Sunday, July 20, 2014

Not Many of Us, But We're Still Game

Six (and maybe seven) of us old-timers have Aug. 21 circled on our calendars. That's Senior Citizen's Day and, more importantly, the date set for our Bass-Fishing Rodeo.

As advertised since my first notice of this event, everyone age 60 or over, or who will turn 60 on Aug. 21, are welcome to join us at West Neck Marina. Planned fishing hours are 6 a.m. to 12 noon.

Costs will include a $10-per-person entry fee (with 100 percent payout), optional $5-per-person big-bass pot, and $5-per-boat ramp fee. Unless more people show up than are currently expected, this will be a winner-take-all event. Participants can fish solo or no more than two per boat. Weigh-in is limited to three fish per boat in consideration of the higher temps we usually have this time of year.

Once our day on the water has concluded, we all can sit around and swap fish stories over a BBQ sandwich, if you want.

At the moment, the names I have on our list of participants include Skip Schaible, Jerry Gardner (and perhaps his neighbor), Al Napier, Red Bruun, Jim Bauer, and yours truly. Any more eligible old-timers who would like to join us should email me with their name and a good daytime phone number. My email address is:

Look forward to seeing y'all there. Yee-Haw!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

One Marina Likes My Proposal, No Word Yet From the Other

This past Tuesday, I emailed the owners of Bob's Fishing Hole my idea for an annual challenge bass tournament between the 6 or 8 best tourney anglers of their facility and the 6 or 8 best tourney anglers of West Neck Marina.

My proposal was that those anglers involved would fish a two-day contest. The format would be two men per boat fishing as a team for the respective marinas. There would be an eight-fish-per-boat-per-day limit, with the total team weight for the two days determining the winner. And to keep things on a level playing field, all participants would launch out of Bob's on one of the tourney days and fish only Northwest water. On the other day, they all would launch out of West Neck and fish only North Landing water.

The marina prize from this competition would be a traveling trophy displayed in the winner's store a year at a time. Winning anglers, of course, would share monetary rewards from entry fees (100 percent payout). And, as usual, there would be a big-bass pot up for grabs.

Besides giving some anglers a few more braggin' rights, I thought this idea might perhaps generate a little extra business for the two marinas (e.g., more people fishing more often in an effort to gain status as "one of the best").

While the folks at West Neck, including anglers and the marina manager, give my idea, in the words of one angler, "two thumbs up," the only response I've gotten from Bob's is silence. I even gave the owners my phone number, offering to sit down and discuss my idea with them at length, if they so desired, but they've so far rejected that offer, too.

I can't help but wonder "what's not to like?" about this idea. Perhaps it's as I was telling a friend last night--maybe the owners of Bob's feel that I have some sort of devious, hidden agenda behind this proposal. That certainly would explain this seemingly stick-your-head-in-the-sand attitude I'm getting from them so far. The truth of the matter, though, is that I just want to see what happens when "the best meet the best" on the water.

Is my idea any good? The only way to find out is to give it a try. If it works, so much the better. If it doesn't work, who really has lost anything?

Dennis Padgett just responded to my email. His note read in part, "James and I mulled it over, and we are not interested. We have tried trails, to make Bob's similar to a club, passed out plaques/trophies, etc... Thanks anyway."

Sorry, folks--I tried. Another line in that email from Dennis read, "A business, I must admit, is a labor of love." I would suggest to you, however, that a business more aptly is a direct reflection of the "backward" or "forward" thinking of the management. Need I say more?

From "anonymous angler" No. 1: I'm surprised at their refusal because Bob's holds a tourney at "every drop of the hat."

From "anonymous angler" No. 2: Interesting that they are not even giving the idea a chance. I guess they are making more money than they need.

After further consideration, I went back to Dennis Padgett at Bob's today with a revised proposal. I told him I would agree to run all aspects of the one day of fishing out of his facility, as well as the day at West Neck. All he and James would have to do is pick their top 6 or 8 anglers by any method they chose. Here is the response I got:

We are still not interested. May the Lord bless your endeavors and your attempts to help the fishermen. They are a great bunch of guys.

