Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Level-Wind Reel: A Game Changer

Anyone who uses a bait caster more than likely knows what a backlash is all about and how frustrating one of 'em sometimes can be. Imagine, though, what it must have been like for anglers before the level-wind reel came along. According to what I read, you really had a mess on your hands with those early (pre-level wind) reels when one of them backlashed. And the situation was made worse with the persnickety silk line used back in those days.

The inventor who solved this problem was William Shakespeare, Jr., who created a complicated twin worm-gear, level-winding mechanism on a jeweler's lathe and obtained his patent in 1896. (There appears to be some conflict in this date. I found one source that said Shakespeare obtained his first patent on Oct. 5, 1897.) With this patent, the problem of winding line on a spool finally was mastered, and the Shakespeare Wondereel won the acclaim of fishermen everywhere.

This patent was followed in the next few years by a number of patents improving features of his reels. In 1903, Shakespeare and Walter Marhoff co-patented the thumb-wheel rim click. They would work together then until Marhoff received his own reel patent in 1907 and assigned it to his company, The Marhoff Reel Company.

Marhoff's reel subsequently was incorporated into the Shakespeare line, and Shakespeare acquired the rights to Marhoff's 1907 patent. The latter's invention was a far simpler design that would become the foundation of level-wind reels for many years to come.

Mass production at this time was making inroads, and with it, fishing products were becoming more accessible to a greater segment of the public. Another company involved was the Andrew B. Hendryx Company. From 1887 to 1911, this company produced an unequaled number of reels and later was acquired by Winchester.

Hendryx made several improvements that also changed the bait-casting reel. For example, he devised a method of constructing reel spools and spool bearings. And no matter who lays claim to inventing the first commercial automatic clutch for a free-spooling reel, it was Andrew Hendryx who deserves the credit. His reels also were the first commercially mass-produced, stamped, brass reels that were very successful.

No discussion of reels is complete without mention of the Pflueger family. Pflueger competed with Shakespeare in the low-priced and average-priced reels and later introduced such models as the Rocket, Supreme, Nobby, and others. Pflueger also was noted like Heddon and others for its line of tackle and baits used for muskie, bass and northern fishing.

Like Bronson, Ocean City, Penn, and other favorites, many people combined their skills and talents and offered their reels to the public. All of them are as noteworthy as the next, with all their work reflecting back to the early reel makers and the files of watchmakers.

Today, bait-casting reels are well-designed, made from a variety of polymers and metals, and shaped into space-age designs with dramatic changes in gear ratios, spool diameters, and lengths. Machining and molds have replaced the work of lamp, solitude and file.

Global competitors have introduced improvements from ball bearings to larger line capacities. And with the added materials of graphite for fishing rods and Kevlar for fishing lines, the reel has had to adapt to the faster line speeds that are generated from faster actions and stronger rods. Now reels have to be faster and stronger for the bigger fish targeted by many fishermen. We are casting farther and cranking faster.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Another Topwater Kind of Day--How Long Can It Last?

Sorry but there won't be any photos of today's catch. As luck would have it, I went off and left both my cameras at home--forgot my bottled water, too. I didn't realize the problem until the boat nearly was loaded and ready to launch this morning, and there was no way I was going to make a trip back home. I stopped at the West Neck Marina Store to pick up a couple bottles of water, then went ahead and launched.

Was surprised to see a couple of old friends on the water today in the person of Johnny Spruill and Joe McDevitt. I hadn't seen either one in a year or longer. Johnny called it quits right behind me today, so we exchanged a few pleasantries before I cleared the ramp area. He let me know he had caught a little bit of everything today. I never was close enough to Joe to say "hi."

As for the fishing, I started out throwing an assortment of baits, none of which produced anything for better than an hour. Then, though, I hit a bass with a Pop-R, and from that point on, I stayed with the same lure. I ended the day with a total of six, five of which were keepers. Their combined weight was 9 lbs. 3 ozs. Only missed one fish--even after I knocked all but one barb off the Pop-R I was throwing. The fish were aggressive enough today I didn't really have to set the hook.

Like our tournament last Saturday, I never left West Neck. Am not sure if that'll be my game plan for the tournament this coming Saturday. For that matter, I can't even be sure we'll be able to hold a tournament at this point. There are some serious north winds predicted between now and Saturday, so it's a pretty safe bet the water level is going to take a nosedive. For that reason, I'm reserving my final decision until 6 o'clock Friday evening.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Looks Like I'd Eventually Learn My Lesson

On what at least seems like one occasion each spring, I either have a guy on my back seat or come across someone on the water who beats me into submission with a Pop-R. Yesterday was no exception.

