New Toy

Surf Rod  Surf Tackle
I had a few hours to kill in Daytona yesterday after dropping Nancy off at a bridge Tournament. Plan was to get my AAA Triptik for the upcoming Jersey trip, get the Sprint phone software update installed, and then find the Library. Somehow the path I took led me by an old, dilapidated tackle shop in a rather seedy stretch of Beach St. Way north, between the main street and Seabreeze bridges. Wooden building, at least 50 years old, with no windows, painted a standout blue and called the “fishin hole”. A large Mako shark model was hung outside so I knew it was authentic. It hooked me (no pun intended). I’ve been wanting a surf outfit for quite a while now and just hadn’t pulled the trigger, mainly because I am at the beach so seldom and hadn’t really decided whether to get a modestly priced (aka cheap) outfit for tossing sandfleas, probably a spinning outfit, or something to cast lures, seriously. The latter means bigger bucks of course. Honestly, I never even picked up a spinning outfit and went straight to the bait casting reels. I spent a minute or two on a $60 Shimano, ok 30 seconds, and went for something just a bit more. Tried the Calcutta 400 – very nice but the $200+ was a bit more than I intended. As luck would have it, he also had last year’s discontinued model at a modest $170. We quickly found a 10 1/2′ graphite companion rod, loaded it with the best line around, something called PowerPro, a few hooks, weights, and a sand spike. I whipped out the AMX, added enough miles for a round trip ticket somewhere, and was back in the car in a heartbeat. I needed out of there before the reality of the cost sunk in. I think in retrospect what was driving me was all the trip planning. We’re going the whole way up the coast including the outer banks of North Carolina, renown as the surf fishing capital of the galaxy – think Ocracoke, think Nags Head. It would be sacrilegious to visit those hallowed beaches without making a cast and maybe even more so, to use some cheap, WalMart kind of spinning gear. I’m thinking maybe they even do a car search before you get on the banks to make sure you aren’t bringing any junk onto the island. Can you imagine the embarrassment being asked to leave or have your stuff confiscated? And further along the trip, while Nancy is pulling at a slot machine in a Trump Casino, I’ll be within minutes of Barnegate Bay and the September run of Stripers. I’m positive all of this was working on my subconscious as I was locking in on the Shimano.

I opened the reel up last night to set all the brake stops in preparation for the big launch first thing in the morning. I slept fretfully while it rained hard on and off all night. Would I have to go out in the storm to cast? A Ben Franklin moment? Putting it off until it cleared was out of the question. Hell that could be hours, maybe even a day. So first thing this morning, clear skies, I put it all together a large, 3/4 oz jig head with a 6” rubber skirt and headed for the proving grounds, aka dock. Was I up to it? I hadn’t handled an outfit of this size in 30+ years and never one of this quality. Should the first cast be a wimpy trial, get the feel of it, or lay back hard and let it rip. I was by myself so the thought of the worlds most gigantic birdsnest was mentally manageable. I’m going for it. That baby soared out at least 200′, I think nearly halfway across the lake, in a perfect, unblemished arc. I cast about 10 times with no backlash or even close call, laying that beauty out at least 200′ each time. What a fine machine!!! The surf god will be pleased.

Lake mystery

My new fish finder has been a source of frustration which has turned into a mystery. For the last few weeks I’ve noticed that the lake is chock full of fish which are hovering between 7 and 9′ down. The frustrating part is that I have no idea what kind of fish they are or how to catch them. They are about 100′ from shore and nominally consistent anywhere in the lake – an occasional gap – but more or less a continuous level of fish. The fishfinder reports fish in 3 sizes and also indicates schools of minnows in a speckled, cloud looking display. It also determines and displays whether the fish is directly below the boat or off to a side. The symbology tells you how deep the fish, the size, and the horizontal location – right or left of the sensor. These fish that are hovering are mostly small with an occasional medium and, an even less frequent, large. Probably a normal distribution. At first I thought the fish were Spec’s so I started trolling spec lures – little jigs, feathers, spinners or vibrating swimmer style. Nothing. I tried varying the speed which has the effect of varying the lure depth since it’s hard to say exactly how deep your lure is. Nothing. Maybe small bass or bluegill? Tried conventional bass and bluegill stuff such as the beetle spin. Nothing. Several colors, several speeds, nothing. I’m still thinking that somehow it has to do with placing the bait exactly at the right depth so this weekend Simon and I tried drifting over the fish using small jigs and floats set exactly to the right depth. Nada. We concluded that the only kind of fish they could be are shiners. That tracks because shiners simply can’t stand warm water so it would make sense that they would be at the shallowest place where they could find comfortable temperatures. So I went out this morning and within 2 minutes was on the fish. I used the regular fish food bait and dropped it down exactly 7′, right into the midst of them. I also dropped a rubber jig down on another rod to the same depth. Nada. They still could be shiners but I learned nothing from that trial and I kind of think shiners, being basically dumb, would have attacked the bait. I did learn one more characteristic though. They are definitely more prominent in the morning. Simon and I saw a grundle in the morning as usual but when we went out in the afternoon, they were more difficult to find. There may be a clue there but not sure.

