Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Hopes were dashed: the east side of the bay was lined with 1" sea ice. The western edge was navigable, but within 20 meters it was impassible. I had to crush myself a big hole to turn around within, then moved south to the rtg field where I was able to harvest (within the thinner ice) what was needed for the day. It took a while, it was cold, it was a little risky - but it was actually kind of fun.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
October 11, 2009
This was kind of a makeup trip. Chip, Joel, and I went out with Jeff in late August and, well, we skunked out. That means that we didn’t hook any fish. This was not anyone’s fault, to my knowledge. It was just that the tuna were finicky and not interested in biting, that’s all. Oh yeah, and the other boats around that spooked them away and pissed us off.
So we went out on the water this past weekend to see what was what. The coldness of the morning was new to us, the first really cold one yet this year. Some steam came off the water from where we put in. The boat, Carla Noel, sped out to the deeper waters in good time and our first sight of fish, as the sun broke over the horizon, turned out to be blues – good sized ones though. I was delighted to land one, but the spirit on the boat was somewhat less enthusiastic, so we moved onward. It didn’t take too long to find the tuna. That was also true for about 12 other vessels out there. Some were friends and others were idiots. I hate to put it that way, but it kind of seems to be true. The friends are careful not to crowd or spook your fish and would rather find their own school to work on. The others seem to consistently follow you, crowd you, and then run over the fish.
This happened time after time. Over several hours we kept finding schools to work, but either the fish would go down quickly or some jackass would arrive and fuck the whole thing up. Usually both occurred.
But Jeff and the rest of us kept our shit together and moved on and on and on. There were a few mishaps and arguments, but these were quickly forgotten. Then, finally, there was a school we had found and stuck with for a half hour, and finally the fish came up and stayed up long enough for a few good shots. And it was good. It was actually really good and we were really lucky.
Joel: “I have a fish on my line,” in a musical tone.
Then his reel screamed like Godzilla.”
At the same moment I felt the hit on my tuna plug which slid just a couple inches under the surface. “I’m on!” But then slack, “I’m off.” Then again, a hit, “I’m on again.” Then slack. But I didn’t give up and kept the single-hook plug dog walking towards the hull. Then it happened: about six feet from the boat this beautiful fish glided forcefully to the plug, mouth open, then closed, and off into the abyss, my line screaming. “I’m on!” But no one heard me because Joel’s reel was still peeling off and all attention was on him.
“Hey, John’s on too,” eventually noticed Don Gunster. “Yep,” I replied. After a few minutes we were able to hold the fish for a few seconds and turn up the drags. “Okay guys, we’re going to have to communicate and work together on this one,” Jeff explained. “Who’s closest to the boat?” By this time I had cranked most of the lost distance back and the fish was only about five yards down. It was decided that my fish would come up first. Joel let his take some line out before his next attempt to draw it in.
Then Joel’s line snapped. Crack. “Holy fucking fuck fuckshit fuck!” yelled Joel. And I agreed. His line simply snapped somewhere and he was free of the fish. This sucked, but we still had one to get to the boat. Suddenly I felt some performance pressure. I fought the thing for a good 20 minutes, then, I must admit, my lower back began to unravel. This was because the fish set itself under the boat and the posture I had to provide created spasms and pain. I could have continued, but I weighed the outcomes and realized that if my back was to go out then I would really be in the hole. Seeing that Joel and Don had nothing else to do, I handed the rod over to the nearest of them, Joel. But his forearms were toast from fighting his fish. So the rod went quickly to Don. And he delivered. It only took a few winds of the reel to bring the leader to the tip of the rod, and then we saw the fish. A nice one (I already knew that). Jeff managed to close the deal and within minutes it was over the rail and onto the deck. It measured 65 inches and we estimated the weight somewhere around 150 to 160 pounds. It was a beauty.
At this time the wind picked up significantly. The relatively calm day changed rapidly and the seas began to act up on us. Tired, satiated, we collectively agreed to begin our trip back. After about ten minutes of blasting through the waves we found a school of big blues. I caught one and kept it (just had it tonight actually – kid’s request). The sun was low, seas up and spray on my face. It was beautiful out there. The last big trip of the year, and I realized this and thought about that on our way back to the ramp. I thought about a lot of things between soakings from the bow spray. Joel laughed as I received the 57 degree shower all the way back. I didn’t care.
