Monday, September 26, 2016

Captiva Surf Fishing Contest: Me Vs. My Six Year Old

I may not be great at catching big fish, or certainly trophy fish.  Heck, at age 42 I have only three citation fish to my name (chain pickerel, black crappie, and spotted bass).   But give me some basic tackle and a tiny bit of local knowledge (seasonal movements of fish, etc.), and I can generally "catch fish" on almost any day.  As a result, I falsely tend to think that I am pretty smart.

One day our little family rolled up to Captiva Island.  Captiva and Sanibel are significantly south of where I normally fish in Florida, and it conditions were less than ideal, so I wasn't expecting much.   After a little driving around, we managed to find some public beach parking.   As I unloaded the saltwater rods from the bed of the truck, my 6-year old son interrupted, "Dad! I wanna take my rod."  Isn't that kind of dedication great!

Until you realize that "his rod" is a 4.0' Bass Pro Crappie Maxx Jr., with the store-bought reel (ouch) still on it.    I handed him the rod, and continued to carry two rods (a clearly unnecessary 10' Tsunami and a more appropriate 7' Shimano combo), knowing, of course, that he'd be needing one of them.

I also noted that The Dude was carrying his tackle bag, which is fine except that the only lures in there are 5,713 colors of Mister Twisters, some Uncle Bucks Panfish Bugs, and some green camo Senkos he thought were "cool."  He ran ahead, because that's what he does.

When I finally caught up to him, he had sort of knotted a Beetle Spin onto his line and was picking out a 1" crappie grub (I mean, what?!) to put on it.   I tried to argue against the futility of using a Beetle Spin in the freaking Gulf of Mexico, and that argument failed on its merits.    I did convince him to use a chartreuse powerbait minnow (his favorite color is bright green, so he let that one pass), and when trying to re-do his awful knot, he hollered at me so I said, you know, whatever.  

I walked down the beach to bait my perfectly prepared line and terminal tackle, eyeing up a good sandbar offshore.   As soon as my 2 ounce slip weight hit the water, I heard screaming up the beach.  Gulf Kingfish, very close to legal size.  And admittedly, very fat and pretty tasty looking (we released it).  

The rod and reel were tossed into the sand (causing me to replace the store reel with a more sturdy Zebco 33) and by the end of the morning, I had still caught nothing.  The boy caught edible fish using a 4' crappie rod with a beetle spin tipped with half of a powerbait.  What in the world.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I Done Gone and Built a Tree House

Living in the I-95 corridor is something special sometimes when it comes to property management.   If you need to replace a toilet and you are on public sewer, that'll be a $400 permit (or a $2000 fine) (90 days to review permit).  Want to build a fence?  $250 permit (or a $10,000 fine)  (6-10 month review time).   Of course, all those requirements are for "little people."   If you want to build a shopping mall that fills in 20 acres of wetlands and a mile of streams, well, those permit fees are waived and you'll have your permits in 60 days.  Apparently if you own a pipeline company and you want to drill across federal land, you don't even need written permission!  But I digress.

We wanted to build an outdoor space in our tiny yard for my son and his friends.  Our design constraints were as follows:

  • Careful navigation of permit requirements (decided on a "temporary structure" exemption)
  • Footprint of less than 8' x 10' (shed exemption)
  • Basic safety constraints (won't tip over, handrails, etc).
  • A space that would grow with the kids, with minor additions over the coming years
My wife and I both have drafting and plan review experience, in addition to my construction experience.   So we scouted around some stuff on the internet and ultimately landed on a concept on the blog "A Handmade Home" called "Handmade Hideaway."   I really want to show you their beautiful version of the concept, but I am 93% sure they would sue, so I won't.    We didn't use their materials list but we did incorporate the concept into our project goals, and I'm pretty happy with the result, which is now two years old.   Notable changes from their concept:

  • Higher off the ground
  • Rectangular, rather than square design (they look to have a square yard, ours is like a shoebox)
  • Incorporated rock wall instead of slide
  • Ladder instead of stairs
  • Instead of six 4x4 posts cemented into ground, created a theoretically "movable" sled/cage with 2x8s and 2x10s as the horizontal units and 4x4s as the vertical posts. 
  • Instead of attaching posts with 1/4" lags, used 1/2" and 5/8" galvanized lags.
  • Used (more expensive) galvanized and decking hardware due to our climate
  • Used (more expensive) pressure treated lumber on support sled/cage due to climate
  • Used (less expensive ) asphalt shingles instead of aluminum roof  

Monday, September 12, 2016

63 Hour Offshore Trip with Hubbards Marine - An Odd Trip I Can't Stop Thinking About

Earlier this year I was able to cash in on a personal favor and was able to join some friends for a 4 (ish) day offshore trip out of the Tampa area.    Those who know me and this blog know that while I fish a lot,  the average amount of time I spend fishing per outing is about 90-150 minutes and the average size fish I catch is 11" long, and it is a bass of some variety.  Going offshore is something I rarely do, and I've never been offshore overnight.  WHAT COULD GO WRONG?  I've been stymied to write about this trip:  there's how the trip was, and there's how I feel about it, which are two different things.  So for now, here's how the trip was.