I'm astounded at the hypocrisy of such a statement. That decision is one heckuva way to treat a great bunch of guys who help pay your bills.

A little earlier this evening, I had a fella tell me he doesn't understand why some guys fish only at Bob's and some only at West Neck. Speaking for only myself, I don't understand why anyone ever fishes at Bob's. That's the beauty of living in a free country, though.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Slow Days Seem to Be Here to Stay a While

I'm sure he wasn't trying to duplicate my numbers from yesterday in West Neck Creek, but that's nevertheless what Jim Bauer did today. His best fish of the day was this 1-14 bass, which grabbed a plastic worm that Jim was fishing at the time. He also boated one 14-oz. dink on a chatterbait.

If these had been his only catch of the day, Jim might have been a bit disappointed. However, he was all smiles as he pulled 22 nice crappie out of his livewell.

I'm taking my time doing this blog post tonight because I'm running on fumes after fishing several hours yesterday, then spending about another 10 hours on the water today. Ordinarily, I wouldn't put in such a long day, but my wife has been out of town a couple of days now, so I've been getting in some extra licks. Suffice it to say I'm not even thinking about trying for the third day in a row tomorrow. I'm shutting off the phones when I go to bed tonight and don't plan to rise and shine tomorrow until I feel like it. That's the way I roll when it's just me holding down the home front.

Try as I might, the best I could do today was four bass, led by this 1-6. I also caught two that weighed 1-4 and one that tipped the scales at 1-5. I had those four by 1 o'clock and thought sure I'd have a fifth one by the time I quit at 4 o'clock, but that wasn't in the cards.

Like yesterday, I threw a topwater, chatterbait, spinnerbait, a medium-running crankbait, and an extra-shallow-running crankbait. I managed to catch one bass on the topwater, but all the others once again fell for the extra-shallow-running crankbait.

I had some half-hearted strikes by other fish throughout the day but didn't get hooked up with any of them. They always were gone by the time I got around to trying a hookset.

I'm not sure if I'll get in another day before our next tourney, which will be a week from tomorrow. In all honesty, I'm not certain it'll make any difference, given the way the bite is right now. I'll just have to wait and see how things go between now and then.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Nottoway Report Better Than West Neck Report

Jerry called West Neck Marina last evening and heard that the water was high and muddy. That's all it took to convince him and his friend, Eddie, to pack up and head to the Nottoway River this morning.

Their outing netted a total of six bass, with the two best ones weighing 2-2 and 1-12. The bass in this photo is the 1-12.

Jerry and Eddie hadn't been to the Nottoway in more than a year, so they weren't sure what kind of conditions to expect there. What they found was low, muddy water, but there was a bite, and that's usually all it takes to satisfy a bass angler who is just out for the pure enjoyment of his chosen sport, which was the case with Jerry and Eddie today.

While I did find muddy water in the ramp area of West Neck this morning when I launched, several areas where I dropped the trolling motor looked just fine. One cove that I tried out had exceptionally clean water, but the best I could say about the bite as a whole today is that it was slow.

This 1-14 was the best of only two bass that I boated today. Both fish fell for an extra-shallow-running crankbait. I tried a spinnerbait, chatterbait, medium-running crankbait, some soft plastics, and a topwater--all to no avail.

By the time I launched this morning, the north winds had blowed long enough to start lowering the water level, but there still was plenty left at day's end. I plan another trip tomorrow but will be running south then. I probably would have gone that direction this morning, if it hadn't been for the fact I got a late start and didn't feel like mixing it up with the big boys that I heard running the river.

With any degree of luck, I should have something to talk about in another short post tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Not-So-Funny Thing Happened to Me This Morning

A 3- or 4-foot water snake, similar to this one, greeted me as I raised the door to my boat-storage building at West Neck Marina. He was all stretched out under the tongue of my trailer until he saw me, then turned and high-tailed it toward the back of the building.

