Homosassy Springs

Written by on July 04, 2018 No Comments

4/1/2018 Sunday, Easter Sunday and April Fool’s Day

We sleep in until 8 and finally force ourselves to go to McDonald’s where there is a new kiosk customers can use to place their orders.  There is nobody behind the counter and the only visible worker is standing next to the new kiosk.  As she takes our order and demonstrates how it works—which is not quickly, because it takes lots of clicks to order any one item, and more clicks to find another item—she comes to realize that one cannot add an Equal to a latte via the new gadget.  She completes our order at the counter, and while we wait for our order, the young lady returns to the kiosk where the man behind us says, “If you make me order there, we’re going to leave. I want to eat as fast as possible and that thing is ridiculously slow.”

I laughed out loud.

As we eat, I mention maybe doing a nature hike, and that Homossassa Springs is only a few miles away.  We find an empty parking lot there, and it’s only as we walk across the road to the entrance that it occurs to me that it’s Easter Sunday.  We’re in long-sleeve shirts, sweatshirts, lightweight pants and comfy shoes, and feeling pretty happy. After paying our $13 per person entry fee, we learn that the manatee named Rosie that we’d seen being treated in a special tank when we were last there in 1995, had lived to be 50 years old. There is a small stained glass likeness of her with “Rosie” on it near the door, with the year of her birth and passing.  It was great to know her treatment had kept her going many more years after we’d last seen her.

We spend several hours walking around, photographing birds, most of which had been wounded, but also numerous birds nesting nearby and coming and going on their own.  Amongst the wild birds, I photograph: my first gray catbird, which flits amongst the vegetation.

I meowed at this cat bird and it ignored me.

We quickly learn that being at the Park first thing in the morning has its advantages, because we soon see a caretaker feeding the deer…and the sandhill cranes.  Who knew they hung out together?

Buck and sandhill crane eating together.

The caretaker took a moment to take special care of the deer.

Head itches for the buck.

After capturing some tender moments with the deer, we see a pond with lots of pelicans, including this fella.

Male white pelican with a super sexy breeding bump (called a plate) on its bill.

In the shadows of the trees we find this brown pelican.

Brown pelican…which is more gray than brown if you ask me.

The next pelican we see is in a nesting area created just for pelicans.

Brown pelican nesting on a brown pelican nest box.

In an area separated from the pelicans are several roseate spoonbills, a species nearly wiped out in the 1860s because hunters sold their wings as fans to tourists.

A close-up, head-on shot provides a good view of its spoon-shaped bill.

Roseate spoonbill head-on.

Nearby, are areas for birds that aren’t in an enclosure, making me pause to wonder if they could fly in to say hi to a fellow bird pal and fly off again.

American white ibis.

The white ibis is near a shallow pond that holds numerous flamingoes, including this fella.

Flamingo going wherever flamingos go.

The bird below is a black-crowned night heron…which I saw during the day.  Because they usually hunt at night, Audubon said it’s hard to get an accurate count of their population.

Black-crowned night heron mesmerized by something in the water.

Nearby, was an egret.

Egret seeming to be contemplating its lot in life.

Amongst the injured and never to be released are several bald eagles, several types of owls, and wood storks.

Wood stork, standing on a piece of wood. 

As I photograph the stork above, two wild storks fly by overhead.  I wonder if the flightless bird notices.

In the same area are whooping cranes.  According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:  “The world’s whooping crane population has gradually increased from a low of 22 birds in 1941 to 503 birds in spring 2009. Always rare, the whooping crane population may never have exceeded 10,000.”

A whooping crane.

We see sandhill cranes in Michigan in the spring and fall primarily, but I never saw a crane’s hole-y beak up close.

Sandhill crane beak.

This caracara never came fully into view for me, however, focusing on its head helped me appreciate its coloration.

We also saw one of these birds, which I think is a white ibis, first summer.

 

At the tree tops are nests of wild birds.  One young bird seems to be letting the adult know it should be paying more attention to it.

Baby anhinga in a nest not happy that mom/dad is taking in the sun.

We leave the birds to seek furry creatures and find an otter playing…or so it seems.  The otter repeats a circular path to the fence, upside down under an artificial structure, to another point, turns around, and repeats the path again…and again.  

Otter.

