Post Bass Pro Shop report

Tom, Tina, Nancy and I were there for the Bass Pro Shop day after Thanksgiving sale; more specifically the 6AM, 5 hour sale. Was it worth it?

The gun – living in the jungle we occasionally have need for a small caliber varmint handler. Picked up on a nice deal on a .177 caliber pellet gun with a scope. When we got home on Sunday I installed the scope – easier said than done – and then sighted it. That means adjusting the scope so that the gun is accurate. I drew a full size cat head, complete with ears, nose and whiskers on a piece of cardboard. After about 10 shots and adjustments, popped it in the nose at about 50′. So that should be more than adequate. The rifle is not one you’d want to engage an enemy combatant. It’s a single shot and seems to take about a minute to reload. It also takes quite a bit of strength to cock so it’s not something you want to sit and do for an hour.

The tackle – It was coolish and windy today but we hit the beach anyway. Of course I wanted to catch fish but my main objective was to try out the new lures to determine how well they cast. I loaded my new tackle box with the new lures plus a few selected old ones. So now I have a tackle box for lures and one for regular bait tackle. Much nicer. I first tied on the large rattle trap. Turns out the lure is certainly heavy enough and vibrates nicely on the retrieve but the shape is such that it tends to “sail” in an erratic fashion – especially in the wind. Under these conditions I never could get a really far cast. The big mirrorlure, on the other hand, was a bit lighter but more streamlined. I could cast that nicely about half a country mile. Next I tried the small but heavy jig spoons with the incredibly natural fish finish. As soon as I picked it up, I knew this was the right combination of weight and streamlined design. Wow – a full country mile. In general I’m happy with them all but will use the rattle trap under good conditions only. drat!

The clothes – I wore my new nylon pants with the zip off legs. Perfect. I took the legs off when we got there and I was ready to catch sand fleas. Naturally I got soaked but they dried in what seemed like a few minutes so I warmed up fast. And a feature I hadn’t considered – Nancy was chilly so she took the leg parts I had removed and put them on her legs.

The chairs – Light enough to carry conveniently. I knew that. My concern was that since there are four individual legs with no cross bars along the bottom, the legs would sink into the soft sand and maybe tip over. It was a $5 gamble. No problem. They did sink a tad but nothing we couldn’t handle. They were more comfortable than our old ones and had a built in drink holder. What more could we ask for.

So all in all, I’d say it was a success.

And, oh yeah, I checked the glove compartment in the Marquis to see if maybe a disabled sticker was standard. Not one there but I haven’t given up looking. Also I checked and my head sticks up about an inch over the back of the seat so I have not shrunk to goernship yet.

Would you believe?

Would you believe that I stood in line for hours and hours last night outside the Ormond Beach Wal-Mart in 40 degree weather with the wind howling at 20mph to get an XBox360? And would you believe that when I finally got it at 5AM, I headed directly to the beach to surf fish for blues which run particularly strong in cold, northwest winds? Visualize me standing knee deep in the surf, casting my largest spoon a country mile into a school of big blues nailing mullet on the surface.

New Invention

Problem – When you go surf fishing you have lots of tackle to carry. Not just me but everybody. I have two rods. These are 10-12′ rods with fairly heavy reels loaded with 250 yds of line. Nobody uses just one and most have 3. The common technique is to use a different type of bait on each rod to accommodate the wide variety of fish in the surf. And of course you need a sand spike for each rod. These aren’t heavy but awkward to carry. A tackle box. Most people bring a 5 gallon plastic paint bucket to carry bait and eventually to carry fish. I use a cooler with ice. Then a chair of some sort; most use a standard folding beach chair. A fish cleaning board rounds out my booty but most folks have a sand flea basket to catch bait. I have a couple extra things like a sand flea pouch, hand cloth, and maybe something to read.

If you get to the beach early, not too big a problem because you can set up right at the stairs or ramp and make a couple of easy trips to the truck. But if it’s crowded you have to set up further away which means carrying all this thru soft sand. By the time you get all your gear set up, you’re worn to a frazzle if you’ve had to walk a few hundred feet.

I’ve seen two solutions. A few guys bring their wives to carry stuff. They just sit on the beach after the trek and read. That works – ask Nancy. Others have invested in a special surf fishing cart which is a wagon with large, pneumatic tires and multiple rod holders to place the rods vertically. These work too but are fairly heavy and difficult to get in and out of the truck. They work well in hard sand but not quite as well in really mushy, coquina sand; Also they are easy to maneuver on a ramp but not nearly as easy on stairs. Plus they cost about $160 for the smallest versions. The money doesn’t bother me but it seems they solve one problem but create several new ones.

My solution – the Surf fishing poncho.

