Thursday, January 29, 2009

Port Aransas Beach, Surf Fishing Revisited

The waves were huge, at least to me, they looked to be six or seven feet high. As each wave broke and rolled up the beach it met the water from the preceding wave and formed a standing wave,(An example of a standing wave is when you are at a fast flowing river and it flows over a rock or rapids forming a wave that stays in one place).
The happy hour group decided another day at the beach was in order as it was going to be nice, before being slammed by another cold front. So we loaded up the truck and drove the usual route to beach access one, where we turned south and drove near the water. The beach driving report was poor so I put the truck in four wheel drive and drove past fisherman after fisherman sucking shrimp and surf fishing. It didn't seem possible for any shrimp to survive.
Reaching our group we dropped off our chairs at the "Gathering spot" and I set out my pole while Renita and several other ladies decided to take a walk down the beach.
My line quickly washed ashore and so I put on five ounces of lead, before it stayed set. Looking down the line of fisherman, and fisherwomen, all were pretty much standing there doing nothing. Would the fish be in such pounding surf?
Steve, next to me, was looking for ghost shrimp, as I wound in my line to check the bait. It looked like something had been biting as the piece of shrimp was chewed up.
Rebaiting the hook I cast out and watched my pole more carefully, and sure enough a bite. Missed it! Again I cast out and again I missed the fish, darn! I switched hooks and put on a small circle hook. It worked as I pulled in a small whiting! Another cast and another whiting!
Renita returned and we ate some pineapple oranges, which we had quartered and taken as a group snack. She moved down the line sharing the oranges before returning to tell me that the hot dogs were cooking and lunch was being served. I joined her, got in line, and hurriedly wolfed down several dogs and the usual healthy chips. There were also lots of brownies and cookies so I sampled each tray until I had tasted each batch! Renita was still filling her plate,(Have you ever noticed how fast teachers eat?).
Winding in my pole I rebaited, but only with a small piece of peeled, fresh dead shrimp. It was actually shrimp bought at the grocery store and was probably sushi quality, the fish had to bite.
I watched the pole carefully, and quickly had a bite. Not setting the hook, I simply wound in and the circle hook hooked the fish for me! Another cast and another fish!
Down the line the fishing picked up as the whiting seemed to sense that lunch was being served,(Actually high tide was nearing). The surf grew stronger and the undertow increased so much that wading out was getting dangerous. A coast guard helicopter flew by, looking for foolish people, and it was soon followed by another rescue helicopter.
The waves had actually grown and we had to move the truck twice as the tide moved in. I had caught tweleve whiting and was getting ready to call it quits when a member of our group got stuck, trring to turn around in the soft sand. Apprehensive, as I have been nervous about driving on the beach I backed up and hooked up to his two wheel drive truck. After getting the shovel out and digging in front of the tires, Dave gave me a call to hit it and it almost worked, I didn't hit it hard enough. Backing up a bit I hit it again and pulled the truck from the sand.
It was time to go, so we drove down the beach, only to find Dale and Reva stuck in the sand. This time Dave and Jane did the honors, after I dug out the wheels with my trusty shovel.(I had carried that shovel for a year and finally used it).
We were able to get back to the pavement without anyone else getting mired in the soft sand. The beach driving had deteriorated since we had drove out and there were marks where people had gotten stuck and been helped. Helping people is good!
We returned home, and cleaned the fish, donating them for a future group fish fry. Life is good. Clear skies.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hog Bayou, Tivoli, Texas

