Blues are bitin’

After a great Thanksgiving with Tom and his family, we took off for a week at Flagler Beach. The weather couldn’t have been nicer – low 80’s daytime; low 60’s at night. I fished my heart out while Nancy quilted and caught up with TV on the big flat screen installed since our last visit. I knew the bluefish should be running this time of year and had prepared for the season while in Jersey this summer. There I was introduced to a special bluefish rig using finger mullet for bait. I caught nothing with the rig in Jersey but it was technically appealing and I knew it would work given the right conditions. When I purchased a bag of finger mullet on Saturday, I looked around Big Al’s Bait and Tackle shop to see if they had any of the rigs. I described it to Big Al and he explained in detail why that rig might work in Jersey but would never work in Florida. I’m thinking that since the same fish that were cruising the surf in Flagler in November were probably in the Jersey surf in September and if they would hit the rig in Jersey, surely they’d like it in Florida. Sure enough on Sunday I started banging the Blues big time. I got 22 in just a few hours – all small but still, lots of fun. For the rest of the week I caught blues every day including a few that went maybe 4lbs. Along the way a few sharks including a couple 3′ sand sharks – just the right size for nipping toes – and a few small whiting. By the end of each day, I was totally worn out from casting my giant surf rig and hauling in fish – mostly casting I guess.

Found another great eating spot while there. We passed this shacky looking place and thought it was a fish market. Turned out that the Flagler Fish Company is indeed a fish market but also a restaurant. The menu ran the gamut from Salmon Oscar to fish tacos and all included some really exotic sides – for example portabello, tomato, asparagus salad. We ate there twice and the second time I tried the cole slaw which without question was the best cole slaw I’ve ever eaten. If you want one of the fish entrees, you pick it out and watch it being cleaned so no question about what kind of fish it is or how fresh.

On Friday we left the beach and headed straight to Joey’s for the annual Christmas boat parade. It was damp and windy – I mean windy – but the invited guests were lots of fun and the catered barbecue excellent so what’s a little wind and a few waves. A great finish to a great week.

When we arrived home, found a nice email from Little Tommy saying he’d been accepted to FSU. We called and learned that of the 4 applications submitted, he’d been accepted by 3 and would hear on the last one on Feb 28. Of course it’s Florida that is keeping the suspense up. Missouri, FSU and UCF all jumped at the opportunity to land him. My first choice is naturally Florida and if Missouri beats Oklahoma tonight and stays #1 in the nation, they would be my next choice. Even though Chris got his Master’s from FSU, I just can’t move them any higher than 4 on my list.

bait again

About 6-8 months ago I quit feeding the fish off the end of the dock. There was a combination of reasons but mostly, it was hard keeping the raccoons out of the feed. I put the food inside metal trash cans but they could easily remove the lid. So I put a concrete block on the lid and they figured out that they could tip over the whole thing. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when they removed the lid and must have pitched it in the water. Anyway, it was nowhere to be found so I guessed they dunked it. The other things were that we seemed to be attracting too many turtles. I wasn’t too concerned when it was just the vege type turtles but occasionally one of those nasty, long neck soft shell guys would show. They’re meat eaters and I wasn’t too keen on having them in the vicinity. They kept stealing my bait when I was fishing for bass and we actually hooked one – what a mess. So I quit feeding the fish and popped a couple turtles with my pellet gun. That solved the problem. It made for better swimming all summer long.

But the downside is that you can no longer catch huge bream easily off the dock. And you can no longer catch even bait size bream or shiners. This is the time of year when it’s really comfortable sitting on the dock with a big ole shiner under a float, searching out bass while I read a new mystery novel and watch the wildlife. So when Nancy went to Utah last week I bought a bag of feed. I figured I would try putting them inside a cabinet on the dock and then put a box in front of the door to slow down the critters.