The ones that disturb me and make me realize this is, after all, really much like a zoo, are the foxes—trotting back and forth along the fence line, back and forth, back and forth.

One of two foxes pacing.

Two rescued baby manatees are in a watery cage together; one is poking around the fencing as if trying to solve a puzzle; the other is swimming in a pretty constant pattern but mostly upside down, as if he, too, didn’t mind where he is. 

The highlight of the day is going to the above-ground and underwater viewing platform and watching a big, fat manatee come towards us.  It’s the only adult, free-swimming manatee we see in the large pond and it comes right up to the platform where  several black and white fish pick at its skin. I take some photos from the underwater part of the platform, and as I run upstairs, Mark takes THE photo–of the manatee  face-to-face at the glass, as if saying hello to Mark.

Mark’s photo of a manatee.

Meanwhile, I got a great photo of its nostrils.

Manatee at the water surface.

It is hot by the time we return to the parking lot, which has about 30 cars in it but a lot fewer than on previous visits.  We return to a ppb&j lunch in the room and I realize it’s our last day…and I’m antsy. When I look out and see only two boats at Kings Spring I suggest maybe we go look for manatees again, that perhaps with all the good people at church, perhaps it won’t be so frothy.

We get into our suits and wetsuits again, walk to rent a kayak again, only to find that Captain Mike’s is closed.  I am bugged by the fact that there’s nobody on the water, so we drive to Hunter Springs, which is bustling with people.  One guy is unloading a bunch of kayaks and there is not a single open spot in the small parking lot.  We swing into the entrance at Three Sisters Springs which allows no water entry and no on-site parking, yet costs like $7 per person.  We chat with the young man at the gate who, after chatting for several minutes about the legality of us snorkeling across the channel by our room to Kings Springs, suggests we go to the nearby Marine store and purchase a dive flag of our own.  One marine store is right around the corner, and inside we find exactly one dive flag attached to a float.  We buy it, go back to our room, get into the murky water and snorkel our way across the open water to the buoys.  We both encounter a manatee amidst what is now a circus of people kicking around in search of them. Amongst the noodle mongers is one dive master in a wetsuit, who yells out, “Ma’m, oh ma’m!”  I look up and he says, “Please don’t use your fins on top of the water.  It scares manatees.”  To which I said, “And having 20 people kicking their feet and pushing noodles around doesn’t?”

I use my fins to kick sideways like a frog and continue on my way.

I wait in the shallows for Mark as he continues to have an encounter with a manatee about 50 feet away. He appears by my side, we look left and then right, and begin kicking with our fins and dragging our dive flag and float behind me, across the water to the motel.  We are in open water and are headed to the seawall outside our motel. I look up several times in the pea-soup-like water and then decide to make a final kick for shore.  I hold onto Mark’s wetsuit and look up one more time, only to see the back end of a pontoon boat whose driver clearly didn’t see us and clearly—until he looked back and saw me behind his boat—had no idea we were in the water.  I swallow hard—nearly slurping in my snorkel mouth piece—before kicking into the murky shallows.   I’m nearly hyperventilating as I pull my mask off and sit in the water looking around.  Only later do I mention to Mark how close that boat really had been.

I’m pretty wound up the rest of the day in spite of my exercise, and find myself walking around looking for my lizard friends.

Lizard pal flaring his sexy dewlap.

I walk around around the small neighborhood nearby and stumble upon my second ever thrasher.

Thrasher.

I also see this orange-crowned warbler.

Orange-crowned warbler.

After being snubbed by an uncooperative palm warbler, I realize I’m quite tired, collect Mark, and we walk next door for an early Easter dinner of scallops.  It’s the best meal of the trip.

Mark enjoying the best meal of the trip.

Ahead of us?  Two days of driving, which is broken up with a stop in Bureau, Kentucky, which is a dry town.  I smuggle my last bottle of beer into our motel room and sigh happily.

The Gray Blur of a Manatee

Written by on June 21, 2018 No Comments

3/31/2018 Saturday

We get up to the alarm and wander to the hotel office where breakfast awaits us:   a pot of coffee; a stack of wrapped, generic granola bars; a tiny wrapped pastry; a Little Debbie stuffed, soft cookie; bananas and apples.  So excited.  We grab a little of this and that and head back to the room to put our swimsuits on. I pull my suit on, and on top of it, the same nylon skin I wore on our honeymoon in Bonaire, and on top of that a lightweight farmer john and on top of that a thicker core neoprene.  I put my phone in a plastic container the kids got one of us for Christmas, and along with it my credit card and room key.  We take our masks, fins and snorkels in hand, along with a towel…which turns out to be a stupid idea because it is impossible to keep a towel dry in an open kayak.

