another chapter in hunting. My dad and I went out in the back yard and my dad helped me load and cock the gun. We both sighted and shot the BB gun at some makeshift targets and my dad made sure I knew what I was doing before he turned me loose with the gun and the dogs. He quizzed me on a few safety items and made sure I was confident in handling the dogs. He knew that I could handle the dogs and he was aware that I would mimic everything he did when it came to commands for the dogs. I had already planned everything in my mind months in advance and myself and the dogs were headed to Baker’s Hedgerow.

Baker’s Hedgerow was a mile long row of hedge apple trees and briars that lined two large crop fields about two miles from our farm. I had to cross a few big fields and climb through a couple of barbed wire fences to get to Baker’s hedgerow. My dad and I hunted the hedgerow frequently and there was generally a few coveys of quail somewhere along the hedgerow. Our dogs knew the area well and our Brittney’s knew exactly what to do when hunting the tree line and adjacent fields. The great thing about Brittney dogs was that their tails were bobbed and they would work in heavy cover and briars when other dogs wouldn’t. Our dogs were trained to work close to the hunter and not range out too far ahead and spook the birds, whether it was quail or pheasant. Our dogs were taught to be obedient but to them hunting was a job and a job they did well. Our best dog was a large male named Prince. Prince was a breeding male and sired several litters of Brittney pups over the course of his life. I had a little female Brittney named Buttons and she was a great hunter also, just like Prince. Buttons was a breeder dog and provided us with some fine litters from her and Prince. Another female we used for hunting was Princess. She was another female we used for breeding but not as bird savvy as Prince and Buttons but she did well enough to take on hunts as long as Prince was there to lead the way. On my first hunt I chose to take Prince and Buttons because they worked well together and they were easy to handle. Prince was the boss and looked at hunting as his job and he knew exactly what to do. The only problem we ever had with Prince was that he didn’t ever want to quit. If he knew we were quitting and heading for the truck or the house he would do his best to drag it out and keep hunting. Although Prince bit my sister once while she was trying to play with him while he was eating, we never had a problem with him and he seemed to understand that I was an extension of my dad and he always adhered to my commands. My job was always feeding the dogs and I think that’s another reason he respected me, I was the guy the brought the hot food on a cold winter night.

Shortly after feeding Prince and Buttons a hot meal of dry dog food with warm water poured in, which we always did before taking them on a hunt, I bundled up and got final instructions from everyone in the family including a laughable warning not to shoot my eye out. I was ready and let the dogs out for the hunt. We headed southwest out across our pasture and the nearest neighbors field, the Peaks, covered with snow. We had to cross our neighbors field to the south to get to Baker’s hedgerow. The Peaks pasture was used for their cattle to graze and included two watering ponds in which I frequently fished during the summer months. The dogs knew the way to the hedgerow and all I had to do was try and keep up. Prince would stop at every little clump of grass to sniff it out for any evidence of bird activity. Buttons was always in tow of Prince and they worked their way across the fields. Just before we reached the hedgerow there was a little draw with thickets and a small creek. As we approached the thickets I cocked my BB gun and got ready for action. I knew that their could be a covey of quail anywhere around the draw and my suspicions were confirmed when Prince started getting birdy. When the dogs would get birdy they would seem more serious and more pronounced in there movements. Their bobbed tails would start working back and forth with excitement and they would be nose to the ground working the area with a serious intent. If their keen noses caught a whiff of a bird or birds they would stop suddenly, frozen it time and a front paw would come off the ground, bent at the knee. This is what is referred to as “on point”. Prince didn’t exactly go down on point in this case but before he could I saw what was making him birdy. It was a Prairie Chicken and one of the only ones I had ever seen in my life. Prairie Chickens were very rare in our neck of the woods but I knew they existed from our years of hunting and listening to my dad speak of them in my younger years. I knew exactly what they looked like from the numerous books and magazines I had on upland gamebirds and the stories I read of bird hunting. Compared to a Bobwhite quail, the Prairie Chicken is much larger and would rather run from danger than hold tight in the snow or fly away. Both Prince and Buttons finally got a good whiff of the bird and went down on a hard point. I held the dogs point with a “whoa” command. A “whoa” or “whoa back” command was a command we used for the dogs when we wanted them to hold point and not move. This command would be given to the dogs over and over until we got into position to flush the bird and got ready to take a shot.This Prairie Chicken chose to run while the dogs held point from my command and I got a close look at the large bird. I don’t know if me or the bird was more shocked but as the big bird ran out away from us I didn’t take a shot and the bird didn’t fly until it was way out in front of us. The dogs finally broke point when they realized the bird had ran and after they saw that the bird had taken flight they went back to scouring the ground for more birds.

We worked our way to the hedgerow and started down the edge with the dogs working in and out of the thickets. They never strayed to far ahead and I could usually see them of hear the ID tags on there collars clinking as they ran. They would zig zag back and forth and in and out of the hedges.  I saw a few single quail kick up and fly ahead of the dogs but we just couldn’t find a nice covey over the course of walking the tree line. I never got to fire a shot at a bird with my new Daisy. We were just about to leave the hedgerow for home when I heard a faint crying noise from inside the tree lie and it sounded like a baby crying off in the distance. I saw Prince stop and listen, ears up and straining to hear the noise. We heard it again and Prince took off through the trees with Buttons in tow. They were gone for a while and I started thinking it may have been a Bobcat but soon Prince came out in a clearing carrying a small kitten in his mouth. The kitten was crying and Prince dropped the kitten at my feet. To this day I don’t know how that kitten wound up out there in the middle of nowhere but there it was, a little male tomcat cold and squalling. I picked the kitten up and put it inside my heavy coat and headed for home. Prince and Buttons were jumping around all the way home wanting to get a look at the little kitten in my coat. When I got back to the house I put the dogs up and walked in the back door to show everyone what I had found. When Kay saw the little kitten she went and got some milk from the fridge to warm and feed him. My dad wasn’t to keen on the idea of another mouth to feed but Kay had a soft spot for animals, especially a stray left out in the cold so we decided to keep the tomcat and I would add him to my chores to take care of. I named that cat Tommy and he spent the next several years hanging out around the farm catching rats, mice, snakes and any other small varmint that was around the house or barn. We made several trips back to Baker’s Hedgerow over the years but I’ll never forget my first hunting trip with my new BB gun and finding ole Tommy out there on Christmas day 1970.