Monday, February 23, 2009

Comet Lulin

"Ok, I'm up", Renita replied as I gently woke her and told her it was time to hunt for Comet Lulin. "What, it's only 3:30?" she asked. "I thought it was best before dawn?" I knew better than to answer her.
So begin our quest to find our second comet since retirement. Shortly after we begin full timing, we had traveled to St Andrews State Park in Florida. While there we were treated to an obvious naked eye comet, Comet Holmes,(mentioned in an early Florida blog).
We trudged down to the waters edge. The night was clear as it gets here, but pretty bright, the seeing was about fourth magnitude,(Astronomers rate how bright a star is by its magnitude, the bigger the number the dimmer the star). Unfortunately the comet was about 5.6 magnitude so we needed binoculars to hope to spot it.
Looking toward Saturn, and slightly east and southeast, a faint smudge was visible. Was this Comet Lulin, the Green Comet, or the Sword Comet as one had called it,(due to its unusal antitail it kind of looks like a sword to some). Renita asked if I was seeing the wires. I gently reminded her to put on her glasses and tried to point out Saturn.
After walking back to the house for my green laser pointer, and a quick look at the finder chart, I pointed out Saturn to her and held the laser steady so we could follow the beam with our binoculars. I then moved the beam slowly to the comet.
"It's not green? Why did the papers call it the green comet?" Renita said.
"Its because it has a greenish tinge when using a telescope and taking a long exposed image." I replied. "Or because the newspapers writers are idiots."
"Ok, lets go back to bed", she said.
So we got to spot Comet Lulin, and that was pretty neat, as comets aren't the easiest thing to see. We got back home and Molly wagged her tail hoping we would take her for a walk, not happening. Our second post retirement comet. Clear skies.

ps I tried to take an image of the Comet with our not so cheap camera, and as I suspected I couldn't even get the stars. I then thought of taking a picture of Renita in her comet hunting garb. Getting snarled at, and not in a friendly way, by a beautiful woman at 4 am is not good. I finally settled on a picture of the binoculars and the trusty green laser.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Aransas Pass, The North Jetty

Charles dropped by after happy hour and asked if would like to join him in a fishing trip to the North Jetty. He had talked before of his trips with his friends and so I jumped at the invite, promising to be ready by 5:20 am the next morning.
Excited, I couldn't sleep and so I got up at two am and patiently waited for the clock to slowly tick by. Charles arrived and we drove and picked up his friend Dennis, before continuing on to the ferry.
We arrived at the jetty boat parking lot with minutes to spare and I got to meet the rest of the group. Bob, a retired teacher had organized the days outing and got us the tickets for the Jetty boat.
We lined up our carts, and loaded onto the boat, after which a short ride took us to the North Jetty Pier. Unloading onto a dock and then a cement walkway, we pulled our carts out to the jetty itself. It was a short walk to a crudely made shack,(the shark shack perhaps?), where everyone started fishing. Soon I had an undersized sheephead and then another. Charles and Dennis both caught sheephead, also undersized
I decided that I needed to walk further out onto the jetty. Perhaps the fish would be bigger or maybe I could find a place to fish for redfish. Anyway I continued out the cement walkway,(heavily cracked, it runs the entire length of the jetty with only a couple of cement breaks),until I left all the other fisherman and had the place to myself.
Casting out my slip bobber rig, I looked around before returning my gaze to my bobber, no bobber! Winding up the slack I set the hook and was rewarded with a strong fight by a keeper sheephead! Another cast and another keeper, this one bigger.
Fish would hit as fast as I threw in. Trying to call Charles on his cell phone, my phone beeped once and then powered down. Deciding not to leave a hot bite I continued to catch fish for a bit, but finally put my pole down and walked back to where Dennis and Charles were still catching undersized fish. Telling them about my fishing, they both loaded their carts and wheeled them after me.
When Charles arrived I showed him the place to cast and explained the drift. Soon he had an undersized fish and then a keeper. Dennis cast his pole out and caught several small fish before one was in his bucket. The bite slowed as the wind shifted. The waves got larger and started to break around our feet. It was time to retreat to a drier and safer part of the jetty.
Returning we saw that most had also retreated to an area by the large sand dune, deposited by Hurricane Gustov. We talked it over, before deciding to take the jetty boat back and call it a day. We got in line for the boat and loaded up for the short ride to the dock and Charles truck. It had been my best sheephead fishing experience, I had caught nineteen fish in less than four hours, and kept a limit of five. Fresh fish tonight! Clear skies.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lighthouse Lakes Paddling Trails, Cutters Loop

