Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Really Bad Day

We're always hearing about those things that annoy and cause bass fishermen to have a bad day, e.g., like having a flat tire on your trailer en route to the local fishing hole, fighting 20-30-mph winds with higher gusts all day, breaking your favorite rod, losing a big fish at the boat, or being one minute late for weigh-in when you're sitting on a winning limit.

Granted, all those things will cause any red-, white-, and blue-blooded fisherman to have what otherwise is known as a bad day, but let me ask you something. How about the fish? Have you ever considered that they, too, might have a bad day--and, further, that their one bad day might very well be their last?

I mean, how would you like to have all this expanse of water, like a lake or river, to run around in, and just as you stop to grab yourself a bite of something (albeit "fake" food at that) to eat, get snatched from your luxury surroundings and stuffed inside a hole, maybe alongside three or four others that made the same mistake? As if that isn't enough of an insult, you then get bounced around all over the place the rest of the day until you (hopefully) get tossed into a basket at day's end--along with all your "buds," and have your collective weight taken, before finally being returned to the same expanse of water you so rudely were plucked from hours earlier.

And all that's only if you're among the "lucky ones." Maybe your luck ain't so hot. I recently heard a story about one such unlucky bass.

My friend, Rob (right), told me that he had made a trip to the Chickahominy this past week with another fella. They were pre-fishing for a club tournament next weekend.

Rob dubbed the day's fishing as "tough," and given the fact they boated about 10 bass, without a single keeper in the bunch, I'd have to agree with his take on the day. However, there was one brighter moment--for Rob, that is.

According to his account, he had tossed a frog to the shoreline. A bass subsequently c-r-u-s-h-e-d the bait and put a terrific bend in Rob's rod, akin to what you'd expect from a big fish. He responded by burying the hook, and once he had the fish alongside the boat, glanced over to find it wasn't nearly as large as it had felt. Worse yet, the fish was bleeding profusely, from the frog hook lodged squarely in its throat.

Being conscientious, Rob reached over the side of the boat, so he could keep the fish partly in the water, and quickly but carefully removed the hook and released the fish. He noted that the bass appeared to be having some trouble taking off but looked like he would be OK.

Rob then turned his attention to his now-dilapidated bait. The fish had hit the frog so hard he had completely separated the hooks from the body cavity, which, as Rob explained, was spinning freely on the line in the wind.

Faced with no choice but to rip off the frog body, that's what Rob was doing when he suddenly heard a huge splash nearby and turned around just in time to witness an egret snatching what looked like Rob's hapless fish from just below the surface.

"Now that's what I call 'really having a bad day,'" said Rob, and I couldn't agree more. After all, how would we fishermen feel if, after suffering through a bad day on the water, we ended up having something a lot bigger than us swoop down from above and snatch our "wounded pride" carcass away for dinner?

Now there's something you can ponder a little bit this 4th of July holiday weekend as you enjoy a cookout, have a cool beverage, and/or just celebrate the event with family and friends. Have a safe one, folks!

Incidentally, Rob always is dropping little stories or ideas for them on me, then asking me not to post them on my blog. I listened very closely when he shared this one with me earlier today, and he never once asked me not to publish it, so guess what? I just gotta rib my tourney partner once in a while.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Little Bit of Everything

Dominion Virginia Power crews were called out about 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon (as seen here) when strong winds from a passing storm knocked down a power pole along Seaboard Road in Pungo. According to one report I heard, 176 customers were temporarily left in the dark as a result of the downed pole.

The same storm toppled this tree at the U-bend in the road next to the West Neck Marina boat ramp. From the looks of things (I saw it firsthand), this tree was rotten to start with and eventually would have come down on its own.

Today, though, it was business as usual at West Neck--actually better than usual, given the fact some of those folks with a long holiday weekend already were taking advantage of an extra day in which they could hit the water. A tour of the parking lot quickly revealed that my friend, Tom Acree, had returned for yet another trip to Albright's. And what a day he had.

It started with this 18-and-a-half-inch bass that he caught on a Senko. Then, the tail-bites started again, and that's when Tom decided he was going to find a solution to that problem.

Digging through his tacklebox, he found a 4-inch topwater Rapala and started tossing it tight up against the grass line where he had caught the first fish--and where he and I had caught them Wednesday. By popping the Rapala a couple of times, which made it dip slightly below the surface, then letting it rise back up, the bass would "knock the snot out of it." He finished the day with a total of 10 bass--the biggest one the 18-and-a-half-incher that weighed about 3 lbs.

