Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fall Striper Fishing , or Tales of Hardship and Woe : Part 03

Old Geezer #1 "Hey buddy , we lost our net , can we borrow yours for a minute. Promise to bring it right back"

Me: " How in the hell did you manage to 'lose' your net?"

Old Geezer #2 " Well, it's kind of a funny story. See , we saw some shad jumping and went to throw it , but he didn't have the loop around his wrist and the water was a lot deeper than it looked. It's up there at the bottom of the lake somewhere.

OG #1 "Yeah , so could you let us use your net for just a minute? Bring it right back , I promise."

Me " No. I'm pretty attached to my net , since I've had it so long and all. " 

OG #2 " Well, so  , you won't let us use it at all?"

Me : "Nope. I kinda like it."

OG #1 " Like what?"

Me " My net."

OG #2 " I just don't know what we are gonna do. We came all the way down here to fish and now we've done lost our net."

Me "..... yep"

OG #1 " Hey , could you like maybe give us some bait?"

Me " I guess. Hey Lar , give em what's in the bucket..."

And so began our day with the clackers. The first bucket of bait was day old baby shad that had been in the bait cooler overnight , still alive , but stressed and turning paler by the minute. Probably a little salty too , since we always dose them heavily with rock salt for an overnight stay in the cooler. That $10.00 bottle of Shad Keeper? Mainly rock salt. I prefer a product by Morton intended for use in ice cream makers. No iodine in that stuff , so it will hold shad , and a big box of it goes for $1.99.

I didn't really notice it at first , but my second encounter with the clackers gave them their name. I had already caught more bait for us , but the clackers soon blasted through theirs and came back for more. It was a rare day when I was feeling charitable , the fishing was slow , but I had my preferred  hand size Gizzard Shad so all was right with the world since I knew that I could exchange them for a Striper eventually.

Me " OK guys , just follow me up into this cove here. I'll get you a fresh net of bait and we'll all go fish."

OG 1&2 " Thankssomuchdon'tknowwhatwe'dhavedonewithoutyou..!!"

Their excitement and jumbled words should have given me a clue as to their impatience , but as I said , I was feeling charitable. I was about to be clacked , good and proper.

As I eased into the cove almost silently , the clacking started. It goes a little something like this "CLACKITYCLACKITYCLICKCLICKTHRRRRRRRRRRRPPPPPPPPPPCLACKCLACK" and to this day , it would probably cause a twitch in my eye and make me tense with anger.

See , these guys were in some sort of a hybrid johnboat canoe , with a narrow body , a curved bow , and a flat stern. I've never seen another like it on SML , since it was only about 12 feet long and certainly not made for being on a body of water that size. They had some type of OceanMaster5000 trolling motor , or some such , which was vastly overpowered for the hull , so every time the geezers twisted the throttle it clacked against the transom (if you can call it that on a johncanoe). Being so overpowered , it would eventually cavitate , making a loud THRRRPPPPP every time , and resulting in the geezer at the helm backing down a notch , back to clacking. It was magnificent , at least until they started circling my boat in an ever tightening arc , waiting on me to catch bait while marveling at my technique. I would get close to a school of shad , only to have the geezers clack their way through the middle right as I was about to throw.

OG #2 "See how he's got that loop around his arm? That's what we should have done. I never thought you could catch shad back in these shallow coves..."

Me ".........."

They obviously couldn't see what I was seeing , at least I hope not. I can spot a single shad flicking 150 yards away and drive over to him , throw the net on him and have bait. Apparently , the geezers could barely see them in their bucket , so the clacking continued.

After about 15 minutes of nonstop clackery , I had had about enough of their bullshit.

Me: "Hey guys , no shad here , so I'm gonna head up river to where I caught mine earlier"

OG 1&2 : "OK , we'll follow you."

ME " No. That's not necessary.. I'll just fire up my big motor and go. Be right back."

OG 1&2 " OK , meet you up there"

ME "......"

I fired up the outboard , and while I normally ease into the throttle , I was so pissed off after a thorough clacking that I buried it , pulling a hole shot worthy of any bass boat on the lake. I ran about a mile up the lake , far out of reach for the clackers. Pulling into the cove , I saw a small school and threw the net. As I brought it into the boat , it was a huge mess of sticks , leaves , acorns , a couple of thumb sized bluegills , and about 200 peanut shad. Dumping it all into a bucket , I jumped back into the drivers seat and tore back down the lake , only to see the clackers clacking their way upstream towards me.