Captain Mike’s flotilla of boats to rent.

We find Captain Mike’s rather crowded for 7:45 in the morning, but maneuver ourselves right up to the counter only to learn they also want my license.  I run back to the room—which is quite fun with so many layers on—get my license and hand it over with my credit card.  I get the credit card back and put it with the phone and key; they keep my license.  We take a receipt to the dockhands, who help us into a tandem kayak.  The wind is already kicking up and the water already a bit choppy.  They give us directions to the springs and we’re off and paddling by 8:00.

Off on our manatee paddling adventure.

After only a few strokes, we come to find that everyone and their brother is not only on spring break but renting kayaks or paddle boards, or hiring motorized boats to take them to the Three Sister Springs. It’s a half hour paddle from our motel, past the giant Pete’s Pier marina and under a bridge, and it’s almost like being in a parade.   The river narrows after the bridge and when we come around the last corner we see five boats pulled off the side of the narrow river channel, with snorklers everywhere.  There’s barely enough room to move our paddles between the boats and snorkelers, most of whom are supported by foam noodles.   We find a rope to tie our kayak to on the shore, and per regulations, put out our dive flag in case it’s not obvious that we’re hanging out with the other mass of snorklers.

Mark–now appearing much shorter than previously–getting ready to go snorkeling.

We follow a half dozen barefoot fools against the current coming out of three Sister Springs where earlier in the morning there may have been a manatee but which had gone elsewhere due to the chaos.  The springs hold about 30 people, few of whom have fins and all of whom are kicking their little feetsies and churning up the water while being supported by their foam noodles.  It’s a pathetic scene and I can’t wait to get out of there.  We head back downstream to the crowd of people surrounding a small area buoyed off for the protection of the manatees.  In the murk we make out a mother and calf still sleeping in spite of the chaos around them. We get back into the kayak and paddle toward our motel, against the grain of people pouring into the Springs.  Most ignore us, same say hello.  One woman on a paddleboard suggests we feather our paddles to get more power. Bitch.

Between the bridge and Pete’s Pier, two boats have stopped in a wide area of the river and people on noodles are chasing the manatees around.  We pull our kayak to the shore, jump back into the water and kick ahead of the group in the direction the manatees are perhaps heading.   Mark makes contact with one, but all I see is something large and gray floating by and the mass of humans.  We kick back to the kayak and after I got back in, turn to see Mark is shivering badly as he tries to untie the knot around the dive float.  His hands are shaking and when he finally succeeds and gets into the kayak and I suggest a vigorous stroke to get ourselves warmed up.

Fortunately, paddling warms Mark up and instead of heading back to our room, we paddle around Buzzard Island where I suggestperhaps we can find a spot to sit in the shallows and wait for a manatee to approach us, rather than froth the water in search of one. We sit in chest high water for twenty minutes without contact, upon which time a boat arrives carrying a young couple and their two small boys who have the same plan. A small manatee surfaces near us, but again, the water is so murky we don’t see him underwater.  We call it quits when I determine I’m also getting cold, paddle around the buoys that surround Kings Spring, cross the river and back to Captain Mike’s.  After peeling down to my swimsuit and leaving my other layers in the sun, I rinse off in the shower until I’m warmed up.  Mark is right behind me and comments that he didn’t realize just how cold he’d gotten. It was the first time I’d seem him hypothermic.

Mark contemplating his next move (dinner and drinks).  Buzzard Island is in the background, with King Springs to the right.

We spend the afternoon in the sorta-sun/mostly clouds, awaiting the arrival of Mark’s college pal, Ken, who he exchanges fun, strange and delightfully inappropriate gifts with every Christmas in spite of Ken being Jewish.  Ken shows up in his Tesla and we wander to the Margarita Breeze.  I order the blackened salmon–which is quite tasty–along with some veggies and a salad.  A couple of beers take the chill off Ken’s editorial against guns and we enjoy a pleasant time in the open-air restaurant again.