The "highlight" (if you can call it that) of Tom's day, though, was when he went to put his second fish into the livewell. He saw this stringy thing (stretched out here on the gunwale of his boat) in the water, pulled it out, and took a close look. Turns out it's what was left of a snake that the first fish had regurgitated. The head was missing, and it was evident the remainder had been inside the fish for a spell, but there was no mistaking it--that stringy thing indeed was a snake, "a water snake, though, not a moccasin," as Tom quickly clarified.

Jim Nabors, in his role as Gomer Pyle, always said it best: "Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!" You never know what's going to happen when you go fishing... or so has been my experience.

"Safe Light" Starts Don't Mean "No Running Lights Required"

That's the title I used for a recent email to everyone on my active roster of anglers who fish the Dewey Mullins Memorial Bass Tourney Series. It's the result of someone reminding me (after the fact) that a vast number of participants in our June 27th event left the boat basin without their navigation lights on, even though sunrise still was 30 minutes away.

By our 2015 tournament rules, that mistake could have resulted in all those participants being disqualified. But since I, as tournament director, missed it, and the mistake wasn't brought to my attention until it was too late, everyone got a free pass.

The U.S. Coast Guard "Rules of the Road" are very specific about navigation lights: They're required from sunset to sunrise, as well as during periods of restricted visibility, such as fog and heavy rain. And our rules are equally specific: "Anyone caught violating any of these rules (Coast Guard 'Rules of the Road') and/or operating their boat in a reckless manner on tournament day will be disqualified."

As a result, beginning with our July 11th event, all boats will be required to turn on their running lights before leaving the boat basin for blastoff. Any boats with problems will be held until the official time of sunrise, or the problems can be fixed, whichever occurs first.

If you need a good reason for enforcing the rule about navigation lights, here's an example I found online (and shortened somewhat). The author is Craig Davis, long-time sports writer for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida.

"Something looming in the darkness told Jim Pierson there was trouble ahead on the Intracoastal Waterway.

"From the bridge of his 28-foot cruiser Lee-Way, he finally spotted it: a small open boat coming fast, no more than 50 to 80 feet dead ahead. In a heartbeat, Pierson hit the throttle and spun the wheel hard to starboard. The smaller boat, with four persons aboard, struck a glancing blow and veered off.

"'The blood-curdling scream of the girl in that boat is something I'll never forget,' said Pierson, from Lighthouse Point. 'Something made me sense a boat coming. It had no lights on. If I hadn't turned when I did, that boat would have been driven under my bow and put all those people into the water. I would have probably run over them.'

"Most anyone who regularly runs a boat in South Florida (left) can relate horror stories about dangerous encounters on the inland waterways. Usually they spring from negligence, irresponsibility or plain ignorance.

"Why would anyone race down a waterway as busy as the Intracoastal at night without proper running lights, endangering the lives of oneself and three companions, as well as everyone else on the water?

"Hard to offer a logical explanation. But that and more outrageous atrocities occur any given day or night. Weekends can be downright frightening on the Intracoastal. Competent skippers are more comfortable offshore in a raging sea, than venturing through the inland flow of morons.

"Something strange happens to some people when they step aboard a boat and take the helm. Common sense surrenders to irrationality. Courtesy vanishes in the breeze.

"The problem can be attributed in part to the pleasure in boating. Hey, this is supposed to be fun. In some minds, the pursuit of happiness implies a freedom from restraint. Unfortunately, in an area of intense boating activity, such as this, unrestrained operation by even a small percentage of boaters translates into trouble and, at times, tragedy... ."

Here are some tips to keep your recreational boating safe:

     * If you're in a powerboat at night and see another boat's red light and white light but not the green light, you generally are in a "give way" position. This means you must slow, turn, stop, or make whatever maneuver necessary to stay out of that boat's way. If you see both the red and green light, as well as a white light, you are running up the stern of the other boat, or the other boat is at anchor, or it may be a sailboat under sail. If you see the green and white light but not the red, you are considered the boat of privilege, or "stand on" vessel. Remember, though, that being in that position is of little solace if there is a collision, so avoid a collision at any cost.

