Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Best Laid Plans of Outdoors and Men

I got a call early this fall from my younger brother, Tex.  He was planning a trip east with a stop in my neck of the woods.  I knew he would want to do a little hunting and fishing.  Since his arrival looked like it would be timed perfectly with our coastal False Albacore blitz, and he had never caught one on a fly rod, I decided that would be the thing to do.

I spent the next couple of weeks looking at tide charts, weather patterns, moon phases and fishing reports.  Autumn weather here is often predictable with cold fronts coming through at regular intervals.  This helps you select days where the wind and temperatures will be favorable.  This coupled with favorable tides, can help point to the days that will be the best to fish.  Based on this information, I booked a couple of days with my guide buddy George.  Yep…with my vast knowledge of the great outdoors I figured I had maximized our chances of albie success.

I was wrong.

Albies 0, Specks 75

Rods Rigged, Tex Ready...bring on the fish!
George called me the day before.  NONE of the guides had seen an albie the past few days let alone catch one.  A late season tropical low pressure system that developed in the southern Atlantic was moving north and really messed things up, despite what would have been favorable conditions otherwise.  I told George that I wanted to try it anyway, as long as we had a plan B.

We met George at his boat the next morning still holding on to a glimmer of optimism.  We headed out, but the further off the beach we went, the rougher the ocean got.  What was worse…no birds, no bait, no albies.  After giving it a decent shot, we headed into the rock jetty near Cape Lookout and anchored up alongside the other fifty boats.  There I rigged up my flyrod with a sinking line, cast towards the rocks and let my Clouser minnow fly sink.  Strip, strip, strip and bam, fish on!  While not an albie it was nice to have something tugging on my fly line.  We spent the rest of the day casting toward the rocks and catching mostly speckled trout schooled up along the jetty.  We caught quite a few, including some nice keepers that we threw into the cooler. 

Our Guide Really Blows

Our guide really!
Action on the jetty slowed and so we hoisted anchor and headed to the beach along Shackleford Banks.  There George climbed his tower and we slowly motored our way back to Beaufort Inlet.  From his tower George could spot “spot tails” better known as redfish or puppy drum here in North Carolina.  They often school up this time a year right on the beaches.  No drum were spotted.  We even hit the mouth of a tidal creek on the way back in, but no fish there either.  Despite my best laid plans, Tex was still “albie-less.”  Sure we had a blast busting speck after speck and I could taste those fresh fillets hot of my charcoal grill, but as we headed back to the dock I knew our quest for albies was done (at least for this trip).  As I settled up with George we discussed fishing the next day.  We decided that a one day of specks on sinking fly lines was enough for awhile.  George finished cleaning the fish…we kept some that he could take home, including a blowfish caught off the jetty.  I knew George loved fishing but when he put his lips smack dab on the fish and blew it up like a balloon I LMAO!  Amazingly, he cut too small fillets off the fish, said they were awesome tasting.  I took his word for it as we opted to stick with the trout.

Now, Plan C

Tex and I hopped into his tricked out F250, four wheel drive, hunting and fishing machine and headed towards home.  On the way I finally found a really good use for my smart phone.  I emailed my good friend DB to inquire about moving up our quail hunting date since Tex and I had an open day now that the fish weren’t cooperating.  “Sure,” was the reply.
DB is an avid hunter and is fellow scout leader.  He is “semi-retired” and operates a controlled hunting preserve about 10 miles from my house.  It’s “controlled” because he raises quail and when you want to “hunt” them you put them out in the field.  While to some this doesn’t sound very sporting, it actually is.  DB uses English setters to flush and retrieve birds.  The birds can be unpredictable when they take flight, and you still have to be able to hit a moving target.  Sure, I would much rather hunt wild quail, but sadly, there are almost none in our area. Invasive predators like coyotes, past farming practices, and most importantly loss of habitat has essentially eliminated wild quail in any kind of huntable numbers.  At least this way, we were guaranteed to get a nice bag limit of birds.

I was wrong. 

Hot, Hot, Hot?

Typically early November here in central North Carolina brings chilly mornings and mild afternoons. Unfortunately, we were experiencing an almost “indian summer.”  It was beautiful by any other standards, but the afternoon got up into the mid 70’s.  This made it difficult for the dog to hold scent on the birds, which meant she spent a lot more time finding them, tiring herself out a lot quicker.  This cut our day of quail shooting a little short, but we did manage to bag enough birds to complement our speckled trout from the day before.  After cleaning the birds, we settled up with DB…the fee is always the same, beer.  After enjoying a cold brew, checking out DB’s gun room one more time we headed home.

A Feast the Size of Tex

Yes...those two will fit on my grill!
My younger brother is 6 feet 4 inches and about 220 pounds.  He keeps himself in great shape, but man can he eat!  Couple that with three teenage boys and I wasn’t sure if we had enough speckled trout and quail.  I fired up my charcoal grill…using lump charcoal and no lighter fluid…seasoned up the fish and birds and worked my grilling magic.  It was quite a feast and there was plenty to go around but none left over.  It was only fitting that all my hard work planning these outings would result in nourishment for my body.  And to think…had we had a stellar day fishing for albies we wouldn’t have had this feast since very few folks eat false albacore.  I tried it once…that was enough.

Wouldn't you plan to fish on a day like this?
While the best laid plans of outdoorsmen don’t always pan out…you can’t beat having something in the pan.  Thanks brother…it was a great time!

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