Karma, Payback or the Wrath?

This week was a doozy and I hope I can get a reset this morning in church. It all started on Monday morning when I was dealing with the worst toothache in the world. The man-pain needle was pegged off the charts but I had a dentists appointment in the afternoon so I just ate a bunch of Motrin and went on about my morning. It started at the McDonald’s drive thru when the lady taking my order got snippy with me because I asked for a “regular” biscuit instead of a “plain” biscuit. Apparently she wasn’t able to make the correlation that early in the morning and with my toothache I was in no mood for McDonald drive thru shenanigans. She got snippy, I got snippy and then I told her I would help her out and cancel my order all together because I wanted a Hardee’s pork chop and gravy biscuit anyway so our transaction was over and I drove away mad. As I drove by the window to give her my stink eye I looked at the lady I was speaking with and she looked young and frazzled. It almost looked like she had been crying as we looked in each other in the eyes and I thought that maybe she was having a bad day too. Then I felt bad because my sore tooth was probably minuscule compared to the problems she may have been facing and that’s the moment when my punishment began this week. It just went from bad to worse as the week progressed…

On the fishing front this week it was fun. I was still on my little swimbait bite from the week before and I was still having fun with that. I was mainly fishing an area I named the horseshoe gauntlet because the brush piles are shaped in a large horseshoe on a flat and the bass mainly cruise the inside of the horseshoe shaped brush looking for bait. It’s like a big 40 foot across underwater corral of bass and a lot of fun when they eat what you’re throwing. I just hit the spot lock and make casts inside the coral with the little swimbait, letting it fall and dragging it till I feel the tick. The gauntlet had been reloading with bass very frequently so I could leave and come back 2 hours later for more fun. Most of these fish were the 1-2lb variety but every once in a while a bigger fish would show up. I was fishing the BFL tournament on Saturday so I wasn’t really thinking of the gauntlet for a tournament spot. The gauntlet is more of a minor league warm up spot before you go find the big girls out in the deep or you need a quick fix if you haven’t felt the little tink tink in a while. Here’s a picture of some of my gauntlet fish this week.

I also ran across another little bite that was cool this week and provided some bigger fish and that was the little ZMan ned rig combo. These deeper docks have been holding a few bigger fish and I found out this week that they were looking for the smaller stuff so I sized down my worm to a ned rig and started pitching it around deep 30-50 foot deep docks. It was a lot of fun but it was slow fishing. Once again, like the swimbait, the bite was slow but rewarding. Here’s a few fish from the ned rig.

Once the rain came I slowed down with my fishing and just tried to manage my toothache pain until Friday when we had a root canal scheduled. It was a necessary evil because my toothache pain was reaching unbearable stages and I needed it done before the weekend. Root canals haven’t changed any by the way. They are still as painful as I remembered from years past. Anyway back to the fishing. My neighbor and I hit the creek for a bit Thursday when it wasn’t raining and we ran across a few schooling stripers in a quiet cove. We both tied on a little weightless fluke jr and had some fun. My neighbor David has a friend from Louisiana that had recommended a recipe for striper so we kept a couple for David’s table fare.

When Friday morning arrived I was in the dentist chair bright and early getting a nerve drilled out by a dentist who lied to me. He said it was going to be fun and we were going to joke around during the procedure but the only joking we did was right before he hit a active nerve with his tiny drill and joke time was over. I think I would just as soon taken my chances with trying to pull a tooth from a greased up bobcat rather than sit in that chair and let a dentist hollow out the root of one of my molars. So we got the root canal out of the way and I got a few pain pills and a pat in the rear before heading home. I immediately ate one of the pain pills and relaxed for a while before heading down to the boat to get my gear for the morning tournament. After I let the Hydrocodone kick in real good on an empty stomach I took off trotting down to the dock and slipped and fell on our stone paver steps damaging my right arm. I had enough of being poked for one day already so I had Lisa just butterfly it up for my tournament. I think our doctoring skills need help but we got it fixed up only to have it come apart during the tournament.

Yesterday, tournament day it was my first time as a co-angler and I had a good time even though the weather sucked. We fished up north for a while and then came down to the south end. We hit the gauntlet briefly and I caught my biggest fish of the day, a solid 3 plus and my partner boated one also. We mainly fished docks with worms from that point on and I boated 3 more fish while my partner zeroed on docks. I wound up with 4 fish for 7.8 pounds and a 35th place finish out of 224 co-anglers. I got a little check and felt pretty good about the day after seeing some of the sticks that struggled along with me. It’s been a long week and it’s been filled with a lot of pain and suffering for me so I’m going to spend a little time this morning trying to get right with the big man upstairs and see if we can get a reset for next week. Have a good week!

Fishing and Trend Analysis

Every winter is different”….repeat after me, “Every winter is different”. Sometimes I tend to forget that and so right now I’m looking at a giant pile of brand new shaky head worms that I have invested my winter budget in and I can’t find a fish that will bite a worm to save my butt. For the last 3 years the shaky head has been my go to bait through the month of Feb. and I have amassed some giants over those 3 years on the shaky head but this year I had to change it up and I think I know why.

