Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In Search Of "The Big Ugly"


I was an impressionable kid. Jaromir Jagr became my life-long, favorite hockey player after I read an article titled "The Kid From Kladno" in Sports Illustrated. I was probably no more than 11 or 12 years old. Around the same time, I read an article in the In-Fisherman magazine titled "The Big Ugly." There was a page-sized picture of a monster catfish, a flathead catfish. I don't remember anything else about that article except for that picture, but it didn't matter, I was hooked.

Flathead catfish, also known as flatties, shovelhead or mud cats are neither the smallest nor the largest species of catfish that swim in American waters, but I think they're the coolest. They are not native to New Jersey, and if you set aside recent "invasive species" warnings by the New Jersey Department of Fish, Game and Wildlife, they are not found in New Jersey at all. One must travel at least a few hours west or south to find any water that would give them a shot at catching one of these brutes.

I have only caught 3 flathead catfish in my life, but have spent more than a few hours fishing for them. All three fish came in the span of a few hours, after nightfall on the James River in Virginia. The largest was no more than 5 or 6 pounds, a far cry from the 120+ pound world record. I lost what was probably a 20 pound flathead that same night, and have been heartbroken ever since.

Although I have not caught many of these fish, I have learned a thing or two about them by reading about them, fishing for them and catching some of their smaller relatives, the channel catfish, here in New Jersey. The most important thing that I have learned, is that first and foremost, these catfish are nocturnal predators. That means, leave the chicken livers and the stink-baits at home. Although channel catfish and the big blue cats will readily take stink baits, cut baits and liver, flatheads prefer to hunt. Live fish such as gizzard shad, goldfish (yes, goldfish), chubs, bluegill and other sunfish have a better shot at hooking a flathead. The night that I caught a few of them, I had a dozen bites on the nightcrawlers that I was using, and nothing touched the dead, stinky stuff. Also, waiting until after nightfall is almost a must. I have caught channel cats during the day, and have seen shows where blues are taken during the day, but to up your chances of catching a flathead, you'd better wait 'til the sun goes down.

So, why am I telling you this? I have not been within 50 miles of flathead territory in over 3 years. In 3 days, I am leaving for West Virginia and will wet a few lines in primo waters such as the West Fork River and the Kanawha and Little Kanawha Rivers. Lindsay and I have some pretty cool stuff planned, hiking, camping, biking, visiting relatives, Mountaineer football and minor league baseball. There is a lot that I am looking forward to, but undoubtedly, when I think of my 10 day vacation, the first thing that comes to mind is fishing for flathead catfish.

I hope that everyone has a happy and safe Labor Day weekend.

I'll let y'all know how I did when I get back.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Testing, Part Two

When: Sunday, August 23rd, from 6am to 9am and 11am to 12pm
Where: Kay Pond near Chester, Burnham Park Pond in Morristown, Morris County
What: Bass fishing with soft-plastics and top waters.
Weather: Hot and sticky, like a wet sponge.

Note: I titled this entry "Testing" for two reasons, the first being that I was trying out some new lures. The second reason is that it was the title of the first entry of this blog, way back in January. The one or two people who have actually read back that far may see the relevance here. I started this blog to have some fun, to post some pictures and to practice my writing. I also started it because someone who knows more than me about finding jobs told me to, and thought that it was a good place to start as far as doing something that I am passionate about. Well, as it turns out, this here blog seems to have played a role in an opportunity that I have to do some writing for The New Jersey Angler Magazine. Since part of the reason that I started this was so that maybe someone would see it and ask me to do some writing for them, and that seems to have happened, I figured that I'd put a little bookmark in my entries, and call this "part two".

We headed out to Lindsay's Mom's for the night, and stopped at Burnham Park Pond in Morristown along the way. I had never fished there before and immediately realized that the shallow water and thick weeds were going to prevent me from trying out some of my new toys. Oh well!! Luck had it that I brought plenty of other ones.

We persisted for a couple hours despite the clouds threatening imminent doom, and although our efforts were fruitless, we would live to fish another day, which would be the next day, Sunday.

This time, we were headed out to Kay Pond, in Black River State Park.

Robert, aka "The Rocket," woke up with us at 5:30am to get an hour of fishing in before his sprint through the Water Gap. A quick tutorial didn't assist him in catching any fish, but did set the stage for a 15 minute tussle with a snapping turtle with a shell the size of a garbage can lid. Apparently, Yum worms are just as effective for reptiles.

Kay Pond also proved to be a bit shallow, but I managed to land 4 cookie-cutter largemouth bass on plastic worms.

After a nice breakfast, we were headed home, and made one last stop at Burnham Park Pond.

By this time the sun was well up, it was once again steamy, and the only signs of life were some carp making large swirls. I put in almost another hour, and actually managed to do something that isn't often done. I caught a fish on "the last cast."

So, the tally was 5 bass in just under 4 hours of fishing, not great by any standards, but still not a bad day.

I also had the opportunity to fish in two places that I have never wet a line in before, which is pretty cool in itself. We had great weather (for fishing), I had great company and most importantly, got to enjoy some of that sacred time where the only thing that I had to worry about was what was going on at the end of my line.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Third Time's A Charm

When: Sunday, August 16th, from 7am to 1pm
Where: Worthington State Forest, near the Delaware Water Gap, Warren County
What: Hiking to Mount Tammy and Sunfish Pond with my sister.
Weather: It got hot, but we started early.

Finally!!!!!!

