Friday, January 29, 2010

A Week at Winter Camp on the Coastal Bend

The past week flew by and I just realized we hadn't posted, so I will try to touch on the weeks activities. Fishing of course is a given,(and the black drum are biting), but we have also been working in the lapidary shop, wire wrapping, metal detecting, and of course eating at the ever present campground buffets.
I've already talked about our wire wrapping and lapidary classes so I thought I would start off with Renitas metal detecting. Now Renita got a metal detector for her birthday, and she hasn't used it much so when her friend Val got one for Christmas it was off to the beach and a day of hunting treasure.
It didn't take them long, before their detectors started to beep. Val was selective and had hers set on coins but Renita was quite happy to dig any metal that set her machine off. Of course she dug up, and brought home an assortment of bottle caps, screws, and other odd shaped debris but she also brought back several pieces that her detector said were silver. She hasn't done any detailed analysis, they do look like chunks of metal, but that's ok as she is happy to add them to her collection.
Val didn't find any coins but she had found .76 cents the other day so they both were happy as they had a great day digging in the sand and dirt.
It was finally our turn to help with the ever present buffets and so we volunteered for the cleanup crew on the Saturday Brunch Buffet. The buffet isn't a weekly thing but was organized by our friend John and his wife Nina. Periodically the rv park puts on a feed from the money donated at the weekly Thursday night buffets, so with the mention of free food over 107 of us showed up.
The menu was all you could eat biscuits and gravy, and there were egg casseroles and fruit so no one left hungry. In fact there was a lot of food left over! Renita cleaned the tables and I washed dishes, so we both felt good to help with the meal.
It was also the week of the Happy Hours first fish fry and for that Wayne and his wife Betty were the hosts/organizers. While the fish from the groups surf fishing was nonexistent I and others had plenty of fish to donate and so the fry was on.
Now the job of the men is to fry and bread the fish, along with moving tables. Meanwhile Loretta glides around and organizes the table setting and food placement and it all went smoothly, as it should.
We sat near the desert table and I of course made a pig of myself. The fish were excellent and it was a real sea food buffet as there were fried oysters, speckled trout, sheepshead, whiting, redfish, and even some black drum. Did I say that it all was a healthy deep fried?
Again no one left hungry, and I vowed to get back on my diet but we will see how that goes. Now that we are retired we both wonder how we ever got anything done while we were working. Thank goodness we don't have to waste time on yardwork. Fulltiming in an rv also lessons the honey do list and so we are free to spend our time on more fun activities. Clear skies.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Lighthouse Trails, Taking the Redfish loop to the Lydia Ann Lghthouse