Because the bar and restaurant are so noisy, we return to the room to watch the U of M men’s basketball team take on Loyola Chicago as part of the NCAA tournament.  Ken leaves at half time, having spent the last hour in a 1970s era side chair in the dim light of our small room.

Old college buds, Ken and Mark.

I run out to shoot photos of two lizard pals I’d befriended the day before, one of which had lost its tail.

Lizard life is tough. This is one of two lizards outside our room that had lost its tail.

Mark and I watch the rest of the game and go to bed happy that U of M beat Loyola Chicago 69 to 57.  I only feel sorry for the nun who’d prayed so hard for Loyola.

The Not Always Crystal, Crystal River

Written by on June 11, 2018 No Comments

3/30/2018 Friday

According to Mapquest, it’s possible to get from Orange City to Crystal River in about two hours.  Thus far, though, it’d taken much longer to get anywhere in Florida, and the more I’d been in a hurry, the more frustrating the traffic.  To outsmart the traffic gods, I announce I’m in no hurry to get to Crystal River and mention that perhaps we could stop at a wildlife area should we pass one en route?  Mark agrees.

We follow the GPS to Crystal River and near DeLeon Springs stumble upon the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.  With no prior information and no idea what to expect, we expect even less when we find the information station is closed to save money.  We follow signs past a few homes and a nursery, and end up at the parking area which has exactly one car in it.  There’s a pit toilet, which we use before heading out between some large, drapey trees to a large expanse of open wetland lined with berms and surrounded with rectangular cuts holding water.  We hear from the left the rumble of what sounds like someone trying to start up a car and having a hard time of it.  Mark says it’s a gator growling and I suggest perhaps we walk in the opposite direction. We see a look-out tower way, way in the distance and make that our target. As we walk  along the berm, we see a small gator—maybe 4 feet long—and not much else, really, for ten minutes or so, until we get to Woodruff Lake.  There, an airboat is making a heck of a ruckus as it cruises the shoreline.  As the airboat disappears into the lakeshore somewhere, a man approaches carrying a small tackle box, fishing pole and reel, the latter of which he says is broken.  We wonder where exactly he stood to get a good cast, because only one narrow notch reaches Hoffman Lake and he’d have to be a good shot to thread a lure through it.

It’s getting warmer as we walk, and I’m disappointed that we’re not seeing more birds, because I don’t have a rod in my hand and can actually take a good photo.  We do see several moorhens, also called the common gallinule or marsh hen.   It’s the same size as a purple gallinule but its body is all black and it has yellow legs and a red beak with a dash of yellow on the very tip.  We see several paddling about the narrow cuts on either side of the berm and one cooperates for a photo.

The common moorhen, which were less common than, for example, great blue herons.

Mark sees bubbles in the water by the overlook and we wait to see if a gator emerges.  When nothing else happens, we stop for a photo of another kind of cormorant before climbing the stairs to the overlook to gaze out at what is 22,000 total acres making up the wildlife refuge.

A cormorant, most like the double-crested variety. How many crests do you see?

As we take in the vastness of the refuge, two sandhill cranes fly over.  We see a couple of egrets way, way far away.  And we debate how far away far is as we climb down the stairs and begin our walk back.

The sun has risen overhead and I’m getting toasty.  We round the first corner of the berm and find a small painted turtle in the middle of the berm with a sombrero shaped shell, sticking up on the edges like it was designed to catch water…it seems like a bad design to us.  Mark removes the leech that had attached itself to the shell and throws it in the grass.  As I carry the turtle to the other side of the trail and put it back on the ground in some taller grasses, I tell it to watch out for vultures and other birds.

Yellow belly slider.

About 2/3 of the way back we pass a couple in their 70s with walking sticks and water bottles, straw hats and smiles on their faces.  Across the marsh a bald eagle flies toward where the giant gator had bellowed.  Down the berm toward the car are two vultures, one of which flies off with an approaching runner; the other stays where it had landed, right in the middle of the mowed part of the berm.  It stands its ground while the runner—a young man about 6 feet in height—alters his path from the middle of the mowed grass to the edge of the berm to get around the vulture.  The sideways glance he gave the vulture was pretty fun to see.

Vulture takes on runner.