Back when I was in the Navy working on fighter aircraft, one of the many programs our squadron was required to maintain was the “Trend Analysis” program. The Trend Analysis program was a complexed study of every facet of each of our 12 aircraft and their many systems over a period of time in an attempt to find any trend in discrepancies that could later lead to catastrophic failures. I maintained the program for a few years and the attention to detail required in aircraft Trend Analysis is something that I try and transfer to our lake and fish habits. I’ve gotta be honest, tracking trends in fighter aircraft is far less complexed than tracking trends in fish habits. There are a lot of variables to fishing and the fish is a moving target. For the past few years I’ve flourished in the winter and shined like a diamond in a goats kulu when it came to Feb. and my shaky head pattern but this year it’s shaping up differently. It’s pretty much right in front of my face every day when I throw the worm and get snagged way more than I should and have little fish to show for it. It took me a minute but if you look at the water level data for the past 3 years you’ll see that the lake is trending downward and has been for a while. If you look at the past 3 years in data you’ll see that the lake rose sharply in each of those years and as the lake levels rose my worm bite took off. More than likely the bass were foraging the new shoreline from the sharp rise in lake levels where as so far this year there is nothing new for the bass to forage. Crawfish holes are drying up and submerged rocks are now dry. That leaves less options for the bass so it’s back to scrounging food in other places, with worms and crawfish out of the picture it’s most notably where the bluebacks and shad are hanging out.

The above hypothesis is why I have decided to drag swimbaits around endlessly to get my bites as I just needed to make the adjustment from worm to tiny swimbait. Basically, for the past 2 weeks my goal was to locate fish and drag a small swimbait slowly on the bottom to mimic the food source they are looking for. Here’s what I know; every morning when the sun comes up the bluebacks leave the shallows of the backs of the pockets and other shallow places and they move out to deeper water. The bass live in the lake and do this for a living so they tend to congregate in areas like shallow to deep drop offs and across flats in an attempt to ambush the bluebacks as they return to deeper water when the sun rises and warms the surface. This is important to remember, I’ll capitalize it for you: BLUEBACKS LIKE AND CRAVE SUNLIGHT and spotted bass like and crave bluebacks. My biggest suggestion is to find an area, whether it’s the back of a creek or the back of a pocket in a creek, if there is bait present in shallow areas and you see sporadic fish scattered on the graph, back off to deeper water, say maybe 25-30 feet and cast a little swimbait rig up into the shallows, dragging it down the slope or ledge very slowly. This week, I found a school of hundreds of fish and all that the bass were doing was feeding on bluebacks as they made their escape from shallow to deeper water chasing the sun as it broke the tree line. The key is to work the bait slowly, stopping every once in a while to see if dead sticking the bait will trigger a bite. I know it’s like watching paint dry but the rewards can be good. Here’s a picture of my setup this week and the bait I used to catch over 70 bass.

If we have a cloudy day, which we have a lot of right now, the bluebacks tend to scatter more so another trend I’ve been tracking is the striped bass trend. Striped bass on Lanier are very elusive in the winter but at the same time they are more predictable. During this time of year the gulls and loons can give away the location of the stripers and one cloudy day this week I chased the birds with a small spoon and caught a few nice stripers for a friend and his family to eat. If you’d like to learn more about the striper technique I’m using right now check out my bog posts about loons and gulls last month.

Water temps are mainly in the upper 40’s right now and here’s a few random pictures from my week:

Nuts On Fire!! Nuts on Fire!!

In order to tell this story, I’ve got to go back a long way. I believe the year was 1989, shortly before the lead-up to the first Gulf War and I had been working on F-14 Tomcats for about 2 years. It seemed like the whole time I was in San Diego working on Tomcats I worked the night shift. The bad thing about working on Tomcats and working the night shift is is that your shift was supposed to end around midnight, but it seemed like it never ever ever ended around midnight. Most of the time we work on the jets till 2:00 AM, 3:00, AM 4:00 AM and sometimes we’d work on The jets until the sun came up and our day shift counterparts came in to relieve us. Our departure from work all depended on the next days flight schedule and aircraft availability to fulfill the mission. Basically, if the pilots needed 8 jets for the mission, we gave them 8 jets. One thing I can say about tomcats is that it was very hard work; it didn’t matter if you were an electrician, hydraulics man, metalsmith or engine mech, the work was hot, hard and dirty every night. The Tomcat was not only a big bad fighter jet, it was also a big fuel, hydraulic fluid and oil leaking dangerous hunk of metal and you had to respect that or things could be very bad. When young men work on multimillion dollar, 20 ton flame throwing machines of war, things can go from good to bad faster than a snake can strike.

I know you’re probably wondering about that catchy title of the story so I’ll get you up to speed on Navy squadrons and aircraft stuff before we get into the story. Generally in a fighter squadron you operate with 12 aircraft. Each aircraft is assigned a aircraft number from 00 up to 12 and out of those 12 aircraft a few may not be able to fly due to some form of scheduled or unscheduled maintenance. If a squadron can maintain an average of 7-8 aircraft being flight capable at any given time, you’re doing good. Some of the aircraft that are not flyable may have little problems that need minor maintenance attention and some may have big problems that require some form of specialized maintenance that could require months of waiting for the repair from a specialized group. That was the case with aircraft 00 which we appropriately named “Nuts” for short, so instead of saying “aircraft double zero” we just called her Nuts. Nuts had been a “hangar queen” of ours for just less than a year. Hanger queen means that it sat in the hangar unfixed for months. When the hangar queens are resting in the hangar waiting for specialized maintenance we would cannibalize the aircraft, meaning that we would take parts off of it in order to use for other aircraft to meet the flight schedule. Cannibalization was pretty common among the hangar queens and the longer an aircraft sat in the hanger the longer it would be cannibalized. In the case of Nuts, it spent close to a year in the hangar before the needed repair and after the repair was complete it was time to put it back together and fire it up….literally.