The narrow pointed fans of the dwarf palmetto shook violently as we drew closer in our canoe. We were near Alligator Slide Lake and I wondered what was in the palm or what was rubbing on the tree..........
Val and George had been after us for some time, to canoe with them, in a bayou near Tivioli Texas. It didn't take much to convince us but worries of alligators and snakes bothered both of us as we headed north on Tx 35. Passing through Tivoli, Texas we crossed the Guadalupe River, Schwings Bayou, and then turned left to the boat ramp on Hog Bayou. The water was a dirty milky green and reminded me of the water in glacial lakes.
As we launched our boats a local man arrived at the ramp, and as he prepared to load his boat he showed George his big catfish! He also told George that the place, Hog Bayou, was a good place to fish for crappie and catfish. He even offered George some perch for bait,(Which we would call bluegills).
Now Val had kayaked before and she easily glided past us and up the bayou. She looked so graceful and skillful as she paddled, easily going twice the distance we did on a single dip of her oar. We did our usual thrashing in our canoe, finally achieving a nice rhythm to our stokes and slowly followed her lead. The wind was calm and we canoed under a blue sky as we passed down a lane shrouded by oak trees and dwarf palmetto palms.
The Bayou was actually quite broad and fish were jumping everywhere. Almost every large overhanging tree branch had a ribbon of plastic tied to it, many having a line for catfish. I wondered if there could be any fish left in the bayou! Occasionally a large fish swirled near our canoe, perhaps an alligator gar? We canoed for an hour going about halfway to the canal that connects to Schwings Bayou and the Guadalupe River.
We didn't see any alligators or snakes, or even turtles, but enjoyed the great blue herons and cardinals. At one place turkey vultures climbed into the sky as we disturbed their roost. A snowy egret flew by but didn't land. Unknown bird calls came from both sides as we glided past. We passed an anhinga drying its wings on a large brach of fallen tree, that had succombed to a storm. A small golden-winged(?) warbler carefully walked on a mat of floating water hyacinth.
Turning around we canoed back down to see George patiently fishing. He hadn't been disturbed by any fish, so he helped us land and then walked back to his pole. Getting out our lunch, we gathered by an old campfire. Trash and litter was everywhere, a typical and sad sight in Texas. We ate and talked of our day deciding to canoe down the bayou to Alligator Slide Lake, although Val said the bayou was choked with plants and that we probably couldn't get there.
We fought the wind and paddled with difficulty, just about ready to give up when we reached a bend where the bayou was sheltered and the water calmed. The bayou narrowed and little blue herons fed while wading and walking on the hyacinths. They allowed us to get close and Renita clicked away, being the official photographer for the afternoon paddle!
The bayou narrowed and meandered as we passed denser and denser floating masses of hyacinths. Another meander and the bayou was choked shut. A snake swam across the opening and disappeared into the vegetation, staying out of sight as we neared.
Stopping, Val took our photograph. The palmetto fronds appeared to sway from the weight of a large bird or the rubbing by an animal,but we couldn't see anything, perhaps it was only the wind?
Returning back the trip was too quick,but easy as we rounded the bend and the wind sailed us to the bridge and boat ramp. A turtle ducked its head and disapeared in the stained water. Both of us enjoyed our adventure and thanked Val and George for sharing the day with us. George told us that some locals had told him the area was the alligator capital of Texas and that we could have called the gators to us by slapping our hands on the water. No way!!!!! Clear skies.

(Val let me try her kayak and was it fast! It also was really sensitive to the smallest shift in my weight. I was somewhat amazed I didn't roll it!)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The USS Lexington

