Friday, August 26, 2011

Monksville Reservoir Officials Pull a Fast One

Intention today was see if some snake searching was possible--not really, Harriman State Park in Rockland County, New York, was too well traversed and habitat didn't lead us anywhere otherwise, and trails near Ringwood yielded nothing, but were very well enjoyed--and then to fish Shepherd Lake in Ringwood State Park. I had phoned ahead earlier and was assured boats would be available given that it's a weekday, and, no, hurricane preparations would not curtail our use. I pulled in at 3:30 p.m. and was politely informed the boats had already come in--for hurricane preparations. The female college student displayed a remarkable empathy, I appreciated that, and drove on with Monksville Reservoir immediately in mind. Monksville, aka, Skunksville Reservoir to many disaffected anglers.

I snapped on a Rebel Pop-R, and baited my son's hook with a shiner. Before he even got bored in the heat and dulled by stained water, I noticed that my Pop-R did not float back up after a pull. "No," I thought. My second cast, it couldn't be. The bass was very small, but enough for me to say to Matt, "Never judge a lake until you try it." It made me happy for a full few minutes, a spike in an otherwise disapointing day, although at the end of this day I felt an abiding satisfaction. What had really moved me most were the mountains and hiking. But persistence with that plug--as if it hadn't just been luck, as Matt claimed it was--and a switch to a Senko in what appeared to be a nice, large pocket of deep water besides a concave weedline corner got me functioning very favorably for awhile. Fishiing is mostly hope, and hope is a very dangerous chemistry because it can lead an individual desperately astray. That's why fishing facts are crucial--they allow you to know enough to actually get results and keep hope at bay by actual fulfillments. Just the same, it's better to be a dreamer than to presume to know.

We had arrived at the last boat launch to fish where we could. At 5:30 we heard Joe Official on a bullhorn telling us that the gate would close at 6:00. OK. What angered me was not our loss--we would leave before then anyhow. At that moment, not only were a father and son unloading their kayak, two younger men had just made the oppositte side of the reservoir in theirs, and two vehicles and trailers were in the lot--no way for any of these people besides we at the ramp to hear the Official. When we left we noticed a little sign on the half-closed gate informing The Public that the gate would close at 6:00 due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene. (Today is Friday.) This notice was not there minutes before. All those on the reservoir, I guess, were screwed. Locked in?

My son said the police would check, let them out, fine them. Whatever the case, my question is about the real justification for a 6:00 p.m. early closing of that gate. Was the park service up there so overwhelmed with preparations they had to take that as a first step? Or were they infatuated with a chance so show their muscle?

I was appalled at the utter disregard for those out on the reservoir who had no way to know that the park police would pull that move. An 8 x 11 1/2 inch sign posted on the gate at the last minute, and a sick little bullhorn that just made the man's voice robotic.

Anyhow, driving home I never turned on the radio. We had escaped hurricane madness most of the afternoon. Once home, my wife had CNN and the weather channel on with the endless talk, talk, talk--and I don't mean no valuable information is conveyed. It's just that nonetheless it is a trance.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ocracoke Inlet, Pamlico Sound, as Evacuation for Hurricane Irene is Called

I meant to post last night, but as soon as we finished fishing yesterday morning, we packed up and fled Ocracoke Island. Mandatory evacuation had been announced, and we didn't care for an Irene scene reminiscient of past traffic jams and horror stories of escapes from hurricanes. We got into Exmore at midnight, myself a little nervous that traffic out of Virginia Beach and Chincotegue, etc., might be a problem today, but it was a breeze. We're back in Bedminster, New Jersey, and may have trouble enough here Sunday. 

I phoned Captain O'Neal at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, and he told me the winds remained too heavy for some spots he had in mind, but were light enough to catch a few if we wanted to settle for that. Unhesitatingly, I agreed to go out. My wife, Patricia, came along, and our labrador retriever, Sadie, who behaved almost as well as last year, barking some this time due to unknown causes.

Crossing Ocracoke Inlet towards Portsmouth Island, Ryan spotted birds--terns--and cut back on the throttle as he turned to them, then very quickly had us trolling Clark spoons. In no time at all Matt was into the only Spanish mackerel of the day, about 18 inches. We trolled no more than another five minutes and powered off to Ryan's secret spot, of which he surely has hundreds.

"I can't get the boat positioned just right because the wind is blowing against the tide," Ryan said.

"Kind of puts it in equilibrium," I offered. I wasn't really troubled in the least. I honestly saw nothing that indicated we wouldn't put some fish in the boat, but it was clear to me that Ryan knows very well what is ideal.

Later, when we had some sheepshead, he told me, "Normally I could position the boat so we could put our lines directly off the rear." Perhaps he was a little concerned that my son's casts sometimes fell a little short of the subtle sluice of current with oyster shells and barnacles on the bottom. Niether of us wanted to tell him to cast farther. Let him be. He was clearly informed, caught plenty, and the largest. Ryan did tell me when one of my casts overshot the target. "You won't feel the bite with that much line out." Not another cast took as much line. Beyond the sluiceway a small, shallow, sand island created a pocket of almost dead water. Current flowed between two of these islands and swung left as it progressed into Ocracoke Inlet, out with the tide into the Atlantic. We fished about 16 feet deep along a sudden drop where shells had collected and current moved steadily, but the fish could situate themselves in deep pockets of relative calm along that drop. Ryan also told me that sheepshead feed on barnacles, and showed me the teeth of one them, "Just like human teeth," he said. "Some would kill to have a set like that." 