As I always did, I threw out a couple of handfuls of food off the dock. Nothing. Not a splash, not a swirl; no sign of a fish. Ditto the next 4 days. I’m guessing the fish had just gone off to greener pastures. On the fifth day, a splash and a swirl. Not much but a promising sign. I stayed with the handful or two every day and within the next five days it looked like piranha feeding – exactly how it was before I stopped. So I don’t know whether the food brought them back or if they were there all the time and it just took a few days for them to get used to surface food again. It also brought back the turtles. So far only the vege type. What I noticed about that is how well turtles can hear. I always figured they didn’t have much in the way of ears but as soon as the bream start splashing after the food, I spot turtles heading over from all the way across the lake. Within a very few minutes they’re come all that way and are in there gobbling and competing.

My plan is to keep feeding them daily to create my own little bait pool and an occasional fried bream (bluegill) sandwich,

Fall Break

Had a great Fall Break. Simon came up Monday morning and we spent all week hanging out. Last time he was here for a week we had focused hard on fishing the lake. This time we decided to expand our horizon and do mostly salt water fishing. The surf was too rough to do the beach so instead we loaded the kayaks on the truck and hit different inland salt water places each day.

Tuesday we did the north end of Mosquito Lagoon. We were prepared to kayak and wade as the occasion required. We put in about 9AM at the south end of the Canaveral National Seashore Park. The lagoon is very shallow and just full of fish – schools of mullet everywhere. We fished for a few hours and I managed a few strikes but no fish. It was quite windy and there were serious looking storm clouds very close so we stayed nominally close to our put in spot. Even with no fish we had a great experience. Kayaked right next to a school of manatee; right next to a school of porpoises that were tearing into the mullet. We scouted out a few other places in the general vicinity that would be good prospects for future trips. Also found a good bagel deli for future beach trips right across the street from Boston’s on New Symrna Beach. Si did a salami sandwich that had to be 3” thick; My ham wrap was equally as generous. Great sounding breakfast sandwich bagels on the menu.

Wednesday we hit Tomoka State Park and did the small canals we had fished a couple of years ago in the canoe. I hooked two nice snook and lost them both. Saw manatee there too. We had packed our lunch and found a nice shaded picnic area above the Tomoka River and just enjoyed life.

Thursday we hit Strickland Creek which is a feeder into the Tomoka. What a great creek – exactly like fishing the Sebastian River – overhanging trees, brush, and lots of activity. Once again I nailed a very large snook – same as the day before, on a large top water bait. Somehow he got off but an awesome experience. Oh yeah, another manatee sighting. For an endangered species, we sure saw them everywhere. I just really don’t see how they can continue to call these guys endangered with a straight face. We had paddled about 20 minutes from the Park where we put in and then the wind and tide carried us back. At the park there’s a wooden walk that juts out from the bank and parallels it for a few hundred feet. I noticed signs that people had crabbed from the walk and we decided to give that a try. All we needed was a scoop net, some chicken wings or necks to bait a line, and crab boil seasoning to cook the catch. An hour later we had all that plus some ready made sandwiches from Publix. We baited 5 lines and then sat back to wait for action. It came in spurts where we’d have a couple of crabs on lines at the same time; then long dry periods. It took us a few misses before we got the timing right between us for pulling in the lines and scooping them. If you pull too fast, they drop off and if you wait too long to scoop they also let go. So you have to do it just right. We found the right combo on 7 keepers. Brought those bad boys to the house. Within an hour, Nancy and Simon were doing blue crab appetizers while I grilled some nice pork ribs for barbecue.