Driving into Corpus Christi takes you right by the USS Lexington. It's a living museum and monument dedicated to the US Navy, to all who have served and to the men who died on her during World War Two. We wanted to visit her but hadn't until two new friends, couples, invited us to join them on the tour.
Jim and Nancy invited us to ride with them and Alan and Sharon followed closely behind as we drove the thirty miles to the carrier. Luckily, Jim had read the directions on how to get there as I would have gotten us off at the wrong exit, so we arrived safely. only to be greeted by the sight of a bus full of school kids,(Thank goodness they were leaving).
Walking up the ramp, the size of the ship dwarfed the planes on its deck. After paying the entrance fee we walked through the styles and into the elevator area. The inside was huge! A working display allowed us to see a plane being restored. The hanger area also contained a movie theater, a cafeteria, and displays of aircraft, torpedo's, and a small submersible,(see the image above), which was used by divers to work on the ship.
We decided to take the tour of the engine compartment first but hadn't even reached the halfway point when we looked at the time and had to hurry back to the theater to view the Optimax movie, "Fighter Pilot". The movie included some great segments of low altitude flying and some amazing displays from the observation radar plane that observes and directs the pilots the war games.
Returning to the engine compartment tour we passed a bunk area, the chapel, the machine shop and other area too numerous to mention. As we entered the engine compartment I was surprised at the seemingly small size of the steam turbines area, but of course it was crammed full with electrical lines, pipes , and valves not to mention the turbines themselves. What it must have been like during the time it was operating!
Last year we toured the USS Alabama and the USS Drum. The room inside of the Lexington dwarfed the similar areas in those ships. I was expecting to see the wooden flight deck but it had been replaced with a metal one after the war.
Returning to the hanger area we next toured the flight deck and Bridge. The bridge was small, but towered over the flight deck. The captains quarters were smaller, or about the same size, as our bedroom in the fifth wheel. Walking the flight deck we passed the planes and were all amazed at how small the actual landing strip is! Down a nearby flight of stairs we saw cupolas that contained antiaircraft guns. They actually still traversed as we sat in those seats and tried to imagine tracking incoming planes. It was hard to move the twin 40's and ir made us appreciate the strength it took to man those guns!
Returning to the flight deck we stopped and looked at balsas wood like rafts. Slightly above row after row of Japanese flags and ships represented the victories of its brave crew. Displays of the sailors who died when a kamikaze hit the ship provided a somber reminder to the reason for our freedom. A prayer for all who served, for those that died, and for their loved ones who suffered the anguish. Clear skies.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Finally some fish! The fishing here has been slow to nonexistent as cold front after cold front has plowed through. Water temps have cooled and no one has been catching any fish. Renita and I canoed out to the Bartel Pass with no results. Our friend George fished Shell Ridge with no bites. The only place anyone has been doing anything is the Jetty, where Pete has been picking up some sheephead.
So I jumped at the chance to fish with Pete and George at the Jetty. The first day we picked, Dave also was along, but the wind was so strong that waves were breaking over the rocks and we went ghost shrimp sucking instead.
The next day, we loaded into my truck and returned to the South Jetty. It was obvious that the fishing had been slow there as there weren't many fishermen.. We got a good parking spot and George and I slowly made our way over the wet rocks, while Pete practically jogged to his fishing spot,(Pete has special boots with metal spikes, enabling him to walk places that I wouldn't tread).
When we arrived at the spot, Pete was already fishing. George was able to get his spot, and I just started fishing a little ways away. I noticed right away that Pete was not casting very far out. Soon he had a small redfish and then another! I moved to the other side of him and tried a new spot, nothing. Pete next caught a legal size sheephead and put it on his stringer, hmmmmmmm. George was haven't any better luck but I switched to his side and fished without any bites.
Picking up my gear I watched Pete and noticed he was fishing a small cut in the rocks, and so I headed out looking for a similar place. Finding one I threw out my cut mullet pole, for redfish, and putting a ghost shrimp on my other I cast out, a little farther than Pete, nothing. Reeling in I was surprised that the shrimp was still on my hook, thanks to the stretchy string that a friend Mike had advised me to use,(The fishermen here also use it to tie on oysters).
Casting out again, but this time close to the rock edge, I let my line sink. After a little while I started to retrieve, sure that I would be snagged. Fish On! After a short but hard fight I managed to get the fish out of a snag and basically man handled it over the rock edge,(Did i mention that I am using 30 pound braided line, as Pete had suggested). Yeah, a nice 18 inch sheephead! Thoughts of a fresh fish dinner ran though my head as I rebaited and cast out again. Another short wait and another shephead, this one smaller but still legal. Oh my, dinner is served!
Less than hour into fishing and two keepers! Thoughts of limiting and having some bragging rights at happy hour passed through my head. Another cast, another fish, but this time a weird fish with spikes protruding from its body. A blowfish perhaps?
More casts, but now I was getting snagged. Another fish hit and I pulled in a small fish that kind of looked like a lion fish. Cutting the line I carefully threw it back.
As noon arrived I ate my lunch, interrupted by another lion fish(?), and a weird spiked crab, that was feeding on my mullet. More time passed and Pete walked past me catching a legal sheephead in the next pocket.
Fishing went to nonexistent, or at least the catching did, so after a while we decided to call it a day. One man did pass by with a legal redfish. Another told of seeing a couple catch two redfish keepers. As we walked back to the truck, we passed people with a few redfish but most told the story of lots of undersized fish.
Returning to Watersedge, we cleaned the fish and that night I coated them in Zatarans Southern style fish coating and fried them with a little Cajun seasoning.
Oh my, life is good! Clear skies.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Heron Flats Trail

