Friday, January 23, 2009

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

My girlfriend gave me a super baitcast reel – winner of last years Bass Master Classic – and St Croix rod for Christmas/Birthday. I now have it already with 150 yards of Spiderwire and 3/8oz jig. The Virginia Wildlife calendar says fishing today is excellent, my barometer, Anglers Edge, shows 8 out 10 fish probability. She is in Miami for the winter. I am living on a lake -- with 2 inches of ice. I feel like a puppy being trained to balance a kibble on his nose without eating it. A brand new rod and reel and no water. Damn.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Boys Toys – III (Reprise)

Pocket Pen Rod & Reel

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

It was on sale at CVS for a mere $10 – half the price of the previous one. It looked heftier, had replaced the baitcast reel with a larger spincast one. Out of the box, I had trouble testing/setting the drag and then things went downhill.

I tried a socket wrench to separate the drag wheel from the handle when it fell apart in my hands. Weeks of on-again/off-again trying to fix it, I finally managed to get it together and took it on a trip to Florida. The stupid thing can’t cast. Yes, at least the spool works, but getting the line to hit the water was near impossible. Even tried just a drop line from a pier. The one improvement is the gear ratio must have been turned up a notch, as I could reel it in with no problem – just couldn’t cast the damn thing.

At least it didn’t break like the last one – yet. It’s a $10 mantlepiece conversation starter at best.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Technology Rules!

Fishbites – Yum!

Anyone who has shopped to improve the tackle knows that disappointment follows 75% of the time. I have been frustrated in this column in finding an item I can recommend.

Until now (finally!) Deep among the dense forest of golf courses of Hilton Head, there are a couple of places to fish, namely the Atlantic Ocean and Calibogue Sound. Having packed a saltwater kit, complete with a fistful of artificial bait, I was hopeful of catching something new.

Of course most fishing outfits give you live, frozen, or cut bait, and in HH, the preferred bait was shrimp. (Well we are in Forrest Gump territory …)

After months of sitting in the fridge, I now had green squid strips, red bloodworm spaghetti strips, large pizza-cut slices of white crab and smaller bits of white clam – all somehow held together on plastic netting. Think of candle dipping, until the mesh is covered numerous times with delightful smelly. Luckily, it is smell-free to homo piscatoris, but not to fish, when it is wet, and dissolving in salt water.

If I had not been so discouraged with the party boat, I might not have felt so inspired. I rigged a drop-shot 3/0 circle hook with strips of squid, since the boat was pushing squid and shrimp and both seemed to be pulling their share equally fairly. I wish I had bought the plastic shrimp and have no idea why I didn’t, but the squid did fine, outfishing the pros’ bait, two-to-one.

I therefore stuck with squid strips the rest of the week, catching fish every time. I have tried Yum with one success and Berkley’s Gulp with no success (and, hey, they are only usable once!)– all smellies, but this was the first time an artificial caught fish high-tide or low-tide , 72° - 83°(!) ocean temperature.

If you are out on saltwater or even surf casting, I would say try this stuff. (You will need scissors to cut the mesh off the hook when it has all dissolved, so bring your best Swiss Army knife.)

FishBites logo - FAQs

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ice ... Fishing

Today I felt that a walk around my lake without a fishing rod would be a waste of good calories. I had just bought a pair of baby Gitzits and already lost one on the fly rod. How could I forget that 1/32 oz was too heavy for a short roll cast? So I took along a small spinning rod, which seemed to work -- except for the ice. I had checked the weather -- 40 degrees -- but there was ice on all 25 acres. I have more fishable surface area in my bathtub.

So I cast into the wee pockets I found, catching on sticks, leaves, and green algae. It is freezing and slimy, sticky algae was on my Gitzit. Apparently it was cold enough to freeze the wee tail off it, making it look like a glob of glue with a half-straightened hook in it.

It was a long, dull walk, until I decided on fishing, ice or not. The Gidzit made a chirping sound as it hit the ice, so I knew something must hear it. For all those summer evenings of being teased by big bass, I found my revenge: slow rolling my lure along the ice, out of reach, but not out of sight. Fast enough that it wouldn't stick, but slow enough that a bass could easily have chomped on it.

