Monday, November 30, 2015

A Streetlight of a Moon

It was Thanksgiving morning, pre-sunrise, close to the Northeast Cape Fear, and my brother and I trudged through the flooded millet field, out to the duck blind.

"Dang that's a full moon… don't even need a flashlight," David said.

"Yeah… it's shining like a streetlight…"

A beaming full moon, almost no wind, and a temperature gauge reading about 55.  The conditions were not exactly what I'd call "ducky."

We'd spent many a morning in that blind, with passed down decoys, passed down guns, maybe one of our dad's old Army wool sweaters and a Cabela's jacket all under neoprene waders, a can of Vienna sausages, and number 3 steel shot.

We set up, trying to get the decoy spread just right, taking the almost non-existent breeze into account, and we waited. Several minutes before shooting time, as usual, wood ducks began to whistle past, flying from their roosting grounds in a morning search for food.  The woodies kept flying after shooting time, 6:24, but we weren't in the flight path.  No shots.  And some time later, that remained the same.  No birds, no shots for us, until my brother broke the silence.

"Shh. don't move, ease down. Mallards."  A group of mallards were up, you could see their beating wings above the tree line, getting closer and closer, and closer.  They were almost to us, that familiar excitement running through our veins, eagerly watching the birds, but keeping our faces down.  Then they were there, almost right on top of us, and we picked birds, and managed to drop one or two.   And we even bagged another few from a second group a few minutes later.

We picked up - the birds and the decoys -  and headed back to the cabin to see how everyone else on the property did.

"How many times you boys miss?" we were asked, and we replied, "Well, miss?… I'm not even sure what that word means to tell you the truth!"

Even in less than ideal conditions, with that streetlight of a moon, we shot birds, big ducks at that.

There was the beauty that only sunrise in the swamp allows.  There was the company of close friends and tall tales and lies around an early morning fire.  There was a wet pat on the head for the tired, but happy duck dogs.  There was the breakfast of eggs, sausage, and a piece of toast in the old A-frame cabin.

Later, there'd be turkey, and all the fixings.  And maybe, there'd even be a few oysters and beers.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

No Place like the Wood Duck Swamp

It's a crisp 50 degrees, there isn't much cloud cover, and the breeze is practically nonexistent. Certainly not prime conditions, but we'll take it.  We get Skynryd's "Swamp Music" on the stereo in the truck on the way out there, out to the public flooded timber.  It's a nice easy drive, the cool pre-sunrise dawn whipping through the cab.

It's a weekday, opening day of the "wood duck season," October 7 through 10, and there's already two trucks pulled up when Edwin and I get to where we're going, even though we're more than plenty early.  We throw on our waders, grab the guns and a few decoys and walk down the dike.  Those guys are where we wanted to go.  So we walk back to our plan C spot, through the muddy water, through duck weed,  over one log then another then another.  We set up - throwing out the wood duck decoys, setting up the MOJO duck -  and we post up against some brush, tucked back.  We hope the ducks won't see us until it's too late.

We sit and we wait.  We wait and we wait for what feels like forever and then the season opens with volley of shotgun blasts right at 6:45, legal shooting time.  Sounds like the guys down the way got a few.  We hear the wheeeeeeek wheeeeek of the wood ducks hurtling through the trees, flying down the creeks, and sure enough two beating specks appear in the distance, and we watch them, but they circle and drop down deep in the trees before they get to where we are.  No shots.  They're safe, for now, in their morning search for food.  But as soon as that pair drops, a single weaves in, closer and closer and closer.  And then it's shotgun to shoulder, cheek flush with the stock, bead on the muzzle leading the bird, and both of us shoot.  The drake woodrow falls, landing with a splash.  That's beauty right there.

We weren't where most of the birds were flying, the shots we got weren't the easiest, and we might've had a few whiffs,  but it sure was good clean fun.  The smell of burnt power in the morning air, and the swamp slowly waking up from its nightly slumber.  What a great way to start the day, out in the swamp before class.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


They're what I see when I close my eyes.  The red orange, the red orange of a fish's tail in the flooded grass. The top corner's out of the water, turning with the fish, turning as the fish turns, almost waving like a flag as the fish searches the bottom for its meal.  That fish searches, and 30 yards from him there's another, and another.  There's just enough of a breeze to keep the no see 'ems away, but not too much to send your fly line 20 degrees off target if you don't compensate, not too much to render the skiff  practically un-pollable.

