Our local streams and lakes are locked in ice, and deep snow
covers the pines and spruces outside my window. Two cats are curled
quietly sleeping in front of the woodstove. There's a wreath on the
door. The tree is trimmed and sparkling in the living room. Welcome to
Christmas eve in Vermont.
Family smiles and joyous wishes brighten these short winter
days. We'll take some time, too, in wishing devoutly for peace on
earth and good will toward men--especially those who fish!
Merry Christmas to all of you....
Sing with me now..."it's the most MISERABLE time of the year!"
I'm sorry, but I always get depressed when the boat officially comes home for a long winter's nap. It's not so much that I can't go out anymore, but the symbolism. If the Tunacious is on dry land, it means the stripers have packed their bags for the waters of Virginia and North Carolina. The blackfish and sea bass now reside over 50 miles offshore on the canyon edges. Tuna are a distant summer memory. There's ice on the bay. It's over on the inshore grounds, fellas.
But the real depression this year stems from sadness that I had to put my baby away wounded. When I got the call from the marina that the boat was out and winterized, they also mentioned that one of my trim tabs was missing. I know it was there during my last trip, so I immediately suspected that they banged the boat around when they pulled it. I became certain when they offered to fix it for free in the spring because they "have a bunch of tabs just laying around."
To make matters worse, there's also a fresh gouge in the fiberglass near the bow, and a big scrape mark from the lift. If you ask me, beating up another man's boat is no different than slapping his girlfriend around. Unless I make it way out for cod on a party boat or travel south this winter, it's all trout and pickerel from here.
A federal rule that would have required most unlicensed
saltwater anglers to join an "Angler Registry" by Jan. 1, 2009 has
been postponed. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has
developed the proposed rule as required under law by the Magnuson-
Stevens Act. Anglers fishing in federal waters as well as those
fishing in (inshore) state waters for anadromous fish such as striped
bass were to have registered as such with NMFS, creating what amounts
to a federal saltwater fishing license. The exceptions were those
anglers already holding a saltwater license from states that require
them. Northeastern coastal states from New Jersey north to Maine do
not (yet) require a license.
When I asked NMFS spokesman Forbes Darby last week what
happened to the rule, he explained that NMFS had submitted the
proposed rule to the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for
approval. This has to happen before the rule is made official by
publication in the Federal Register. OMB has yet to reply, Darby told
me, which means the new licensing rule can't be implemented by the
planned January 1 deadline. Darby had no guess as to when OMB approval
Saltwater licensing is a hugely contentious issue in the
Northeast. The question remains not if it is going to happen--it will--but when.
The other day I wrote about the damage mice sometimes do to
fishing gear. Then I remembered the following and figured you might
get a kick out of the photos.
One of our several kayaks had been outside and in upside-
down storage for a couple of years. There was a tightly fitted cover
over the cockpit to keep critters out.
When my son Jason and I turned the boat over last summer,
there was a little chewed hole in the middle of the cockpit cover. The
cockpit itself was full of chewed, dried leaves and bits of old fabric
and feathers and general mouse fluff. Just a huge collection. But in
digging around and cleaning out, we found no mouse.
Then I noticed a small hole that had been chewed in the
bulkhead behind the seat, which seals off--or used to--the rear hatch
compartment. So we pulled the hatch off and found that compartment to
be full of mouse debris, too. I mean, there were just bushels of
So we started pulling that out, and finally found just a
single white-footed mouse cowering in the extreme rear of the boat. We
carefully caught the mouse in gloved hands and let it go. I didn't
have the heart to stomp on it. Just an old softy, I guess....
You would think the ability to clean fish comes with the territory of knowing how to catch them. I pride myself on doing it well, as nothing burns me more than killing a fish, then butchering the meat into an unappetizing pile of mush. I can think of many situations where good anglers have passed me the knife, or subtly asked if I'd be cool with cleaning the fish. For the most part, these guys are catch-and-release anglers who keep only occasionally, but I've also had some casual, non-hardcore anglers hook a fish on my boat and ask if I'd clean it before the net even hit the water. The thoughts of doing it themselves was mortifying.
All that said, you might think a DVD devoted entirely to fish-cleaning seems a bit much. That's what I thought, too, when I got a copy of Minnesota guide Steve Scepaniak's "Fish Cleaning Made Easy!" But after watching it (all of it, I was enthralled, frankly) I've decided it is probably one of the most informative fishing videos I've ever watched, partially because it's very clear and well put together, and partially because I'd rather have more anglers know how not to waste fish they kill than how to actually catch them.
Steve shows you how to clean, skin, scale, fillet, and bone 9 species, including perch, crappie, trout, and catfish. He even details removing pesky Y bones from pike. Mixed in with all is a great knife-sharpening bit and tips on keeping your catch fresh on the water.
A lot of this stuff seems like a no-brainer, but I promise you'll learn something, whether you've been cleaning fish for years or never tried it. There's not one of us out there that hasn't messed up dinner with a bad cut, gut, or skin job. Tell me about your worst fillet table massacre. If it's brutal enough, maybe I'll send you a copy.