How could being so evil feel so good? I am sure Mother Nature has chalked one up on the dark side of the board and will claim atonement this spring ...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Boys Toys - III

Pocket Pen Rod & Reel

I will start by saying the rod is broken. It snapped halfway along the rod. No idea how. That may be the good news, because it means more stuff I can throw out and simplify my tackle box.

For all the traveling I do, I thought this might be neat – or at least cute. After putting some braid on, I tried casting with it. Nothing happened. So it turns out one has to hand pull it out – just like a drop line, but not as convenient. Perhaps at a small “tourist” pier, with 6’ to the water.

But then looking at the reel and trying to reel line in, you can feel right away you will get carpal tunnel syndrome for the tiny amount of leverage you have on the reel. It is smaller than a spool of thread, maybe the diameter of a dime. This is way beyond ultra-lite.

So in the spirit of Mythbusters, I have to say this is a WoM – waste of money. It might have worked if they had chosen fibreglas and a spin reel, but this is really a toy.

For travel, the best I have found is a Rhino 4-piece rod that packs down to 22” and expands to 6 feet. I have an old $10 Shimano spin reel I use; so the whole thing cost me $5 more than this toy.

N.B. – I have looked on the web for the same Rhino rod I have and have NOT found it; instead there is a baitcast rod with a trigger grip. I bought mine last year at Dick’s Sporting Goods, but have not seen them since.

Probably a distant second would be the Pocket Fisherman, with which I was able to cast, but unfortunately, was unable to change the line without it no longer working ... actually, just could not get it back to together.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


There you are in Wal-Mart and you remember you promised to take your 10-year old nephew fishing. What do you do? Whom do you call? The 30 Second Fisherman, of course! Not only is the website available on your iPhone, but many of the original episodes are on YouTube as well!

Need to know what rods to buy? Go straight to Combos (You only have five minutes to shop, right?). No $20-30 combos appealing? Get a Shakespeare Ugly Stick or Berkley Lightning rod, 6 ½ feet, $25; then a Shimano reel with Quick Fire II plainly visible! Black = $10, Silver = $30


30lb braid. (Spiderwire; Stealth if you can find it)


2/0 Extra Wide Gap (EWG), - Gamakatsu

3/0 circle - Gamakatsu

snelled #6. - Eagle Claw


1 package (brass or black; no way to know which are the right ones …)


Forget them


maybe; both cigar and ball are tricky to put/keep on line.


Anything Zoom; in black, red shad, chartreuse, white

Wow, that’s EVERYTHING in less than 30 seconds! (Oops, better learn to cast when you get home …and the easiest and fool-proof knot, the Palomar) Bait: take worms if you want, but chopped up cheese dogs do fine; use on snelled #6 hooks.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Not an Advertorial – I

I had hoped that this would be a rave on one of the unsung parts of fishing – the line. I was ready to say all kinds of good things about Spiderwire Stealth, the braid with the Teflon coating, how it can extend your cast by 10-15 feet.

Unfortunately, it has a severe problem, both with baitcast and spinning reels; it pinches on itself, to the extent that your great cast ends at your feet because of the line becoming wrapped on itself. Here I had been recommending, not only braid, but Stealth braid, and if it had been light enough, show you a photo of the worst birds nest I have ever had on a baitcast reel. Like Alexander, the only solution after 20-30 minutes of picking, was to cut the Gordian knot. Of, course, the one time I did not have a knife.

When it works, it is a beauty. I feel so confident with it, I will cast well past sundown, knowing it will go just as far as I want it to, with no trees to stop it. But like the little girl with the curl, when it locks, it is horrid.

So while it can work brilliantly on a bait cast, I balk at recommending it on anything other than spinning, if only because the damage is so much less. A line has to be in the water to call it fishing, not on the bank or in a tree while you pick and respool.

Yes, it is easy to knot (it is visible and soft), and can make some awesome casts, I won’t recommend it anymore to anyone but an experienced angler.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Boys Toys - II

Humminbird Smartcast RF-30

Any fisherman should be able to read the water, to recognize high probability fish holding areas. I am the most competent fisherman with the least talent I know. Everything I know I learned from Bill Dance and Roland Martin … TV shows. I rarely get skunked, but have no explanation for why or how something worked; I will never be a Kevin Van Dam, with his freight car of spinnerbaits and knowing everyone of them and which to use. But sometimes in bank fishing, I would like a bit more of an edge; I would like a fish finder.