Ever since our first canoe trip on Cutters Loop, we wanted to try to go to the Lydia Ann Lighthouse. We had tried once before but had encountered a very low tide and so with the tides and weather both agreable another attempt was in order.
We met Val and Rosie,(See the Lighthouse Trails, Cutters Loop), at the usual put in spot. A shrimp boat was heading our way so we paddled quickly across the Aransas Channel, and entered the first Lighthouse Lake.
It was an incomming tide and so we had plenty of water to clear the oyster bar and we steadily paddled north, looking for trail marker 21. We heard shotguns booming in the diatance, duck season was still on, and so we carefully looked for decoys and hunters as we passed the many blinds.
After about a mile we neared the yellow post for marker 21, but no marker! There was a duck blind next to it and it was apparent the duck hunters must have removed the sign as it interfered with their field of fire,(or maybe they shot it off). Regardless we decided to check out the next sign and sure enough it was marker 20 so we went back to the signless post and entered a narrow and shallow channel. It took us in the right direction and we spotted the island where we had eaten lunch the year before.
Heading east across the lake we tried several narrow paths before finding marker 13 and connected with the Redfish Loop. Thirteen and then fourteen and then a decision. Shoud we go right or left? Right would take us to marker 15 but left looked like a possible was through the cut and maybe would connect to the Lighthouse itself. We choose left and followed a string of crab traps, finally reaching the main channel that led past the Lighthouse and to the Lydia Ann Channel.
As we neared the Lighhouse we saw that there were several large cisterns for holding rainwater. It made sense and the weathered look of the cypress siding added to the charm of the structures. We could see that lights were on and it was obvious that the buidings were occupied. A sign told us and any others that the area was private property, but we knew that already.
Gliding past the dock we reached the point and stopped for lunch. I cast out some cut mullet and soon a hardhead catfish attacked my bait. We ate and talked and I kind of zoned out the conversation as hard head after hard head bit. It was fun catching fish but I really had hoped for a redish.
We headed back into the mangroves and a school of speckled trout exploded around our boats. Mullet jumped everywhere and Rosie neared a reddush egret that seemed to be in a trance. It finally woke up and flew away. It was probably upset with those darn kayakers.
Taking a left turn we found marker fifteen and it was really easy to follow the sign posts. I was tired from all the exertion and so Renita and I decided to pass on the Electric Loop, but Rosie and Val headed off to explore it. Their kayaks are a lot easier to get around in then our canoe and again I though about how nice a kayak would be.
I had to get out several times and wade the boat over oyster reefs but both times were only short traverses. Renita was able to sit in the boat and she used her paddle to steer us right and left and I was soon able to get back in the canoe.
We reached another missing sign post but the path was quite obvious and we turned south,(left), heading for signpost 1 and the Aransas Channel. I threw out my pole and we sat and soaked in the sunshine. It seemed like all the fiddler crabs were on a migration and we watched them march past our beached canoe.
No fish bothered us and I almost fell asleep before Rosie and Val reappeared and headed our way. We saw them get out of their kayaks as they grounded on the numerous oyster bars, but they were to far away to hear our shouts of left, go left! They finally reached us and so I wound in my bait and we headed into the channel where we were greetd by a pod of dolphins! One dolphin breached the surface only ten feet away and I almost jumped as he spouted water into the air.
Renita was turning this way and that as she tried to get their picture, and she did but not of the close one. The temperature was in the mid seventies and a breeze came up, but we were already across the channel and nearing our trucks. We had done it and we both felt good but tired from the six mile trip.
Loading our boats we talked of future paddling adventures. Val and Rosie told us that the ELectric loop was really shallow and that Renita and I should wait for a really high tide before trying it. Saying good bye we headed home from a day well spent. Clear skies.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Surf Fishing with the Happy Hour Group

The star fish were everywhere. They were scattered on the beach in piles and as you waded out it seemed like you were walking through a starfish school. Our friend Judy picked some out and laid them on their tailgate. Picking up a live one, it quickly started to move, quick for a starfish but slow to us, its legs bending as if it was searching for the ocean.
We were at the Gulf on our Happy Hour Groups monthly surf fishing outing. The goal is to grill and consume as much as we can take to the beach, and then catch some fish so that we can have a fish fry at a happy hour at the rv park.
The fish weren't cooperating, but the beach driving was great and the surf was low so the fishing became secondary. We were trying to catch redfish, pompano, and whiting but every cast brought a hard head catfish. The hard head are about the worst tasting fish in the ocean, they don't even use them for school lunches, so back they went.
It didn't matter as the food was great and Renita caught some fish. The group fished and talked and beach combed, Even though the sun never came out, it didn't matter. The ever present roar of the surf, even though it wasn't large, worked its usual magic on all of us. We packed up our poles and chairs and called it a day. It was time to head back, for happy hour! Clear skies.