All of us were filled with the joy of the day, as we pointed out to each other flocks of roseate spoonbills. Their brilliant pink breeding plumage contrasted with the grey sky as they flew back and forth, took off and landed. The ladies shouted with glee, like the little girls still inside, and pointed out each flock to one another. Valarie directed our gaze to a tri-colored heron wading in search of it's lunch. Our new friend Rosie joked as we paddled from marker to marker, what a day.....
We had wanted to canoe/investigate the Light House Trails for some time. Every trip across the ferry took us right past the put in point for the trails. Our friend Sharon had mailed us her paddling trails map and we had been waiting for a day with little or no wind.
Finally, a day arrived with a forecast of winds under ten miles per hour, and so we met Rosie and Val at the put in spot, slightly east of Aransas Pass. The wind was barely rippling the water as we crossed the shipping channel and entered the back bay swamps.
We paddled easily across the first lighthouse lake, past a couple of other kayakers fishing from their craft. Empty duck blinds, a commonplace Texas sight, stood around the lake as we turned west and entered a narrow channel. The water had shallowed as soon as we crossed the channel and I had to get out and push the canoe past a spot before it deepened.
The narrow pass was just big enough for us to glide through, the stabilizers almost snagging the brush on each side. Renita kept us straight and in the center as it finally widened a bit. Ibis were wading along as if to mark the trail.
Spotting the next marker, I looked at the aerial photo and we headed northeast across Lighthouse lake number one. We almost missed the next marker, floating past a point but caught ourselves in time and rowed a little to the north where the sign came into view. The aerial photo map was the only way to go when threading through the the trails maze.
Having to wade again, we went through another narrow pass and into another lake. Val and Rosie didn't have any problems, it seemed that it was my end of the canoe that got hung up. Hmmmmm, I wonder why? I raised the stabilizers as they were plowing a bit and the water was too shallow to be a danger. We were both hot and took off our life jackets.
The wind died and the water became like glass, as we entered Lighthouse lake Number Three. Ahead, the lighthouse stood, as if guarding the intercoastal. A large ship passed on the other side, carrying oil to some refinery.
Thousands of pintail ducks rose into the sky beating the water with their wings. We hadn't seen anyone else since entering the first lake. If it hadn't been for the distant hum of traffic it would have seemed like we were all alone, exploring the wild Texas coast.
Stopping for lunch, at an unnamed island we took our bearings and were surprised that we had canoed four miles. I talked Val and Rosie into posing for pictures. Val mentioned that a cold front was supposed to pass us later that afternoon,(The weather forecasting here is extremely accurate compared to out west and the fronts arrive almost like they are on a train schedule).
Floating through another small pass we saw redfish tailing. I cast as Renita played guide, but quickly got hung up on oyster shells. No redfish bothered my jig and plastic bait, but I had seen redfish tailing. Canoeing across the lake we met a fly fisherman who said he had caught one red, but he said it with a contentment as he recast his offering.
Val and Rosie led the way as we canoed back into the shipping channel and to our trucks. We were all tired and sore from the five mile trail, called Cutters Loop.
It had been a cloudy day with no wind, a perfect day to be on the water. Renita and I were both happy to have set a new record for our distance, five miles! We loaded up and talked with some other kayakers who said that we must be in great shape to have traveled so far. If they only knew. A perfect day filled with wonder, beauty, and shared times. Clear skies.

ps If you go here be sure to have the serial trail map as getting confused is a real possibility. Also check that its approaching high tide or you won't go very far. I would also bring some shoes for protection from oyster shells in case you have to wade, even though it was a problem in only a few areas. Finally, it took us three easy hours with no wind.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

SIx Species in A Day!