Visualize a poncho with a set of pouches especially configured for surf gear. It has the same pouch set front and back. There’s a large rectangular, 16 x 24” pouch for carrying the tackle boxes. I use the clear plastic flat type. I actually use two – one for lures and one for bait rigs, weights etc. Hence the front and back pouches to balance the weight. These pouches are centered and ride in front of your chest and across your back. On both sides of the center pouch is a 2” x 24” vertical pouch for carrying the rods. You can insert the rods either in the front or back pouches depending on how you want to balance the weight. I happen to sometimes carry a spare, shorter rod for casting smaller lures so with 4 rod pouches, (two front, two back), I’m covered. Across the bottom is a 2” wide pouch that runs horizontally. The sand spikes slide into this patch, one enters from the left; one from the right. To top it off there are rings to hang stuff at the top of the shoulders and the center of the neck. There are no sleeves so you can load up one side and rotate it on your body and load the other side. A tie strap at the waist lets you pull it all together for walking. So in my case I load up everything and have my hands free to carry the cooler and a chair. I’m thinking that I can load up and easily walk a few hundred yards down the beach, even in the softest sand, with no trouble at all. I’m also thinking I will be a style setter on the beach and will have crowds following me asking where they can get such a fine outfit.

My new problem – getting Nancy to make it!

Got the Blues

Hit the beach this morning about 30 minutes after it turned from calm to gale force winds. It was low tide so the surf was manageable. I caught a couple of whiting in the first hour and then spotted some bird action a couple hundred yards down the beach. Then fish tearing up the water. I quickly rigged up my big casting outfit with a large spoon. I figured maybe with that size lure I’d be able to cast into the wind but still had my doubts. When I got to where the fish were, it was quiet, as you might expect. I pitched the spoon out, maybe 50-60 yds and wham, a blue nailed it before it had moved 10 feet. Landed it and made another cast. Wham, another fish. But that was it. I cast a few dozen more times with no results so I guess the school had moved on out of range or downshore. But no signs of them. This all reminded me of catching blues when I was a teenager. Then I would have caught quite a few more because I would have run down the beach instead of walking and would have chased after them as far as I could. Now just walking in that soft sand a couple of hundred yards had me huffing. Wait a minute – maybe it’s the soft sand. Back then we had nice hard sand. Also now that I have such nice tackle, I left it all back in my original spot while I chased after the fish with just my trusty casting outfit. So I thought about people stealing my stuff. In the old days I didn’t have any stuff to steal and wouldn’t have worried about it even if I did.

I went back to my original spot and fished for another couple of hours until the surf just got too huge to deal with. I changed weights twice but still, the surf picked up my rig and brought it right into shore. I was getting bites but it was almost impossible to distinguish between a bite and a rolling surf. What a great day!!!!!!!

And once again my sandfleas seemed to be scoring higher than my neighboring fishermen. Clearly we were all using local fleas so maybe there’s something else about my fleas. I watched intently as guys on both sides of me used standard sandflea traps to snag their bait. These are metal baskets on a long handle and catch those fleas that are flowing back from a high wave. My technique, on the other hand, is to dig deep into the sand and catch those that are fairly far under the sand. Is it possible that there is some difference between surface fleas and deep sand fleas? Are my fleas perhaps tougher or tastier? They all look more or less the same but could mine be a subspecies? I have always known that the deep down fleas are larger than those close to the surface. Perhaps they get to be big by digging faster and thereby surviving sand pipers. Boy, there’s a lot to ponder on this whole subject. But I intend to get to the bottom of it.

Today also threw cold water on my afternoon theory. I caught my fish when I first got there and went thru my usual hot time – 12 to 3 pm – more or less fishless. And one other fact, as I was arriving there was a guy leaving with a very large bucket full of nice fish = pompano, whiting, and blues. He said he had been there since 4AM and the fish more or less quit biting when the wind came up about 9:30 AM. You know when a guy is out there before daylight, he is one serious fisherman. He deserved all the ones he caught.

Foreign bait theory

On Tuesday Nancy and I went to the beach for a day of sun and fun. You know I surf fish but you probably didn’t know that Nancy can sew quite nicely due to the high ambient light level and has a much easier time with darker fabrics. So we can have all this togetherness time without getting in each other’s sh.t.. We went directly to the National Seashore south of New Symrna after first stopping to pick up a Publix deli sandwich. We got to the beach about noon and I was totally blown away by the amount of seaweed – a foot deep all over the beach and worse, solid masses from the surfline out about 30-50′. I picked a load of sand fleas but soon confirmed that it was totally unfishable. We ate the sandwich and then humped all the gear back to the truck.

Instead of just going home, we decided to head north and back to my old spot at Flagler. Maybe we could still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. We get there only to find the smallish parking lot totally full. By now it’s pushing 1PM and this is looking like a total loss. We pushed north along A1A to see if we could find another spot. We found parking a couple of miles further north, on the south end of Gamble-Rogers Park. There was one other car and a motor home. Before unloading the gear I checked out the beach and found the water to be fairly clean and clear, no seaweed, and the waves very manageable. So even if this was a bad fishing spot, at least the conditions would be good.

