The Marching Party

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It would take me a lifetime to write about my Navy career but here’s a little peek at a small moment in my career that helped shape me into what I am today.  I wanted to put this in words before my withering memory wipes it away

Before you can understand the story I need to get you up to speed on what San Diego Navy boot camp was like in 1982. When I joined the Navy I had rarely been out of the Midwest except for a few family vacations as a kid so flying into San Diego, Ca. at 10:30 in the evening to report to boot camp was a big deal. I don’t care who you are, you’re going to be a little freaked out for the first 48 hours or so. You go through a series of fun events within the first few days but one of the first things that happens after a good haircut is you go through uniform issue. This is a time when you are issued all of your Navy uniforms and undergarments and you stencil your name just above the pocket on all of your “dungaree” shirts and trousers or working uniform as well as your “skivvies”, hat or “lid”, socks and personal belongings. By this time you have formed a “Company” which is a group of about 50-75 guys that you’ll be spending the next few months with, living in cramped quarters in a barrack without heat or air conditioning. Each person is referred to as a “recruit” for the duration of boot camp and we marched in formation everywhere we went.

While we stenciled our clothing our prospective “Company Commanders” were walking around watching us work on stenciling our gear. Company Commanders were the equivalent of a Drill Instructor in other branches of the service,more senior members in the Navy and could be recognized by a chest full of medals and ribbons, a lot of stripes on their uniform and these red ropes dangling in a loop from their shoulders. We referred to them as “red ropes” behind their back and “Sir” to their face. There would usually be 2 Company Commanders assigned to a Company and they were the boss, your mom, you dad, you’re best friend, your worst enemy and just like Sgt Hulka, they were our big toe. While stenciling my uniforms I could tell the Company Commanders were watching us to see who was paying attention to detail and doing a thorough job in a timely manner so I made sure I did everything to perfection when they walked behind me and looked over my shoulder. It paid off to perfection and a week later I was dubbed our new “Company Yeoman”. Our Company Commander, First Class Petty Officer Marlor took a liking to me and trusted me the responsibilities of a Yeoman which was taking care of the daily logistics of head counts and mail call. I was the liaison between the company and our Company Commander. I liked my job but our Company Commander was mean, I mean real mean. He was covered in tattoos from neck to toes and could out run, do more push-ups, set-ups or any number of exercises we did on a daily basis. This guy was covered in tattoos before that sort of thing was cool. He was intimidating to say the least but in the back of my mind a little part of me knew this was all part of the act. The act of shaping us all into young sailors before setting us out to start our real Navy careers.

I don’t think words can properly describe the feelings I went through in Boot Camp. Besides the obvious things like missing home, a girlfriend, mom and dad and all of those creature comforts, you learn very quickly to do without. There were challenges on an hourly basis and there was so much to learn in a short period of time. There were great things that got accomplished in boot camp and there were failures and consequences to be paid. A few weeks after the start of Boot Camp we were all settling into a routine and starting to feel a little cocky. Feeling a little cocky was something that was not advised during boot camp. Us recruits feeling a little cocky made the Company Commander feel a little cocky too. Their idea of feeling a little cocky was singling out any one person who thought he was better than the rest or maybe someone who made a mistake? This person would become the target of Company Commanders enjoyment. Sometimes the Company Commander would take matters into his own hands and sometimes he would send a hard case to a “Marching Party”. A marching party was something that took place after dark once a week, usually on Thursday and there was usually someone going from our unit every week. The ones that went never came back the same. They didn’t chat much about it, only saying it was 2 hours of hell and involved Navy SEALs. At the time about all I knew about the SEALs was that they were elite and mean. I only knew what I had read in our “Bluejacket” manual which is the sailors bible and has everything about everything in the Navy. In the manual they gave a brief job description of a Navy SEAL and I knew they had to be tough.