The fish was on for George, and there was nothing he could do. The drag screamed as line flew off! He couldn't put any more pressure on it, as then something would give and the fish would go free. It was obvious that it was bigger than the thirty five inch red he had caught before the day before, way bigger.
Earlier that morning, George, Gary, and I headed out to the jetty to fish for big reds. The bite was on and we felt pretty good as we had caught on previous days, a 37, two 35's and several smaller but big redfish, all released.
On my second cast the float stopped as a red picked up my shrimp. I felt the two ticks before it took off on its first run. I felt good as I had thirty pound test line and leaders. The big question seemed to be could I keep the fish out of the rocks?
Another run and more line gone but the fish stopped and turned back into the pass. I started to gain a little line before it exploded on another run. Good grief, this fish was way bigger than anything I had ever had on. Just as I hoped that I had a chance the line went slack, I was cut off.
Retying, I cast out another large shrimp and had a repeat performance as another bull red had its way with me before pulling into a snag and breaking off. I wound in and George soon had one on, the one described above. The line parted as the fish swam into the barnacle covered rocks.
I watched, taking a break, as George cast again and lost another. The score was 0-4,
a disgusting start to the day. Was it because it was Friday the thirteenth? Maybe it just wasn't possible to land a big fish from the place we were at?
A white skeeter boat anchored farther out and soon caught a big red. I went to the other side and threw out my bobber and shrimp. It sat there for a few minutes before it disappeared and I set the hook, landing a 25 inch red! Thoughts of red fish on the halfshell,(grilled redfish), almost caused my mouth to water as I decided to keep the legal redfish.
A shout from George, for the net! I ran across the jetty and carefully got down near the waters edge. He easily handled the fish and I netted a nice thirty three inch redfish, which George returned.
Gary patiently went on fishing, being rewarded with a nice red grouper, followed by a large mangrove snapper, and a nice sheephead. I cast out on the other side and my bobber disappeared again, this time a large pompano! Oh my, my favorite grilled fish!
Placing it on the stringer, I caught a keeper sheephead and now had three fish, enough for a couple meals. Gary and George added to their stringer catching more snappers and a black drum.
The time passed in a flash and we finally ran out of bait. We had caught and released many undersized fish, besides the ones on the stringers. No Friday the thirteenth curse here. It was a good but tiring walk back to the truck,carrying several meals worth of fish, but more importantly it was a good days fishing with new friends. Clear skies.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Aransas Pass, Jetty Redfish

As soon as I set the pole down it seemed to be acting funny. The bobber was moving in toward shore. It was a bobber setup that Russ had shared with me, a setup for redfish in which the bobber acted as a strike indicator,(It freely slides along the line above a sliding sinker setup).
I picked up the rod and started to wind when the fish took off for the Gulf of Mexico. Letting the fish go, like I had any choice, the drag buzzed as it pulled line. Could this be the red we had came for?
George had graciously invited me to go jetty fishing for redish. His friend Brian was flying in from New York . We had found some live shrimp, rare for Rockport this year, and left early the next morning for the jetty.
Now the jetty is one of the most frustrating places to fish that I have ever been to. Each cast is usually washed into the rocks and ends up on a snag, most of which result in the loss of some of your gear. I had armed myself with thirty pound braided line, which slightly alleviated the broken line part.
We walked out on the jetty and I stopped at a place I knew, while Brian and George continued on to the jetty's end. I cast out a line with split shot and a small live shrimp. only to have it quickly stole by a sheephead. Anther cast and another bite, but this time I set the hook and hoisted the small sheephead over the snags. It only measured 13.5 inches so back it went.
I decided to cast my bobber setup out before returning to sheephead fishing. Before I picked up the other pole a fish was on. He finally stopped the run to the gulf and I started to gain some ground. Another run but not quite as far. Taking it somewhat easy I fought the fish nearer and nearer almost getting it to a place where I could land it when the circle hook pulled free and the fish was gone.
Rebaitng, I cast out again, set the pole down and returned to my sheephead fishing. I could see George and Brian were catching small fish but I couldn't leave my spot to tell them to come here as there were three other fisherman waiting to take my spot. The bobber started to move funny again. Another bite but this one was on for only a little bit before the hook slid free. Taking off the circle hook, I put on a number two long shanked hooked and picked out the biggest shrimp in the bucket.
Again the bobber started to move as I set the pole into a natural pole holder. It was definitely a fish and when I picked up the pole the fish took off! The fish did its runs and I gained a crowd of fisherman, Two actually had long handled nets and one carefully climbed down to where I was at. The fish tried to run into the rocks and I had to try to force the fish free as the rocks, covered with barnacles, were sure death to my line.
Finally, I was able to guide the fish into a safe spot where the net was waiting. It took both of us to lift the fish above the rocks and carry it to a safe spot for pictures! I tried to measure the fish. It was way over the thirty inch mark on my rod. A young man took my pictures as I posed, wanting more pictures but worried about the fish. George arrived and measured the fish with his pole. His marks weren't long enough either and we estimated the fish at thirty six inches.
In Texas you are allowed one Red over thirty inches. You tag it and then return the tag to Game and Fish. They then provide you with another tag so you can keep two big reds a year. I didn't want to keep the red as it was a bull and was in great condition for a release. George and Brian had arrived by now, and watched me release the fish,(Several other fishermen had told me to tag it but I never intended to). The fish disappeared into the water, a good release!
The rest of the day was an anticlimax as we caught small whiting, croakers, mangrove snappers, and hardheads. I didn't care, the day was a success as I had finally caught a big red. Clear skies.