No starfish were harmed during the outing.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Canoeing and kayaking St Charles Bay, from Big Tree towards Cavasso Creek

The weather finally warmed and a week of forecasts in the seventies had us loading our canoe and heading to St Charles Bay. We had always wanted to canoe the west shore of the bay but had never had such a good forecast, both warm and calm. Among other things we hoped to see the Whooping Cranes that we had heard from Big Tree and I wanted to explore the area for fishing.
We launched our craft and Val quickly took off. Her kayak glides so quickly compared to our canoe, and it makes us want to get kayaks. We headed north and quickly came to a man made channel that took us along some old and run down summer cottages.
Wanting to explore it we decided to wait till we came back and instead paddled past its opening and towards the Aransas Wildlife Refuge.
An obvious point stood out and it turned out to be an oyster reef that scrapped the bottom of our canoe so we went wide around the projecting reef. Large white birds appeared on shore, a flock of seven birds but we didn't think they were whoopers as it would be unusual for seven to gather in such a small territory. Later we saw two large white birds away from each other but of course we didn't bring the binoculars and so they also remained unconfirmed.
A belted kingfisher provided us entertainment as we ate lunch. It was perched above the water in a grotto of live oak trees that told of the prevailing wind direction and hinted at storms past. It was upset with us for invading its favorite perch and flew away before returning to stubbornly claim its special place.
We had traveled about two and a half miles and of course the wind came up so we turned back south and fought against the wind and waves until we reached the point. The wind then died completely as if it had decided we had had enough exercise for the day.
Paddling easily we turned into the man made channel and had a very close encounter with a some roseattes. They finally flew away but a black crowned night heron stood its perch and simply glared at us as Renita took its picture. A snowy egret waded in the back of the channel as we passed broken docks and once nice camps, but now forgotten.
Heading back into the bay we headed south and passed our trucks. I cast a jig, tipped with a pumpkinseed and chartreuse tail but nothing bothered me. Mullet were everywhere and I was surprised that no trout or red fish seemed to lurk beneath the surface.
We stopped rowing and simply enjoyed the warmth of the suns rays and the stillness of the water. Tired from our five mile journey we headed back to the trucks and waited as two other kayaker's loaded their boats and a couple of small red fish. It had been a great day of canoeing and we thanked Val for joining us. As always, we wish you clear skies.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Black Drum Bite at Goose Island

The tide was ripping through the cut at the fishing pier at Goose Island State Park. So much that I needed to put on a half ounce barrel sinker on my Carolina rig. I threaded the dead shrimp onto the hook and cast up stream but only about 60 feet, as there seemed to be a hole.
It didn't take long before I had a couple of quick ticks and then the fish picked up the rig and swam with the tide. Setting the hook I fought the fish , finally bringing it to the surface and then to the net. It was a legal black drum, a fish that is one of the best eating fish in the Gulf, and the fish I had hoped to catch!
There were already three fisherman on the pier as we pulled up and Pete was putting on his waders and going after the speckled trout. Dave, George, and I wanted to concentrate on the black drum, so we didn't need to wade, just fish from the wooden walkway. As we started out, one of the fisherman set the hook and reeled in a nice black drum. It made me walk even faster!
George was the first to catch a drum and it didn't surprise me as he is one of the best bait fisherman I have seen in action. Dave set the hook with a strong sweep of his rod and pulled in a huge sheepshead and with a little coaxing I was fishing next to George and setting the hook on my own black drum.
We were soon joined by Pete, who had only had one hit and had a nice speckled trout in his basket,(although the trout bite had stopped and didn't return). The bite was on and fish were being brought in on both sides of the pier. The fish were mostly black drum but a few sheepshead and red drum were intermixed and it was turning into another great day.
Before long we all had our limits, of five black drum each and it was time to head back to the cleaning station. It felt great to finally be on the Texas Coastal Bend with a hot bite, something I had heard about but had not yet seen,(At least a hot bite for all three species of black drum, speckled trout, and sheepshead). Clear skies.

A new,(for us anyway). and easy recipe for Black Drum.

Preheat the oven to 375.

Take a baking dish and spray it with olive oil and arrange a single layer of black drum fillets.

Cover them with sliced onions and pour a half of a bottle of blue cheese salad dressing on top.

Bake for about a half an hour until the sauce is bubbling, the onions are done, and the fish flake easily.

(Be sure to taste the dressing before hand as some blue cheese dressings may be overpowering so if its really strong use less dressing)

Clear skies

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Speckled Trout at Goose Island, Even a Blind Pig.....