The bad thing about Nuts was that it had been cannibalized a lot and looked like Swiss cheese because it had so many holes in it before we put it back together. It was missing both engines, just about every computer had been taken out and probably hundreds of other parts including just about all of the gauges in the cockpits. It literally took us a few weeks just to get to the point of applying electrical power to the aircraft safely after we put it all back together. The engines were re-installed and every part that had been cannibalized had been replaced over the course of a few weeks. The longer an aircraft is in the hangar the longer it took to get it back in the air. We worked our butts off to make sure Nuts was ready to fly again before it’s year out of service was up. We had a deadline to meet and the aircraft needed to fly within a year or there was going to be some explaining to do with our Carrier Air Group Commander or “CAG”. CAG was our boss and you just didn’t let a jet sit a round for a year without flying it.

Once we put Nuts back together in the hangar, we jacked it up off the hangar deck and cycled the landing gear as well as many of the flight controls necessary for the aircraft to fly. Everything was working great in the hangar and it was time for us to tow Nuts out to the flight line to fire up the engines and bring the big jet to life. The engine mechanics were usually the ones in the front seat who started, ran the engines and did all the many maintenance checks that are involved with getting the aircraft ready for flight. The back seat of the Tomcat was for all the electronic equipment and the back seater had no controls for the engines, flight controls or many other systems. The back seater handled the navigation and weapons duties while the Tomcat pilot flew the aircraft. Most of the electronic testing and ground type electronic testing for us electricians and electronics technicians was done from the back seat. On the night we towed nuts out to the flight line for the first time it was late, we had been working all night just to get the jet ready to start. Everyone was tired and all we had to do was start the jet, try and run a few electronic tests as well as making sure the engines didn’t have any major issues. Well, like any other well laid plan in the Navy, it fell apart. Our engine mechanic and the guy that was going to start the engines on the Tomcat was my roommate “Chief” in the barracks and a good friend. I’m going to change a few names here because I think there may have been a procedure or two that was overlooked or bypassed to achieve our goal. In order to start and test the engines you needed to have a “turn qual” certification and it wasn’t easy to get. The squadron only maintained a few engine qualified folks and my roommate Chief was one of them. He hadn’t been a turn qual very long but we really needed to get the jet going and he was all we had.

It was probably 1am once we towed the jet out to the flight line and myself, Chief and about a dozen other ground crew folks started doing our checks. The jet was chalked and chained down for the engine run and I was going to be the electronic technician in the back seat while Chief ran the tests on the engines in the front once we got the jet started. In order to start a Tomcat you need a “huffer” which basically blows highly pressurized air into the engine to spin it up and turn it on. You also need an electrical cart to supply electrical power to the aircraft during starting. These two items are large pieces of ground equipment hooked up in close proximity to the aircraft and with a bunch of ground crew personal around the aircraft it’s pretty crowded. Chief and I finished all of our ground checks before climbing up into the front and back cockpit. The canopy was open and we jumped into the seats and started turning on instruments and gauges required for the start up. Chief and I had headsets on and we could talk with each other through the internal intercom system and we could also talk to the tower as well as our maintenance office inside the hangar. I was in the back seat doing my checks and talking to the ground personnel about 8 feet below on the ground. When it came time to start the engines we had to close the canopy as part of the procedures but I didn’t mind because we could turn on the air conditioning once we got an engine on line and it would be a lot more quiet and comfortable while doing my checks. We got the canopy closed and Chief gave the all clear to the ground crew and signal to apply huffer pressure to the aircraft. Chief was going to start with the left engine and then when the left was on line we would start the right engine. When the huffer kicked in I could feel the turbine blades on the big GE motor start to spin. Chief let the engine “windmill”, which mean letting the turbines spin without applying fuel or spark to the motor for a few minutes to warm it up. When Chief advanced the throttle from the off position to idle fuel would be sprayed into the combustion chamber of the motor and a giant 20k volt spark plug would ignite the fuel. I say “would be” sprayed into the combustion chamber but on this particular night something went wrong and the fuel didn’t ignite if it got fuel but for some reason the engine wouldn’t start. Chief told me over the intercom that he was going to make a second attempt to start the motor but we needed to raise the canopy to talk with a ground crew mechanic first. When Chief went to raise the canopy, it wouldn’t come up. The big canopy over the front and back cockpits was controlled by 3k pounds of nitrogen pressure and the bottle that held the nitrogen was depleted. We should have checked that before ever entering the cockpit but we were in a hurry and overlooked it. At that time we were a captive audience in the aircraft and the only 2 ways to get out of the aircraft in an emergency was to hand crank the canopy open with a small hand crank under the inside of the canopy sill and it took 275 turns and 5 minutes to open the canopy with the crank. The only other way was to blow or eject the canopy with the rockets that were inside the canopy sill and used for the pilot ejection sequence. If we had to blow the canopy it would result in some pretty bad burns and maybe death. Blowing a canopy was not advised and if you blew one and survived your Navy career would probably be over.