I tried to talk simon into diving down and opening his eyes but wasn’t able to sell that. The best I could do was get him to dive under the fishfinder to see if he showed up as a big bass or what. But, that’s where I am. We discussed dropping down an underwater video camera and some high intensity lights but that seemed to be a pocketbook challenge for so small a problem. So next weekend if the kids come up, or the kids parents, or the kids uncles, bring a pair of goggles and get mentally set for some Jacque Cousteau exploration moments. We have to solve this mystery.

I’d post a picture but nothing to show until the mystery is solved.

gardening in Florida

guava tree

Gardening in Fla is different. Everyone knows that because of the milder winters. But it means much more than different varieties and a longer growing season. Living out in the woods is different than being in the burbs due to the encroachment of nature on your gardening space, so my particular experience is a bit different than typical Florida gardening, weather notwithstanding. So I’m going to explain some of the more significant differences to my gardening readership.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that our banana tree had fruit and we wondered how long it would take to ripen. I believe it was in June that we first noticed the micro bananas. It’s now mid August and the fruit is still deep green with no signs of ripening. The large purple flower pod at the end of the stalks that was quite visible and distinctive has long since died away but the fruit on the stalk looks about the same. I’ll let you know as that changes since the plan is for a giant banana split party when ripe.

I learned today that we now have guava trees growing in several locations. Our neighbor has a few so I’m guessing that birds seeded some starts in our yard. I had seen these bushes growing and liked the foliage so only cut them back in places where they were intrusive. I noticed today that one of the bushes is loaded with fruit, from bright red to tiny green pods. I think the red ones are ripe but need to verify that with the neighbor. Since I have been seeing this variety of what I thought was wild, natural foliage all over, I decided to take inventory. Fact is that if Mrs Smuckers decides to offer Guava jelly, she need look no farther than rancho carbono to get the inventory.

And it seems like everything grows. If you see a plant you like in your neighbor’s yard, you simply cut off a branch, stick it in the ground and oila, in a month or so it’s sprouting. I’ve started azaleas, hibiscus, and gardenias plus numerous plants you’d never recognize. My latest stick in the ground is ginger. I recently put a broom in the ground but no broomlets have appeared. More patience and fertilizer maybe.

Vege gardening is out. At least for me. We have voracious vege eating insects including a type of grasshopper that is bright yellow with red wings and grows to 6”, not counting legs or antennae. We have great butterflies that come from huge, huge snakelike caterpillars; the type that can eat a zuccinni overnight. I thought about insecticides but am concerned that I could produce some resistant mutant that would eat people. Luckily there’s fresh produce markets on the roadsides, all over, 12 months a year. If you count mushrooms, I do have some vege’s growing. Although they look like portabello’s on steroids, I’m leaving them alone since none of the critters seem to eat them.

But the real difference is the speed with which everything grows. I can nearly denude an area of wild grape vines only to come back next month and find it stronger and longer than ever. When I mean long, these are grape vines 20+ feet long where none existed a few weeks earlier. These vines can overwhelm anything in their parth in short order and develop vines that go from pencil thick to wrist thick in a season if left unchecked. But they are nothing compared to a vine we locally call potato vine, some variety of briar for sure. Aside from the fact that these literally will grow hundreds of feet long and develop 6” diameter trunks, the speed of growth is amazing. Not only the speed but what’s most interesting is that they pop out of the ground and grow vertically with no support for 10’s of feet before they finally latch onto a tree or something. The vines start about the diameter of a thin pencil but can grow absolutely straight vertically – it’s mind boggling that so thin and limber a vine can support itself. It reminds you of the old Jack and the Beanstalk story. By the way, they’re called potato vines because the root is a large, potato looking tuber and unless you remove that, it will never go away. At this point after a few years of vine work, I am nearly able to keep up with new growth myself. When we started the vines were classified as one, two, or three man vines – determined by how many of us it took to pull down a grape or potato vine. We had several that stretched our manpower limit totally and those were cut off with a chain saw and left to die.