Every cast had produced a fish and I was actually growing tired from fighting them in. The plastic tail on my jig was pretty ripped from all the teeth marks, but they still hit! I cast again and it was another keeper and I was in Texas speckled trout heaven! It seemed that all the trout in St Charles Bay had concentrated in front of me in the deep water channel. My cajun brother in law, Gary, likes to say that even a blind pig, finds an acorn now and then, and my. did I find an acorn.
I had hoped to go fishing as I had been busy with classes in wire wrapping and lapidary and just plain busy. Now Jed Clampett is purported to have said that, "A man who is too busy to go fishing is too busy", and I was actually feeling bad so when Renita and I finished our Walmart run I drove out to Goose Island State Park to meet George and Dave who had earlier invited me with them.
I decided to walk out and see how they were doing and I saw George set the hook and then Dave followed, a double! I helped George net his keeper sheepshead and watched him put it on the stringer as Dave hoisted his fish over the railing. The fishing pier was lined with fisherman and everyone was catching trout and sheepshead and black drum!
Hurrying back to the truck I put on my waders and grabbed a pole with a 16th ounce jig. I decided to wade out to the first cut where the water was draining out into Aransas Bay. I didn't want to fight the crowd of fishernan on the pier and figured that the fish would also be stacked in the deep waters channel north of the pier. I figured wrong as I waded out to it and slowly worked my way casting and casting and not a single hit.
Returning to the pier I decided to wade under it and fish downstream from all the others. I didn't want to bother them and I hoped that I would find the fish were all along the deep channel that flowed from the pier.
A flounder scooted out in the shallows as I waded from the oyster bar, and I made my first cast. It stopped with a telltale tick and I set the hook and caught a nice keeper trout,(in Texas they have to be fifteen inches). Another cast and this time the trout was huge. I fought it for a while before the jig popped out and it swam away, Upset at myself for not bringing a landing net I cast again and another fish inhaled my jig.
It was a good as it gets as I caught fish after fish and all but two were keepers. The pier fisherman were also catching fish but they were sharing their spot while I was all by myself. I wish I could have sold waders as I am sure it would have been a great day, but I was too busy catching fish! Clear skies.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wire Wrapping Class in Rockport

See the deal was that if Renita took the lapidary class with me then I would take the wire wrapping class, and it seemed to be pretty fair deal to me, but as the class drew nearer I started to quaver a bit. It didn't help when another resident of our rv park told Renita that the first class would be on making earrings. Good grief, what have I gotten into?
So before we entered the building,I told Renita that if I said that I was going fishing with George tomorrow, it would mean that I was going to fake a headache and leave. Prepared with an out we entered, found the class room, and got comfortable.
Our instructor, Mary Beth Orrision, came in, sat down and introduced herself to us. She then cut a piece of wire and told us to get close and watch how she made the head ring.
Three hours later we both felt almost overwhelmed with all the information she had taught us. We had learned how to make an ear wire, hammer a paddle, give the bends strength, or temper , and form coils, spirals, loops, and headrings. It was really amazing how she showed us to turn a simple piece of wire into so many things.
A former student of hers stopped by and showed us her wire wrappings, using beach glass, and I could see that we could do the exact same technique with our lapidary specimens. It was obvious that we had taken the right class and that Mary Beth was a really good teacher!
The instructor had made us feel welcome and guided us as we made mistakes. Her patience, gentile demeaner and expertise made it a fun session. I felt chagrined as I remembered my trepidations about making earrings and the wire wrapping class. We both agreed that the class had been excellent and that we were looking forward to the next session. Clear skies.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Lobstick Pair, Riding the Skimmer 2010