As luck would have it, this was a morning when Steve still was on the premises, so I went and told him about my unwanted visitor. His response was quick and decisive. He grabbed a shovel from the bed of his pickup, hopped on the golf cart, and went to confront the snake, which still was in plain view at the back of the building.

His first thrust with the shovel missed its intended target--the snake's head--but sunk into its back. While keeping the snake pinned to the ground, Steve reached for a piece of 4 x 4 I had at the back of the shed, and, on about the third or fourth swing, connected with his original target. He then scooped up the orange-bellied critter on the shovel and carried him away for disposal.

As I was watching this evolution unfold, I was reminded of an early morning venture many years ago when I had come in close contact with another one of these water snakes. I was throwing a Jitterbug just before daybreak and was dragging it back from a long, narrow cut, when I spotted something following the bait. I momentarily stopped retrieving the lure, and whatever "it" was stopped, too, but when I resumed the retrieve, "it" started following again, as well. Once "it" got closer to the boat, I saw enough of the tell-tale orange in what light there was to know what I was dealing with but wasn't sure what I should do.

By now, the lure was close enough I could snatch it from the water with the rod, which is what I did. Instead of waiting to see what the snake was going to do, though, I brought the lure back down and slapped the water with it, hoping to scare the snake away. At the same instant, the snake moved--directly into the path of the Jitterbug, and both trebles found their way into his hide. I spent the next several minutes literally "beating the snake to death" by repeatedly slamming him against the water's surface. Eventually, both hooks tore out, but he already had given up the ghost.

It's nothing new to find various creatures (notably frogs and lizards) moving around in my boat-storage building, but I'm hoping today's run-in with a snake marks the fist--and last--such encounter. You can bet I won't soon forget this experience. I say again, "I don't like surprises."

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Foggy Start to an Otherwise Beautiful Day

Because of this morning's dense fog at tourney start time, the vast majority, if not all, of the 18 anglers in 11 boats elected to start their fishing day in West Neck Creek. Once the fog had lifted, you could hear outboards firing up all over the creek, as everyone started departing for their favorite holes.

Standing in the 1st-place winner's circle at day's end was Wayne Hayes, who weighed a bag of five bass totaling 11.70 lbs. His big fish weighed 3.66 lbs.

Coming in a close 2nd was this familiar team of (from left) Randy Conkle and Bob Glass, who brought five bass to the scales weighing a total of 11.68 lbs. Bob's big bass today, which tipped the scales at 4.06 lbs., was good enough to claim big-fish honors.

Finishing in 3rd place was this team of (from left) Chris Fretard and Mike Miller. Their five bass weighed 10.91 lbs. They didn't weigh a big fish.

The final team to go home with a money envelope today was this team of (from left) Mitch Portervint and Skip Schaible. Their five fish weighed 5.80 lbs., which was closest to the 5.70-lb. tag  pulled in the mystery-weight drawing. They didn't weigh a big fish.

Here is how all the other competitors finished today:

     * Al Napier, five fish, 10.87 lbs. total weight, 3.25-lb. big fish.
     * Mark London, five fish, 10.16 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * The team of Lenny Hall and Gary Coderre, five fish, 8.35 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * The team of Steve Bailey and Jason Fittro, four fish, 6.43 lbs. total weight after 0.25 deduction for one dead fish, no big fish.
     * The team of Rob Chatham and Ken Testorff, four fish, 5.29 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * Jim Bauer, three fish, 4.09 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * The team of John Matyiko and Hayden Capper didn't weigh any fish.

Overall, the anglers today weighed a total of 45 bass for a total weight of 85.28 lbs. The average weight was 1.89 lbs.

For planning purposes, our next event is scheduled for Saturday, July 26, from safe light (about 5:30 a.m.) to 2 p.m. Here's hoping you can join us.