We cleaned the fish at the ramp which was something we were hesitant about doing. Then, after conversing with folks who were pulling boats out too, we took one last look at the bay and drove off. We knew that this was the closer of the season. Schedules and bank accounts wouldn’t allow another one of these this year.
But the tuna immediately went to good use. It’s amazing how this fish brings people together. It reveals the best of us too. I hope it lasts a while.
Monday, October 5, 2009
The weather is finally changing; then changing back. Tonight I was sucked dry by thousands of mosquitoes that are desperately feeding for their over wintering babies. Some wind, some rain, and some nice sunny days.
I fished a few times over the past week. The first trip was already described briefly (with Joel). Then I did a few more short solo explorations around the bay. Mostly just birds (cormorants with gulls and terns above them) - these are teasers. Then I managed to find some stripers in and along some skinny water marshes. All smallish fish though.
Then Dave Yozzo came up for his typical 24-hour tour of oysters, fishing, music jam, helping me plant a few oysters, and quick food. The fishing was so-so, but he managed to land a few stripers and we had a good time jamming with some friends on Thursday night. I think he enjoyed throwing a few of the final oysters from the upweller overboard.
Yesterday I was late getting out onto the fish. I was bummed: a foggy morning and my friends who came into Mattakessett were telling me of fairly good action out there. Jon McGrath even had a bloody carbuncle on his striper thumb from the dozens he was reportedly landing. I called Jon on my way out of the harbor. "Yes, they're still here...bass and some blues!" "OK, I'll be right out," I responded. But before I could fold my phone the sound of birds drew my attention to the swarm of activity along the shores of the marsh in front of Long Point. I soon arrived, tossed out some small poppers, and had about four good attacks, but no hookups. These fish looked large and I was convinced that they were blues.
But I ran out of time. I had to work. So I did.
Then later that day, about 2:30, on my way back out to work, I stopped by Eagles Nest and had fun there - landed four small bass in about ten minutes. I had to load up the boat with oysters and head in. But for fun, I decided to go back to that marsh at Long Point. Within the moorings - a few casts and a few busting fish. Nothing yet. Then, what must have been my tenth one, slam! It was difficult keeping the fish away from mooring balls, and at one point I had to start the engine to avoid drifting into a moored boat. But then, the fish tired and I landed it. It measured 32 inches. I kept it. I took a few more casts but then realized that this was a lucky bonus and that I should get back to work.
At the boat ramp Gregg Morris and Don Merry greeted me with smiles. And we talked about the nice weather. And we talked about our oysters and how they were growing, and such. And we watched as a poor guy got clocked in the nose with spinning winch (ow!) while trying to load a boat onto a trailer. And after making sure he'd be okay, we dispersed.
At home I ran Pearl Jam through my garage sound system (loud) and cleaned the fish. Then I washed and bagged some oysters. Though the day was ending too soon (getting darkish around 5:00), it was amazing and I was happy to be alive.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunday morning was spent on the water with Joel. It was pretty nasty - rain and wind...SE at about 20 kts. But we found the fish and had a great time. In addition to stripers, Joel landed a busty black sea bass right before I landed a lobster. A first for me...on a silver jig.
I left the camera in the truck so no photos and this is unfortunate.
I left the camera in the truck so no photos and this is unfortunate.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The 3rd Annual One Fly
I looked over to Ken and said, “Well, it seems that the fish have either moved or gone down.” After a short pause Ken scratched his white beard and replied quite calmly, “It’s a good time to have lunch.” A sailboat had just cut through the school of stripers we had spent ten minutes setting up on. They were pressing baitfish against a patch of salt marsh in very skinny water north of High Pines. But this odd timing was just that – odd. We waved, said hellos (I knew the skipper), they continued their daring path sailing southward along the shoreline, surely spooking any other fish along their way. It was high noon and indeed, a good time to have lunch.
