Thursday, October 3, 2019

Flying to the Sea with Our Feet on the Sand

The final heat of summer fades in Portland and the Smallmouth release the last of their fury before winter forces them into a metabolic stupor.
As the Smallmouth retreat the first fall rains bring Coho salmon into the local rivers and I managed to land and release couple of hard charging Natives in September. 

I inspected one last crazy crawl space before inviting my friend Gary Rawson on a trip to Martha's Vineyard
that I had been planning for several weeks. 

Gary, an avid Steelhead Spey caster in the Deschutes River in Oregon.
I collaborated with Gary on a 5 day trip to Martha's Vineyard, Massachussets
that coincides with the annual Fishing Derby on the island.
Due to recent back surgery Gary - who is a fit guy - was unexpectedly sidelined and unable to fish on this trip.  He took it in stride and still had a lot of fun getting to know a unique area. The majority of the photos on this blog post - especially the real nice ones are his.  

Known as "The Derby".  This year marks the 74th running of this annual tradition on the island that I have been wanting to take part in for many years. The contest includes Boat, Shore and Fly categories for four species of fish: Striped Bass, Bluefish, False Albacore and Bonito.  Even though we run off to fish shallow water in the back bays and don't really try to catch the biggest fish.  For me it is more like trying to catch medium fish in quiet places.  

Driving around The Vineyard looking for water access to fish you pass an amazing array of stone walls. 

Exploring West Dennis Beach the day before getting on the Ferry over to the Vineyard.  The wind smashed us down all day but the Bluefish showed up to terrorize the tidal rip twice.  Gary pointed to a weedy shallow spot that looked fishy and indeed there was a Striper in there ! 

Gary, Phil and Marc.  A wonderful sight:  Old friends meeting new friends.  The gathering place is always back at the truck.  In this case Marc's truck as he was nice enough to drive from western Massachusetts to cart us around the island for 3 full days of hunting fish.  My friends do not need a boat or bait to catch the shit out of some saltwater fish. 

Paul, Rick and Phil.  It is a dark cold walk out to the rocks in the morning every morning.
But the anticipation is like a crackling fire in your belly.
This fishing thing is deep in your blood or it isn't and this would not be fun for most people.
These dogs in the photo will hunt all day. 

Neil and Phil. Two Everglades moonshiners clamboring around on them slippery rocks.  Striped Bass are called Rockfish for a large portion of their range on the East Coast for good reason. They patrol the shoreline in constant motion and move in enigmatic routes involving tide, light, structure and bait.  The hope is that rocks hold in the them in a given castable area a bit longer than other low profile weedy, cobble or sand structure but who really knows.  Low incoming tide fished better at the rocks above than high.  

Jon catches a Black Sea Bass on a massive needlefish lure.  Some of the best eating around.  In fact the only fish we ate the whole trip.  Extra points for rare odd catches that are not supposed to happen.  

Did the Kennedy's fish?  If they be rocks in the water the Stripers should be coming around sometimes. We walk miles a day in our waders to look for Striper water.  

Marc and Paul calling to see if any Stripers are home. Reading that water. Marc is an avid naturalist and hunter and he is nearly impossible to stump with Northeast nature questions. Marc made a huge batch of venison meatballs that fed us for  2 days.  So I'm pretty sure he isn't calling MoviePhone right there.
Paul can pull a big fish out of vapor.    

One last cast and then one more. Fishing hard at dawn and dusk would be smart if I could resist just fishing the whole entire day all 3 days. Perhaps a smart man would siesta hard from 11 to 2 and fish harder at dusk.  

Stonewall Beach covered our lures and lines with seaweed.  We shall return. These waves were getting surfed as we fished down the beach. 

My only truly big Striper of the trip.  An extra medium sized fish.  Caught in the dim early light on a soft plastic Squid made by Pirate Lures out of Ireland.  Thank you Kuba Stan of Pirate for making a great product !  The water temps were still warm.  The mackerel had not migrated into the area and the groups of bigger fish were not around yet.
Photo credit: Rick O'Neill

Seals can bring Sharks.  Often seals can lead you to fish.  Great Whites have been spotted around the Cape this summer. Can we please just let nature run wild or does everything have to be just for humans ?  

Bass in the Grass.  Me trying to force everything to be the Everglades. The new moon produced some nice extra high high tides. And some sweet low lows for that matter.  This is exploring out near the elbow of Cape Cod. 

Stripers on the flats.  What more can one ask for.  