We gave hand motions to the ground crew to have them bring out a nitrogen servicing cart to service the nitrogen bottle so we could open the canopy. At that point we should have sat and waited till the canopy was serviced to continue but we made the decision to press on and try and start the engine again. Once again the motor didn’t light off so Chief kneeled the aircraft in an attempt to move any pooled gas around in the engine. Kneeling the aircraft mean collapsing the nose landing gear strut which is the position of the nose landing gear when it is launched from an aircraft carrier. When the strut is kneeled the nose of the aircraft is lowered considerably and any pooled gas in the engine is shifted to the front and when you are starting a Tomcat, kneeling the aircraft for a short period of time and then raising it somehow works for starting a stubborn motor. Once Chief kneeled and raised the aircraft he gave the ground crew the signal that he was going to try and start it one more time. We got the thumbs up from the ground crew Chief advanced the throttle to idle once again only this time there was a huge explosion in the back of the aircraft. The explosion lite up the night around the aircraft in a giant fireball and everyone on the ground scattered like roaches. I heard our maintenance department guys on the radio inside the hangar shout out “Nuts on Fire”!!!”Nuts on Fire”!!!From where I was in the back seat I could feel the heat from the fireball and when I looked back to the rear of the aircraft I could see flames engulfing the back half of the aircraft. Basically the engine had finally lite off but we had a lot of excess fuel inside the engine and when Chief raised the aircraft from kneel a lot of fuel ran out onto the tarmac underneath the aircraft which no one had seen prior to our startup attempt. When the motor finally lite off a line of burning fuel ran down the back of the tailpipe onto the ground and ignited the ground around the aircraft. At that point we were in big trouble, the back of the aircraft was on fire and I quickly realized I had no way out of the aircraft without blowing the canopy and risking my career and life. It was definitely a bad place to be in but out of a dozen people running from the fire only one grabbed a nearby Halon fire extinguisher bottle, ran towards the fire spraying Halon as he went and put out the flames. Words couldn’t properly describe the feeling of relief I had seeing those flames subsid as the Halon did it’s job. His name was Mike P and I’ll never forget that name or watching Mike calmly put out the fire and possibly save a couple of lives in the process. Things got pretty busy once Mike got the fire put out. The fire department showed up while Chief and I were waiting to get the canopy opened to get us out. I gotta admit that I was pretty rattled when I finally climbed out of the cockpit and put my feet on the ground. The aircraft had minor damage from the flames but nothing that couldn’t be fixed up. Nuts managed to get back in the air shortly after that night and it flew with our squadron for the next 3 years I was there. When I think back to that incident in the middle of the night, I thank my lucky stars and the big man upstairs for my survival in our Tomcat squadron. In my 5 years in the squadron we crashed 3 jets and lost at least 6 squadron personnel, one being a close fishing buddy of mine that I still think about often. Unfortunately bad things happen when you work on Navy jets and you rely on your training to save lives. Mike P knew exactly what to do when he saw the fire while 10+ other guys ran from the fire.

Our Sauna Build Project

About 10 years ago Lisa and I put a steam sauna in our last house and we enjoyed it so much were going to install another one. When we built the Cast Away Cove house a few years back we had the builder add a small room off of the man cave bath and leave it unfinished. (I also knew that a lot of the sauna heaters are 220vac heaters so I had our electrical install a dedicated 220vac and a switch box in a little utility room under the stairs and will be access to the heater control as well as Bluetooth for tunes when the sauna is complete). Our plan was to install the sauna later. Well. now it’s later and we ordered everything we need from Superior Sauna out of Wisconsin. We received the shipment yesterday so now we can get started with our winter project 2021. I’ll be posting pictures of the progress until it’s complete.

Storm in the Keys

maxresdefault

The Florida Keys and the Key West area was always a magical place for me during my Navy career. As a kid growing up in the Midwest, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined some of the fun times I had in the Florida Keys while in the Navy. Back before, during the Reagan years and beyond there was a need for aircraft to patrol our southern borders in order to combat drug smuggling and at times our squadron was tasked with helping the feds with drug smuggler detection, interception and interdiction. Basically our squadron was tasked with finding the smugglers and the feds were tasked with apprehension. The squadron would spend a few weeks at a time down on a little known key just north of Key West called “Boca Chica”. The Navy had a small air base there and we would operate out of the airbase during our stay. The Navy also had a resort type area on Boca Chica complete with a private beach, marina, bar, restaurant and other amenities’ to make our stay more comfortable and private while we operated in the area. Unless we went into Key West which was about 10 miles from the air base, you’d never know we were there as just about everything we needed was on the base including a laid back night life at the beachside bar and restaurant after a hot day of working on the tarmac. 

       Once the feds got a little more technical with their surveillance tactics using satellites and radar, the need for our services dropped off but the base at Boca Chica was tasked with a new roll which was providing fleet adversary training (ACM) or “dog fighting” training to the fleet. Basically, Navy pilots have to stay proficient in different aspects of their job, one of those being “air to air” combat. The central hub for that training became the base at Boca Chica for the east coast air bases and sometimes the west coast bases as well. It made sense because the area in which the pilots operated was way out over the gulf and the Florida Keys was the perfect location to operate from. As a maintenance man, I wasn’t complaining as I loved to fish so when I wasn’t working on the jets I was probably going to be either fishing or trying to find a way to fish. 

                     As my Navy career was winding down I was transferring from a F-18 Hornet squadron in southern Louisiana and I chose to take a I-level job which basically meant that I would not be working on the jets anymore but I would be working on the electronic gear that goes into the jet at a small airbase just north of Atlanta, Ga. called Dobbin Air Reserve Base. I would be in a repair outfit testing and repairing anything from computers to hydraulic actuators. If it used electricity and went to a Navy or Marine Corps aircraft they probably fixed it at one time or another. By that time in my career I was in a supervisory position and was the leading Petty Officer of our division. I managed about 50-75 sailors and Marines in my position and I basically sat behind a desk all day working on paperwork, doing training which included death by Power Point and managing personnel that were half my age. After 2 years of that desk job I was about to lose my mind so I cancelled my my orders and requested to go back to lacing up my boots and working on jets for one last 2 year Hooray before my plan to retire. I was able to finagle my way into a F-18 Hornet squadron right there at the base just down the road from where I currently worked. I had about 12 years of experience on F-18 Hornets so I quickly regained all my old qualifications and started my new job as a Avionics QA rep. I traveled with the squadron when they would be tasked with different aspects of the job and the squadron usually made 3-4 trips to Key West every year for fleet adversary training. On this particular trip I was less than a year from retirement and I had already “dropped my papers” for retirement.