So this was the 2009 one fly tournament in Duxbury. The weather was too good, too nice, and it had attracted too many boats. As a result the fishing was tough and frustrating. Ken and I were on different teams yet shared the responsibility of keeping each other honest and striving for the “longest boat” prize. We did this from 10 until 5, which really is the worst slice of time to attempt to catch large stripers. With the sun, high tide, and all the idiots out there slicing up the rips it was just plain frustrating. But not for all of us.
The planning for this event began last fall when our organizing committee (me included) resumed regular evenings at Jon Nash’s house (sometimes Tom Nichols’ or other locations….the Winsor) to scheme out the details. This might actually be more fun than the tournament itself because we can get together, tell jokes, look at charts, drink Tito’s, slurp oysters, and just get outright stupid for a couple hours here and there. The tournament, on the other hand, is more stressful, at least to me. “Come on Brawley, you’re a guide….where are all the fish?” Yes, yes, I know. I fish a lot on the bay, but usually not between 10 and 5.
But besides my obvious whining (above) the event was fun and it is, and will always be a cherished memory. This is because I get to hang out with some of my best friends, go fishing all day, then wine and dine without any feelings of remorse. We gather at the Nash barn, tell funny stories (at least mine are) and feed ourselves the fish we caught that day.
The end of my day on the water, with Ken, was great. We had set up, on his suggestion, along a narrow channel where fish were sure to be using to exit the area at the end of the ebbing tide. This came to be true and we hooked a few there. Ten minutes before the end of the official tournament I lost my fly and proceeded to throw slug-gos out from my spinning rod. I had figured the end was here and I really didn’t have my heart set on the trophy. I just wanted to hook a large fish. So there, in the flat water, my slug-go sidewinded just an inch in depth, and boom, a 30-something bass went over it. Though it never hooked, it took several tries up to the boat (eye to eye) and this made Ken’s juices flow. He quickly threw his fly at the same spot several times. But nothing happened. I put my gear away, looked at my clock to see it was 5:00 pm, and then we both decided it would be best to head in for the party.
Ken took a few fish and I landed one. Earlier that morning, prior to the tournament, Chip Cornell and I had a fantastic time with blitzing schools of stripers. I landed a keeper and Chip released several in the upper 20s. Yet the day ahead was somewhat of a disappointment.
However, the party was the nuts.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
First off, the title of the story has to do with a candy bar. But to be honest and consistent it also might refer to Joel’s enthusiasm when it comes to planning a tuna trip with Jeff Smith. Chip Cornell, Joel, and I planned this trip back in February. Joel got a taste of hooking some feisty 130-pounders last summer with me and Jeff and immediately began a regimen of core strengthening exercises in anticipation of the 2009 season. On Tuesday we were hoping to see his strength tested. This is what happened:
On Monday Chip, already out in Wellfleet, eagerly awaited our arrival. At 4:30 Joel sped up my driveway while I feverishly worked to wrap up my oyster deliveries. I was stressed for time and hadn’t showered in a couple of days, which always makes matters worse. So I finished up the oysters, showered off, and soon we were driving down Routes 3 and 6. And finally I was able to relax and suddenly realized that I was on a fishing trip (an out of town one). The first omen Joel identified was the Jeep Cherokee in front of us in Harwich that had a rubber squid placed on the rear wiper blade. “Oh dude, this is a good sign. We’re going to hook into some massive bluefin tomorrow.” His foot pressed further on the accelerator as he continued to describe his pescatorous visions of screaming reels and bloody bibs.
We arrived in Wellfleet (at Chip’s family house) and Chip immediately poured a few vodka tonics before putting the steaks on the grill. My sister, Priscilla, made garden-grown beats, salad, and a killer summer tomato salad (with mozzarella, basil, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar). At dinner, over red wine, we discussed the tuna, how it lives, where it lives, and why we fish for it. Despite our knowledge of the pressures imposed by international fishing fleets, we agreed that we were a mere fraction that might eventually over harvest this amazing fish. “Just one more year,” we mutually agreed, knowing well that as long as there was a season and a slot, we’d give it a try….as long as our backs held out.