Friday we decided to stick close to home and do the lake. That was fun for a change since I hadn’t been fishing since all that hospital crap over a month ago. I nabbed first and most; Simon cleaned me on the biggest. I think his big one was bigger than both mine combined but ………………………

reel finale

Final word on the reels

I put in a solid week fishing with the 2650 and can see for sure why I loved it so. It would be easy to write this model off as wimpy and lacking features but for light fishing – what a beauty. For sure it lacks the centrifugal and magnetic spool braking systems making it a more difficult reel to cast. Even for me, the first few casts had me sharpening up my backlash removal skills but I was soon laying them out consistently 100′. I matched it up with a 5′ Shakespeare light action rod. The combination was incredibly light, even compared to my next lightest Shimano outfit. The retrieve is slow – low, low gear ratio and tiny spool which makes it unsuitable for buzzing over grass and as light as the whole outfit is – not really well suited for fishing over top of grass in any way. But for fishing small top water lures or slow sinking worms, perfect. It doesn’t have an anti-reverse feature which means that for worm fishing, you don’t have to overtly disengage the spool to let a fish run. That’s a nice feature (actually a lack of a feature) when a fish hits the worm early and hard because you can instantly create some slack. With the normal spool disengagement system, you can lose a fish when the line tightens prematurely before you can hit the button. I’ll probably put it away for a while since the fish are still way back in the grass and this rig is definitely not suited for hauling them through the bushes.

Now to the 4500C. I think I mentioned that I was having some trouble with the spool engaging/disengaging reliably. I could get it to work at times and then it would fail to engage. After about a dozen assemble/dissamble cycles with no clean solution, I gave up and took it to my reel guy in Daytona. I was convinced that a main gear was worn – even though I couldn’t see it. I did have a little nag on my mind that it was still gribby in one particular area that I was nervous about taking apart. I remembered from many total reel breakdowns, that one area in particular was loaded with little, tiny, teeny weenie, spring loaded parts. In my prime I could take down even that area and put it back together easily. I also know that I don’t see as well as I did and thatmy fingers don’t work nearly as well on little parts. I cleaned around that area, dunked it liberally in WD 40, and made it look clean to the casual observer. Still, I would have felt better to have really got in there and scrubbed it down. So I wasn’t too surprised when the repair guy called and said the reel was fixed and that all it needed was a good cleaning in the disengagement mechanism. That was kind of embarrassing since I told the guy that I’d cleaned it and pinpointed the gear I thought was a problem. I went over to Daytona to pick up the reel. The guy cranked over the reel a few times and it worked just fine. He was telling me how it just needed cleaning while I cranked a few times. After half a dozen successful engagements it slipped and missed a half a crank. It then did that a few times and the guy told me that was normal since this reel was not a double engagement do dah. Meaning it could take a full turn of the handle rather than half a turn. Hmmmmmmm. That’s BS – same gears as in my 5000’s. Then it hung up for a couple of full turns and in a few more cranks it was back to the same problem I had experienced – just wouldn’t engage the spool. He said, “well I guess it’s those springs or the gear” and vowed to fix it properly. We left the reel there and I told Nancy that I felt vindicated and relieved that my cleaning skills were not at fault. She thought I was a bit wacko since I was happy that the reel was still not working. Not really – I would have felt really great if he had fixed it properly and found a hard fault. But finding it to be my inability to clean it was a hard pill to swallow. I guess I need my reputation/self confidence more than I need the reel. They called again while I was in the hospital and we didn’t get around to it until right after Labor Day. It checked out fine at the tackle shop so on to the lake.

How does it fish? I had never fished with this model before and my initial expectation was that the light weight , centrifugal braking and narrow spool would make it a great reel. And the star drag would make it better suited for some of the heavy water I fish. I also figured I wouldn’t like the slow retrieve from the factory installed gear ratio and the small, two knob handle. I always modified my reels for both these deficiencies but doubt seriously any of those secondary market parts would be available today. There’s a possibility I could break down one of my 5000C’s to rob the parts but that’s a long shot. Anyway, I got the reel and entered the flight test phase. Smoooooooth! Casts like a dream. I hooked up a 4” senko on a 2/0 hook – so it was a nominally light terminal rig. The bearings clearly make it superior to the 2650. It is heavier than I’d ideally have and I do hate the dual knob handle but without a doubt it’s the smoothest of the Ambassadeur series for me. I’m confident I can drop down lure size into the 3/16 oz range and still cast well. I like the narrow spool better than the 5000D so between the two, it’s a toss-up which I like best. If I were designing, I’d take the 4500, drop the star drag so it would approach the light weight and feature set of the 2650 but with the bearings of the 5000’s. And comparing them with the modern Shimano’s – I like the thumb bar spool release of the Shimano’s and know the modern reels are more forgiving in terms of casts but I enjoy the round reels and will mix up useage in the future.