The male crane stretched his neck and seemed to pose for us. We were only about fifty yards away and the pair were totally unconcerned but the two whoopers were the most photographed whooping cranes and were quite used to the adoration. Together they had reared sixteen chicks and two sets of twins. The last time we had seen them, also on the skimmer tour, they had a pair of twins but this year they had failed to raise a chick.
We had bought tickets for the birding trip on the Skimmer and again it exceeded our expectations. Jenny had expressed concern about the forty five dollar price, but I assured her that it was actually worth it,(and it was). The boat was quite full and we were layered in all the cold weather clothes we owned as the day promised to be clear and cold.
We stayed inside but still had to brave the cold air streaming threw the open door. A couple of fellow birders were so excited they stayed out front on the bow deck and I shivered as I watched them. We passed the Blackjack Peninsula, and I pointed out to Jenny how far we had canoed. It was good to see the view from the water again and I felt that I was getting an understanding of the bays.
Our first stop was at the area that had been constructed for additional habitat and we saw the usual, a reddish egret, a black bellied plover, and of course the ever present blue heron.
We could see a pair of whoopers in the distance but after teasing us for a while the tour guide said that there were two cranes up close and he sped the boat up the intercoastal. I am sure he knew all along that the Lobstick pair would be in their territory and of course they were, but they were so close!
We watched them for a while and there was another pair in the distance. The boat captain pointed out some roseattes and a little blue heron. Some mottled ducks fed busily and a couple of snowy egrets stood and watched it all.
Heading further up the intercoastal we stopped and watched a family group feed, also unconcerned with the boats passing by. Again another pair was in the distance and we had now seen eleven whoopers in all! What a day.
The return trip was through another channel, the old intercoastal, and we saw an osprey and a really huge group of blue herons. It had been another great day birding and we were glad we had Jenny along with us. No new birds, but more like old friends, who were also wintering along the Texas coastal bend. Clear skies.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Making Mud by Grinding Rocks: Our First Lapidary Class

I was working on the older diamond grinder and Renita was making her own cabochon on a new Genie work station. We had first sawed a slab of our rocks and then scribed it with an aluminum scibe, to mark the outer limit of the pattern.
From there we had gone to the trim saw and cut off the edges and using the edge of the diamond blade we were able to work the rock closer and closer to the oval shape.
All total I had been working the same piece for about one and a half hours when the first fracture appeared. I continued to grind away hoping to remove the imperfection when the cabochon broke into two equal pieces. Jerrold, our instructor and the Gem Society's shop foreman, walked over and said, "Happens sometimes with turitella", and so I started over on a new piece.
It was really ok as I had gotten to turn some rock into powder, which mixed with the cutting water formed a nice mud! It was about what I expected on the first night and that's fine as I had learned so much already.
Renita mean while was patiently grinding her cabochon nearer and nearer into shape and I remembered what Jerrold had said, "The man often finishes first but the women usually makes a nicer cab". I didn't doubt it at all and really expected his prediction.
The new piece worked a lot faster then the old and after two and a half hours in class we both were finished with the coarse grinding and secondary sanding. Jerrold told us that we could store the future cabs in the shop and said that eventually we could make a cab in twenty minutes. Hmmmmm.
We both agreed that it had been a lot of fun and we both look forward to next weeks class. Oh, and if my cabochon self destruct again, that's ok. I will just use a different rock,(and it was a nice colored mud)! Clear skies.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Another Day at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, 2010