Jeff Smith is an excellent tuna guide. The forty-something native Arizonan is based in Wellfleet though he’ll launch anywhere between Truro and Chatham to find the shortest cut to the fish. He has an amazing center console boat that is absolutely perfect for chasing schools of tuna, bass, blues, or anything. Jeff instructed us to meet him at 6:00 on Tuesday morning. On the way to the boat we stopped at a convenience store and added to our cooler of sandwiches that Chip prepared the night before (wrapped in wax paper and cellophane – wax paper?). Some coffee, waters, and energy bars were thrown into the heavy cooler and off we were to the boat. The boat ramp was busy – commercial bass season was upon us and this added to the daily traffic of recreational and guided fishing. A few handshakes and mischievous verbal jabs were exchanged as we boarded the Carla Noelle and made our way out to what would be a twelve-hour trip.
The weather was misty, then foggy, then really foggy. The GPS and radar provided the guidance we needed to make it out to our destinations. Despite the fog, Joel spasmodically applied sunscreen and this provided some laughter (see photos). Then I showed Joel the wrapper from the energy bar that had for breakfast: Caramel Nut Blast. This crippled Joel and puzzled the others. “Dude, we need to order a t-shirt from this company,” he blurted out between snorts of giggles. It was actually funny.
Oh yeah, the fishing. Well, it went like this: first location, no fish. The second spot (crowded…um, the SW corner) was more productive. Joel decided to warm up his day with about 10 wily dogfish which brought upon a wrath of deprecating jokes which did not bounce well off his skin (his humility lasted longer than mine would have). Chip landed a dogfish too. The skunk was almost gone. Then I, the lucky one I suppose, landed a couple of fat stripers that would have been great to keep, but being out on the bank, a sanctuary for striped bass, they had to be released. But I swear, my first strike, which didn’t hook, felt like a tuna.
As slack tide approached Jeff decided to move onto another area several miles away. The trip took a while and when we arrived it was hot, calm, and sunny. No fish to be seen. But this was the plan: wait until the tide would move again which would likely turn the fishing on. In the meantime, on a hint, we took a short trip to a nearshore area to seek some breaking bass. By the time we arrived the bass had been replaced by blues – big ones. But this was fun. We wasted a shitload of Jeff’s expensive plastics before we realized that the schools were all blues, however we managed to hook and land several, kept one for Chip’s grill, and then moved back to tuna waters.
We were into our tenth hour on the water and hadn’t yet found any tuna on the surface. Plenty of food and water was at hand and this was consumed while we searched and searched. Moods were good, but it is typical that after so much time on a small vessel, one gets dazed and confused, and retreats into inner thoughts. I thought about how much I loved being on the water, especially with this group. I also thought about the sun and how glad I was to have ample sunscreen (applied hourly). I also realized that the summer was waning and that I’d better get my act together and fish as much as possible over the next couple of months. Finally, I thought about the piece of clamshell that was likely embedded deeply into one of my fingers – from about three weeks ago; it hadn’t surfaced yet, but I knew it was there.
The boredom was finally interrupted when I spotted a break on the surface. “Yo! There’s a fish – on the top at three o’clock!” The others slowly realized what I said and looked into the sun’s glare for more corroborating evidence. Nothing else happened. So, feeling that I might be hallucinating, I began to discount my sighting and brush it off as wake or whitecap. I continued to scan the water and of course, in five minutes Joel and I simultaneously spotted a school of tuna just inches below the surface. Their tails were in the air and they were calmly swimming in unison in circles. Chip put his phone away and Jeff honed into the sighting and carefully guided Carla Noelle into position. In a few minutes we had our shot. Joel fired off a pencil popper and I delivered a large jumping bait. Chip, in midship, also got his pencil popper out to the school. But nothing happened and eventually they dove. “Fuck!” Exclaimed Joel, as his energy level rapidly increased. We were now recharged and ready to go.