Friday, July 11, 2014

"JennyB" Is the Name, And Fishing Is the Game

Newlyweds Will and Jenny Bauer love outdoor activities, not the least of which is fishing. Until recently, however, they were limited in those pursuits to bank fishing, mainly for stripers, near the Lesner Bridge, so they told me in an interview Sunday afternoon, July 6, 2014. That all has changed now, since they acquired the old Blue Fin V-bottom Will has affectionately named "JennyB." The boat originally belonged to his granddad.

Will and Jenny aren't the only ones who have benefited from this acquisition. My long-time friend and Will's dad, Jim Bauer, who inherited the V-bottom when his father passed, is all smiles these days, too. Why? Because he no longer has to pay a second boat-storage fee. When he strokes that monthly check to the storage facility, it's just for his Skeeter. And I'm betting you that, if he were a few years younger, Jim probably still would be turning cartwheels from signing over all the paperwork for that second boat to his son.

This photo shows how the 31-year-old boat looked when Will and Jenny began what, to date, has turned out to be a four-week restoration project. They started by getting rid of all the dirt and rust, removing outdated equipment, and, yes, even conquering a surprise or two along the way. One of those surprises turned out to have quite a sting--a yellow jacket, no less. It had set up residence in a well-hidden area but came buzzing to life when Will got a little too close for comfort while gutting all the old interior. It nailed him so quickly he didn't have a chance to defend himself.

At its absolute bare-bones stage, before Will and Jenny started putting anything back, the boat looked like this.

Here you get a view of how the boat looks today--after a lot of sweat, elbow grease, and overcoming all the surprises. Besides a new, reinforced transom, the boat sports a completely redesigned interior, complete with new seats, new flooring, all new carpeting, new wiring, a kill switch, fire extinguisher, life jackets, new jack-wheel on the trailer, all new stainless-steel hardware throughout, and more. And most of which hasn't been replaced has been reworked, including Will's "trolling motor." He and Jenny jokingly use that term to refer to the boat's two original paddles, which, as you might imagine, required a great deal of effort.

Despite all the work and nearly $1,200 they've already invested in this project to date, both assure me they aren't done yet. For example, Will especially is interested in upgrading the boat's fusebox, but his No. 1 priority is getting the 1979 9.5/15-hp Evinrude up to snuff. Toward that end, he has ordered a new carburetor kit that he assures me will get installed as soon as it reaches him. At the same time, he's going to replace the current battery with one that has enough oomph to crank the outboard, since it indeed does have an electric-start feature.

After all, that pull-start routine is about to put Will at parade rest. He even told me that he was going to use his day off Monday just to recuperate from all the pulling he had to do Friday and Sunday. They originally had planned to go fishing again Monday.

Both Will and Jenny also want to install a Bimini top on their V-bottom. Can't say as I blame 'em, given how hot it gets around here sometimes, especially this time of year.

And last but by no means least, the 1979 boat trailer still needs a fair amount of TLC. They've already done some work on the tongue area, but both nod in agreement that more needs to be done to the rest of the trailer before they feel totally comfortable with it.

This "to do" list, however, isn't stopping the couple from enjoying their new "toy" on the water in its current configuration. To put it as simply as I know how, they've been "having a ball" ever since they took the boat on their maiden voyage in it week before last.

They were just returning to the ramp from that maiden voyage when his dad showed up to snap this photo of the happy couple.

Will and Jenny are catching some kind of fish on every trip. A week ago Saturday, when I met them for the first time, they had a largemouth bass, a crappie, and a yellow perch in their bucket. On Sunday, they were telling me about a big bowfin Will had gotten hold of that day. But what they had in their bucket wasn't that bowfin. It was four more nice crappie, and I immediately "smelled" the influence of Will's dad. The giveaway was when they told me they had been up around the West Neck Bridge Sunday. I can't tell you how many times over the years I've known Jim to circle those bridge pilings with a flyrod in his hand, pulling one slab after another into the boat.

