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Archive for July, 2009

PORT MANSFIELD, Texas – Things pretty much were packed up for the return trip home when one of our crew said the trout were busting under the lights at the dock, which of course meant I’d have to give that a shot.

The main dock at Get-A-Way Adventures Lodge has a giant green light on the side of it shining into the water. That brings in small minnows and, I assume, shrimp, along with specked trout, tarpon, mullet and Lord knows what else. Last night the guys saw what looked like a 20-pound black drum.

I started with a Badonk-A-Donk topwater and got a slash on the first cast, but that proved to be too big. The trout wanted something smaller. I couldn’t even see what they were eating but figured white and small would be the ticket. Joe Cermele, fishing writer for Field & Stream, had packed a 4-piece travel fly rod and some white Clousers that worked earlier in the week.

“I guess after four or five nights of seeing this maybe they don’t want it,” he said.

I got lucky, though. I tied on one of my father’s Tight Line Jigs in what I call Sparkle Shad. It’s white with a few strands of pink on a white head with glitter. To that I added a Yum! Samuri Shad in white with a pink tail and worked it just under the surface in the “dark zone” where it would pop up and then disappear.

The first trout bit off the tail but I kept throwing the rig and ended up with eight or nine keeper trout. They slashed at this “minnow” and I had a blast, like a little kid sitting on the dock catching bluegills.

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Don't stick a finger in a speckled trout's mouth or you might get a piercing you don't want! (ACPhoto)

Don't stick a finger in a speckled trout's mouth or you might get a piercing you don't want! (ACPhoto)

PORT MANSFIELD, Texas – If you’d told me we could have fished about five or six hours and not caught a shark in the mouth of the cut into the Gulf of Mexico, I probably would have given you just about any amount of money and said you’re crazy.

Today, I’d be broke and calling you crazy. Two boats with six anglers out of Get-A-Way Adventures Lodge fished hard and had three “drive-by” bites. There was no bait activity, no birds diving, nothing. We laid a chum line of cut bait and a gallon of menhaden oil, but all to no avail. Flummoxed is not the word to describe it.

This week’s weather is untypical down here and I really believe that’s what has screwed up things. The wind has been relentless for a week, up to 30 mph out of the south-southwest, and it’s just pounded everyone up the coast on the Lower Laguna Madre. Fishing has been hunt-and-peck, with some nice trout and reds but not the numbers expected for this time of year.

Hey, that’s fishing. It’s not all gravy. Sometimes you get a serving of leeks. You deal with it, as we have this week, make the best of it and grind.

Get-A-Way offers some “Blast and Cast” packages for dove hunting and duck hunting, during those seasons, and autumn or winter is a fine time for big trout and to pinpoint redfish. Lodge founder Bruce Shuler said you merely bundle up, work your lures super-super slowly and big fish are a definite possibility. The coast offers great migrations of ducks and doves, too.

Birding is cool

Thursday during a couple of wading stops I walked the shoreline to see what I could find, which resulted in some neat birds.

I checked my Sibley guide book and am pretty certain I spotted a few American Oystercatchers. I know we’ve seen plovers, pipers, pelicans, several types of herons and gulls, ibis and probably some other species I can’t positively identify. We definitely saw some roseate spoonbills, which are cool. But it’s tough to get good visuals in a speeding boat.

What about stingrays?

Yes, well, if you’re wading in saltwater there’s a chance you’ll encounter or see some stingrays.

They’re harmless if you don’t step on them. Stingrays cannot “shoot” their barb at you like a bullet from a gun. But if you step on them they are quick enough to flick their body and pop it into an ankle or shin, which is their defense mechanism.

Additionally, the long tail of a stingray is not the stinger. That’s more like an antennae. The actual barb is located at the rear of the stingray’s back at the base of its spine. It’s a wicked SOB, too, and you don’t want to get hit by one.

To counter that possibility, you should do three things:

1) Keep your eyes open when you’re wading

2) Shuffle your feet instead of taking steps, because shuffling helps move them along. If you shuffle and a stingray flees it probably will zoom away. DO NOT  turn around and backtrack in your steps because … stingrays often will follow in the mud trail to eat whatever you’ve kicked up, including crabs or shrimp. That happened to me two years ago. I had a nice little stingray about 12-15 inches wingtip just a step behind me hoovering everything that moved. He didn’t like the tip of my fishing rod in his eyeball.