The school came back and as Jeff closed us in on them I noticed another larger school just a hundred meters away. I also noticed that some other fishermen in the area were catching on to our sudden series of sneaky maneuvers (that’s the problem with good weather/visibility). We honed in on the school. Joel and I tossed out two perfect casts and retrieved the undeniably most attractive lures around in front of their noses. I tensed up, “Get ready, here we go..” Then, oddly, the lures arrived at the side of Carla Noelle without a notice. They weren’t biting.
This went on for at least an hour. We’d spot a school of daisy-chaining tuna, creep up to them, cast in front of them, then skunk. They were nice fish too. Probably 150 to 200 pounds each. They wouldn’t hit.
Good for them.
The sun, after baking us all day, was sinking fast to the west. It was time to throw in the towel.
Tired and bleached, we managed to swig down a couple of Red Stripes at the Wellfleet house. I wanted to stay the night but there was too much work to do at home. Somewhat dejected, we departed by sunset to Routes 6 and 3 where more stories were told and future fishing plans made. We all decided, on the boat, that Columbus Day weekend would be our next trip with Jeff (last year was amazing!). On that trip I hope to hear Joel yell out “Holy nutblast!” as a 200-pounder nearly spools his reel in the fall air.
PS: more (better) photos coming soon.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Wednesday, August 19
I love fishing with Chip. He’s my brother-in-law, married to my sister Priscilla. He is hardcore fly only. So when he comes up here I guide us around and fish the stern with my spinning gear and give him the bow for casting flies. He loves it.
Chip arrived on Monday afternoon. We took stock of the next couple of days – the tides, my work schedule and such. And then we went fishing. The evening’s tide was poor – a neap incoming. But we hit all the spots and tried and tried…and couldn’t find a fish. But we didn’t skunk because Chip used a pattern that apparently attracts young herring gulls. His first Duxbury landing of 2009 was a juvvy gull who caught the fly mid-air and then proceeded to freak out. I mean really freak out. But we were gentle and in a matter of seconds we had freed the poor bird and watched it fly away quite happily. This was just after another gull grabbed my jumping minnow and moved it 20 meters south for me. So we figured out, as the sun sank to the tree line, that is was time for a drink at the Winsor. So we did, and actually ate dinner there too. Susan’s scarves were still on sale and Chip took advantage of this.
Tuesday morning: up and out pre-dawn. Chip took a medium black with a plain stick and I went with a medium with cream and a plain croissant. Plain. But on the water we did better. Still slim pickings but we managed to find a few. Chip prevailed with three or four nice ones on the fly (deceiver) and maxed out at 27 inches. I was on the road to Skunkville until I finally landed a beach channel schoolie. This was fun and it made us hungry. Chip provided omelettes for all of us at the house. Cool.
Lunch was devoted to making some Joel-style sluggos. This involves surgery and since I was with one of the best surgeons around, I decided to make a few double hook sluggos for the ensuing day and a half of fishing. Chip and I sat under the umbrella out on the porch, he marveled at my insistence on calling Joel and asking for tips on the design. But it was kind of like fly tying really. There is an art to sluggo tying and the results are pretty much worth your effort. I stopped at three because my Krazy Glue ran out, but I had enough to do some damage, even if there weren’t any fish in the bay this week (month).
By 1:00 we were back out on the rips. The tide was fucking perfect and the rips were looking good. On the way out I spotted a small school of fish in skinny water. I got us there and we began casting and getting hits right away. It was getting exciting. Then some moron decided to check out what was going on. He motored his boat at medium speed from about a mile away, clearly focused on us as a way to find his fish. As he closed in on us I muttered something like, “Christ, is this a friend of yours Chip?” And as I expressed some curses to Chip the young man did the unbelievable: he motored right over the very small school of fish that we had been working on for the past ten minutes. Out of nowhere this imbecile thought it was fine to gab on his cell phone and motor at 6 kts up to us to take a fucking peek. My lead head FinS narrowly missed his face as I uncharacteristically snapped. That was a warning shot. Then he continued over the fish (which by now were spooked and gone) with a shrug – “what?”. I told him what and he left.