I "drew first blood" yesterday morning with a Bang-O-Lure. But after putting two fish in the boat and missing a couple of strikes with this lure, I only could watch my partner, Rob, put on a clinic with his Pop-R. He may have forgotten a similar tourney incident last year, but I haven't. I can't count the number of times the same thing has happened to me over the years.

Don't get me wrong. I wasn't upset he was putting fish after fish in the boat because, after all, we were fishing as partners. It's just frustrating that my topwater choice always seems to produce but for a short spell, while the Pop-R invariably "keeps on keeping on"--just like the Energizer Bunny.

Even after I finally throw in the towel and break out a Pop-R, I always wrinkle a few eyebrows with my usual choice of colors. You see, I normally grab a pink one, but there's a good reason for that choice, too.

One spring several years ago, I had a fella named Mike on my back seat, and just like Rob yesterday, he buried the barbs on bass after bass that day with his pink Pop-R. It was that demonstration which sent me scurrying to develop my own stash of the lure, and I still keep a few on hand. I have other colors, too, but the pink nearly always is my first choice. It accounted for four of my fish yesterday, plus a couple of misses.

Maybe one of these days I'll make the Pop-R my go-to bait for topwater bassin' in the spring. It's not like I need any more justification for such a switch.

On a different topic, remember my blog account the other day about absent-mindedly leaving my wallet on the back of the boat while towing it down the road? Had an email earlier today from my buddy, Charlie, who told me about his own wallet experience.

A couple years ago, he noticed his was missing while fishing the oxbow across from the old Captain George's. Said Charlie, "I paddled for miles, retracing my path, looking for the wallet. It was in a watertight case, so I figured I'd find it floating some place, but that never happened."

There was an urgency to Charlie's search. He was supposed to board a plane in three days, bound for Europe, and he knew he would have problems without an ID.

With no sign of the case, Charlie eventually gave up and returned to his car to load the kayak. It was then that he found the case with his wallet on the car's roof, along with a note from a young man saying he had found the case on the bank, knew Charlie, and recognized his car from the blog.

"I think that young man was like 18 or so," said Charlie. "I offered to take him out to dinner, but he declined. We exchanged several emails for a few months, but I then lost track of him. It's sure nice to know there still are some great, honest folks out there," he concluded.

I second that, Charlie. Thanks for sharing.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Best Turnout So Far This 2015 Season

Twenty-two anglers in 12 boats showed up at West Neck Marina this morning to fish today's tournament. We started the morning in heavy dew and unseasonably cold temperatures and finished it pretty much the same way, except for the fact the dew had been replaced by off-and-on rain, which started about mid-morning, not the originally predicted mid- to late-afternoon.

Taking 1st-place honors with a five-fish limit weighing 12.81 lbs. was this duo of (from left) Jake and Jesse Milligan. Their big fish weighed in at 3.71 lbs.

Finishing in 2nd place was this team of (from left) Randy Conkle and Bob Glass, who also had five fish, with a total weight of 11.30 lbs. Their big fish weighed 4.09 lbs.

Claiming 3rd place was this father-daughter team of Steve and Madison Bailey, whose five-fish limit weighed 11.26 lbs. Their big fish, caught by Madison, came in at 4.39 lbs.

In 4th place was this team of (from left) Lenny Hall and Gary Coderre, with five fish weighing a total of 9.90 lbs., anchored by the tournament's big fish, which tipped the scales at 4.47 lbs.

This husband-wife team of Nathan and Marjorie Gottsch won the mystery-weight drawing. They had one fish that weighed 1.21 lbs., which was closest to the 2.00 tab that was drawn.

Here is how all the other contestants lined up in today's standings:

     * The team of Jim Wilder and Chris Vitovich, five fish, 9.87 lbs. total weight after a 0.25 dead-fish penalty, 3.30-lb. big fish.
     * The team of Rob Chatham and Ken Testorff, five fish, 9.48 lbs. total weight, 2.34-lb. big fish.
     * Rob Peppers, five fish, 9.32 lbs. total weight, 3.33-lb. big fish.
     * The team of Jared Allbritten and Wayne Hayes, five fish, 8.75 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * Al Napier, five fish, 8.32 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * The team of Mitch Portervint and Skip Schaible, five fish, 6.82 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * The team of Cody Cousineau and Stephen Warren, three fish, 3.58 lbs. total weight, no big fish.

Overall, the rain-soaked anglers today weighed a total of 54 bass, for a total weight of 102.62 lbs. The average weight was 1.90 lbs.