Mark and I approach the big black bird and step to the side, too, only we chat with the  vulture with, “Hey buddy,” and “Looks like you own this path, huh?”   After we pass, the vulture takes a hop-step as if jumping in triumph over the humans.

Black vulture hanging out in the middle of the trail, unmoved by the approach of two Michiganders.

Back near the parking lot in the first bit of open water is a great blue heron.  I say hello to it so it doesn’t feel I’m partial to vultures, and ask it not to eat the small turtle with the funky shell.  Mark and I return to the parking lot and I pick up a fake, rubber lizard someone had used to entice a fish, and place it in the wastebasket so no hapless critter picks it up. We return to the truck’s air conditioned comfort and mosey our way down the road.

The rest of the trip to Crystal River is uneventful and ends in getting stuck in traffic due to an accident.  The town has much more traffic than it did when we’d last been there some 23 years prior.  The Best Western—which I believe was formerly the Crystal River Lodge and dive shop and where I stayed in the 1980s—is still there, but the dive shop has been replaced by a restaurant.  The town has changed so much, we need a GPS to guide us to the Port Motel and Marina right on Crystal River.   The Motel is a two story cinder block and in need of paint and modernizing, but the perfect spot for us because it’s right on the water. And it’s small.

The Port Marina Motel.

We check in, unload our stuff into THE very room we had seen many years back and always wanted to rent: the bottom corner.  The idea 23 years ago had been to take kayaks with us so we could paddle any time we wanted.  But the idea of putting kayaks on the roof of the truck and driving them across country didn’t appeal to us so much, so our new plans included renting a kayak.

It would come to pass that those were not the best of plans.

Our room is small and everything is old and in need of improvement.  The bathroom tile is a hideous shade of blue that needs fresh caulk. There are one-inch holes in the floor that I could let myself imagine a snake creeping into if I allowed my imagination to run even a little bit wild.  My first flush of the toilet results in the chain falling into the tank and having to reattach it.  The faucet sink is so close to the back of the sink there’s barely enough room to wash my hands. The bed is on a frame made out of wood or plastic which I stub my little toe on within the first 10 minutes of our arrival.  The furniture is likely from the early 1980s.  But the shower is hot and the force enough to blast the road grunge off me.  It’s perfect.

I step outside onto the grass and walk to the seawall at the water’s edge.  There, I reflect on how I’d gotten scuba certified in Kings Spring– which is right across from our room–in the mid 1980s with the MSU Snorkel and  Scuba Club.  I returned with my collegiate pals the following year for advanced training, which included rescue diver training in a spring which had been stained by floodwater from the Suwanee River.  (Indeed, we all should have flunked because we never did find the dive master sitting in the marked up water).  In 1994, I’d brought Mark here with Willi (a.k.a. kid number 1) on our first trip together.  Mark and I returned in 1996 after we got married, with all four kids, each of whom got to have interactions with manatees.  A lot had changed since then though:  more cars, more people, more boats.

I have mixed feelings about being here, and I continue to mull things over as we walk to the dive shop next door—adjacent to other rooms with less desirable views than ours.  A young Captain Mike owns the dive shop and has a steady stream of people signing up for the next day’s manatee tours.  We tell him we’ll be back in the morning to rent a kayak, as I cannot bring myself to ever ride again in a propellered boat in Crystal River.

As we get ready for dinner, I peek out and see a little blue heron.  It’s a resident of Florida and I hadn’t seen one since we were in Brazil a few years ago.

Little blue heron on the breakwall at our motel, Crystal River, FL.

This one intrigued me because it didn’t mind me stepping outside to take its photo.  And it did some head twisting I hadn’t seen before.

Little blue heron looking backwards at something on the breakwall. It’s like it has eyes in the back of its head.

Shortly after the heron took to the air, this sandpiper went strutting by.

Sandpiper hunting along the breakwall.

As I poke around looking for lizards, I see this aquatic insect in the concrete wall separating the motel property from a private property.  Like most normal people, I take a photo, then shoo it into the crack so neither of my bird pals eat it.

Really cool aquatic insect.

We eat dinner at the restaurant adjacent to the motel, the Margarita Breeze.

Dinner at the Margarita Breeze.