So that put a small damper on our afternoon. But not for long because soon, after exhausting the best rips of the bay, we found a bunch of small schools and Chip, the avid fly fisherman that he is, continued to prevail and land a couple of nice ones. Too short to keep for dinner, but nice. We then ran out of time and tide and had to join Alex on the grant for some oyster bag shaking. Sounds bizarre, but that’s what it is. We worked oysters for a couple of hours in the water and it allowed us to cool off and tell jokes.
We hadn’t had enough of the Winsor so we stopped there on the way home for some refreshments. Alex, Chip, and I were joined by a bunch of Skip’s crew (Maggie, Katie, A1, A2, and Murray) as the most distinguished mud-covered patrons. That was fun and short-lived. At home we grilled steaks and made the most of what I had grown so far in my garden and it was great – the oysters on ice were perfect and the wines that Chip selected made the evening.
Wednesday morning: woke up late. But not too late. There were some clouds and fog so the morning lasted a while. Chip and I searched some of the good rips on this incoming but couldn’t find much. Then some sporadic schools here and there. My sluggos were, however, doing well. I got a couple of fish on one drift (to about 26 inches) and this made Chip work harder and harder. But he couldn’t manage a hit. We moved on to a few more spots and finally hit one where I did pretty well on my squid-patterned sluggo – a 30 incher finally arrived. This moved our attitudes into positive territory and all was well. But in the end Chip didn’t find any.
The fishing this past week was difficult. I picked up a number of small blues last week but only five stripers over four sorties this week. Not too many people out there because of the poor conditions. I can’t explain why the fishing is so poor. But one indicator might be in the guts of today’s keeper. The kids were huddled around me as I cleaned the fish and, of course, they were interested in the gut contents. I reached in there and found a large stomach, I opened it and out spilled out only one specific food group: crabs. Sand crabs and, sit down, a spider crab. I’ve never seen a spider crab in a striper before. This was interesting. I wonder if the baitfish are sparse and that, therefore, the fish are sparse, and therefore, the fish are feeding on spider crabs. Hmm. No pogies, not many blitzes, so it might make sense.
After the autopsy Chip hopped into his speedy car and sped home to CT. I went to work oysters and continued throughout the rest of the day. Tonight we ate one filet of the striper (Chip took the other one home). I prepared it in a tomato sauce fresh leeks from my garden over bowtie pasta (all we had) and crusty French bread and salad. I am still in heaven.
Tuna next week and hopefully more stripers.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
At 1:56 my eyes opened and then, through my ears, heard the wind in the trees above. I knew the forecasts were all mixed up and that it was possible that a tropical wave coming up from the Bahamas could intensify and give us a little bump. So when I came to (at 1:56) I realized that if I could see the trees moving here then the wind was coming from the east or south, or in between. This wasn't good news.
The drive down Washington Street went from bad to worse: leaves littered the road and I could see the rain blowing horizontally from right to left (east wind). I said "Crap!" several times...maybe worse words too. And then, the arrival at Mattakeessett Court confirmed my fears. The boats were facing away from land and bouncing around and the east wind was fairly strong and consistent.
4:42 -- the wind, which was responsible for waking me every fifteen minutes, was now picking up and the trees were showing it. I jumped out of bed, forced on my wet jeans and made my way back down to the waterfront. This time the rain was heavy and the wind was ENE at about 30 or so. Crap. Larger limbs now scattered Washington St. and sheets of rain were blowing in from the east.
Billy Bennett was parked in the lot, I couldn't see him through the rain but knew he was in his truck. Alex was down on the dock checking things out. It was amazing. The whole dock was rolling and the boats were just about coming up over the finger floats. It was freaky. A few boats had broken free and one large sailboat, Barney's, was wedged into the guzzle, partially against the rocks. Alex, Bill and I worked to secure a couple of DBMS boats and then, like magic, the whole thing kind of stopped. The dropping tide and the coincident shift in wind direction caused a cessation of the waves. The rain even died down a little. The worse was just about over.
But the damage was real. Several motor boats turned over or swamped, Barney's sailboat went aground and a few of the DBMS boats were damaged against the bulkhead.
Here are some photos.