Speed is also important in another aspect of Florida gardening. When approaching an overgrown area you have to watch and carefully observe for at least a day before reaching for the cutters. Assuming you see no obvious problems, hornets and yellowjackets mostly, you swoop in, make a few cuts, and quickly back out. You check your arms, neck, and legs to be sure that no critters have attacked. It they have, you retreat to the shed for the chemical warfare gear and launch an offensive on the brush protectors first. If you came out of the first swoop with no bites, you continue in deeper with the same cut and swoop technique. Eventually you’ve cleaned out the overgrown area and ready to move on to the next. The cycle from cleaned out to totally overgrown again is maybe 6 months max. So one of the critical skills to gardening in Florida, way different than gardening in Texas or Utah, is the need for quick hand eye coodination, sharp reflexes, and good pull out leg muscles. You sure as hell don’t ever want to get trapped by a ground nest of yellow jackets or an oversized mound of fire ants – not so named because of their firey color. And while mentioning ants, you all are aware of the menous called fire ants. You know from hearing about them rather than first hand experience. They are ultra tiny and not huge as you might have guessed. But what’s really unique about them is that they have developed a communication strategy to repel attackers, like me. They are so tiny you don’t feel them at all until they bite. You would think one would crawl on you and take a bite. Not so. They crawl on you and then wait until the commander or senior biter gives the signal – at which point they all bite simultaneously and you look down to see you are covered and on fire. Hence the name fire ant. They too are very fast for having such little legs and can nail you within a few seconds. Each bite yields a welt about 100 times bigger than the ant itself.

So to summarize, whereas my previous gardening experience required a tender, thoughtful approach, Florida gardening requires a vigorous, aggressive, fearless attack mode. You gain a definite understanding that you are only borrowing the land and if you ever, ever quit working it, the flora and fauna and insecta will quickly take it back.
tyranasaurous mushroom

Home owners Association

I know most of the avid readers of my blog don’t watch GMA so I had to share this story since it touched my heart so. As you know, one of the things in life I hate most is the feared and dreaded “Home Owners Association”. So it was of great interest to me to watch someone take revenge on a group in Dunwoody Ga. This guy owns a home on about 1.5 acres in a development of mostly 1/4 to 1/2 acre lots and homes. For whatever reason, missed the why, he wanted to build another house on his land – maybe for a relative, maybe for income, who knows. The HMA disallowed it saying the property was zoned agricultural and therefore only one home was permitted on a lot – regardless of the fact that all other homes in the development were on substantially smaller properties. This ruling pissed him off so he decided to take the agricultural designation to heart and brought in pigs, goats, chickens and other farm animals. Being an avid Gator fan, he painted his house bright orange with blue trim and hung a big flag saying Dunwoody Swamp. I liked that part. He has a chicken named Spurrier. I really liked that. The neighbors are now complaining of the smells but he says he’s glad it all happened since now he can appreciate the joys of being a farmer. He plans to start a corn field to grow his own feed corn and maybe add a few more pigs and goats.

Did I nail the shuttle situation in my July 13 Blog. It’s going exactly as I predicted down to the outside repair. Whatever the outcome now, I think the shuttle program is nominally dead. There is way too much public spotlight on fairly normal engineering/R&D problems and decisions. It has and will continue to generate lots of “scientific” criticism on any decision made so that no matter the outcome, there will be “I told you so’s” galore. This will come from the press, from pseudo engineers, and probably a Congressman or two calling for redirecting all the NASA spending to programs to aid the poor in Africa. The situation is that there is some filler material protruding between tiles. They have noted this upon return of other flights so it’s not unusual. But now, they know it before it lands which calls for a decision to either go with it or try to fix it. I would probably have a tendency to go with it rather than risk screwing something up worse. That decison based on every small plumbing job I’ve ever undertaken that ends up in a disaster of ever increasing dimension until I finally pay $500 to a plumber to fix something I just should have left alone to start with. But that decision really isn’t available- they would be cremated if there was a problem on landing. So they try a fix. Whichever approach they choose will be considered the wrong choice by somebody and that somebody will appear on all the talk shows and evening news broadcasts. If it lands safely that guy is forgotten but if there’s a problem, he’s the new star. My contention is this: they now have too much in-flight information that is public information and anything short of 100% perfection will bring too much pressure on the top, political appointees. And since it’s too much to expect such a complex undertaking ever to be risk free, the safest path is to leave the shuttle on the ground; Start development of a whole new spacecraft which will take 7-10 years, create plenty of jobs, spend lots of money and have zero risk – until they have to fly it. By then the key decision makers are retired and won’t have to face the music. So my prediction is that this problem is not all that bad, they’ll “fix” something to make the press happy and hopefully land successfully. Beyond that, don’t expect more launches any time soon. I trace this all back to seat belts and bike helmets but I know you all think that is way over the top!!!!!!!!