      The squadron had scheduled a early fall trip to Key West for another ACM training detachment which was scheduled to last 2 weeks. Just enough time for me to enjoy a little laid back lifestyle in the Keys and squeeze in a fishing trip before getting back to the grind in Atlanta. I knew this was going to be one of my last trips with the Navy to Key West so I really wanted to get some fishing in while I was there. When we were getting ready to spend a few weeks in Key West we always sent an advanced party of about a dozen personnel to make sure all of the logistics are taken care of before the main body of aircraft and personnel arrive. The advanced party would set up our birthing assignments in the barracks at Boca Chica. One nice thing about being a senior first class petty officer is that I rated my own private room so I didn’t have a roommate like most of the squadron personnel. That comes in handy when in Key West because sometimes a roommate could be problematic if they like the night life and you didn’t. On this particular trip my fishing buddy Chris was going with the advanced party and he was tasked with finding us a fishing charter during our stay in the Keys. We were going to work a 24 on and 24 off shift which would give us the opportunity to get in a trip or two. Chris was a great saltwater fisherman and many times Chris and I had rented fish boats from the Navy marina and fished for Mai Mai or other predatory fish around the drifting offshore weed beds and floating structure. We also fished the reefs for bottom feeding grouper and snapper at times. We dove for lobsters during the summer lobster season and fished on our own a lot but we wanted to let someone else do the guiding so we could focus on fishing on this trip. Generally the squadron would have a big beach party during our stay at Boca Chica so in addition to steaks and lobster on the grill Chris and I were going to try and provide some fresh fish for the beach party grill. In the past we had brought Mai Mai for the grill but it was late in the season and that kind of seafood wasn’t really anticipated to be on the menu for this trip. 

      Chris called me a few days after he arrived with the advanced party and he had found us a charter captain for a night fishing trip to the reefs for grouper and snapper. It seemed Chris had run into a commercial fishing captain who made his living catching reef fish and selling them to the local restaurants and markets as well as exporting a few up the state. Chris told me that they hit it off and the captain agreed to take Chris and I out on an all night trip to the reefs located about an hour offshore. He said that we would probably catch enough fish for our upcoming squadron party and if we would just kick in 100 bucks total for gas and bait that would pay for a night of fishing. It was mostly going to be snapper, grunts and grouper but that sounded like something we could put on the grill along with about 50-60 ribeye steaks, lobster, baked potatoes and vegetables to feed the squadron. Our plan was to leave the docks at sunset and fish most of the night. When we felt like we had enough for our party and the captain had a good amount of fish for his business we would come back in. That was the plan. 

I arrived in Key West with the main body of our squadron on a Saturday and I immediately had to go to work. There was a lot of things to set up and we needed to get everything ready to start flight operations early on Monday morning. Chris and I were working as squadron QA reps and we worked the same shift which was from noon on one day till noon on the next day. Our squadron just rotated 2 separate shifts around the clock so we were flying and performing maintenance almost non-stop for 2 weeks. We made our plans to leave on a Thursday evening, fish all night and procure the fish we needed overnight then coming in on Friday morning, clean and refrigerating our catch for the beach party and cookout on Saturday afternoon. 

Work went pretty smooth during the week and Thursday finally arrived. We got off work at noon and went back to our rooms for a little 4 hour power nap before preparing for our night trip. Chris and I grabbed a bite to eat, headed to the pier and found the captain just before sunset . We were joined at the dock by 2 other Navy guys from another squadron that the captain had met a few days earlier and wanted to join us. The captains boat was an older wooden fishing boat, maybe 35-40 feet in length with an open stern area and a coffin type box right in the middle of the open deck at the stern. When we boarded the younger captain introduced himself as Rob and I could tell he was of either Cuban or Puerto Rican decent. He showed us around the boat and got us familiar with his vessel. Rob was younger than me but I could tell he was seasoned and knew his stuff. He explained about the function of the box in the back. The box itself was open at the top and about 4 feet high, a good 7-8 feet long and 3 feet wide. There was a wire about the diameter size of a clothes hanger wire that ran right down the middle of the opening and the length of the box. The idea was that once you caught a fish you could drop the hooked fish in the box and pull the fish and hook into the wire and give a quick jerk and the fish would be released from the hook and fall down into the box. The box was actually the storage area for our catch and the idea keep the fish iced as we caught them overnight and to fill the box by morning. If it was anticipated that we were going to fill the box overnight that meant that we were going to be catching a heck of a lot of fish but that was fine by me. The more fish catching, the better the trip as far as I was concerned. Once we got the tour of the boat and everyone knew where the safety equipment was we were off. There was a small pilot house and Rob jumped in the captains chair and pulled the boat away from the dock right at sunset. We were heading east away from the island once we cleared the navigation channel and headed for one of the many reefs that surrounded Key West. As we pulled out into the open water the sky to the west was a mixture of orange and gray colors where the sun was last seen before setting. Off to the east in the direction that we were traveling was a far off thunderstorm and we could barely make out the lightning inside the high reaching anvil cloud of the storm. Storms offshore in the keys at night aren’t uncommon and most times provide a little bit of a light show after dark and off in the far distance.  Myself, Chris and the other 2 guests got familiar while we were on our way to the reefs.