Is it too good to be true?  Hope not.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Salt Fix

Since mid May, I'd been living up in Washington, in the big city, with all its people, buildings, monuments, ever-confusing traffic circles, its Metro system, and not nearly as much fishing as I'd have liked. I was wishing I was fishing.

Of course, there was absolutely no way that I couldn't buy a fishing license and try to fish while I was up there.  I'd give urban fishing a try.  I fished the Potomac and a few other spots a time or two with the little free time I had.  But the only thing I got for my efforts in the muggy stench of the nation's river was a few shad (I missed the rockfish by a few weeks), and several rejections from stubborn carp.  I had hoped for the hard fight of an invasive snakehead, but no luck there either.  Awesome city, tons of fun, great people, but I was starting to feel clostraphobic, I needed openness, I needed a boat running all out, running through the creeks, running 50 or so miles out to the stream.  I needed that tailing redfish, mucking through the mud in the spartina grass, I needed to strip that topwater fly across, pushing water, I needed to hope for that explosion of water, strip set.

So I pointed the truck south, to get my salt fix.

It's a long way to Wilson, rolling south on 95
I'd fish the flats, fish the creeks, fish the docks, maybe offshore too.

Early morning my brother and I poled the Gheenoe, the small skiff that's been a very versatile and inexpensive fishing craft, into the flooded grass, super skinny, skinny enough so a jon boat would have trouble floating in the green expanse.

It's a hot morning, crack a beer
The fish were there, but there were few tailers.  The reds in the grass just weren't having any of it.  So as the tide started to fall, we fished the creeks.  Little luck.  It was starting to smell a little bit skunky.

We were tired, hungry, and it was heating up, so we cranked the outboard, and ran back.  But on the way, we decided to fish a section of docks and pilings that have produced before, but not always.  So I cut the motor, and we glided as close as we needed with the boat's momentum.  I threw the fly first, and nothing - slim chances with only floating line. David, armed with the spin rod, tossed a soft plastic on a red jighead right by a rotting, barnacle covered piling. David bumped the jig, let it sink back down, and bumped it again. The tip of the rod showed the slight tick, tick, tick. Then, Wham. Doubled over, line whizzing off the reel without a tight enough drag.  Later that copper colored back showed through the slightly muddied, more green than blue water.

I got that salt air I needed, fished inshore, offshore, fried up some fish. And, sometimes,  I guess you've got to let the spinning rod win.

Matthew reelin' em in

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Roanoke Rockfish Roller Coaster

Welcome to the ol' Roanoke Rockfish Roller Coaster.  Wait in line for the ramp.  Hop into the line of boats on either side of the main channel.  Drift in line, down, down to Big Rock.  Motor back up.  Hop in line.  Do it again, and again, and again, if the hot sun doesn't fry your skin too much and if the heavy 350 grain line and strong rockfish don't turn your arms to jello.

Quite the crowd out there, even on a Thursday.  But it is the Rockfish Capital of the World, after all.

 Fish, fish, fish, drink a beer or two, eat a ham and cheese sandwich, and fish some more.

Waiting in line for ol' Mr. Linesides.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sambo the Pup

Sambo's a good pup.  He's a pup, even if he is about 10 years old.

He's born for the water, those webbed paws, strong rudder-like tail.  He's a good hunting buddy, and fishing buddy too... when he behaves himself.

"Look, Sambo.  Birds, 11:00.  Birds, down the creek."

"Pups, meet puppy drum.  Puppy drum, meet pups."

Maybe he's got a bit too much retriever instinct.  (Jumped in after the release)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sunday in the Salt Marsh

Friday was more than breezy.  Saturday was more of the same.  Throw some rain in there and time spent with the family - walking and biking and eating and drinking and eating some more.  Not much of a window for hard fishing, and the time that was there proved fruitless for a fly-only (most of the time) kind of guy like me.  Haven't broken out the old Penn rod and reel for a while.  Sunday was Easter.  Church then lunch.  Didn't hit the water till 3 or 4.  It was less than mid tide, and I decided to not run too far, checking out what my brother and I've called Mullet Creek since we were little.  A ways down there's a deep hole, with a bit of an undercut bank that reminds me of a trout stream where a big brown could be hiding, waiting to pounce on a sculpin.  Can't see the bottom even with the clear cold water of early April.  I hoped for a tug.  Out there in God's real church.  A big black drum or speck.  Nothing.