3) Wear wading boots and some shin guards to protect from ray thumps. Here is some info, ray guards and photos for you to check out. If you’re planning to wade then you should invest in some of them. They’re also available at Academy Sports+Outdoors in coastal locations.

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PORT MANSFIELD, Texas – Visitors to the Humpday Diner know when I’m on the road that typically means a report about something new or different.

I’m pleased to say that Shirley Shuler, wife and whip-cracker at Get-A-Way Adventures Lodge, whipped up what must be the best baked potato dish ever. It’s pretty easy to make, too.

“We were supposed to have little green onions cut up in there, too,” she said after thanking us for gushing over the taters. “But we forgot them.”

Onions would have been merely a crunchy addition to what already was Tater Heaven. Now, remember that she was cooking for about 25 people so she had a whopping big pan. You’ll have to cut down your amounts to fit your serving needs … unless you want more for the next few days.

Here’s how Ms. Shirley said to fix it:

Cut up your Idaho baking potatoes into chunks and boil with some Old Bay crab boil, the liquid version, and maybe a little salt. The crab boil gives the taters the zest. (Again, you’ll have to figure out how much in relation to your amount of taters.)

When fork tender in the pot, drain the potatoes and add your butter, sour cream, cheddar (or other) shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, sliced green onions and stir it all together. Don’t stir too much or you’ll have mashed potatoes and that isn’t what we had … which basically was smashed baked potatoes.

Oh. My. Goodness. It went so well with the venison and gravy and sweet tea.

In fact, I think I’ll go have some right now.

Fishing report

Goodness, what a tough day. We started out looking for kingfish and tarpon outside of the  Port Mansfield pass in the Gulf of Mexico, but had nothing show up.

Then we drifted several areas in the Lower Laguna Madre. The wind kicked up and our bites were few and far between. Other boats had tough days, too, with wading seeming to be the best tactic.

Tomorrow we’re going after sharks. That should be a hoot.

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PORT MANSFIELD, Texas – We knew the Wind Goddess would awaken from her slumber on up in the day, which meant the early-morning bite would be important before the Lower Laguna Madre began churning.

Sure enough, the sunrise and scattered clouds created a gorgeous beginning to the day. Waters had just a little ripple and bait was pushing around a bit. Here and there, a quiet “slorpt” meant a speckled trout had taken a baitfish.

Our crew from Get-A-Way Adventures Lodge had scattered for the day, some going north from the port and some heading south. One crew went offshore for kings and anything else, but they didn’t make the proposed 80-mile run for tuna. The wind was predicted to be 25-30 mph and small craft advisories were issued, so they prudently stayed closer.

Photographer Todd Murray of Arkansas and I fished with Capt. Dwain Winters. Murray is a videographer who handles filming for Penn’s Big Water Adventures with Mark Davis on the Outdoor Channel. Winters headed south to an area known as “the spoils” where all the gunk from the periodic Intracoastal Waterway dredging is deposited. These areas of shallow mud and vegetation are wadeable and hold nice trout, redfish and other species.

I brought three keeper speckled trout to hand on the new Badonk-A-Donk from Pradco. Two hit the bone color and one the sardine flavor, with probably 8-10 slashing bursts from trout that wouldn’t commit. Damn fish. They’re supposed to be aggressive with topwaters, which brings me to my lesson reminder.

Every time I’ve fished for specked trout with topwaters it seems they want a slow to moderate retrieve with a “one-knock” bait, something with a big internal ball that makes a “thunk thunk thunk” noise. I believe this replicates a croaker, or something, that turns on the trout. With the retrieve, too, it’s always seemed the trout will hit the bait on a pause of a few seconds.

After remembering to slow down and pause, I started getting slashes and hookups in water probably 4 feet deep. The fish were hanging out off the weed lines and cruising, for there were no schools lingering. There wasn’t any bait, either, or slicks of bait that had been eaten by the fish. When trout ravage a pod of baitfish the oil slick is visible and that’s a good area to fish around.