Ryan also told me about the other spots he had in mind, further back in Pamlico Sound. "I know some wrecks with gray trout on them. With the wind today the water would be way too rough."

"How large do they run?"

"They can be five pounds, more likely a pound or two." He paused a moment. "State only allows one kept per fisherman." 

"No!!!" I said. Ryan said, "Yeah. Commercial netters can take all they please."

"We recreational anglers are just messing around," I said.

"Yeah, that's it. The idea is that commercial fishermen feed the country."

To me it seems a case of all or nothing thinking. In the first place, if commercial fishermen can take all, what's the difference if a few recreational anglers are allowed, say, four instead of one? Negligible. But one group has to be praised--even if the thinking in this respect is implicit or unconscious--and another punished. The commercial fishermen in this case are the chosen heroes who feed the great United States of America, and the recreational anglers are the chosen villains, at least the ones to be suspicious of... since we're out to have a good time. A nation as embroiled in the Judeo-Christian tradition as ours will, at least on some unconscious level, suspect good times of sinfulness at least sometimes. But the commercial fishermen are felt to be self-sacrificial hard workers, supporting the people almost in Biblical fashion perhaps.   

As long as we were into fish, we were happy, and we were into fish. Certainly none of our considerations got us down in the least. The action was fairly steady. The sheepshead--eight total--ran three to perhaps over seven pounds. Given the fish's unusual dimensions, I couldn't quite guess the weight. At any rate, we measured Matt's largest at 21 inches after I offered my guess--21 inches--just before Ryan put it under the knife at the end of the outing. These are wide bodied, chunky, hard fighting, and beautiful gamefish which I can now attest to being a delicacy, having eaten some for dinner tonight. We also boated a black drum, our first, which I photographed Ryan holding with my son. Ryan has had some clients recently catch black drum as large as 15 pounds. Plenty of small seabass came over the gunnels and were released. All this action on sand fleas. It's obvious to me that this easy to get bait--just reach around in the sand in the surf wash--has great versatality. Pompano love them, and I once caught a small striper on a sand flea fished with a four and a half foot ultra-light in the surf.

If you're on the Outer Banks--you won't be this weekend--and make it down to Ocracoke where the original restlessness and solitude is preserved, the kind of restlessness that doesn't depend on loud adverstisements and neon lights, all that appeal and appeasement which ultimately dulls and diminishes rather than stirs the will to action, look up Captain Ryan O'Neal for some truly memorable fishing. His Tarheel skiff, powered by a 150 horsepower Honda, won't let you down because he runs it, and he plans to purchase a new skiff next year. Just Google Captain Ryan O'Neal and Tarheel Charters, Ocracoke, and take it from there or phone him at (252) 928-9966.

Driving up Route 13 from Exmore this morning we had windows down and our curiosity piqued as we came upon smoke--not smoke on the water, but smoke over the roadway. We didn't react in any fear or unease but just took it as it came. And for a moment my wife and I were transported to nirvana. We hadn't smelled leaves burning since our childhoods. It's illegal in New Jersey. 

"Damn politicians try to repress our primal joys," I said.

Let's all hope no one gets killed by this hurricane, and that property is spared--by good planning ahead, of course. But don't forget to enjoy it. A hurricane really is awesome.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fluke and Lizard Fish, Pamlico Sound, Ocracoke Boat Ramp Dock

Speaking to Ryan on the phone this morning, it became clear quickly that it was too windy. A drift speed of one knot or less necessary for fluke catches kept to standard. So we hope to go out tomorrow morning.

We had an afternoon boogie boarding and body surfing. If Irene comes ashore as a category three later this week, then we'll have waves crashing right over the dunes, let alone cresting just over our heads. Before we went to the beach, Matt placed a fried egg into the minnow pot, photographed above. Later we were pleased to have loads of killies.

Last year we caught lizard fish, croakers, spot, pinfish at the boat ramp dock on shrimp. But what haunted me was the tale I heard of someone catching a 23-inch fluke. Here in North Carolina fluke are much smaller than in New Jersey, so a 23-incher is huge. In the back of my mind, prepared this evening with killies, I wondered about fluke. Speckled trout would be a real thrill too.

We caught plenty lizard fish in the hour we fished, one of them photographed. Matt did catch a small 10-inch fluke. But the excitement rose as Matt could not raise a real good-size fish off bottom, hooked directly under the dock. Finally he got it in view. Sure enough, a fluke, about 18 inches. for North Carolina well beyond the 15-inch minimum length requirement. No way this fish would be hauled up onto the dock, not even had we used heavier rods than our 5 1/2-foot St. Croix medium-power with six-pound test line. I pointed the way for Matt: around the corner of the dock, and up the concrete ramp, telling him to keep steady pressure on the fish as it began to shake its head. Then I turned to get my camera, and when I turned toward my son, he was down in the water, with the fluke literally beginning to tow him out. As he struggled to get back up by grabbing onto a wood piling, the fluke shook that head again, and this time the hook with it, before I could get over to help. Matt's idea was to get as close to the fish as he could as soon as he could, rather than to have stayed up on dry concrete and swing the fish up onto that. He had no idea how slippery the algae-slick ramp would be until he jumped on it and slipped as though it were ice.

No bruised limbs, no scrapes or cuts, no broken bones, and a good struggle with the largest fluke we've encountered here yet. Right at the boat ramp, literally under the dock. So that worked out pretty neat. Got the killies on leftover breakfast and almost finished with a fine dinner.