These were the lures that worked.  The Pirate brand squid on the left landed the bigger fish. I fish the white one in the dark. The small pink squid imitation by Albie Snax lures easily caught 75 Stripers on this trip for me alone. "Hard baits" such as the Hogy popper on the right only come out when the Bluefish are around.  Single hooks all the way to reduce injury to the fish. 

Meeting of the minds. Everglades Phil and Deschutes Gary on the rocks at Big Bridge.  Probably the only 5 minutes anyone sat down.  The whole island was curious about Gary's Spey rod.  It was fun to show Gary a fishery that is a hell of a lot easier than swinging for Steelhead. 

The Blue Demons showed up at the beach near the hotel on the way out of town on the last day. 

Baseline 3 pointer at the buzzer by Paul Paisley as he solidly whupps the rest of us by landing this pelagic False Albacore on his first cast at Wasque Point from shore to secure the Mug Of Glory. I cannot overstate this: Watch and learn from Paul. This is the fastest fish that can be caught from these shores. This 29 inch specimen was released. 

The last of outgoing tide at the beach near the hotel on our way to the Airport.  At just this spot alone I landed 12 Striped Bass and 4 Bluefish in 2 hours right before driving to Logan.  The figures in the photo are two old timer fly fishermen that I gave my last big Bluefish of the morning to.  

Gary got some downright decent brown lightning water.  Many laughs were had.  

One of the many amazing photos that Gary took from the penalty box.   Gary will get dragged back to the island with a repaired back and the fish will be waiting. 

One of the Vineyards back roads.  It was very difficult to leave.

A very special thanks to my special wife Bri approving of me flying off on these adventures. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Squid Hounds on the Vineyard

I have been wanting to check out the island known as Martha's Vineyard for 13 years. We got into fish on day one.  This Striper is not even a keeper.  This type of a trip really refreshes and resets you for getting back to work for lots of summer overtime inspecting.  

Holding yet another animal.  This snapper was crossing a busy road in Warwick, Rhode Island next to our hotel.  The river was high and it is likely she was looking for drier, sandier soil to deposit the eggs.  We plopped her back in the Pawtucket River but it is likely she was still very determined to lay those eggs wherever she was headed. 

Bri exploring the many colors of glacial deposits at Aquinnah Cliffs - at the southwest corner of The Vineyard
Contrary to popular belief Martha Stewart does not own Martha's Vineyard - it is actually operated by a board consisting of several 16" Striped Bass - they run that place.    

I don't care about all the unsavory rumors about Providence, Rhode Island.   I still like it a lot.   It's still solidly near the top of the list of places to move to.  Now If I could just stop being old, lazy and afraid. 

We seek out oysters everywhere there are oysters.  Federal Hill neighborhood of Providence was a great place to get them.  I think our non-accents really stuck out.  Campari on the rocks is very much a candy ass drink. 

Simple weedless lures.  The pink "Albie Snax" squid imitation at the bottom fished painfully slow with twitches produced the most fish on this trip.  The "squid hound" Stripers and Bluefish are primarily feeding on squid this time of year as they migrate north along the Atlantic coast.  

Two excessively talented fisherman - Paul Paisley and Phil Knoll.  I stand in awe of their nearly intangible instincts and skills and feel privileged to know them.  Decades of saltwater experience between the two of them.   I watched and I hope I learned.  Paul and Phil - caught fish regularly the whole time.
I attempted to absorb some of the zen and some of the wisdom.   

Something that is never supposed to happen.  A Tautog pursuing and slamming a huge lure on the flats.  Tog only eat live bait and they mainly eat crabs.  I live for rare occurrences like that.  In midwest speak - Somewhat akin to a Channel Cat hitting a topwater Largemouth lure.  

Go ahead and don't believe me that this water is in Massachusetts and that we caught Stripers all day in it.   The fish ate with full sun on the water.  

Dreadnaught: The Bluefish.  Biggest and by far the meanest fish of the trip.  Marc caught this huge Bluefish on Chappaquiddick  near that bridge where one of the Kennedys did that one thing ..... Big Bluefish are rarely landed without steel leader.  This fish would have been hunting the 16" bass we were catching in the back bay.  One of the few fish we kept and ate on the trip.  

The prize mug of glory - Marc took home for quietly catching the biggest fish.
We will all be gunning for this mug next year.   