It was a beautiful early fall evening and the temperatures were very mild at the time. We were dressed for mild weather and I think we all had shorts and a long sleeve fishing shirt for attire and we only brought light snacks and drinks with us. Chris found a cast net that Rob had stored in the pilot house so about 30 minutes into our trip we stopped and fired up a portable generator and put out a large sodium light along the starboard side where there was a small winch. We anchored over a shallow area and ballyhoo started gathering around the glow of the light. Rob asked if any of us wanted a beer from a cooler he had brought and I took him up on it. Nobody else in the group wanted a beer so myself and the captain cracked a natty lite while we watched more ballyhoo gather under the light. We drank and waited as the baitfish group got bigger and Chris readied the cast net for a throw over the side on top of the circling ballyhoo. I looked out to the east and the storm over the Atlantic was growing bigger and moving slowly towards us. At the time I wasn’t really concerned because captain Rob was at the helm and working on his 2nd natty while Chris let the net fly and drop over a couple dozen nice big ballyhoo to use for bait. After we threw the net a few more times for a few more baitfish over the course of the next 30 minutes we pulled anchor to find the fishing grounds. Once again we were heading right for the storm but it was still far off in the distance. We finally found the reef and there was just a small chop on the water when we dropped anchor and back the big boat into place.  Captain Rob turned on the stern lighting and deck lights which lite up the whole back of the boat. He brought out some conventional fishing gear which was just some old Penn Squider baitcasters and heavier mono on a stiff rod with a circle hook tied to the line and a small weight at the bottom. The idea was to drop a small piece of squid on the hook down about 30-40 feet, wait till you feel and jerk and then reel the fish up. Most of the fish were smaller type grunts, yellowtail and a few grouper but since Rob was a commercial fisherman he was allowed limits of fish in the hundreds of pounds vice the smaller recreational creel limits imposed by the state. Once you got the fish in you just take it to the box, drop it down, release it and bait up again. Rob, on the other hand was old school, he was a hand line fisherman. He basically had the same set up we had with the hook, bait and line but his line was wrapped around his hand vice using a fishing rod and reel. I’d experienced folks that hand lined in the past so it wasn’t anything new to me but I preferred the rod and reel method.

We all baited up and Rob dropped a couple of chum boxes down to the bottom in a wire basket to get the fish stirred up and eating. Just as soon as we dropped our bait down we had a fish on. Most of the fish were 10-20 inches in size and for the first hour or so it was fun to be catching fish that quick. I kept watching the storm to the east and after about an hour of catching fish we all knew the storm was moving towards us and we were probably going to get wet. Captain Rob told us that it wasn’t unusual and they generally passed through rather quickly without and problems but by this time Rob was working through the last of his first 12 pack of natties and I could tell he was getting a little jacked up with liquid courage. I had quit drinking earlier when I realized that the storm was going to hit us and that little breeze we had turned into a moderate blowing wind with a beefy chop on the water. It wasn’t long till we could hear the thunder and we could see lightning inside the giant thunderhead, some of the lightning bolts slammed down onto the waters surface lighting up the night sky under the storm cloud.  The boat was starting to rock as the waves got a little more pronounced but we were still catching fish and having a good time. The box was getting filled fast and we had a variety of fish for the party. Rob wanted to take advantage of the good fishing and said that if it got rough we would ride it out in the pilot house till the worst had passed and we could go right back to fishing. There were a couple long bunks inside the pilot house along the wall and you could lie down and rest or sleep if need when out fishing on overnight trips. Soon the sky darkened and the waves came in with more of a rolling action. There was a beefy chop on the surface from the wind but there were also some big rolling swells which tossed the boat back and forth. The rain started and the wooden deck became slick to walk on with the pitching and rolling deck. It was still fairly warm out but the rain and the wind had definitely cooled us down and none of us brought any proper rain gear nor did Rob carry any on the boat. As the storm came in the the thunder and lightning is what made me nervous. Not so much the thunder but the lightning is something we could have done without. Chris and the other 2 fellows in our group finally broke down and put away their gear, heading for the pilot house. By this time the storm was in full swing and Captain Rob was definitely hitting the natty hard. It was blowing rain with occasional lightning and reminded me of some of the storms I endured back in the Louisiana marsh during a hot summer afternoon. The boat was old but very seaworthy and I felt the anchor release and re-seat on a few different occasions. The old boat slammed back and forth with the waves and I figured that if the big boat was going to come apart in the storm I’d rather be outside than inside so I rode it out with Rob and fished right through it. I was either holding on to the gunnel rails or clinging to the fish box most of the time but I kept right on fishing. There was a point during the height of the storm that it was nearly impossible to walk on the deck to get back and forth from the side of the boat to the fish box with a fish. It was a scary situation to fish with the boat rolling, tossing, turning and all the lightning but I figured that if  this was the way I was going out I might as well be fishing when I bite it. I gotta tell you that it was rough, even in a big boat it was rough. There was a time during the storm when I was completely soaked and chilled, sliding around the deck of the boat and I said a quick prayer asking for a little help from the big guy upstairs. I wondered if all that natty light that Rob was drinking gave him the courage to stay out in the storm rather than run back to the safety of the dock but I also figured that the man had to make a living and he had 4 able bodied deck hands that actually paid to help him. He probably didn’t run across a mentally challenged labor force like us Navy guys that often and he had recruited 4 of us top notch sailors on this trip.   

Finally, I could tell the storm was loosing it’s punch on us and the rain started to subside. The wind calmed and the waves turned to a small chop again. Chris and the other guys came out from the pilot house and we all went back to fishing. We continued to catch fish and laughed about the storm and everyone sliding around the deck with the fish we were catching. It was around 4 am when we finally filled the box with fish and we were all whipped and ready to call it a night so we pulled anchor, started the big diesel motors and headed west toward the dock at Key West. We chatted about our night of fishing and Rob told us about his fishing adventures up and down the east coast over the years. When we finally reached our dock at the pier I could see the sun rising off to the east in the same area I saw the approaching storm the night before. I was beat when I stepped off the boat and I had a good case of sea legs from all the rocking and rolling. Rob told us that he would dress out and half shell some bigger fish filets for us and we could pick them up Saturday morning before our squadron beach party. It worked out perfectly and we had enough fish to add to our grilled table fare at the party for everyone to get a taste of grouper and snapper from the keys. I’ve probably visited the Keys a dozen times since that trip but fishing the reefs through a storm in the middle of the night is a trip I’ll never forget.      