We flew into Tampa on thursday morning, each with a full backpack (clothes, snacks, fishing tools), and an empty roll-on cooler (hoping to take home pounds of fish).  After an expensive stop at the bait shop, we rolled down to Hubbard's Marina at John's Pass.   I now know that Hubbard's puts a hundred or more people on fishing boats every single day, but I didn't know that when we arrived.  We found a bit of a cattle operation going on during check-in, but the staff was pretty courteous.   They did seem frustrated that we didn't know precisely what was going on, which seemed like a dumb thing to be frustrated about (you customers).

Lodging, below deck. 
Eventually our crew (three mates and Capt. Mark Hubbard) were assembled, and 14 of us loaded our small collection of clothing and massive assortment of bait onto the 75' catamaran.  By about 3pm, lines were on the dock and out to sea we headed. Around 11pm, we had settled on a reef several dozen miles offshore and I was one of the first successful anglers, pulling two keeper mangrove snapper onboard.

The night was filled with other adventures, including several other anglers getting on the board, and a nearly two hour fight (in the pitch black night) with what we were all sure was a swordfish, but turned out to be a 15 foot brown reef shark, which we released without handling.

The next day of fishing was moderate in pace but almost everyone caught grouper, so that's pretty much a successful day in my book.   In about 800-1000 feet of water on the Middle Grounds, we caught Yellow Edge, Yellowfin, Gag, Kitty Mitchell, Snowy, and maybe one or two other species of grouper.   The elusive Warsaw Grouper was....elusive.   Two blackfin tuna were caught on light tackle, but not by me, so, hooray for those guys!

The third day of fishing was hot and heavy, though a mixed bag.  There were several hour long dead periods, followed by deepwater frenzies and fish flopping all over the boat.   We put a hurting on the Blue Line Tile Fish and a few grouper, but increasingly porgies were being caught.  Porgies are fine, but definitely not the objective of a trip like this.

As the sun went down, the boat took a big turn and started back toward land, where we'd arrive at dawn.    The last day of our trip warrants its own story, between TSA crotch inspections and screaming matches about how to divide up the fillets (and dry ice) for air transportations, but this was a good fishing trip; we each came home with 30 or more pounds of the world's freshest seafood.  I don't know if I'll ever go on a trip like this again, but I'll never forget it, that's for sure.

6 Steps to Prep for My 15th Year of Bowhunting

Well, it's almost here.  I mean, that's almost my sentiment at this point.   It's not disillusionment with bow hunting, or the outdoors.  Certainly not the latter.   But at age 42, and 15 years after I first took a bow into the woods (what a clown I was!), I don't worry about bow hunting the way I used to worry about it.   Now - I still worry about duck hunting, saltwater fishing, surfing, and other things I love more than bow hunting, but I don't worry about bow hunting and I'll tell you why - it's that I have learned to prepare.

Now, I know what you're thinking, "He must have the Max-F7 Anti Carbon Stank Pants!" or something else.   No, not really.  "He must have gotten rid of his clover full plots for the new proprietary GMO Rack Buster Triticale!" No, still have the clover.  Except where I don't, where there's nothing.  So what has got me calmed down about bow hunting? A few things.

1.   Kept shooting.  After my last bow hunt around January 20, I only hung up the bow for about 40 days.  I go through periods where I show 20-30 shots every day for 3-4 days, then it falls off the radar for 3 weeks.  But I now target shoot, outdoors, from March to August.   I know how my bows are performing, for better and for worse.

2.  Given up on poachers.  At my #1 spot (which is well posted but has a long history of outlaw dumbasses), we have poachers.  They use my stand, and I've recovered various bolts and arrows from the woods around my stand, including a crossbow bolt stuck in a tree that could have *only* come from my stand.   So, I locked the tree stand seat in the upright position.  If they want to hang onto the ladder all day, I guess, whatever.  If they steal my stand, I mean, good riddance.  It's cheap and it's been hanging in the weather for four years.  The bolts in it are about done (why would you use indoor bolts when building a tree stand? - separate topic).

3.  I've decided to stop passing up deer.  Last hunting season,  I took two long shots on does (both mortal wounds) in the late season after having numerous does, fawns, and small bucks around my stand in the early season.   I know that big bucks were around and I didn't want to "waste a tag."  I'm over that.  If I have a shot, and I have a tag for it, it's getting shot.  Especially given the poaching in the area, it's not like I can effectively manage the herd.