By 10 a.m. or so the wind had kicked up to warp speed and continued to build throughout the day. By noon we were wrapping up photos and heading back to Get-A-Way’s quiet lodge for an afternoon out of the wind and plans for more fishing Wednesday.

Coming tomorrow

In the Humpday Diner, you’ll get a recipe or two from Ms. Shirley, who is Capt. Bruce Shuler’s wife and who runs Get-A-Way Lodge. We’ll also have a fishing report … possibly about some near-shore kings on topwaters.

Check this out

If you’re tired of tying knots in braided line and cutting your fingers or fearing that your hand might slip and pop into a hook, definitely check out the “It’s a Cinch” tool from Team Marine USA.

The company is based in Tampa Bay but founder and longtime angler Jeff Strane is from Montgomery. By his own admission he “overdoes” things, in terms of engineering and production, but that means you get good, quality products that work because he tests them extensively.

“It’s a Cinch” is about 6 inches of composite material you can’t break with a hook on one end and two holes on the other. With the hook you can hold swivels or hooks and cinch down knots without cutting into your fingers. Just remember to wet the line as you’re cinching down to keep the friction from weakening the line.

The hook also helps pull out backlashes, which are $#*(*(@$# nightmares in reels with braided line. Just use the little pick to pull the knots and get things going again.

Strane has other cool products including a fizzing and venting tool for bass and saltwater fish, which we’ll touch on later. Check out everything at www.teammarineusa.us

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PORT MANSFIELD, Texas — I hate the wind.

Specifically, I hate trying to fish in the wind. Especially when it’s a consistent gust of 25 to 30 mph, which doesn’t translate well into fishing in shallow flats. Here in South Texas on the Lower Laguna Madre one of the primary tactics for giant speckled trout and redfish is wading. Add the wind like we had Monday and it makes things difficult.

Why? Because the Lower Laguna Madre is nothing but miles of water dotted with vegetation, sand humps, soft mud (marl?) and depths from lapping your ankles to washing over your head. Depending on where the fish are situated, you can use soft plastics on jigheads to work through the eelgrass, topwaters and swimming baits like a Bayou Boogie or Wobble Jig. It’s a blast, honestly, because when conditions are right you can play around with different things.

“Last week it was calm,” said Capt. Bruce Shuler, owner of Get-A-Way Adventures Lodge. “We were running offshore and it wasn’t even this choppy out there.”

This is my second visit to Get-A-Way in late summer. The fishing here in the Lower Laguna is outstanding; this week’s wind is just one of those things to deal with. Two years ago we whacked reds and trout, offshore species and my friends who have visited more than I have tales of greater catches. Gator trout of 30 inches or more are not impossible. If you’ve never waded for trout or reds, or want to experience a cool trip, visit their site and look around.

Fishing is good virtually year-round here. If you take a map and look at Port Mansfield, draw a line east through the Gulf of Mexico toward Florida. We’re on the same latitude as

The chop we were in Monday was pretty chippy for the flats. The wind was howling due to the roughly 100-degree temperatures on land and 15-20 degree different air temps offshore. That combination of heat conspired with the wind to increase its speed and it’s supposed to get worse the next few days.

But, we’re here and we’ll make the most of it. Several writers have converged on the lodge this week to try out some new baits from Bomber Saltwater Grade, including the cool topwater Badonk-A-Donk. It reminds me of the old Spit’n Image, but has been beefed up in size and hardware. Split rings, hooks and internal harness systems are all stronger. The body is bigger than the old Spit’n Image, too, lending to a more powerful presentation. They’re not on the market yet but will be in stores soon.

Today we waded with All-Star inshore reels fitted with Pflueger President baitcasters, a smooth low-profile reel that works like a champ. I really like them and recommend them. Some of the other baits I tried included a Wobble Jig, which my father makes in his Tight Line Jigs lineup, combined with a Yum Samuri Shad and a Yum Houdini Shad. It’s a blade-jig swimming bait and I had a few bumps, but the wind had created lines of eelgrass on the surface that made things problematic.