This was the third time that Janel planned to hike Mount Tammany with me. It was the first time that we set foot on the trail together. It would be the third time that I finished the hike.

It was a great day.

We knew that it was going to get hot, so we set out early and it paid off. We did the now ritual Red Blaze-Blue Blaze-Green Blaze-White Blaze, but this time, did it at a record pace. My sister and I finished the 13ish mile hike in just shy of 6 hours.

Yeah, we rock.

This time, for unknown reasons, the first mile and a half up to Mount Tammany nearly killed me. The short stretch of trail climbs 1,250 feet in its short existence, and is a well known ass-kicker amongst hikers in New Jersey. For some reason, it took me awhile to get started today, and seeing as that part of the hike is the first part of the hike, it gave me some trouble.

It all worked out though, and after 45 minutes, I had made it up to Mount Tammany, hydrated, ate some trail mix and was in great shape for the more casual stroll up to Sunfish Pond.

It was a great day. The only minor disappointment was that my photograph of the Northern Copperhead continued to elude me. I'm saving a space for it, right next the Timber Rattlesnake picture that I scored just over a year ago.

It's "allgood" though. Pretty soon I'll have 10 straight days in West Virginia to make sure that I don't go another summer without it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Divine Intervention

When: Sunday, August 9th, from 5am to 7am
Where: Jersey City to the Water Gap.......and right back
What: Second failed attempt at getting my sister to climb Mount Tammany
Weather: Wet

Bad weather is inevitable, and sometimes maybe even appropriate.

My sister has been looking forward to taking a 12+ mile hike through Worthington State Forest for some time. This would have been the third time in just over a year that I climbed Mount Tammany and stood on the shores of Sunfish Pond. It would finally be my sister's first.

That endeavor, however, would have to wait at least another 7 days.

As I was driving back from Furnace Lake in Oxford at 10pm the night before, I was undoubtedly calling my planning skills into question. I was wondering how I would manage an 8 hour hike on 5 hours of sleep. However, upon waking up just after 4am and having my first cup of coffee, my resolve was strengthened to the point to where I was looking forward to the task.

Mother Nature would have her way though.

I'm am in no way adverse to outdoor activities in the rain. However, when that activity is potentially 8 hours long and involves rock scrambling that is much easier done when the rocks aren't wet, I side with safety and comfort.

When I got home, I realized that there were things that I really needed to take care of. The fact that we got rained-out was definitely a blessing in disguise.

It is my firm belief that with every missed opportunity, another one presents itself.........and, that things do indeed happen for a reason.

Not So "Magic Hours"

When: Saturday, August 8th, from 6pm to 9pm
Where: Oxford's Furnace Lake, Warren County
What: Live Herring and Hefty Lures
Weather: Nice. Mid to Low 70's, 5mph wind from the East(ish)

Nowhere is the phrase "you can't win 'em all" more applicable than it is to fishing. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how aligned the stars appear to be at times, the fish don't bite.

Chris and I loaded up his canoe with, among other things, 3 dozen Herring, in the hopes of enticing one of the lunker Largemouth or elusive Muskellunge that swim in the depths of Oxford's Furnace lake.

We never got the skunk off.

We got a late start, but after visiting Highway Sports on Rte. 31, we were set-up and on the water by 6pm, hoping to find the fish actively feeding during the "magic hours" as the sun slipped out of sight.

After having some luck Ice Fishing on Furnace Lake, we both had our hopes up that we were going to catch some fish, but it just didn't pan out. I was just as surprised with the number of boats that there were on the Lake as I was with the fact that nothing was taking the scores of insects off the surface. Well, the birds were, but not the fish.

It was dead and quiet, but with the absence of fish breaking the surface or taking line against my drag came the presence of tranquility and serenity.

Sometimes, the best thing that you take from a day fishing is a day fishing, and that ain't so bad.

After all, "you can't win 'em all."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Truth About Deer Ticks

I consider myself an avid outdoorsman. I practice good conservation of the wildlife and the wilderness, and feel that I take the necessary precautions to be safe in the woods and on the water.

However, when I recently found the first Deer Tick I've ever had stuck in my body, I quickly realized just how little of the truth that I knew about Deer Ticks and Lyme Disease.

I am a magnet for blood-sucking insects, and although I have had my share of the larger relatives of the Deer Tick, I've never had to pull out (or have someone else pull out) one of the one's that force you to be concerned with Lyme Disease.

After a recent camping trip to the Pine Barrens, I came home to discover a Deer Tick embedded in my skin. My lack of knowledge shined immediately. I won't share what my actions were, but I will tell you to discard any gunk that you've heard about matches, vaseline or anything else to that effect.

THE ONLY WAY TO SAFELY REMOVE A TICK IS BY PULLING IT OUT BY IT'S HEAD, as close to your skin as possible, preferably with pair of tweezers.

Another thing to note, is that a tick must be embedded in your skin for at least 12 hours to start transmitting the disease. So when "they" say to check thoroughly for ticks as soon as you come out of the woods, it's for a reason.

Also, ticks don't "fall out of trees," so extra caution should be taken around brushpiles, wood piles and when walking through tall grass. Bug spray containing DEET never hurts.

So the long and short of it is that I'm keeping my eye on a tick bite that has been slightly irritated for 2 weeks for no other reason than the fact that I did a pretty damn good job of irritating it.

It would be a great delight if someone read this and was spared from making the same mistake.


Note to the reader: Both the removal and aftermath would have been quite unbearable were it not for the steady hand and calming reassurance of Lindsay.