I had the sand fleas from New Symrna so in 2 minutes had bait in the water. Within about 15 minutes I hooked and landed a large Pompano. Pompano are the ultimate surf fish from a fighting and eating standpoint. Try pricing them at a fish market. You consider yourself lucky if you get one or two a trip. The guy who was fishing beside me came over and asked what I was using for bait and he was surprised to learn it was sand fleas, the same as he’d been using since about 9AM that morning without a bite. I told him it was probably just dumb luck but that generally I had been having better luck in the afternoons. About 15 minutes later I landed another nice, nice Pompano. Shortly after that another couple came down and heard that I had caught a couple of nice fish so they set up operation about 30′ away. There were miles of empty beach but this guy had to get right up close and personal. AH. He soon had 3 rods going using sand fleas. I picked up another fish a bit later and a 4th still later while the newcomer went empty. The first guy did catch a smaller one but at least he caught something. The new jerk guy came over and asked what kind of rig I was using. I described it but he wanted to actually see it. So I reeled it in and he said, “oh, that’s a whiting rig”. Now I know this guy is a jerk. So I said, well it looks like a whiting rig for sure but I tied it up myself and it’s just a bit different. That was total BS but I owed this guy. He looked at it really intently now and said, “oh, yeah, I see it now – nice touch”. Soon thereafter they packed up and left; so did the first guy. I got good looks at their tackle and honestly couldn’t see a bit of difference so no way it was tackle. We were all using sand fleas but……. they were using local fleas and I was using the New Symrna variety. I have to admit I could see no difference at all but but maybe………….. So I hooked up a couple of local fleas to test my theory. Nada, zip – not a bite.

So I think the evidence is indisputable that the foreign fleas out performed the locals. It makes me ponder though, are the New Symrna fleas tastier or is it just their foreign origin. If I took Flagler fleas to New Symrna would they outperform the locals??? Did I screw up the local ecology when I threw a few of the New Symrna guys onto the Flager Beach?

surf fishing mystery

I’ve been surf fishing quite a bit lately and loving every minute of it. I love the beach, I love fishing – how could I not love surf fishing. My favorite location, up until this point, is a strip of beach about halfway between Ormond and Flagler – seems to be highly productive and not overly populated (with people) this time of year. And it’s an easy, no traffic 40 minute scenic back country drive

My routine is simple – I pick out the exact spot on the beach and then dig a load of sand fleas right at the surf line. I’ve never seen a beach so thick with sand fleas. I can catch enough in 5 minutes to last me a full day. For those not familiar with fleas, these are crab like hard shell critters, maybe half the size of your thumb. With a couple dozen legs, an orange colored egg sac on the underside, and a hard shell, they are an excellent, natural bait. By excellent I mean the fish love them and they stay on the hook well. And of course they’re free. The point I want you to understand is that they stay on the hook well. Some baits are soft and wash off the hook after a bit so you have to keep rebaiting. But fleas, in the absence of fish, will stay on all day. I fish with a rig that includes a weight and two hooks. The weight is at the bottom; one hook is attached about a foot above the weight; the second hook about 2′ above the bottom hook. The idea behind this rig is that you have two baits fishing at two different depths in the water. So theoretically you should more than double your catch because you are covering different depths and you still have a bait even if one gets taken off. I’m giving this much detail because this rig created a mystery for me yesterday.

It’s not unusual to get a bite, miss the fish, leave your bait out there and get a second bite and hopefully the fish. That’s a big advantage of the two hooks – you don’t have to reel in each time you get a bite. I noticed yesterday that I was getting a bite, leaving it out and not getting a second bite. I’d wait maybe 5-10 minutes and then reel in only to find both hooks bare. That’s frustrating because you don’t know how long you’ve been fishing with no bait. After experiencing the double empty hook phenomena a couple of times, I shortened the time between the first bite and reeling in. Two bare hooks. I keep shortening the time until I decided to just reel in after the first bite – two bare hooks. How is this possible? Surely the two fish arn’t biting synchronously – maybe that could happen once or twice but every time? I don’t think so. And even if that were the case, I would catch at least one, every now and again. When you are standing in the surf, up to your ankles in sand, watching the rollers, birds, waves – you have plenty of time for deep thoughts and the bare hook problem is as deep as my thoughts go these days. So I developed a theory. These are very stealthy fish and can strip a hook without you feeling a bite. I get that. My theory is that these very tricky fish would nibble away at the bait without ever tugging on the line until both hooks were bare. They would then grab the weight and give it a tug to request more bait. And it worked. After the tug, I’d promptly reel in and send them out two fresh, juicy sand fleas. Is that smart or what!!

One other thing I learned – you know how those little sand pipers can keep just out of the water as they grab sand fleas? No matter how large the wave, they have perfect timing. They don’t have to be facing the surf – an inner sense of exactly where the water is. Well it turns out, I don’t have that same inner sense. I was bent over, not facing the waves, scooping a handful of sand when whoosh, a wave knocked me off my feet. Talk about feeling stupid – and wet.