The trout I did catch came on an old Riverside Top Gun soft plastic on a jighead. Unfortunately, Pradco’s fishing division doesn’t make the Top Gun anymore. It’s been out of production for several years. The bait came in two sizes, 4 and 7 inches, and a handful of colors. It’s a super saltwater bait and a works for bass, too, as a gliding jerkbait. I’m hopeful the Pradco muckety-mucks will bring it back.

A few in our crew in other boats had some redfish to about 24 inches and some trout about the same size. The offshore guys fished north and slammed a great variety including kingfish on topwater, red snapper to 18 pounds, grouper, an African pompano and a few other species. If the wind lays down a bit we’ll give it a try Wednesday or Thursday.

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Note: Last week at the annual ICAST show, I wrote for The Fishing Wire each day and this was my July 17 entry. If you have not checked out TFW, please do so at www.thefishingwire.com for industry updates, news and more delivered free to your inbox each morning.

ORLANDO, Fla. – We occasionally meet people who leave an indelible impression for one reason or another, whether it is a superb positive outlook on life or something falling off the table on the other end of the spectrum.

A few months ago I was gratefully introduced to a young man named Jim Hardy, an avid outdoorsman who exudes a zest for life. Hardy loves to hunt, loves to fish, loves to crack jokes with his friends and meet new people. He lives in central Alabama on Lake Jordan and its adjoining Coosa River lakes, and is just a few hours’ drive from the state’s other outstanding waterways.

Big deal? Well, it is to me considering Hardy is paralyzed from the waist down. Almost eight years ago he was an athletic trainer at Auburn University and decided to get in a quick bow hunt before classes started. Two days into the season, his life changed when he fell from a tree stand.

At this path in his life’s road, Hardy had two choices to make. He could either wallow in self pity and grumble about a hand containing jokers and low cards, or look for the aces and go for the straight flush. Hardy chose the latter, telling doctors and rehabilitation specialists he wanted to do whatever was necessary to get going again.

Eight years later, Hardy, who is 32, makes his way around in a wheelchair and sees life, literally, from a different perspective. He has learned to adapt and handle things himself in many ways, such as shopping at the grocery store. If a pack of chicken in the back of the meat counter looks better, well, he may have to take the one up front because it’s easier to reach.

His truck is rigged so he can drive. A winch in the back lifts his chair in and out of the bed. The front deck on Hardy’s boat has a cushioned seat at deck level, and he navigates smoothly by operating his trolling motor with his hand. When it’s time to move from an area, he crawls to the back, dons a life jacket and takes off.

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Greg Vinson is a longtime friend, from their days in grade school, and they are tournament partners in local events. Vinson sees “ahead,” so to speak, when they’re on the water. Hardy sees “right here” and they mesh nicely with often similar and sometimes different ideas.

“I really try to think about what’s under the water and sitting at this level gives me a different perspective,” Hardy said as we fished together a few months ago. “The thing about my angle (on the deck) is I believe it gives my baits a different fall with the cast, or maybe a different look from someone who is standing up. Sometimes I think that’s helped and sometimes I don’t think it’s mattered at all.”

Hardy fishes the Bassmaster Open tournaments and keeps up with Vinson and other Elite and FLW Tour pros when they’re on the nation’s highways. When things are going a little haywire, Vinson taps into the perspective provided by his friend.

“He helps keep me grounded, for sure,” Vinson says. “He’s a great friend and a fine person.”

Hardy and Vinson are here at ICAST this week working in the NetBait booth for the Alabama-based company. They’re making sales, talking to attendees, meeting people and discussing fishing. They’re continually making wisecracks with William Davis, founder of Davis Bait Company and another longtime friend.

In short, Hardy is like anyone else … just a regular guy in the industry who loves to fish and promote the sport. He has a get-going attitude and lives life at full speed. His positive outlook is one worth emulating.

People may notice the wheelchair, but they shouldn’t take anything away from the man sitting in it.

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It’s a double-dip today in the Humpday Diner, where you can get a mess o’ greens and sliced onion with a little news about a Southern lad one step away from his agency’s top rung.