More Loons and Spoons

This morning I was back at it bright and early. My plan was to hit the back of a few ditches early and see if I could find a few more nice bass first thing in the morning. This morning the wind was already blowing out of the northwest just like the last 2 days but it was definitely blowing a little harder early this morning. When the wind is blowing early in the morning the chop makes it harder for the gulls to see the bait below the surface so the gulls weren’t much help early this morning. I found a few fish in the backs of the pockets but I kept getting distracted by the loons and gulls moving around the creek in different areas. I saw the loons off in the distance and they were in a a pretty big group. I moved closer to the area the loons were in and I started watching them work. There were 12-15 loons in the group and they were all diving at the same time which means that they were working. When loons are moving around looking they tend to dive randomly looking in a search mode but when they find a good pod of bait they all go to work together to round up the bait in a tight pattern for the feeding. I saw a few baitfish hit the surface where the loons had been and that little bit of surface activity with the baitfish triggered the gulls to move in. A few of the loons surfaced and quickly dove back down splashing the surface in the process. More loons were popping up, quickly moving around and diving back down for another mouthful of small 1 inch shad or small bluebacks. More gulls showed up and started diving on the water but by that time I was within striking distance with my little white spoon and I let it fly right into the area where the birds were working. I made a very long cast to get into the area and when the spoon hit the water I just let it freefall for about 5-10 seconds so it would clear most of the loons before I made my first long pull on the spoon. The loons know the difference between my spoon and live bait so they rarely get hooked accidentally and thankfully so. Hooking a loon is no fun and something you want to avoid at all costs. Once the spoon cleared the loons I gave the spoon a good long pull upward and then let it freefall while I reeled down. I was over 60+ feet of water and after my second long pull I felt a familiar tick and the line going slack. A tick and slack line can only mean one thing when you know the spoon hasn’t hit the bottom. It means that it’s time to reel down on the slack and make sure your drag is set because your fixin to go for a ride. I set the hook on the tick and felt a pretty sturdy pull back and I knew it was the man in the striped tuxedo. I spent the next few minutes in a tug of war with my biggest striper this year, pictured above.

My setup was primarily for vertically jigging bass or the shaky head rigs and is pretty light when it comes to stripers but I was using 12lb high vis braid with a 30 foot 7lb flouro leader mounted on a Shimano 3000 Ci4 spinning reel and a 7’6” Enigma HPT rod and a 1/2 ounce War Eagle spoon. After landing the fish above I watched the loons and gulls move out over the middle of the creek channel and well over 100 feet in depth when they all started working again. The gulls showed up again and I could tell that they had more bait corralled so I moved the boat to within striking distance. I looked down at the graph and could see striper suspended at 20-30 feet over a 110+ foot bottom. I let the spoon fly into the group of loons and gulls and within 10-15 seconds I felt another tick on the line, I set the hook and missed but within seconds I felt another near miss before the line loaded up again with another nice striper. This striper spent most of the fight near the surface which was the way I like it. Sometimes bigger stripers will take you right down into the standing timber when over deep water but this fish swam on the surface and rolled a few times. It was another stout fish that really put that Shimano drag system to the test. This fish had really put on the feed bag and was another stout teenager and a little smaller than the first fish.

After those two stripers I decided to look around for any kind of pattern for the bass which was a washout effort today. I’ve been trying a few new things and checking some new areas for fish every time I go out. Soon these fish will start making their way to the staging areas and shift to a pre-spawn feeding pattern. Every year is different and to this date I can’t nail down a time when that will happen, but it will happen gradually and soon. I have years of data to draw from and I’m able to put together a trend analysis from my past posts, videos and pictures. That’s the reason I’m starting to focus more on the pre-spawn staging stuff as well as the deep fish on every trip.

With the exception of a few smaller variety bass on a shaky head in the marina area on the way back to the house my effort for bass didn’t pay off today so called it a day early. The stripers made my morning and really made up for the lack of greenfish so if you find yourself in a slump during the dog days of winter there’s always a few stripers hanging around the loons waiting on the action to start. Give it a shot sometime. Water temps are just below 50 and the wind was out of the NW again today.

Using the Loons and throwing the Spoons

This morning I was able to get an early start in the creek. I hadn’t been out before 10am in a while but this morning I was on the water before 8am. As soon as I cleared the marina the first thing I noticed was the bird activity. Gulls were everywhere in the creek this morning and they were active, tracking the loons and capitalizing on the labor of the loons. Gulls are notorious for following groups of loons that are moving around looking for schools of baitfish such as schools of small shad and small bluebacks that are drifting near the surface. The loons generally travel in small groups and they work together to move, corral and devour schools of baitfish. The gulls see opportunities for meals when the loons are feeding on the schools the loons have found and have pushed to the surface. The gulls will hover and circle the loons and when the gulls see a target baitfish they dive into the water to pick off the baitfish. Now just pretend for a minute that the gulls are bass and stripers, only the attack on the baitfish comes from below. The fish also capitalize on the labor of the loons and often times are right below the action picking off a wounded baitfish or a few baitfish that have escaped the wrath of the loons and gulls above. I noticed that some of the birds and a few loons were in water less than 20 feet deep and they were actively feeding on the surface. That’s the perfect scenario for me casting my little white spoon. Generally when I see loons and gulls feeding in shallow water it’s just about a lock that feeding fish will be nearby and that was the case this morning. My first fish this morning was the fish pictured above, caught in less than 15 feet of water and caught casting my spoon around diving birds. The second fish of the morning was the striper pictured below which is my biggest so far this year and I caught the striper in a little deeper water but casting right into the middle of about a dozen feeding loons. The striper was a blast on a little Shimano Ci4 2500, 7lb test and casting a little white War Eagle spoon.