More Reel talk

Since my reel refurb input, I’ve been fishing with the old reels and want to make some observations visa vis comparison with modern gear.

The most significant difference between the old and new is that the older reels require a bit more thumb control since they have a less precise spool braking system. The old reels have a centrifugal system but it uses only 2 slider weights whereas the new reels have 6. The new reels also have a magnetic adjustment which is nonexistent on the originals. The other difference that impacts casting is that on the new reels, the level wind disengages when the spool disengages so as the line unspools, there is a dynamic angle between the line and the guide. Personally I think that drags it a bit and results in line position discontinuities when you start the retrieve. By that I mean that wherever the guide happened to be when you made the cast, that’s where it starts to rewind the line when you engage the spool- regardless of the position of the line or direction of the wind. With the older reels the level wind guide remains engaged when the spool is disengaged to cast. That means that the guide follows the line exactly. To me that’s a definite plus so long as the reel is well oiled and the parts are in good shape. But if you don’t maintain the level wind mechanism, that component will slow down the whole cast. I grew up understanding that which is why I frequently oil that functional area of my reels, even the new ones. Just a habit.

So the net of it is that given both sets of gear, I can probably get a few more feet out of the older reels but for a beginner, no question, the new reels are superior. Also, one pain on the older reels is that the spool is disengaged with a separate button which requires using both hands to prepare a cast. With the new reels the spool is disengaged with a thumb bar making it much faster and more natural. I grew up with the pushbuttons and my thumb on the spool which may be one reason I never experience the problem Si has with this thumb resting on the spool release bar. I prefer the new thumb bar for sure.

I’m mostly using the 5000D but will switch over to the 2650 this week. I want to try using micro lures since that’s the reason I bought that reel in the first place. Very light reel, very light spool so it used to spin very freely with small weights. The one I really want to put to the test is the 4500C but the gears on that guy were just worn out to the point where the spool engagement was problematic. After assembling and disassembling and changing washers and springs, I have given up and taken it to a reel place. The guy said it was 40 years old and he wasn’t sure he could get the part but would try. If he crashes on me, I think I can cannibalize one of my old 5000C’s and steal the right gear to make it work. They are not identical but I think close enough to let me interchange with just a little nibbling.

surf fishing lesson

Last week Fred B and I went surf fishing at the National Seashore. It was the most frustrating trip I can recall. Not because we didn’t catch anything – that’s not all that unusual and not even frustrating if the weather’s nice. What made this so frustrating was that about a hundred feet from us a guy was catching fish like crazy. He got my attention after I watched him land about 6 fish and I’ve yet to get a bite. I start watching very close to see exactly what he’s doing differently than us. There are lots of variables – the bait, the rig, the distance fcast rom shore to name a few. As best I could tell he was using sand fleas, same as us; he was using four rods with 2 different types of rigs – two rigged with standard pompano rigs, same as us; the other two rigged slightly different but certainly duplicatable. For about 3 hours this guy caught fish, I’m guessing maybe 20 – we caught nothing. Mercifully he left. Fred suggested we move to his spot since clearly he was fishing a hole where we were fishing a desert. I thought to myself, the downside of that was that we would move there and catch nothing but at least we’d know. That’s what happened – we fished his spot for a half hour without a bite. Man was I bummed.