For planning purposes, our next event is scheduled for one week from now, Saturday, May 2, from safe light (about 6 a.m.) to 2 p.m. I hope you can join us.

In closing, I would like to congratulate all of today's winners. I also would like to thank everyone who showed up to fish. Here's hoping those "new faces in the crowd" will see fit to continue the season with us.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Suffolk Isn't the Only Thing Surprising Locally...

I offer, for your consideration, Northwest River Park Lake. Did you know that numerous bass weighing 8 to 11 pounds have been collected there in population samples? Here are a couple of recent samples that should titillate every bass fisherman's fancy:

Holding the 9.2-lb. largemouth in this photo is Chad Boyce, fish biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

How about the 9.1-lb. sow in Chad's grasp in this photo?

The lake in this 763-acre park in southeastern Chesapeake is stocked with largemouth bass, crappie, channel catfish, bluegill, and white perch. The crappie, white perch, and bluegill are abundant but generally small. If you're looking for a good place to take a youngster fishing in the summertime, you can't go wrong by taking him or her here. The bluegill will provide plenty of action if you just use a bobber and small worm. Or, if you're interested in trying your luck with some yellow perch and winter stripers, all you have to do is hike to the park and campground's pier.

The Urban Fishing Program and trout stockings here have been reinstated after having been discontinued for a number of years. Anglers should be reminded, however, that a state trout license, in addition to a freshwater fishing license (if applicable) is required to fish in Northwest River Park Lake from Nov. 1 to April 30 of each year. Be advised, though, that the park does not sell fishing licenses, so make plans to get them ahead of time.

There are no fees to fish. Bank fishing is allowed throughout the park, and rental boats are available.

In addition to year-round boating and fishing, there is hiking, a putt-putt golf course, horse shoes, volleyball nets, and much more. The park has 66 campsites and 2 rental cabins.

The park address, in case you wish to get Google directions, is 1733 Indian Creek Rd., Chesapeake 23322. If you live in Norfolk, take I-464 south. At the end of I-464, stay to the left and take 168 south. Take exit 8B, Hillcrest Parkway East (last exit before toll). Turn right onto Battlefield Blvd, then turn left on Indian Creek Rd. The park is approximately 4 miles on the right.

From North Carolina, travel north on Rt. 168. Turn right on Gallbush Rd., then turn right on Indian Creek Rd. The park is approximately 2 miles on the right.

For more information, call the Northwest River Park at 757-421-7151 or 757-421-3145.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

If I Hadn't Lived It, You'd Never Convince Me It Really Happened

I'm talking about the day yesterday--Wednesday, April 22, 2015. It all started in the wee hours of the morning, when I was awakened by another one of my cluster headaches--the third one in as many days. No sooner had I taken a pill for that long-time problem than a totally off-the-wall pain hit my left ear. When I say "off the wall," I mean just that. I haven't had any ear pain that I can remember since I was a youth and frequently had ear aches.

Nevertheless, I arose when I heard the alarm go off at 7:30 a.m., signaling it was time for my wife to get ready for her bowling league and for me to get in gear to take my boat to Wayne for one final job before the season kicks into overdrive. Staving off the usual nausea that accompanies my taking the headache prescription without food, I stumbled downstairs and forced down a couple pieces of toast and a bowl of fruit, which took care of the nausea but did nothing for the ear ache that ended up lasting all day.

Within 15 minutes of my wife's departure, I was en route to West Neck to hook up my boat and head to Wayne's place. That much of the day went as usual, and Wayne was all ready for me when I wheeled up in front of his house. A couple hours later, he had finished the job--even took care of a  problem I didn't know I had--so I paid him and was headed back to West Neck. That part of the day likewise went smoothly, and I was feeling pretty good until I parked at West Neck and walked around to the stern of my boat. Bet you'll never guess what I then found laying on the back deck.

It was none other than my wallet, which I had left laying there when I went to hand Wayne his money. I had driven all the way from his house back to West Neck--at speeds up to 55 mph, in that wind--and all that I lost in the process were the four or five $1 bills I had tucked under the wallet while I went to pay Wayne. Guess maybe a kid or two from Wayne's neighborhood may have been smiling as I passed by, with those $1 bills floating through the air. I kinda chuckled as I remembered that old GEICO TV commercial showing the dude on the motorcycle riding down the road with bills coming off him by the handsful.