And that has been the problem: a fish finder for people who do not spend time in boats. Now Humminbird has tackled the issue with a crankbait-sized, shock-green, submarine-shaped, sonar device that attaches to a swivel snap at the end of the line – just like a lure -- and a wrist watch receiver, with a one-inch LCD screen. Another irresistible idea for the Y-chromosome-challenged. Having received a bit of a windfall, I felt I could spring for the internet purchase at $50.

After a few false starts (returned twice for malfunctioning, a brand new but dead battery), I have been amused at the results. At first, I found it showed a number of false positives, fish where there were no fish. I know because I cast to the spot each time and didn’t catch any …

The transmitter cleverly includes another hole at the bottom to which one can attach a drop line, effectively letting the device act as a bobber as well.

Now, mid-May, it is spawn season, and blue gills and bass are very hard to entice to come out and play, but crappie and sunfish are available, as are the smaller (9-11”) bass. I let the little device that had been beeping non-stop over blue gill beds with nary a bite, just sit in one place, while I continued to fan cast with my fly rod. When the watch beeped and showed one fish – not the usual 3-5, I figured it was either a bass or a turtle – which the finder seems to confuse with fish. So I picked up the spinning rod and cast over the top of the bobber and sure enough, a 12” bass hit. I started to warm to the little device.

Two days later, I added a hook to the bobber end. I needed proof that what it was telling my watch was actually underneath it. The first day was a disaster, using a multi-hook leader that seemed to catch on everything except fish. The next day I added a gold Trout Magnet mealworm with just a nibble of Fishbites bloodworm surrogate. Now the curious thing was that fish would take the bait, but not show up as existing on the little screen. If the device showed one fish, I would guess it was either a turtle or bass, and pick up my baitcast rod; if a bunch of small fish, or the watch beeped incessantly, I would pick up the fly rod. Once it actually worked: I caught a small sunfish on the fly rod after the bobber indicated life below. The rest of the time, I caught all the other (half-dozen) large sunfish on the fish finder. A perverse turn on technology: yes, it was in fact, finding fish, but was telling me about it, by sinking below the surface – not beeping on the watch.

Will I continue to use it? Yes, after spawn, I will try it in all the usual places. The one drawback is that it requires a minimum of two feet to operate, and most of my bass, sunfish, and blue gills are in eighteen inches of water no more than eight feet from the bank, and I can see that far with my B.A.S.S. Polarized X-ray vision sunglasses. Stay tuned for another month …

Best little $50 bobber I ever bought!

It has been 2-3 days now that I have been using the Smartcast primarily as a bobber. I can’t say why it has been so successful – perhaps the sonar sounds like bait or the signal is affected by the curvature and magnetic field of the earth … I have now been catching more fish (ok, sunfish) with it than all my other rods combined (I travel with at least three).

July 23, 2007

Oh, no, not again …

Seems the sonar is on the fritz again. Sent it back and seemingly came back in worse shape than I sent it. Fourth time lucky? So far it seems to be working …

The spring was the most awesome bass fishing I have ever had, but then after almost two months of travel, absolutely nothing. Was doing better on the fly rod (ok, 6-8” bass). Talking it up with other fishermen, there does seem to be some drop offs, which I cannot see from the bank, but should be able to find with the bobber; so I began using it strictly as a depth finder. I hope it is right, because I see a steep decline, but no drop off, no thermocline, to speak of.

So I have gone back to fishing the banks, all of which are less than two feet deep. The returns to Humminbird have been annoying, but they have come back in a timely fashion, so I have to say the service is ok. For now, with the water levels so low, will put it aside and wait for September …

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Lie of Fly

Fly fishing conjures up visions of retirement, sunset, big sky, mountains. It is worth $1000 a day. A custom-made bamboo rod and reel can set one back more than a bass boat. Match the hatch; tie on a fly no bigger than a nose hair. Well, it turns out that fly fishing just isn’t so different after all.

First, most “flies” are not the dry fly, floating pieces of lint you think. Much of a tackle vest contains wet flies (flies with a copper bead on the head, to make them sink), nymphs, and streamers – all of which appeal to bottom-feeding. If they want that dry fly wet, they are not above biting on a split-shot or two. That matchthehatch stuff? Over half of fish caught hit “terrestrials” – ants, bees, wasps, crickets, and similar non-aquatic creatures, including the fiercesome Wooly Bugger.