4.  I'm quitting after one.   There's a lot coming up this winter, including trips to Louisiana and Florida.   I don't want to be freezing my ass off in a tree stand in Maryland in January.  But I would really like to take a deer.  Any non-infected deer with a fair amount of meat.  

5.  I stocked up in the off-season.   I didn't go nuts.   I bought another half-dozen shafts and three more field tips for each bow (125s and 100s).   I did that in July, because I'll be damned if you can find that stuff come October 15.

6.  My fat self is back in the gym.   I've been going to the gym pretty steadily since June, and pretty intensely since late July.   As a result, I have lost zero pounds.   But I can now GIT up that hill, and flex my knee over that boulder and carry 100lb of corn on my shoulder without wondering if something's going to give out.   I've gotten on a new, long term plan that hopefully results in some pounds being shed, but more importantly, not dropping dead of a heart attack while in the tree stand.

So as you see, I've trimmed back quite a bit.  I'll still wash my clothes in scent-free detergent and keep them in a rubbermaid tub in the truck cab (trust me, my wife is a huge fan of that activity), and if the deer trail moves terribly far from the stands I hunt, I'll entice them back to the old trail with bait.   But I'm not worried about it now.    I hope this time of year finds you the same way - not fretting over gear details at the 11th hour, and instead getting ready for your annual communion with the forest.  I hope it's as good as you dreamed it would be.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Snook Attack with Native Salt Charters in Sarasota County

Anyone who's followed this blog over the years knows that my son burns like a blowtorch stuck on full blast.  He's a non-video game playing, swimming, climbing, running fool.  We've fished together since he was about two, and at six, I'd say he's mildly interested in the sport.  Hell, with the summer weather we've had for the last two years (flash floods every four days, separated by massive algae blooms), maybe I'm only mildly interested in the sport myself.   Back to the story, though - what I don't want to do is give him the impression that fishing is work, or that getting skunked is the standard to which anglers should aspire, so I thought I'd take a step back.

During our last trip to Southwest Florida, I decided to (try to) get Big H on some real fish, to get him overwhelmed with catching fish.   For those of you who have fished in know.  You know that while this is never guaranteed, it is most certainly possible.  And while I know spend "weeks" per year fishing the state, there is a lot I do not know.   My father in law had a great experience with Capt. Justin at Native Salt Charters, and so I booked a half day.   I knew it wouldn't be cheap, but I was willing to pay to get this one experience for my son on the books.  Thank goodness my father in law picked up part of the tab as well.  Our targets were speckled trout, redfish, and snook, with the outside possibility of hooking up with small tarpon or permit.

You can have Missouri. 

Those of you who know me, or have read this blog, know that I have pretty high standards (and high criticism) for guides.  You've read my commentaries about guides' hilarious blog posts that are all, "Yeah, bro, like, you know, clients are the worst.  No one ever gets skunked because of the guide! GUIDES SHIT PURE ZEN WISDOM BRO." My brothers and friends and I have been burned by more fishing and hunting guides in more states than I care to recall.  I've also had a few amazing guides.   So I was curious about how this trip would really go.  Would the guide be a detail-driven prick, yelling at his clients?  A dud who had refused to scout for our trip?  Or the guide who spends more time with his line in the water than his clients do?  

Long story short, I was satisfied and impressed by Capt. Justin at Native Salt.  He picked us up at the dock, maybe 90 seconds late (bringing another charter in).  He had already picked up *most* of the bait we'd need, and we rendezvoused with another charter boat en route to get the rest, losing no time in our charter.   I explained to him that the goal was to get Big H on fish, and nothing more, and he seemed to know just where to go.

Fishing pressure was heavy and the first two spots we tried on the ripping tide were duds.  Capt. Justin knows the water so well that he maintains a "10 minute rule."  If no bites in 10 minutes, he moves on.    We eventually started to light into some snook.   Capt's first bite showed me what kind of guide we had, he immediately put the rod in my son's hand and backed him up on the retrieve, getting rod position right and helping H out with the reel.   It was what you pay guides for, but rarely receive.

We tooled around a ton of different spots and messed around with live and artificial bait.

In about 3.5 hours, we ended up catching and releasing 31 snook, with my son landing 17 or so of those fish.   He talked about it for the rest of the trip.   He talked about it when he returned to school.  He asked me the other week "what's that name of the fish we caught in Florida? That was SO FUN."    I don't know what else you need, but I'm a satisfied customer.    Can't wait until our next trip to Florida and our next charter with Native Salt.  I can only afford to do it a few times per year, and I know these guys will help me make it count.

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Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...