I have a salad and a bowl of black bean soup, along with a beer that’s super cold.  The breeze is pleasant, the view decent, but we are tired, and we’re not used to having dinner with people, music blaring in our ears, or having lots of people around.  We cash out, mosey down to our room, and set the alarm so we get to Captain Mike’s as soon as it’s open in the morning.

Bob Suffers Two More Days Fishing with Mark and Amy

Written by on May 27, 2018 No Comments

3/28/2018 Wednesday, somewhere near Ocala

When Bob Stonewater isn’t being a fishing guide for boneheads from Michigan, he sometimes participates in billiards tournaments.  This evening being a tournament in Orlando, Bob chose a more local venue for fishing on lake called Lake Diaz.

We meet him at the 7-11 and drove about 15 minutes to a small boat launch.  I’e left my fishing poles and tackle behind this time, and his first words are, “Are we shiner fishing today?”

I smile and say, “I see you’re onto something.”

As he puts the boat on the water, I see a bird I’d seen once before but never gotten a good photo of…a limpkin.  The lighting on the bird is dim, so I blast it with a flash and capture it wadding in the water, nabbing a snail and taking it to the shore to eat.  This is a bird that only lives in Florida, eats primarily apple snails and clams, and was nearly extinct in the early 1900s due to hunting.  The 2006 version of The Complete Birds of North America states that their populations had recovered to 5,000 pairs.  I’m hopeful my lucky sighting is a sign of good fishing ahead.

My first limpkin.

 

Limpkin with what might be an apple snail.

On Diaz Lake all floating vegetation is along the shoreline and some of the veggies are pond lilies with stems the thickness of rebar rods.  My first bass takes my shiner and while wrapping itself around a weed, takes the minnow and leaves my hook snagged on the weed’s stem.  As Bob puts on another minnow he suggests I move the minnow out of the pads “if it starts weaving around in there.”

As we wait for fish to bite, Bob tells us that the Fish and Game Commission had electroshocked this lake recently and pulled out an 18-pound fish.  I’d had the pleasure of electrofishing while working for the MSU Fisheries and Wildlife department way back in the day and wonder if the fish was tagged.  Bob says he doesn’t know.

We fish the one weed bed for several hours without a single fish worth photographing. I did, however, photograph this tern.

A tern.

Note the difference in the flared tail as the tern pauses overhead.

As we get settled on another part of the lake, we ply Bob about his history, and amongst the stories he tells is fishing once with a man who happen to have a video camera, and how they saw this big, brown thing floating in the water.  It turned out to be a dead deer…with a gator behind it, pushing and pulling it along. Bob tells how he went to maneuver the boat, hit a stump and knocked himself in the water. Mark comments that it’s good the gator already had a big slab of meat in its mouth.  Bob says, “Yes, I felt really lucky to get home that night.”

We end the day at the weed bed where we’d started, and while the bass fishing is slow, we do catch a gar.

Mark’s gar.

It’s late afternoon when Mark pulls a nice, big fish out of the weeds.  We didn’t weigh it, and looking later at the photos, I’m not sure why we didn’t.

Mark’s big fish from Lake Diaz.

As Bob heads us back to the boat launch, Mark notes that our catch percentage is better than yesterday, “and that’s an accomplishment.”  Bob agrees.

Mark and I celebrate by heading to Cook’s Buffet Cafe Bakery in Deland, per Bob’s recommendation. It’s an old house which the original owner lived in upstairs and converted the lower level into a restaurant in the 1960s.  It consists of several connected rooms, with the centerpiece being the buffet: a huge selection of salad options, numerous tasty sides and veggies, along with the choice of one meat:  turkey, chicken, a chicken casserole of some kind, beef, ham or leg of lamb.  Mark goes for the lamb; I go vegetarian and pile up on some of the yummiest carrots and brussel sprouts ever, along with a great salad.  The garlic bread is awesome, too, and along with one beer for me, two for Mark, a giant slice of chocolate cake for me and cheery cobbler for Mark, the bill is only $41.50.  Amazing.  The place is adjacent to the local university, so the streets are small and quaint in spite of being busy.  Mark pats his tummy on the way out and says, “I could get used to this.”  I say, “I’d get as big as a barn door if I ate like this on a regular basis.”

We return to our motel room and spend the evening looking through photos and talking about how awesome tomorrow will be, going back to the Rodman Reservoir.