Next, there is a Play-Doh-like item called an “indicator”, but which normal folk would call a fluorescent bobber, to indicate a strike. What other fishermen might call cheating – or even illegal – is a step beyond the classic trailer hook; a fly fisherman might actually link a sinking lure beyond a floating lure – like a trot line.

Fly fishermen don’t just have line. They have backing, line, leader, and tippet. Tippet is like leader except it is really, really thin and impossible to see to thread through a #22 hook. (You could probably thread the whole fly through the eye of a 3/0 hook). Backing is nothing more than backup line. Line and backing are much thicker, like packing string, only fluorescent orange and green. No doubt to fool the fish. The leader is usually the length of the rod or 8’ and is used to practice knot-tying. A typical fly rod might have 4-5 different knots on it, at least one of which won’t work. Tippet may be another 6’. That is approximately 15’ of nearly invisible, unmanageable line, creating what baitcast fishermen call a birds nest – or rather spider web, with you all tangled up in a cast that caught on the tree.

Since most fly rods average 8’ or so, they are not much use in brush or along a bank. Fly fishermen will then just let the tippet float out and basically pole fish, like one does at the kiddy pond at a fishing show. If there is a little more room, a fly fisherman might try a Roll Cast, which is the same as the circus lion tamer’s whip. Up and snap. Other casts are the Back Cast for “loading” the rod, a False Cast, for when your aim wasn’t good enough the first time, and then the classic Double Hauling while you’re thumbing and frailing on the Back & False Cast.

One key difference with fly fishing is that they get skunked more often than other types of fishermen or, on a good day, end up with what we might call catching bait.

Boys Toys - I

Rocket Fishing Rod

I don’t believe I have ever seen a toy that so takes advantage of the vulnerability of the Y-chromosome-challenged as the Rocket Fishing Rod, a gadget that combines a fishing rod with a shotgun. Blast and cast. As the saying goes, more stuff in tackle shops is designed to catch fishermen, not fish, and the idea behind this item is irresistible. Unfortunately, I have to say, take a deep breath, avert your eyes and pass along. This is one toy not worth the $30 – the price of a pretty good combo.

The idea is to hide a lure in a cigar sized tube, insert it down the barrel, pull back on a pump action, press the top and the safety simultaneously, and off it shoots 30 feet in the air, plopping the cartridge/bobber and dropping its cargo. It is possible it might actually do just that, but don’t count on it. First, the cartridge is supposed to hold a hook or lure, a weight, and probably 12-18” of leader, which has to be rolled up and stuffed inside. Problem #1 is don’t count on being able to cram all that into the cartridge; problem #2 is that the cartridge is supposed to open and is pretty useless if it doesn’t. In trying to figure out how to fix problem #2, you discover problem #3, that the line doesn’t reel in unless you hold the line taut at the front, while resting the rod on your gut and reeling. Strikes me as a pretty awkward way to fish. The line is spooled on a spincast-like reel with a small nipple on the side that supposedly turns to reel the line back in. With good old monofilament, coming off like a slinky, the line slips off the nipple. With all that slack line, while I am trying to get the line to catch on the reel, I could never have brought a fish in – even if the cartridge had opened and actually dropped its payload.

I really tried two days to get this item to work, due to the other Y-chromosome problem of not wanting to take anything back. When the pump action refused to lock, I just had to bite my lip and say enough, back to the store.

I still miss the idea behind the rod. Maybe if the cartridge were bigger, like a grapefruit, and didn’t need to be pushed down a barrel. Maybe it could be adapted to launching carp bait. As it is, this could be the most frustrating and disappointing birthday present one could give a fisherman.

(Other names are: Fogo Rocket Rod Jet Cast Safe Fishing System, Spin Master Toys Rocket Fishing Rod – all As Seen on TV!)

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Passion? Or Compulsion, Obsession, Addiction?

With the recent episode of buck fever in Texas on a dove farm, one may wonder if there is anything comparable in fishing? (In general … we know there is something akin in deep-sea bill fishing …)

The lake is frozen, but I am there with a 5oz sinker, casting and watching the weight skitter across the ice. I carry a thirty pound backpack in the vain hope that maybe I will end up using one lure in my box of spinner baits. I carry 25 different types of plastics, even though I know the only one virtually “guaranteed” to work.