At least half of the shad were dead or dying from stress in the bucket as I handed it across and they dumped it in their bucket. They were quite happy , but I assume they probably said a few unkind words after they realized the mess I handed them. Maybe not. All I know is that I was glad to be rid of them as they clacked their way off into infamy.

Happy clacking!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Fall Striper Fishing , or Tales of Hardship and Woe : Part 02

Pleasant looking , isn't it? I posted this over the weekend , Sunday I think , over on G+. It got a little attention , which isn't bad for a crappy cell phone picture. That's about all I have to show for my latest trip , unless you want to count windburn and an advanced case of sea legs. It was brutal on Lake X. And by brutal , I mean windier and rougher than any day I can remember in over thirty years of going there to fish. That's pretty telling , in that this is usually a fairly protected body of water , surrounded as it is by a section of the Appalachian Mountains.

I'll reference the Beaufort Scale here , for those of you who are unfamiliar with it. At a Beaufort rating of SIX (out of 12) "Long waves begin to form. White foam crests are very frequent. Some airborne spray is present." Of course , that's on the open ocean , right? Not so. It can develop on inland waterways , provided wind speeds reach the required 22-27 knots. Thankfully , the size of Lake X kept us well under the 9 to 13 foot seas that would have developed in the North Atlantic.

We were , however , blasted with "airborne spray" , which was only worsened by driving into the wind amidst 2-3 foot whitecaps , in a small bass boat. It was snotty and getting worse , so I'll admit to a rare uneasiness on the water. I'm not proud to say it , but it drove me off the water. After my usual partner in crime and I were back ashore , and devoid of life jackets and about 5 layers of camouflage hunting gear repurposed for fishing , we had a few moments to reflect. First I wondered aloud whether donning so much camo is how stories about people vanishing without a trace get started , only to remember the tale of my batteries during the year of the Striper here on Smith Mountain Lake...

During the year of the Striper we were in our second successful year of Striper fishing SML. We had a fever and the only cure was Stripers. We went to the lake to catch Stripers and eat nachos , but we never took nachos. You get the idea. We were Striper fishing idiots.

Our schedule that year looked like this : M-F Dawn to Dusk on the Gun Boat , Sat. &Sun. Browbeatings from our wives. We lived that schedule for almost four months , give or take a week at either end , and excepting the Christmas Holiday. We even fished Thanksgiving and Black Friday , sending the girls off to buy a newly released five hundred pound High Definition TV on Friday , after scarfing down a late Thanksgiving dinner. It was and is one of the longest runs of fishing I've ever had , and maybe ever will.

Which brings me back to the batteries. Deep Cycle batteries have come a long way in the last 10 years. They were unreliable , fickle things that would lose the ability to hold charge far sooner than the alternative I discovered  : truck batteries. Specifically , big honking tractor trailer diesel cranking Die Hards. I had two , specifically for my trolling motor. They were heavy , and fairly heavy duty. I tried to keep them filled up with water , so as not to ruin them by charging with a dry cell. Truthfully , though , in the middle of a months long bite , things have a way of getting out of hand.

Starting during late October and continuing through February , maybe even March , sunlight on Smith Mountain Lake means wind. Through some process of reverse sunlight osmosis , or some such bs , the air surrounding the lake moves with ever increasing violence as the nights grow colder. Late November and December can be brutally harsh , as Arctic fronts pass through to beat the remaining leaves off of our trees. The main channel is usually home to 2 foot swells , whitecaps , and occasional spray. And I won't even mention the guys who prefer to fly up and down the lake in their Striper Boats , beating the water to a froth in an attempt to find a feeding school of fish to throw poorly tied bucktails at.

As you can imagine , facing constant wind and an onslaught of waves, I spent the majority of November and December making quartering turns into the wind , with my foot on the trolling motor controls non stop. That's hard on your batteries , as is charging them overnight when you aren't on the water in cold weather.

So there you have it. During the year of the Striper , sometime in the month of December , I managed to boil two Die Hard truck batteries bone dry with a 6 amp Schumacher. The last few days were tricky indeed , as the batteries gave a last gasp effort to keep our lines down and our nose into the wind. I got my money's worth out of those two jokers , if nothing else.

Have a good week , my friends!