It was getting late.  The tide was fairly low.  So I hauled to another deep hole, back a ways, in a different creek.  I snuck to the windward side of this bigger hole, where it branched into several smaller creeks, filling back up with the tidal salt.  Got out the 350 grain sinking line.  Enrico Puglisi minnow.  Cast.  Let it sink.  Strip, Strip, Strip.  Sink.  Strip.  Times 3.  Cast.  Wait.  Strip.  Set!  And a  nice speck was in the boat.

Not a bad way to end the afternoon.  Hauling through the creeks, throwing some flies, and a nice Easter Sunday trout.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Curse? Addiction? Or Blessing?

The clock says 2:00.  In the morning.  The clock's tick keeps on ticking and all you can do is think.  Your mind's way too active and you try to force yourself to sleep but you can't.

And even though you aren't going fishing in the hours that will soon unfold, you're thinking about fishing.  You're tired, you need sleep, but your brain doesn't seem care.

You're thinking about hauling through the salt marsh, running in just inches of water, weaving your skiff through the creeks like a rally car driver on a dirt track.

You're thinking about studying a mountain stream, watching trout sip midges.  Thinking about the feel of the rod loading and line cutting through the air and quietly rolling out onto the water, upstream of the feeders.  Thinking about your fly disappearing into the vacuum of the trout's mouth. Then you set the hook.  

You're thinking about banging the bank with a streamer, aggressively stripping line, casting again.  You're thinking about the follow, the bump, the tug.  You're thinking about placing a popper right next to a fallen log with tangled branches reaching into the water.   You're thinking about that river largemouth or smallie crushing your fly after a quick twitch.  

It might be curse that you can't shake, this incessant desire to be out there, in the water with your rod and line and the fish.  Some may call it an addiction, a crystal-meth or crack-cocaine-like addiction, where once you start you can't stop.  This may be true.  But is it harmful? Maybe to your wallet and your "real word" obligations.  But it's not harmful to you.  In fact, it may be good for you.  It may be a sort of blessing in disguise.  A therapeutic escape, something that makes you realize it's the simple things in life that matter.  Not the everyday rat race and the climb to the top.

I'm reminded of some lines spoken by the Old Man in one of my favorite books, Robert Ruark's The Old Man and the Boy.  Speaking to his grandson, he says, "Rich is not baying after what you can't have. Rich is having the time to do what you want to do. Rich is a little whiskey to drink and some food to eat and a roof over your head and a fish pole and a boat and a gun and a dollar for a box of shells. Rich is not owing any money to anybody, and not spending what you haven't got." I couldn't agree more. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Hunters and anglers are superstitious.  We get caught up in a ritualistic way of doing things.  That's the way we're supposed to do it.  The way we always have.  The way we always will.

Maybe it's that old lucky hat.  Maybe it's doing a certain number of wraps on a clinch knot.  Maybe it's throwing out your decoys in a certain order.  Maybe it's counting each guide on you fly rod as you pass your doubled up fly line through.  Maybe it's, as a buddy of mine fervently argues, refusing to use the word "perfect" to describe the weather conditions, or anything for that matter.

For me it starts in the truck.  What's on my dash is a rabbit's foot, from a Tyrrell County cottontail.

I've got a lucky hat or two.  One's for fishing.  The other, duck hunting.  There's a duck blind/duck-boat/wood-duck-swamp snack, introduced to me by my neighbor, Tav Gauss.  Vienna sausages.  Mechanically separated chicken isn't always the the most appealing thing in the early morning cold of a duck hunt, but I've always got them in my duck box.  And when I'm tying on a new fly with a clinch knot, it's exactly seven wraps - five's too few, and I'm just not a fan of the number 6.  

But for whatever the reason, as impractical, as possibly meaningless as some of these superstitious rituals are, you still do them.  

You don't stop doing them because, sometimes, they work.