What is it, that I go fish, knowing, knowing I could not possibly catch a fish with water just coming off thaw? Is this a passion, an uncontrollable force that drives me to the edge of the water?

When pressed, however, I cannot dissect what I actually like about fishing. I appreciate a really good cast, with the right lure, and perfect presentation as an act of competence. I know If no fish bites then there are no fish there. When I catch a bass, I go into reel madness, trying to make sure I do not lose the fish; I am dragging the fish out of its element, at most, 10 seconds from surface to shore. Maybe measure and weigh it, take a picture, but then back it goes, and the whole thing begins all over again, at the next point. This is not like painting, or racing, or cooking or even international arbitrage in fixed-income securities (well, maybe more like that …) I, however, do not feel the habit unwanted or unpleasant and a doctor would be hard-pressed to recommend I undertake therapy in any sense – at least none of the five I have had.

Maybe it has nothing to do with fishing, but just being outdoors, preferably in the sun, noticing the clouds, the smell in the air … I have been known to cast into the sunset over a glass-like lake, with no possibility of catching anything, just to look at the scene. As I hold the fish, my first words are “thank you” to no one in particular.

Is it just instinct at play? Acquiring a competence in a life-supporting skill? One could actually support oneself? Like hunting, trapping, plasma TVs, is it just hard-wired into the Y-chromosome? On the other hand, writing, painting, composing are agonizing, and terribly easy to postpone.

Is it the concentration, the possibility of meditation, of peace and quiet? I still have no idea.

Perhaps it is like Browning’s My Last Duchess: the word chosen says more about the utterer than the fisherman.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Why Fish?

One of the more anomalous characteristics of the sport is that you are transfixed to a spot, for at least the time it takes to cast and retrieve. During that time, your eyes are taking in the line as it cuts through the water, the tree limbs and rocks it has to navigate, the sunlight causing you to squint, the grass and trees around you, the breeze above. It is a meditative experience. You cannot be more with nature – until you catch that fish. Then you are face to face with the primordial need for food and the silent capture of another creature, so very foreign to yourself. Yes, throw it back, free it. That rush of achievement has been bred into us through the millennia.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


There are times in fishing where one does things that make no sense. Like casting into still waters, with the reflection of fall leaves, just to see your line slowly cut the surface. You know there are no fish to be found there. You are doing it just to be transfixed to the beauty of it, your eyes and thoughts only on what is before you.

At this time of year, I usually fish just before sunset for an hour or so. I now have a set routine for where to cast, based on fish I have caught before. Always the same lure, just different color.

Tonight the water was still, with a mix of clouds and light. I was delighted to find the end of my crescent had a 12” bass; I could retire for the night with a feeling of accomplishment. I had the lure, I had the location, I had the cast. I still had it all. My Halloween treat.

On the way back, the sun had set, but the reflections were still there. For no other reason than it was a beautiful sight, I cast. I knew there would be no fish where I was casting, but it was such an inspiring sight to see the water flat, with my line just barely cutting through it like a wire through cheese.

Something meditative about flat water, with the fall leaves mirrored. Just for the sheer joy of it, I made a half-dozen casts, just to make me stand and watch and absorb the beauty.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Big Fish

October 14, 2006

It’s not that I am bored with my lake after five years, but after catching four fish one evening, I needed some humility, and possibly, something different was in order. Maybe even different species. Someone had mentioned a pond not far from my lake as a place for kids to fish sunfish and even catfish, maybe HUGE catfish. I decided it was time to find it and fish it.

Pond it was, like the duck ponds that estates usually have. It was a toy lake; so while I was trolling for catfish from a pocketful of cheese, I decided to run a bass lab, throwing booyahs, crankbaits, poppers, and of course, my go-to lizard.

About one-third was inaccessible to bank fishing. I had low expectations for bass, much higher for catfish.

Then it happened. I felt my lure snag, the feeling of catching a wet sock. The slight wobble in my rod said fish. I was barely able to land it, the rod bent completely in half. A 20”, 5 ½ pound bass. I know because I had been to Wal-mart that afternoon and decided on getting (another?) scale and tape measure combined. I am so happy I did. I am sure the pictures will not do it justice, but the light was good, so the website might suffer with this monster.

There are revelations in fishing. Such an extraordinary fish. I let a week go by, just letting that vision simmer in my mind. Almost called an end to my fishing for the season. There are times when fishing seems a religious experience.