ps A friend in the park, and lifetime Texas fisherman Lannie, showed me the hook setup he uses. Its a number 6/0 kahle! He also put on the most incredible knot tying demonstration!
pps I had made a mark on the rod and when I measured the redfish at home it turned out to be a little over thirty seven inches long.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cavasso Creek

Five miles north of the Copano Bay Bridge, on 35, is a put in spot for canoeing and kayaking Canvasso Creek. Its a relative narrow outlet, about a mile long, that empties into St Charles Bay. It's a place that Renita and I wanted to canoe for some time.
Finally a day arrived when the weather was supposed to be perfect, seventies and little wind, so Renita packed a lunch, while I loaded the canoe, and we took off for the short drive to the bridge and launch.
Arriving at the launch we were, at last I was , surprised at the width of the spot. It looked like someone had cut some brush, to ease the loading and unloading. The water channel was shallow, but about six feet wide so it was an easy access to the wider portion of the creek. The stabilizers and support bar were just barely narrow enough to float through the passage and so with Renita's excellent oarmanship and my pushing we made it to the bay.
Muddy at first the bay bottom quickly changed into a bottom that was mostly sand, with a little silt on top. Immediately several swirls indicated that we had spooked some fish, reds perhaps? I let Renita paddle while I cast a gold Johnson spoon, tipped with a chartreuse twister tail but didn't have any hits. Perhaps it was too large for the fish or maybe it wasn't a gold day.
We continued paddling east, skirting the south side of the creek arm. The water was really shallow, one to two feet, but it was about perfect for us as we checked out herons and egrets. They seemed somewhat upset as we neared, as if to say that this was their home.
The wind picked up as the arm opened. Renita spotted a herd of feral hogs and we stopped and let the wind carry us near them. The canoe was rocking a bit as Renita was trying to take some pictures of the hogs. The nearest one finally sensed our presence and looked at us before grunting a warning. The herd responded with a pig stampede, (I sure like roast pig).
Drifting further east we both rested as the wind blew us steadily eastward. I switched baits and put on a white DOA jig. Its a plastic jig that imitates a small shrimp and has worked for me in a lot of places. It didn't work here even though we passed a lot of fish. Something about my blind casting or retrieving just wasn't right. I am sure putting in a lot of dues days here.
Too suddenly we arrived at the mouth of Cavasso Creek. The wind freshened and small whitecaps began to form. Deciding we had better be discrete we oared to the north shore, crossing deeper water before reaching the other side. The stabilizers worked great as we were sideways to the wind but the canoe was stable and dry. The other side was dotted with duck blinds, that seem to ring the wildlife refuge. Most were abandoned and in disarray. providing a roosting place for heron. Pintails floated around the blinds, taking flight as we neared.
In the distance a grass fire burned out of control. The wind was taking it on a path that would miss our truck, ( It seems like these drought plagued fires are a daily occurrence. This was another was caused by someone burning trash, go figure).
The rowing became harder as we fought the wind. It blew our canoe sideways, whenever we let up, so Renita kept the bow into the wind as I pushed the canoe across the shallow mudflats. I hadn't brought my pushpole so I used the oar, which worked ok and we slowly but steadily neared the truck.
Turning into the narrowing inlet we were finally able to relax. I cast some more as we continued to spook fish, not big but still fish. No luck! Landing at the take out spot, a game warden arrived and checked my license. He seemed kind of amazed that I hadn't caught any reds and kindly said that it must of been one of those times where they just weren't biting.
We drove to Big Tree and ate a late lunch. Two kayaks were fishing St Charles bay and we watched as one rowed against the wind, easily reaching our picnic spot. He said he had caught four small reds and also talked about his kayak, saying that while it was easy to paddle it was also easy to roll. Hmmmmmm. Returning home we were glad we had canoed the creek but weren't thrilled enough to want to return. It was too open for our canoe. Clear skies.