I was rummaging through some of my digital photo files last
night and came across this big walleye (29 inches, to be exact). It's
one my wife caught as were we fishing Rainy Lake in September near
International Falls, Minnesota. The lure is a Lucky Craft Pointer
Lures from Lucky Craft are expensive; around $17 for this
one, for example, which makes it especially painful when a northern
pike cuts one off. On the other hand, they work.
On this trip I
specifically tested this lure against competitive jerkbaits in the
same sizes and color patterns but costing only $6 to $7. On the big smallmouths we were mostly catching there, the
Lucky Craft baits outfished their cheaper competitors by almost
exactly 3 to 1. I was amazed. I think if someone had told me first
there would be such a difference, I would not have believed it. Now I
do. But maybe it's just me....
Given that Christmas is fast approaching, I can't help but dwell on the enormity of the credit card bills that will roll into my mailbox over the next few weeks. Aside from actual Christmas gifts, there will be the usual charges (train pass, oil change) plus the electric bill etc., etc. Hey, we're all in the same boat this time of year. I don't have to explain too much.
But with money tight, I am contemplating ruining a piece of nostalgia for a measly 100 bones. Pictured below is a "Brook Trout Bucks" lottery ticket I picked up in Montana while on assignment for my first Field & Stream story. The pay-out isn't much, but $100 is actually more than two tanks of gas these days or a little extra coin to take the edge off pending payments. I have the ticket pegged to the board at my desk, and every day it taunts me.
Then again, I bought this ticket not for money, but as a souvenir from what was easily one of the greatest fishing adventures I've ever embarked upon. The joke was that we had to stick to a strict budget, so I figured I'd tell readers if funds are low, buy a "Brook Trout Bucks" ticket and try your luck.
So what would you do? Go for the potential cash or save the memory?
Mice. They are sort of cute but just unbelievably
destructive. They have chewed holes in my fishing vests. And in my
waders. Once I had left a box of saltwater streamer flies open, and
mice chewed all the wings off. I just hate the little buggers.
Many of my car or truck problems have come from mice, also.
Mostly they chew wires. Once, though, some mice made a nest between
the carburetor and the intake manifold on my truck engine of the time.
Eventually, the nest caught fire, probably because of wires that were
chewed and exposed. I was able to extinguish the fire okay, but the
replacement wiring harness was really expensive.
Because of mice, we keep cats. Two of them. I make sure the
cats have ready access to the barn area where some of my tackle is
stored. The cats have also been shown how to climb under my boat cover
so they can patrol the cockpit over the winter. That's the best
solution I've been able to come up with, but I'm sure it's not the
only one. Lots of people have mouse problems. What's your answer?
If you're putting tackle away for the winter, a few minutes
spent now in taking care of your spinning reels will save you major
headaches later. I don't mean a full maintenance and cleaning job--
although that's a good thing--just cleaning under the line roller on
the bail and making sure that line roller rotates easily.
Line twist is endemic to spinning reels. There's just no way
to avoid it because of the way such reels work. But a line roller that
doesn't roll makes things worse. If the line roller isn't moving, the
friction created on the line forces more line twist toward the front
of the line where it's most apt to tangle when you cast or start to
Some line rollers have one or two ball bearings inside. On
cheaper reels, there will be a simple bushing instead of bearings. In
either case, undo the little screw or nut that holds the bail to the
rotor arm, thereby freeing the line roller. Clean the inside of the
roller and the bushing/bearings with a light solvent, then add no more
than one or two drops of oil. Reassemble, making sure the line roller
moves freely, and you're good to go for another year.
For the last few weeks I've been working on a story that has me chatting with fishing guides from across the country. And I mean lots of them. It's funny how some are so energetic, an interview that should take 10 minutes turns into an hour. Then there are those guys who require tooth extractors to get any info out of them. The wide range of enthusiasm levels I'm getting got me reminiscing about all the guides and charter captains I've fished with over the years.
The best by far was Captain Mark Marose out of Montauk, NY. We've fished together several times for cod and striped bass. The reason I like him so much is that he's an old salt who knows the fishery better than lots of captains out there, but even though he has spent decades on the water, he still has fun and gets rowdy when you hook up even a small fish. He knows what will work every day, but if you want to try something whacky, he's all for it. And if he thinks the big fish will show an hour after your charter is supposed to be over, Mark will often stay out. Try to book him less than a year ahead and you're out of luck.
On the other hand, the worst charter I've ever been on was a mako shark trip out of Cape May, NJ. I won't name names, but this tweezer of a captain did nothing but talk about how good the tuna bite was in the canyon. All day he's on the radio with the tuna boats, basically implying that we were idiots for wanting to go shark fishing. Of course, a tuna trip would have cost about $600 more. He also complained about cigarette ashes on deck, and insisted the rods remain tethered to the boat so was not to lose them. Fighting a mako with a tethered rod isn't easy, and as for the ashes, c'mon...if we deck a shark the boat will get dirty. He put no effort into the day, and we only hooked and lost one fish.
Lets hear about your best and worst. What makes a good guide in your mind?