Something about the trail seemed different even though it was broad and easy. It was crisscrossed with a series of wide flattened paths that intersected our intended route. I scanned ahead and to each side for rattlesnakes as Renita chased an armadillo, trying to get an image, no snakes yet, but Val and George had seen a five foot western diamondback on their hike. Suddenly, Renita said look at that, isn't that a gator?
It had been a year since we had gone to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and so Renita packed a lunch and I got the binoculars and camera ready for a nice day of birding. Our goal for the day was to hopefully see a whooper, or at least some roseate. Looking up the refuge on mapquest, and of course seeing it wanted us to go down a closed road, we loaded up ad took off for the short drive.
Along the way we spotted a large flock of sandhill cranes, feeding on something in the middle of the stubble of a cotton field. There were a couple of hundred birds but no whoopers so we drove on. Hopper Landing soon passed and we turned into the parking lot of the Refuge headquarters. The counter person greeted us, asked us to register, and told us current whooper and refuge news.
It seemed the refuge was under a prolonged drought, and that most of the lakes were dry, with only alligator wallows left. All the birds were having a difficult time finding their food and the blue crab numbers were down, a bad sign for the whoopers,(current count 270). She told us of an errant young whooper that had been along the one way road and warned us to watch our speed,(She had the arrogance of a really good birder so we figured she must be pretty knowledgeable). We asked her about purple galinules, but she told us it was a few months early as they had migrated.
Leaving the visitor center we stopped first at Jones Lake. It was all dried up! Deer and feral pigs feed and rooted on the lake bottom. Renita spotted a northern harrier and we both glassed the magnolia warblers that flitted in the brush.
Our next stop was the observation tower, where we climbed the stairs and scoped the salt marsh and intercoastal. No whoopers or roseate. The trail at the base took us to the waters edge where a couple of white ibises fed, unconcerned with winter Texans.
The drought had dried up the waters along the one way eleven mile road. We weren't treated to a sight of the lone lost whooper. The same old northern mockingbirds, turkey and black vultures, and warblers, birds we already had on the list. We did spot several American kestrils and the drive was enjoyable, but the wildlife had retreated from the road along with the water.
Rejoining the main road we stopped at Bay View, The Fishing Pier, and Heron Flats
After glassing some herons, including a lessor blue heron, we decided to walk down the Heron Flats Trail. We walked for a short hike where we encountered a long narrow pond and with lots of wide animal trails. As you have already guessed we also encountered two very very large gators, which Renita spotted first,(I think I will start calling her Gator Girl)!
Hiking further and not having a trail map, we decided to return to the truck. I was pretty uncomfortable as it was obvious that the gators often used the hiking trail as a sunning spot,(did I say they were big gators?). Nothing lunged out and grabbed our legs, dragging us into the gator wallow so we arrived back at the truck safe and whole.. It was a good thing we didn't bring the little gator bait, aka Molly.
We did stop at the gator viewing turnoff. no gators, but a turtle and duck shared a small island. We told several other winter Texans of the gators,watching their eyes get big....... The drive home was short, as we totaled our count for the day, 27 different bird species, feral pigs, deer, gators, and lots of armadillos. A good day, but maybe we should take the skimmer tour. like we did last year. Clear skies.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Nueve Progresso, Mexico

As forewarned the armored personal carrier and the Federales with machine guns, was a somewhat unnerving sight as we crossed into Mexico. It was an unpleasant reminder of the drug war that is being waged, but that's another story. This is a story of the shopping, food, and atmosphere of Nueve Progresso.
After passing the guards we were greeted with main street. It's lined with vendors and colorful brightly painted shops, so packed that we almost had to walk single file. Children and adults offered us Chiclets, and shopping bags, and purses. Renita stopped at the first jewelry table ad I looked at some leather belts. She bought and I didn't, however she was much better at bargaining than I and soon after I paid the asked price for a sombrero forgetting to make a counter offer.
We worked our way down main street, passing vendor after vendor and shop after shop. A vender warned Renita to put her back pack in front of her and I moved my fanny pack likewise, while clutching my wallet and passport. Did I say I was uneasy?
We worked up and down the street before meeting Shirley and Mike for lunch. Mike and Shirley had recommended Arizona's, so we climbed the three flights of stairs to be greeted with a charming restaurant,(with a mariachi band serenading the diners).
I ordered the special and Renita had the chicken enchiladas, both were quite good!
After lunch we returned to the streets as I was searching for a belt and Renita was looking for a Nueve Progresso tee shirt. Neither of us had any luck as the belts were either way too expensive or way to cheap and most of the tee shirts were not really appropriate.
Time flew by and it was soon 3 pm so we headed for the crossing. We paid our 30 cents and left Mexico, easily passing through customs,(It costs 25 cents to enter and 35 cents to leave). The US Border guards scanned our passports and we headed back to the bus. Tired, the ride home was a bit long for me as I had forgotten how cramped a bus seat can be. All in all it was a fun day, and a return trip to Mexico is something we both want to do. Clear skies.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Cooning Oysters