First, the vittles.

Last week while en route to Florida for the ICAST show, I detoured into southwest Georgia for a visit to Providence Canyon State Park. It’s out of the way and the road took me through Plains, where I stopped to see some memorabilia at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site. History, you know, and we’ll have more on that later so keep checking back.

A radio announcement caught my attention about a restaurant that featured neckbones on the buffet. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the restaurant. It’s somewhere in rural Georgia and obviously is doing well enough to buy radio spots on a big FM station. Of course, rural Georgia is pretty flat so an FM signal down there might carry a good ways over the goobers planted hither and yon.

(Y’all do know that goobers, and goober peas, are alternative phrases for peanuts, right? Just checking. Salted peanuts are to be served as a snack or an addition to a fizzy Co-Coler so ice-cold the carbonation kinda tingles a bit going down the pipe. Mmmmm.)

I was unable to visit the restaurant but wondered how their neckbones are prepared and served. In the rural Mississippi town where my father and I hunt ducks, the small restaurant there has a daily buffet with country vittles. That includes greens, yams and neckbones, which are boiled and pretty damn tasty little chunks of pork around the bone. I’m the Lone Ranger in eating them … pops turns up his nose.

One thing I’ve never had is oxtails. I’ve heard they’re delicious. A friend of mine once in Birmigham tried them at a soul food joint and noticed they were more expensive than some finer cuts of beef. He asked about it at the register while paying.

“How many oxes you see running around?” came the reply.

I’ll never pass up the opportunity to try greens and rutabagas, two of my favorites. Top o’ the River in Guntersville serves greens with pickled onions as an appetizer. I could eat that, with cornbread, and not ever even consider the catfish.

Hamilton gets his day

The U.S. Senate is busy in various committees holding confirmation hearings for presidential appointees, and Wednesday morning the Environment and Public Works Committee gently grilled Sam Hamilton for a short period about his nomination as chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hamilton has been director of the FWS Region 4 office in Atlanta for several years, meaning he supervises the agency’s refuges and other matters in the Southeast and Caribbean. Hamilton, to my knowledge, never has had a sniff of personal controversy or scandal. Other than typical issues that pop up on occasion, Region 4 has run pretty smoothly over the years and has worked pretty well with state wildlife agencies on partnerships.

I only caught the tail end of Hamilton’s hearing via Senate online streaming, which was nice. The committee wasn’t huge and as Sen. Barbara Boxer noted, the lack of excessive grilling from her colleagues along with Hamilton’s family, friends and supervisor all being there were indications of his smooth ascendancy.

“No more people here torturing you with questions shows you have broad support here,” Boxer said. “What more could you want than a smooth hearing? We’ll stand adjourned and move you along as quickly as we can.”

Hamilton was asked about the wolf issue as Sen. John Barrasso (D-Wyo.) noted that the Endangered Species Act and the wolves should be a priority. Barrasso politicized a bit about the ESA, as expected in these kind of hearings, and Hamilton said his experiences have been with the Southern Red Wolf but he understands the ESA and gray wolf is a priority out west.

Boxer made a point to bring up Global Warming — again, as expected from this Administration –and asked what Hamilton’s agency would do in regard to it and future strategies. He said the agency already is looking at its 66 coastal refuges that could be impacted by melting polar ice caps and is working with state agencies.

“Isn’t most important thing to use science and not politics to guide us?” she said. “I hope you will rely on science and not politics … You said clearly that science will be your guide.”

Hamilton said the FWS isn’t ignoring the global warming issue.

“We have been working for a couple of years on a stragetic plan we hope to put out for public comment in the coming months,” he said.

During the Clinton Administration, the FWS and director Jamie Rappaport Clark was assaulted over its stances on the Endangered Species Act and attempts to curtail use on public lands. During the Bush Administration there were continual questions about public land use, industry lobbyists with their hands in agency pies and pro-business stances over conservation.

Hamilton’s nomination will have to be confirmed before he takes office. Here’s hoping his agency can get some positive things done for the public without partisan potshots and sniping that all too often undermines the efforts of a good person trying to do good things.

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