     * A general rule is that the more lights you see on a vessel at night, the larger it is, and the more you should try to avoid it.

     * Carry spare light bulbs of the kind and size you need for all your navigation-light fixtures, and know how to change them. Having nav lights on your boat that don't work is considered the same as not having nav lights on your boat. If you're ever in a situation where your nav lights stop working and you can't fix them, light as many flashlights as possible and wave them around in all directions as you make your way to safe harbor.

     * If you see yellow lights on the water, you are encountering a large vessel or barge being towed. Stay well clear of this hazard.

Night boating is deceptive. Always reduce your speed at night, and keep a sharp lookout for lights of other boats and debris.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Getting Our Licks In Ahead of the 4th of July Weekend Crowd

I really can't say that's what Tom Acree (left) was thinking this morning as he launched his Triton just ahead of me at West Neck Marina. However, that's exactly what I was thinking as I watched my Skeeter slide off the trailer about 6:45.

Many moons ago, when I still was working fulltime, I'd often mix it up with the holiday-weekend crowds, but now that I'm fully retired, you'll very seldom find me on the water on a weekend, unless it happens to be another Dewey Mullins Memorial Bass Tourney. The truth of the matter simply is that I don't have the patience to deal with what usually goes on. And when you fish most weekdays, it's highly likely you won't see more than a dozen other folks on the water--if even that many. There very well may be something better than retirement, but if there is, I haven't found it yet...nor am I even looking.

That being said, I rarely get rattled by having a slow fishing trip like the one both Tom and I had today. Take my word for it: There's far more truth than fiction to that saying about the worst day fishing being better than the best day at work. And just to set the record straight: Tom isn't retired. He's just on his summer break from teaching school. If I understand him correctly, though, his retirement is not much more than a hop, skip and jump away. We'll likely be seeing a lot more of each other on the water once that happens, 'cause Tom is every bit as addicted to the sport of bass fishing as I am.

With high water in the offing again today, Tom and I once more found ourselves heading to Albright's. I went straight there this morning, and he was only a couple hours behind me, after first checking out a few of his favorite haunts in West Neck. We both initially went to the back of Albright's, which proved to be a mistake. Neither of us boated a single fish there.

After seeing the error of our ways, we came back and fished the front end of the creek, which really wasn't all that much better. However, we both quickly stumbled onto a stretch of about 100 yards where the fish were active. That stretch yielded four bass for Tom, including two keepers and two dinks. I ended the day with three bass--none of them keepers--plus a white perch and a yellow perch. To the best of my knowledge, Tom caught all his fish on a soft plastic, while I did all my damage, such as it was, with a 1/4-oz. tandem spinnerbait. I kept getting a lot of bream hits on my Senko, and the only decent bass hit I got was another one of those tail-biters. He hung on just long enough to trigger some major arthritis pain in my hand, then opened his mouth and let go.

I ran across Rob Peppers in Albright's today but didn't do any more than exchange greetings. He already was gone when Tom and I came in this afternoon, so didn't find out what kind of day he had.

With the breeze we had on the water today, I thought it was pretty decent until about 1 o'clock, and that was only an hour before Tom and I threw in the towel and headed back to West Neck.

Here's wishing all the weekend crowd the best of luck, regardless of what your pursuit is. Keep a sharp eye on what's happening around you, 'cause this is a weekend often fraught with mishaps. Don't let yourself become a statistic.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Day He'll Never Forget

By Jerry Gardner

A young friend of mine, Cam Wallis, and I spent a few hours fishing part of Moyock Creek this morning. This was Cam's second time fishing with me and, at the start of the day, still was looking to catch his first-ever freshwater fish. After dealing with several missed strikes, Cam finally hooked up with this 1-lb. 10-oz. pickerel to claim the title of his first fish.

If you follow the time stamps on the photos, you'll see that, less than 20 minutes later, Cam also boated his first-ever bass. The junebug Senko that he caught both fish on probably was bigger than the bass, but, for Cam, that bass still was a "trophy" fish.

These two fish were all that Cam would remove the hook from today, but combined with all the missed strikes and seeing me boat four bass and a pickerel, I think it's safe to say that bass fishing has a new fan.

Our best bass of the day was this one, which just reached the 14-inch mark on my "golden rule."

Fish were hard to find today, but Cam admits this is a day he'll never forget.