Each fishing day starts at 4 AM.  Fiddling and properly futzing is an important part of then driving off-road to the fishing spots.  Once on island - Marc and Jon's 4WD vehicles gave us a lot more access to places like Chappaquiddick.  

Bri and I designed the shirts for this year.   

Hey man - I am not inspecting a crawl space !! Larsen's Seafood on The Vineyard

The man you could easily describe as the brains of the operation.  Rockbreaker, fisher of big water and part bluefish - Jon Piasecki - herded us cats into line.  A wealth of wide ranging knowledge - Jon  has a chessmaster arrangement of tide tables and a map of the island in his head.  

It me.  Killing time at a mall in Rhode Island before the return flight home.  You go on a watch list as a kid if you decide to ride this instead of the perfectly fine regular horses.
I think Martha's Vineyard will now be an annual tradition.  

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Yucatan in the Fading Light

We took a few weeks off work to explore the Yucatan Peninsula  - from January 21st  to February 11th.  With 2 or 3 day Air BnB cabin stays in Akumal, Tulum, Valladolid, Merida, Chuburna, El Cuyo and Holbox.  

What a typical Air BnB stay in Mexico looks like.  We budget from $45 to $70 a night for places like this.  $45 can be a little sketchy and $70 places are often very nice.  We typically book the stays about 8 weeks in advance.  We rarely end up with a dud and sometimes end up with a real gem where we wish we had booked 4 or even 5 nights.  

Didn't really know that the east coast of the Yucatan could have so much pounding surf --- but well it was truly winter after all. This particular location ended up producing some really remarkalble fish the following morning.  I get up every morning early to fish for a couple of hours before the world wakes up.   Though the eastern shore of the Yucatan has very little public access to the sea due to resorts and several large preserves.  It took a lot of map reading to find any access to the water in the entire 183 km south of Cancun.  

No boat needed. No guide needed.  No bait needed.  This is a Jurel or Yellow Jack.   Anything with that lunate tail pulls real real hard.  Someday I hope to put some of my fly fishing friends on these.  Although it is in some ways easier to just throw a credit card and hire a fishing charter guide - I find more satisfaction in finding the fish on my own.  

Nice solid Mangrove Snapper on artificial lure.  It is rare to fool more than one of these in a given area.  They wise up to your fake ass lures pretty quick.  These are the large sets of rocks just off the beach at Tulum.  

The ocean pounded directly at the foundations of some of these cabins on the beach at Tulum.
That sea is coming for us.  Am I happy that I cannot afford any sort of property on the water anywhere ? 

The Houndfish.   The thin man with the blue teeth is a master hunter in the surf here.  

Society for the Effects of Humidity on Hair. 

Another typical cabin stay.  This one in the jungle at Camp Akumal.  

Mayan civilization at Uxmal.  Much bigger and quiter than Chichen Itza.  More ruins and far less vendors and people.  

It was easy to imagine and feel the ancient Mayans moving through these spaces. 

Get up at 5 AM everyday.  Hit the water.  Your only real shot at the bigger open water fish from shore happens around first light - or maybe, maybe if the Gods are smiling again at dusk at some locations. It took a lot of perusing of various maps to locate any access to the water amongst the resorts, preserves and private property.  I actually would not recommend the eastern side of Yucatan as a fishing destination at all.   Way to challenging to find legal access to the water and the few available locations get fished hard by the locals and rightfully so.  I'm not sure how the resorts get away with generally denying the locals any access to the water for long stretches of coastline.  

A sizeable Bar Jack from shore at Akumal was an unexpected first and a dream come true for me.   Slide them up on a wet rock for a quick photo and get them right back in.  

A hefty Horse Eye Jack from shore at Akumal. My favorite species of fishes - the Jacks or Trevallies - because of the enduro slugfest style of fight they dish out.  Nothing in your freshwater fishing life really prepares you for these.

Name this species of fish and get a free burrito. (Mahogany Snapper) You'd never want it to happen - but - big fast moving lures get hit by territorial reef residents .... occasionally.  This trip resulted in 14 species of fish - 13 of which were from shore on my own.
(Houndfish, Bar Jack, Horse Eye Jack, Jack Crevalle, Blue Runner, Mangrove Snapper, Mutton Snapper, Mahogany Snapper, Pinfish, Snook, Tarpon, Ladyfish, Sea Trout and Barracuda)

Catch and Cook. A few of our Mangrove Snappers made it to the dinner table.  Bri can really work some magic with some simple ingredients and a kitchenette.  