After talking with the game warden, about picking up wild oysters I knew that it was an adventure we had to do. Now he had said that the people at Tin Can, a local wade fishing area, were cooning oysters from a banned area and that if caught it was a free trip to jail. He told me that oysters were filter feeders and that the closed areas were to close to pollution sources to be safe.
So getting online, I was able to download the oyster reef harvest area map and found the one place where a person could wade to and then coon oysters,(My sister Connie says the term used is Raccoon Oysters and refers to Louisiana wild oysters in general). I noticed that the regulations said that any area within 400 feet of a camp, septic system, were also closed. It all made sense and I also decided to not eat raw cooned oysters.
Driving out to Goose Island State park we waited on the fishing pier as a dense fog covered the area. I first used my cast net to catch mud minnows and mullet and Renita caught a speckled trout off the pier using a mud minnow, her first Texas fish!
The fog finally lifted, at 1 pm, and we pushed off and headed for the Bartell Islands. We met another kayaker who told us that we had to skirt wide to the north to pass the St Charles reefs and so the paddle to the first larger island went easy.
Along the way we noticed that the depth was pretty shallow and it would have been possible to wade almost all the way,(as it was near high tide this was good from a safety standpoint).
Arriving at the first main island, I grounded the canoe and put on my waders. Then pulling Renita along I netted oysters and put them in the boat. Of course I had forgot a hammer so it was with difficulty that I broke off and released the undersized oysters from their larger and less fortunate relatives. Soon I discovered my second mistake as I forgot my oyster gloves and cut my thumb on an oyster.
Deciding that I had enough I got back into the canoe and we had an easy paddle back to the truck. On the way back we met two other kayakers, from Carbon County, Wyoming! I swear the state of Wyoming must be mostly empty as there are a lot of Wyoming folks here!
Arriving back at the house Renita walked Molly as I shucked the oysters. Using my new oyster knife, a Dexter Russel Galveston model, the shucking went pretty easy. I filled up the container with future poorboy sandwhich stuffing! Life is good! Clear skies.

New Years Eve

It had been years since we had gone to a New Years Eve party, and about as long as to staying up till midnight, so the parks party was a challenge. Surprisingly we made it!
The party started at eight pm and our new friends Sharon and Alan invited us to sit with them. They saved us a place and so we had great seats for the party. At the table were Jim and Nancy,(pictured top,also full timers who are bloging Running Down Our Dream), Mike and Shirley,(pictured right, Shirley had painted a large beautiful picture for the party, and Ron and Kayla,(they own and operate a rv park west of Cody Wyoming).
The dancing began, and the music was a mixture of all genres so we listened and talked until Proud Mary started to play. Knowing it was Renitas favorite we got up and joined a crowd on the dance floor,( Hmmmm, we have danced more since retirement that we did for a long time).
Games were passed out and played. First, was the left right game in which a wine bottle was passed out and handed left and right as a story was read. At the end whoever had the bottle kept the wine and Kayla and Ron promptly opened it and offered to the table. The next game was a liars game in which people read a story of three events in their lives, and then we had to guess which was a lie. We got the first one right and then missed all the rest, we are pretty gullible.. The last game was a game in which the men and women played separate. A list of objects was read and for each object you got points, the winner being the one with the highest total. If only I had worn suspenders and had money instead of fishing tackle in my pocket and Renitas outfit had more buttons!
Midnight arrived and we were still awake. The survivors gathered in a circle and sang Auld Lang Syne, as we greeted the new year with hugs and kisses. A new year of adventure! Clear skies.