After checking my wallet three times to make sure everything else was intact, I just had stuck it back in my pocket when the cellphone rang, and it was my wife telling me about a problem she was having at home. Seems she had let a Northstar Alarm Systems salesman in the house, and he wanted to sell us a couple new state-of-the-art keypads. Only problem was that he was (as we'd eventually learn) giving my wife--and me--a bunch of half-truths, along with some outright lies. He was making it sound like we would keep our ADT service, but just have the new keypads, with a slight bump in our monthly monitoring fees. And he was assuring us that these added monitoring fees would more than be offset by the added discount we would get with our home insurance company as a result of having these new keypads.

He "almost" pulled off the scam. Fortunately, though, the service tech didn't get to our place before my wife and I had put 2 and 2 together and agreed we were about to get screwed royally. I told her to shut and lock the doors until I got home. Suffice it to say that, by the time I arrived home, my afterburners had kicked in, and so had a lot more of that old Navy chief venom than I thought could possibly be left after all these years. Upon opening my car door, I immediately jumped in the salesman's face and asked just one question: Are you with ADT? Quickly realizing my mood, he already was backing away (and the scrawny service tech already had high-tailed it to the curb and was putting his tools in the car) when I told the salesman he'd better get the (expletive deleted) off my property and never show his face around here again, or I'd throw him off the next time.

A subsequent quick check of the Internet revealed a long history of customer complaints with Northstar. In short, if you see one of their reps coming to your front door, you'll be smart to slam the door in his face--or better yet, just not answer the door in the first place. The situation we had got my wife so upset she had some breathing problems for a spell, but, ultimately, she calmed down, and all was OK.

In the meantime, though, I received an email from Skip telling me about his fishing day yesterday. He managed to catch this bass and a pickerel before calling it quits about 1 o'clock, but that wasn't the high point of his day. That came as he was making the run back up North Landing after calling it a day. He hit what evidently was a submerged floater in mid-river. Fortunately, there was no damage, except for the "toothpick" Skip was left with in the speedometer hole on the outboard. "She stuck on 40," he said. On the way home, he also stopped at Wayne's house, got the "toothpick" removed, and had Wayne check over the lower unit.

Seems Skip has been having a few problems of his own here recently. In his first outing after having Wayne install a new 24-volt trolling motor on his boat, the switch went screwy. A phone call later, he had a replacement motor on the way, which, as I understand it, worked OK on its maiden voyage yesterday. Looks like he's now all set for fishing this Saturday's tournament out of West Neck.

For that matter, I hope all of us are set for Saturday's contest. Just to be on the safe side, I plan to chain my wallet to my neck and have told the wife not to answer the door for anyone--period.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Just How New/Old Are Guideless Fishing Rods?

I thought I knew the answer, but that was before I started my latest research mission on the Internet. Turns out I'm way off base.

Remember when Daiwa introduced Interline rods (as pictured right) in the mid-1990s? That's when I thought this "revolutionary concept" was born. After all, publicity of the day stressed these "no guides, no tangles, no stress" miracles as "the most advanced design ever."

Would you believe, though, that guideless rods actually date back to the 1880s? The "bread and butter" of the Horton Manufacturing Company at that time was their Bristol steel rods (pictured below). The company was named in honor of Everett Horton, the inventor of its first product. It seems Horton wanted to fish on Sunday, but the Puritanical village of Bristol, CT, didn't like Sunday slackers. He solved this dilemma with the easily carried (and hidden) telescopic steel rod.

Through the years, the Horton Manufacturing Company produced many varieties of steel rods. However, the one that still elicits the most interest among collectors is the offspring of Everett's original design--the rod with the line running through it, instead of through outside-mounted guides.

These rods were manufactured in bait-rod and fly-rod versions, and in many different lengths and designs. Although Horton dreamed up his idea in the 1880s, these rods still were popular enough to be listed in catalogs as late as the 1930s. They often were described as "a wonderful rod to poke through a hole in the brush to snag wary small-stream trout, because the line couldn't catch on branches."

According to my research, rod engineers at Daiwa Australia and Daiwa Japan have been working together in recent years to design the most technically advanced rods ever seen--the Tournament Master Z Interlines. These rods utilize the incredible SVF (super high volume fibre) carbon, combining precise resin control with unidirectional graphite fibre, to make one of the lightest, strongest and most sensitive blanks ever developed. Uniting SVF with the famous Linear Interline design, the new "Super Interline" introduces "Hyper Dry" technology--a super water-repellent dry polymer delivering the smoothest casts ever seen.

The Tournament Master Z Interlines (as seen at right) come in six different models (four spinning and two baitcast), all of which are only available in two pieces. The spinning rods come in ultra light, light, medium light, and medium heavy action, while the baitcast rods are available in medium heavy and medium actions.