The newish thing here and in Belize as well - the constant tide of dead floating sea grasses washing up in huge  decaying masses on the beach.  It is ever present with the right prevailing wind - and ugly and very concerning.  

Welcome to Crocodile country.  I don't wade fish or even put my feet in the water at all in the dark here - though this was less than 800m from a swimming beach and less than 400m from a place where people get in the water with phosphorescence nearly every night.  
View of a nice 10 foot American Crocodile from up on a bridge at Boca Paila - and there was a much larger Croc on the next point.  All the closer I am going to get.  Keep a healthy fear when wading in these areas but try not to let the presence of crocs occupy 100% of your brain space.  

The magnificent and massive everglades-sized Sian Ka'an Preserve.  Horrific rutted and flooded roads for 3 hours with rental car and no fishing allowed but the wildlife watching was spectacular.  How we did not rip the ground effects off our rented Nissan Sentra I will never know.  

City of Merida.   In my opinion - this city should be on everyones travel list.  A truly unique - old old city on at least  level with the fun and funk of New Orleans and then some.   We have to go back and spend a full week.   

Governor's Palace at Merida. The large paintings tell the horrible story of the conquest and enslavement of the Mayans by the Spanish. 

New friends from a great 3 day stay at the Pantera Negra.  Really knowledgeable hosts Jean Pierre and Gina made the Merida stay our favorite of the trip.  They introduced us to a whole bunch of eccentric artsy ex-pats from all over the world who are making lives in Merida.  Merida has a lot of great "cantinas" that start serving drinks and tapas at about 4 pm.  

When you find your tribe. 

The pool at Pantera Negra Every place having a dip pool seems extravagant but you'll end up using them.  

With no public shore access for the first half of our trip -  I panicked and hired a guide for a half day out of Progresso.  This photo is a snip from a 3 minute battle with a very nice 40 lb. Tarpon.  Which I subsequently then lost.  

Sea trout on the flats of the Ria behind Chuburna. 

More of the very special city of Merida.  Very old city and very fun.  We got to watch a full match of the ancient Mayan ball game at the town square and also got to watch the Superbowl with new friends. 

The deck for eating breakfast at Pantera Negra  They serve you an amazing local breakfast every morning.  

The director of the Chichen Itza Inn showing us the hives of the local stingless bee.  

Cooking class outside Valladolid.  

Wandering the edge of the water just west of El Cuyo.  DIY fishing in a strange country involves a lot of walking and searching and trying to get lil' bits of information here and there about the local scene.  I make friends on the jetties and always give away lures and often a fish as well.  

The simple lures worked that worked the best.  It is very important that you fish with lures that sink - because sometimes you need a way to keep the diving Pelicans from getting to them.  And again - single hook lures are way less hard on the fish. 

I had a dusk session standing on the jetty at El Cuyo where the fish were hitting lures in the rough murky surf for well over an hour straight.  No another soul in sight and the small Snook, Jacks and Ladyfish were ripping lures off the surface. It does not get any better.  I gave this Snook away to the locals.  

Huge amounts of anything that floats washed up for miles at any location where there are not workers cleaning the beach constantly in front of all resorts.  The very dark side of our plastic loving culture.  Water bottles and flip flops were over represented.  

A very lively back water at Holbox.  I walked out here at 5 AM in the dark with hundreds of glowing yellow spider eyes watching me along the jungle path.  Spiders with glowing eyes !!! 

New Social Critics fishing club shirts are out.  I have a few extra and I may have one in your size.  Contact me if you want one. 

Lots of shells wash up in winter.  A view looking west here toward Rio Lagartos - with 36km of uninhabited shoreline. Well except for a few military cocaine police boats I'm sure.  

Here is the place where I spent 2 seconds with a very large Barracuda. 

Add for a tattoo shop in Tulum 

A tale for everyone's dance with addiction. 
A daiquiri ice colored Jack Crevalle south of the border. I shall die happy. 

A tail for my dance with addiction.  The strong Jurel or Yellow Jack. More than once on this trip I could see two Jacks rise up in the face off a big clear curling wave chasing my lure.

Tulum was not my favorite.  It's pretty much drowning in boutique tourist shopping.  But it did have a shop of handmade items that were really nice. 
Oh I am super impressed with your 401k but this guy wakes up to the Caribbean every. single. day.  A house of a real human smuggled in between the hashtag yoga dress shops at Tulum.  

In the fading afternoon light at Punta Coco, Holbox.   The real fisherman shows up.