Renita of course, spotted the gator. It was about six feet long and sunning itself on the bank,(In my defense I was scanning the trail for western diamondbacks). She pointed it out to us and I could see the nervousness in Jennys eyes. It was still wet from crawling out of the water onto shore and seemed to be sleeping......I pointed out an alligator trail that intersected the path we were walking, the Heron Flats trail, and Jenny's nervousness seemed to increase.
We had driven to the Aransas National Wildlife to spend the sunny afternoon hiking and birding. The wind was dying and the temperature was in the fifties so it was a pleasant day to hike the trail. During the drive we spotted a white tailed hawk, several crested cara caras and the ever present vultures.
Arriving at the park we checked in and while Jenny and Renita checked out the displays I read the latest bird list. There wasn't anything unusual but there had been whooping cranes spotted at the tower, so that was good.
Our first stop was Heron Flats overlook and the Heron Flats trail head and we were rewarded with views of feral pigs and white ibis. Several little blue herons flew and landed and a white egret fished in a nearby pond.
We hoped that the gators would be sunning themselves so Jenny could see one and, as the opening paragraph says, we were rewarded with a nice size one right away. The next two pond each held a progressively larger gaters and an eight footer watched us, but he(she), was too comfy in the warm sun to make any moves. You could see its large teeth, without the binoculars, and I was reminded of the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
We hiked the trail and saw snow geese resting on a point of land that stuck out into a backwater. An armadillo ate bugs and was totally unconcerned with our presence as we tiptoed by. We were so close we could see scar marks from where something had tried to have an armadillo sandwich.
Reaching the truck we drove to the Tower and luckily found a parking spot as the refuge was really busy with holiday birders. Climbing the tower we spotted a crane on land. It was so far away that it was really only a small dot but at least it was a crane. A mans loud booming voice came from below the tree tops and he and his wife soon joined us.
He asked if we had seen any cranes and then almost yelled at Renita to tell him how to see the one we had spotted. A totally obnoxious jerk he soon started to yell at me for directions and I took pity on him and told him where to look. He didn't thank me but instead started to yell at everyone that climbed up the tower, telling them the location of the bird and describing his ideas as to the life history of all whoopers.
Luckily he finally left and we spotted two whoopers that were wading nearby. They were feeding on snails and crabs and were the closest we have been to them while viewing from the tower. Now, Jenny could say she had seen the whoopers, besides hearing them at Big Tree.
We were chased by mosquitoes at the wooden birding trail. The sun had warmed things quite a bit and the wind had died down. Returning to the truck we took the eleven mile loop but the sun was setting and we didn't spot any wildlife.
Several deer were feeding by the park headquarters and Jenny commented on their small size. I reminded her of the relationship between temperatures and mammal sizes but I didn't need to as she is a Brackin and knows everything,(she had remembered it from her ecology class in high school).
It had been an easy day for the start of the new year. Whoopers, gators, and best of all a day spent birding with our daughter. On the way home she talked about her bird list and we could see that another new birder had been hooked. Clear skies.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Padre Island National Seashore 2010, Sanddollars

Before I even got the first pole out Jenny came back and showed us her shells. She said that besides the handful of sand dollars, she had also seen several living ones! It didn't take Renita long before she joined her and I could see that it was going to be a good day for shelling.
The rain had finally ended and the weather forecaster promised us a nice day in the upper 60's, so we packed a lunch and headed for the beach at Padre Island National Seashore. It was a nice drive and we even had to swerve to avoid some turtles enjoying the sun warmed asphalt road.
Arriving at the park headquarters the ranger told s that the beach driving was good as the recent rains had firmed the sand and she was right as it was the best beach driving day we have ever had! It was even easy getting onto the beach which is usually the difficult part.
We drove along the waters edge and passed a lot of people, in other words about one car every 1/2 mile. After about 7 miles we stopped in an abandoned stretch of beach and set up for the day.
I put out two poles, one with cut mullet and the other with shrimp, but the fish weren't cooperating, only the sea grass. Both lines quickly loaded up with grass and I soon came to the realization that fishing was futile. Time to go shelling.
Now Renita and Jenny had both returned with handfuls of sand dollars. It was amazing as we had never seen so many! I stowed my fishing gear and started walking down the beach hoping to find at least one.
They were everywhere! It didn't take long before I had both hands full and I had only picked up perfect ones. Live ones were also numerous but we left those to their own fate as we had so many.
Driving to another spot I cast out my poles and again no fish. Maybe the red tide had wiped them all out or who knows, maybe they just weren't biting. I wasn't bothered by the grass and the surf had laid down so I was able to cast out and hold my lines in the second and third cuts.
Again the sand dollars were everywhere and it must have been natures way of helping us to forget all the rain and cold weather we had had since Jenny's arrival. We ended up with over 100 sand dollars between us. Now to figure out how to make stuff out of them. Clear skies.