Fred left and I went to Flagler a few days later. I cast and caught a fish almost immediately. Interestingly on two previous trips with Fred, one of us caught a fish almost immediately. Then I went dry again – but this time nobody seemed to be catching anything. I reeled in to check my bait and it was gone. This was again reminiscent – every time we reeled in before, our bait was gone. I started thinking that very small fish were maybe nibbling away at the bait and decided to bait up with smaller sandfleas and smaller hooks. When I started reeling in I noticed that the line seemed to be angled a little different than I remembered casting. I also noticed that it seemed heavy, like the weight had dug into the sand. I reeled in very slowly and the weight seemed constant rather than pulling out of the sand. When I got it to the surf, there was a large blue crab hanging on to the flea. I went over to the second rod and repeated the slow retrieval. Same heavy feel and same end result – a big crab. I started casting and then retrieving a few minutes later and each time either my bait was already half eaten or there was a crab attached. I did manage to catch 6 fish but in each case the fish bit within a minute of the cast – meaning a fish got to the bait before the crabs. This totally explained what the other guy was doing, He was fishing with 4 rods and basically cast them in sequence and then retrieved in sequence. By that I mean he would go back and reel in his first rod shortly after casting his forth. So his bait was not in the water more than a few minutes. He either got a bite on one rod while reeling in another or reeled in with no bait. We had been leaving our bait out there alone for 20 to 30 minutes – as it turns out with no bait. He was rebaiting and recasting every few minutes. I had assumed he was getting bites but in reality he was just maiking sure he had bait in the water.

Sounds unbelieveable but in the fishing section of Friday’s paper the surf report said fishing was poor because of the large number of crabs eating the bait. I sure felt relieved to break the code and also amazed that there could possibly be that many crabs from Flagler to way south of New Symrna – a stretch of at least 40 miles. Big Red’s and tarpon feed heavily on crabs so I’m expecting to start seeing that kind of action soon!!!

thanks to Strawberry

I’m very thankful for the times I fished Strawberry in the fall. The fishing was great even though the temperatures were well below my pain threshold. The large trout go on a feeding binge right before the lake ices over so many mornings I was slipping and sliding down the ramp with temperatures between 15 and 20 degrees. It took me a few times before I put together a Strawberry clothing set that kept me alive. What brings this to mind is that like the Strawberry trout, the Florida Speckled perch (spec’s) also congregate and feed heavily when the temperature plummets. When I used to fish for spec’s back in the 60’s, I was always miserable and just unable to really enjoy the fishing because of the cold. That’s all in the past, largely because of my experience at Strawberry where it was reallllllllyyyyyyy cold.

I now calibrate fishing for spec’s with fishing for trout at Strawberry. I am nominally comfortable between 75 and 80. So when I fished Strawberry it was usually 60 degrees below my comfort zone. When I fish for spec’s I am usually 30 degrees below my comfort zone, or 0.5 Strawberry Pain Units (SPU’s). The practical use of this scoring is that I know how to dress for the cold. At 1.0 SPU’s, I used 4 layers of base clothing, a down vest, 2 pairs of wool socks, and a wool skull cap under my had with ear flaps. So, at 0.5 SPU’s, I wear 2 base layers, one pair of socks, and kill the wool skull cap under my hat with ear flaps. Instead of liner gloves under the ski gloves, I just use the liner gloves; Instead of a down vest, I wear a poli vest. I can put all this on in full confidence without stepping outside because I’m fully calibrated.

I’m mentally wrestling with exactly how this could be translated into beach garb so I can surf fish. Do I need to wear waders and exactly how do they calibrate into Strawberry pain units? The waders are one thing but what do I wear under them? Lined or unlined jeans? Full chest waders or hip waders? Molded feet or old sneakers over stocking foot waders? Maybe what I have to do is carry over a wide array of options and then trek back and forth to the truck until I can work out some equivalence. I’ll nail it but …………………..