After about a 4 week period of being our company Yeoman I had things down to a science. I knew my job inside and out and I got complacent. One of my jobs was to do a head count of every recruit in our company prior to sitting down for a meal. For every meal I would report the number of recruits to our Company Commander and we would file into the chow hall for our meal. Sometimes a recruit would be sent to sick call or some other demand so the number of recruits going to a meal may vary from meal to meal. After 4 weeks on the job as the head counter before meals I just started winging it and throwing out a number thinking no one was checking my numbers. We went days with me reporting a headcount that went unchecked so I thought it was just a formality. Yea, I was dead wrong. One day our Company Commander call me into his office out of the blue. Up until this point I had been his “Go To” guy in the company and could do no wrong. On prior meetings with him in his office it was generally a pleasant experience but on this occasion it was all business. He informed me that from his best estimation somehow over night perhaps, a big rock had came in contact with my head and made me a dumbass. He had been watching me operate at the chow hall head counts and had been checking my numbers for the last week. Needless to say I was busted and for punishment I would be fired from my position and sent to the marching party on Thursday evening. He looked me in the eyes and in a stern  voice he said “You know Farmer, in the Navy complacency can get you killed, or even worse, you’ll get the people around you killed. I want you to remember that“. It was like my whole world just tanked. I was fired from my position and banished to the marching party. I wasn’t going alone as I soon found out that another recruit from our company had done something wrong and would be accompanying me to the party. His name was Powell and we were both trying to find out all we could about what went on at a marching party but the guys from our company who had went didn’t was to talk about it much siting a sworn secrecy.

Thursday night finally came after a long day of marching and classroom events. Everyone else was finishing their duties for the evening as Powell and I were donning our gear to go to the marching party at 10pm. Our gear included our working uniform with a watch cap or black stocking cap. We were told to march to a empty parking lot or “grinder” directly in front of the little store where we got our supplies. We would be greeted by our hosts for the night and they would give us our instructions for 2 hours off hell. Powell and I really didn’t know what we were in for so the mood was light as we marched to the grinder. When we got there the party was in full swing and we were immediately told to join ranks for a little chat before we got started. We were all in formation standing at attention while these big face painted gorillas walked through our ranks explaining to us how we had fucked up really bad and we were about to pay for it. They asked if anyone wanted to go home to momma before we got started but no one had the balls to go that route so without further ado we started doing different physical exercises while being yelled at by about 6-8 Navy SEALs. They got in your face, they got in your ear and tried in every way to make us break and cry. I won’t go into detail but some of the exercises were very extreme with names like “Hello Dollies” and “Eight count body builders” and one of my personal favorites, “The Superman”. We would do push-ups but you would have to stay in the down position with your nose and body 2 inches from the deck. It didn’t take long till the sweat started mixing with the dirt on the ground and everyone’s faces were black and dripping mud. My working uniform was covered in sweat and dripping, making a puddle of mud beneath me. They tested ever muscle in my body and I was in outstanding shape at the time. After the first hour my body trembled from exertion and my muscles were fading fast. If you were caught screwing up an exercise the SEAL’s were on you like a pack of wild dogs with 2 or 3 of these gorillas in you face screaming obscenities and just try to get you to break. I finally decided that these SEAL’s were probably betting big money and taking a head count on how many of us they could break before it was over so I made up my mind that wasn’t going to happen to me. They could break my body but they couldn’t break my spirit. Names were a form of enjoyment for these guys and they would make light of our names. When they saw my name was Farmer they had a little fun with me and my name designed to see if mocking my family name would break me. They never put a hand on us but it was degrading to say the least. Just before we were done, Powell, who was directly to my left finally broke and the tears started flowing. They showed no mercy and crying only gathered a crowd of these antagonizers.  That was the point in the evolution that I realized the reason that no one who had been there before me talked about it much. They didn’t break me and when it was over Powell and I marched back to the barracks with muscles either locked, cramping or in some kind of spasm.

When we got back to the barracks, everyone was asleep except for the 2 night watchmen. We were covered in dirt and told by the night watchmen in the barracks to get a quick show and hit the rack for the night. One of the night watchmen asked us how it was and neither myself or Powell wanted to discuss it much. I promised Powell on the way back that I wouldn’t say anything about what went down. I showered and hit the rack for the night. It seemed like I had just closed my eyes when the lights came on and it was morning. I had slept a total of 4 hours but it seemed like I hadn’t slept at all. When I tried to get out of my rack, my muscles were completely locked up. I have never felt like I felt that morning at any time in my life. I have competed in military and civilian marathons at a lightning pace and pushed my body to the brink of destruction but I have never ever felt like that since. Powell and I went on to graduate from boot camp and start our Navy careers but that little 2 hour snippet in time will never be forgotten by me and I’m sure, by Powell also.

Although that was just a small fragment of my life there was a lesson to be learned and our old Company Commander was right, during my career in the Navy I’ve witnessed more than one incident or accident where complacency was the culprit and the outcome wasn’t good. On the flight deck of an aircraft carrier there is an old saying “The moment you get complacent on the flight deck is the moment you jeopardize your life and the lives of everyone around you”.