So what do anglers have to say about these Daiwa Interline rods? According to a fella who used one during a two-day bass-fishing trip, "Everything Daiwa says about them in their advertising seems to be true. My first cast went 6 feet into the mono backing on my spinning reel (first time this ever has happened), and I had to put more line on to compensate (for the improved casting distance)... . Before anyone asks, 'No, I don't work for Daiwa. In fact, my entire closet is Shimano.'"

Here's what another angler had to say: "Was able to use my new Team Daiwa X Interline rod and my new Team Daiwa TDS reel yesterday, and it was awesome. I was able to cast a weightless wacky worm into the wind like it was a 1/2-oz. Rattle Trap... . Most sensitive rod I ever have used... ."

Not everyone shared those positive views, though. As yet another angler noted, "I got two of those rods but hated having to mess around with the little wire to string them up, and they just didn't cast for me worth a darn. I gave away both of them."

And then there was one final angler who referred to the Interline rod as "Daiwa's answer to the Edsel." He added this comment: "In this case, I think it's a different mousetrap and not necessarily a better one."

To be honest with everyone, I personally haven't gone looking for any of these rods since I first saw and handled some of them back in the late-1990s. For that matter, I don't have a clue how readily available they are in the U.S.--if at all. I get the impression you'll find plenty of them in Australia and Japan but not so much anywhere else.

I certainly don't see them as "the coolest, funkiest and sexiest most technically advanced rods available," which is how one Daiwa piece of advertising referred to them.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

No Topwater Arsenal Is Complete Without a Few of These

I'm referring to none other than the Heddon Torpedo, which has been around since the 1920s. Made out of wood until 1936, this lure has a couple of adoring qualities. First and foremost, it catches fish, and secondly, it can be cast a "country mile," thanks to its bullet-like design.

Another benefit of this design is a smoother, more true, retrieve. Here is where the Torpedo really shines. With help from the propeller on the rear, it creates a racket on the surface that really gets "under the skin" of schooling or aggressive fish. The sound, according to some, is like the noise made by bass chasing shad to the surface. As we all know, bass quickly will target a solo baitfish that appears to be injured--hence, a good reason to twitch the lure.

Furthermore, the lure is versatile enough to be fished fast, slow, or with a pattern--all with equal effectiveness. One rule of thumb to remember is this: The warmer the water, the faster you can retrieve effectively.

Some anglers like to fish the Torpedo by reeling in slack line, jerking the rod downward to pull the lure forward a bit, then letting it rest a few seconds before repeating the action. Whatever technique you try, be forewarned that explosive strikes can and often do occur. The secret to fishing this lure is to vary your retrieves until the bass let you know the one they prefer on any given day.

As with all topwater lures, when you see the fish explode on a Torpedo, wait until you feel the weight of the fish before you set the hook. One expert's advice is to "wait about 2 seconds."

The Heddon Torpedo comes equipped with two treble hooks--one beneath the belly, and one at the rear, just below the propeller. And it's available in four sizes, including the Teeny (1/8 oz.), Tiny (1/4 oz.), Baby (3/8 oz.), and Magnum (5/8 oz.). You simply choose the one you feel is best for the situation.

Anyone who ever has used a Heddon topwater bait can tell you how effective they can be on the water. The Torpedo is no exception. "Deadly during the day, downright unfair at night" is how I saw one bass angler refer to this lure. Anyone who doesn't have some of these lures in their tacklebox are missing out on some golden moments.

Consider an item I found while researching the Internet for this story. It reflects some of the thoughts I've been having lately. Here is what the author said:

"Each year, fishermen spend millions of dollars on fishing tackle. We are constantly bombarded with new fishing lures, promising to be better than anything before it. The lures have photo finishes to look like actual fish. They have bodies that replicate the swimming action of baitfish and fry.

"I personally buy into this hype continuously. However, several recent fishing outings have reminded me that, often times, the oldest lure designs still stand the test of time. While bass fishing a few weeks ago, nobody around me was catching anything. I, likewise, had thrown most of my favorite lures without any success, as well.

"Finally, as a last ditch effort, I switched to a Heddon Torpedo--a lure that has been around for almost a century. And before you know it, the water was exploding with bass."

I truthfully can't say I've ever had the water around me "exploding with bass" when I've fished the Torpedo, but I have caught some nice fish with the lure. I also can say, with a certain degree of pride, that I went through this whole past winter without buying into all that hype about new lures--I never bought a single new one. And, for me, that's a real accomplishment.