I was just making the cast and letting the spoon freefall for 3-4 seconds, then a slow pull upward and letting it fall again. The idea is to mimic a dying baitfish under the loons. This technique worked well early this morning but once the sun came up a little ways the spoon bite slowed considerably. I was able to catch a few more smaller fish and I also got stupid and tried to boat flip a 3lber which didn’t work well. All in all it was a good morning and I also managed a few more smaller fish pictured below.

That little white spoon works well in the winter for vertically jigging fish in the ditches in the winter but it can also be cast around feeding birds for big fish in the winter.

Creek Report 1-15-2021

This report is from yesterday which wasn’t much to talk about after having such success earlier in the week but I was only able to get out for a couple hours total. I did catch some fish but nothing worthy of my “big fish only” photo rules so in order to carry on the tradition of many humbled anglers before me I have included a picture of a beautiful sunset. I didn’t make it out till noon yesterday and I needed to be back at the house at 3 to pick up the grandson so that is my excuse for doing poorly. I didn’t have much time so I decided to try a few new places and a few new baits since time was short. I ran into my buddy Mike out in the creek and he was catching a few in a ditch. I assumed he was spooning but he told me he was using a Damiki rig in 40 feet of depth. I didn’t have one and Mike hooked me up with an extra he had so I put it in my pocket for later and another ditch I had in mind, my lucky ditch. I left Mike and his ditch and started hitting some rocky points and bluffs. I wanted to spend some time throwing a chatterbait on the sun soaked points to see if I could get a bigger fish to react to my chatterbait. My favorite and most successful chatterbait has always been the 1/4 ounce pearl Jackhammer with a pearl paddletail fluke. That chrome blade on the front of the jackhammer seals the deal. You want to always keep that blade as clean and reflective as possible. It’s the flash of that blade that often times causes the reaction on sunny days like yesterday. Turns out that wasn’t the deal yesterday and after about a solid hour of throwing the jackhammer I went to the shaky head and some rocky stuff I hadn’t checked in a while. I spend a little more than an hour with the shaky head on rocks and docks with just a couple of solid 2lbers to show for my efforts. After catching some big beefy 4+ bass earlier this week, every time I set the hook yesterday I just about ripped the lips off the little scrappy 2lbers thinking every fish is a big one now. I had a little less than an hour left and I remembered I had the Damiki rig in my pocket and I still hadn’t checked the lucky ditch yet so I eased up on the ditch after tying on the newly acquired Damiki head and little swimbait trailer. As I hit the ledge and dropped down into the ditch I could see a few fish on the ledge but I wanted to drop where the ditch bottomed out at 40-45 feet. When I hit the 40 foot mark I saw what I was looking for, a small group of suspended bass so I dropped the Damiki right through them and watched every one chase the Damiki down to the bottom. As soon as it hit I raised the rig up off the bottom slightly and then held it there. I could see the group of fish watching the rig on the graph. I started to pick up the rig and I felt a small tick. I lifed a little higher and realized there was a fish holding the Damiki. I jerked, the fish jerked and it was on. It was another feisty 2lber but hey, it was my first on the Damiki. I moved around the ditch a bit and found another group of fish to drop on, catching another smaller fish before calling it a day and heading to the house. Not sure what day I’ll be out again but I’m looking forward to playing around with the little Damiki rig in the ditches again next week. Have a safe weekend!

In search of the Meat Eaters

Early this morning I made an entry in my blog about the shaky head and some pointers on how and where to fish it. My trip out in the creek this morning was textbook what I had written about earlier. I didn’t get out to the creek till around 10am again so I missed the early morning stuff. This morning the sun was out and for a while the creek was flat and calm. Once I cleared the marina I made a quick dash to my lucky ditch that wasn’t very lucky this morning. There were no fish in the ditch at all so I went to a little stretch of deep docks that I frequent in the winter. I hit pay dirt and busted a beefy 4+ on some deep dark chunk rock right next to a deep dock. It’s the fish on the left pictured above. Just to give you an idea of the dock depth, it was 50 feet deep at the very end of the dock and the dock sat on top of some big dark chunk rock. I was using the same setup as yesterday with the senko style shaky head rig. I wrote a little more about the senko rig in my earlier blog post but I believe these bigger fish really like the looks of that fat body worm. Some of these bigger fish could be down in the ditch with all their buddies chowing down on 1-2 inch threadfin shad but they choose to hang out around deep dark rocky areas in ambush mode or they go cruising the shallow sunny secondary points in search of the bigger ticket meals like crawfish, bream and gizzard shad. I call these fish the “meat eaters”. After catching the big girl next to the dock I started throwing the worm on sunny secondary points. I tried to keep the boat out in 25-30ft of water on the point and throw the worm up as shallow as possible. The fish I caught on the points today were in 10-15 feet of water including the one pictured above on the right. Another solid 4lber. The key to my fish today was fishing the worm very slow. I caught a few fish this morning while dead sticking the worm but the common theme with all of my fish this morning was a very slow presentation. It’s hard for a power fisherman to slow it down to the speed of a three toed sloth but it’s the best speed for success right now. The two fish below were caught on back to back casts on the same secondary point in the creek. A good example of why throwing right back into the area of where you just caught a fish pays off.

Since my bum shoulder is only good for a few hours of fishing I spent the rest of the time just hitting sunny secondary points and working my way back to the house. I was back in the house by 2 pm and all totaled I had caught 7 fish, all of which were keepers. The water temps were around 47-48 at 10am and the wind was minimal and out of the west.