Will and Jenny both readily admit that Jim has shared some of his favorite haunts and tricks with them, but they also told me they are developing some on their own. For instance, they told me they're going to sample the fishing in some of the local lakes with "JennyB." They also plan to spend some time on Lake Gaston--again like a certain guy with a handlebar mustache I happen to know. In fact, Will and Jenny told me they want to try and retire on a piece of lakeside property there one day.

These two, whom I've a couple of times already fondly characterized as "peas in a pod," definitely have some plans for the future. For openers, they quietly got married May 13th this year--so quietly, as a matter of fact, that Jim didn't even find out about it until a week or two later. They showed him their wedding bands for the first time the day they met him at his storage facility to have their first look at the boat they now own.

Jim had known for a spell that a wedding was in the works--he just didn't know any of the particulars. I'm guessing, though, that he figured it would be something formal. Will and Jenny, however, as they explained to me, had their reasons for exchanging marriage vows in a simple, low-key ceremony. They're saving their money and Will's leave for a special honeymoon.

Remember I earlier said they both love outdoor activities? Well, these two adventurers plan a backpacking honeymoon in Europe. They told me it could happen as early as this fall--at least, that's their current thinking. They both have backpacking experience, so why not do something like this? Makes perfect sense to me.

This marriage was a long time in the making. As Jenny explained to me Sunday, she was 19 and attending school when she first met Will in Savannah, GA. He, meanwhile, was 23 and working as a graphic artist, following a four-year tour of duty in the U.S. Army.

Jenny told me that she and Will dated off and on for a few years before a separation occurred as the result of a motorcycle crash that claimed the life of Will's brother. His parents really wanted him to be closer (they had lost one son and didn't want to lose another), so he picked up and moved back here. Over the ensuing years, the two looked for each other--unfortunately, to no avail. Then, however, technology caught up with them, and Jenny found Will again in 2012. She sent him her phone number, and he called at 10:30 p.m., July 3. Nearly six hours later--about 4 a.m. July 4th--their conversation finally ended. To this day, Jenny refers to that as "the best 4th of July ever."

From explosives specialist, to graphic artist, to master gardener, to machine equipment operator--that describes the work-history path of Will Bauer. In his current post as a machine equipment operator with the City of Virginia Beach, he's one of the guys with the dubious honor of running those spreader trucks that sand and salt the roads during the wintertime around here. And he was quick to tell me Sunday that there's a certain amount of danger involved with that detail, especially when drivers ignore all the warnings to stay off the roadways so people like him can do the job they're paid to do.

He described an incident not so long ago in which he was moving down this icy road at about 5 mph, laying the sand-and-salt mixture, when what should appear from the other direction but a car with no way to pass safely. Will said he got as close to the edge of the pavement as possible--actually too close, because as luck would have it, the pavement gave way. His spreader truck subsequently wound up on its side in the ditch, with both wheels on the driver's side in the air. His only path of escape was the driver's side door, which, as he explained, felt like it weighed a ton, given the position of the truck.

Nevertheless, he managed to get out, and the cop who had been following him at the time called in the incident. Tow vehicles arrived on the scene, righted the truck, and Will drove it back to the shop for workers to readjust and tighten down the spreader. It already was past his quitting time, though, so he just headed home.

When I asked Jenny about what kind of job she has, she explained that she's unemployed at the moment. In the past, however, she has held some excellent jobs in photography and layout. Like any experienced photographer, she always has a camera with her--as was the case Sunday when she showed me a nice outdoor model with a super lens. She has been using it to capture photos of as many different kinds of birds as she can find anytime Will and her are outdoors. And if my guess is right, that'll be most of the time, especially now that these two have the "JennyB."

I wish this couple nothing but the very best. To borrow the words from an old Eddy Arnold tune that I've always liked, "May your troubles all be small ones, and your fortunes ten times ten."

(Following is an automated slideshow of photos taken by Will and Jenny Bauer of the whole "JennyB" restoration project. All but the first and last photos used in the text of this story are from the same series. The last photo in the text was taken by Jim Bauer, and yours truly contributed the first one.)