 

The bone “Hump Buster” walking bait

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A few years back and ran across a topwater blank that I really liked so I bought a few and painted them in a few of my favorite colors. When the fish are surfacing in the spring and fall the hump buster is a great choice, mainly because of the size and shape of the bait. It is the same profile as a blueback swimming on the surface and this bait looks great when walking the dog.

My wife Lisa’s biggest largemouth to date came from this bait and it’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine on Lanier. Here’s a video and a few pictures of the Hump Buster in action.

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Early Summer Report South End

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It’s been a couple weeks since my last report and the topwater is still going strong. For the past 2 weeks there was a good mix of stripers and bass out on the creek points very early in the morning. If you got out in the creek at dawn, you could see the fish surfacing and fishing these areas with a variety of topwater baits has produced a lot of nice fish lately. Being in the right place at the right time helps tremendously when it comes to catching these fish. More times than not, if you get your bait in the area of surfacing fish too late, the fish will not come back up for it. The window of opportunity to catch these fish has been small and basically, if you don’t get to them while they are on the surface or seconds after they surface, there not coming back up. That tells us that the water at the surface is degrading in oxygen levels. If the levels were good, the fish would be more than happy to come back up after a bait. The good part was that 2 weeks ago there was still a good mix of stripers and bass together and we caught a lot of stripers and bass but that is changing fast in the creek. Most of my trips last week were runs out to the creek at dawn and back at the ramp by 9am. I did get a chance to take a couple of people out to enjoy the topwater bite. Here’s a few pics from a trip with my friend Mark who joined me for an early morning creek run last week and a couple videos of my wife Lisa walking the Sexy Dawg topwater bait last weekend as well as a video of some early summer hump fishing this week.

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Just as in past years there comes a time when the stripers migrate from the reaches of the creek to the deep mouth or main lake and join forces in big schools to spend the hot summer feeding on bluebacks in the thermocline layer.  That’s what is going on right now. I’m starting to see less and less stripers in the creek and more and more out on the main lake. Most of the stripers still coming to the surface are smaller fish and the bigger stripers are going deeper in the water column. This is the time of year I start changing my tactics to a summer pattern and looking for fish out on the main lake. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of bass in the creek worth catching but I’d rather be out on the main lake humps where a lot of big bass are taking up their summer residence. The big bass and smaller stripers are coming up very early in the morning for a dawn feeding on the humps and then the stripers go deep but the topwater bass bite has been coming back around about mid day right now.  It’s the down time between the dawn bite and the midday bite that been tough to figure out. I’ve been catching a few with different subsurface methods when the fish have been suspended around structure on the humps. Right now I’ve been biding my time with the dropshot, jigs and shakeyhead around the structure and bagging a few nice ones.

Another option for early to mid morning right now is a crankbait on the cool shady chunk rock areas near the mouths of the creeks and out on the islands. During the over night hours the big rocks tend to cool and by morning the big rocks provide a nice cool little haven for baitfish as well as crawfish. Throwing a medium to deep diving crankbait in a shad or summer crawfish pattern around the shady rocky shoreline in the mornings is a lock for a few nice bass foraging for a morning meal.

After the morning and midday bite is over, it’s back to the dropshot on deeper structure for the rest of the day for me. If you can stand the heat, the Corps has been generating in the afternoon and into the evening lately which usually gets the dropshot bite going around structure on the main lake humps near the river channel. If the water is moving during generation, the bass are usually looking for a meal around the structure. If you’re new to the dropshot or looking for these main lake humps to find where the summer bass hang out, just look for shallower areas that are near the river channel. These are not visible to the naked eye so you need a good contour map to actually see the humps. You need to look for the humps that come up to 25-40 feet in depth and seek out the structure in these areas. If there is brush or structure on the hump, there’s bound to be bass. Soon we’ll have a solid thermocline out on the main lake and it will be time for our summer striper spoon bite so stay tuned for that. Water temps are in the mid 80’s right now.

Yesterday I took my friend Clint out for a 1 hour run to the humps at dawn. There has been some good surface activity on the humps and Clint had an hour before he went to work to catch a nice bass on topwater. Clint was throwing a blueback colored Whopper Plopper and nailed his personal best magnum spot. Here’s a pic of Clint’s spot and some random pictures from the last week including a few pictures of my new “Hump Buster” topwater plug.IMAG0831IMAG0830IMAG0828IMG_25291IMAG083720160602075152(1)20160602055502 (6)IMAG0820