3/29/2018 Thursday – Rodman Reservoir

We awake before the alarm because we’re both excited about returning to the reservoir after a slow day on Lake Diaz.  We get to the 7-11 a little b    efore 7:00 and don’t see Bob in the parking lot.  At 7:15 I call Bob and learn he’s half way to the reservoir because nobody in the Deland area had shiners and he had to stop at a town halfway to the reservoir to get minnows for us.  He says he’ll meet us there and all we have to do is go the way we did on Tuesday.  “Do you remember how you went?”

“No,” I say, “I was half in the bag two days ago and in lemming mode.”

He tells us to take this road to that and to highway 19 and it’s south of Pallacka or Pallayka or Palatka. We don’t have a Florida map, because I really expected to have followed our guide to wherever it was we were going fishing.  While Bob quickly recites instructions as if I just need a quick reminder, Mark tries to pull up Rodman Reservoir on the truck GPS, and upon failing to find that, the name of the boat launch, which he also doesn’t find.  Mark finally uses his phone GPS and we use that to get to the boat launch an hour or so later.

It’s windy by the time we get to Bob’s first spot on the Rodman Reservoir, and he sets two anchors to keep the boat from drifting around.  The fishing is slow compared to the first day, but while the number of bites is lower, our hook-up rate has improved.   And that’s great if you like catching gar and bowfin (dogfish), both of which are, admittedly, fun on the end of the line, but not what we were fishing for.

Bob Stonewater with my biggest bowfin ever.

Bob tells us that gar and bowfin tend to be aggressive when bass are not biting. I lose optimism that fishing will result in a big bass, put my rod down and go about taking photos of the osprey.

Osprey waiting for Mark and me to mess up and offer up a wounded shiner.

We catch a few bass throughout the morning, but it’s not until late afternoon when I set the hook on a fish that sends Bob scampering for the net.  I’m pretty excited, and he’s smiling when I pull in another bass the size of the first big one, if not larger.  Mark takes lots of photos, and, before putting my fish back into the water, Bob asks if we should weigh it.  I have three thoughts all at the same time:  1) It doesn’t seem bigger than the other one; 2) it was Mark’s dream to catch a bass over 10 pounds, so why make him feel bad?; and 3) we’d already stressed the big fish out enough.  So Bob releases my big fish.

My biggest fish of the third day.

Only when we looked at the photos afterwards did we realize that bass was perhaps bigger than my 8 pound 14 ouncer.

Shortly thereafter, Mark catches another nice fish…we did not weigh.

Mark and Bob with Mark’s last fish of the day.

I’d just picked up my rod again when we see a common moorhen, doing whatever it is common moorhens do.

Common moorhen.

It’s long after 5:00 when I wrap up the day with a two-pound bass.  Bob poses with me, handling my fish like I might a guppy.

My last fish from Florida from our Spring trip.

On the way back to the boat launch I realize how hard Bob had worked for us, continually keeping three lines going with fresh minnows and handing us what he thought was the most active pole, lifting anchor when he thought we should move, not throwing us into the water on day one, which was the best of our three fishing days.  As I write him a check, I tell him he did well for us and that I hope we didn’t embarrass him too much.  He’s about to respond when we hear squawking from a large pine tree nearby. I peek through an opening in the parking area and see not one but two eagles sitting on a tree together.  One has its wings held out to its side, as if cooling off.  I raise my camera and zoom lens to take a photo and realize how tired my arms are.

Two eagles hanging out in a tree by the boat launch.

We follow Bob until we get near Deland where he goes one way and we head back to Cook’s for dinner. It’s later in the evening than yesterday and a huge line has formed for the buffet.  The lady in front of me says that she was scolded previously for thinking she could get her salad first and, afterwards, cut to the front of the dinner line, so she stands in the salad line for the second time for her main course.  Mark gets to the meat shortly after and sees the turkey Bob had raved about–and which was in abundance yesterday–is gone.  He chooses the beef and is grumped the rest of the dinner because he missed out on the turkey.  I tell him “next time.”

He says, “Do you think there will be a next time?”

I say, “Depends on your bucket list.  If your bucket list was just to have the chance to catch a 10-pound bass, I say we’ve done that.  If it’s to actually catch one, it appears we’re going to have to come back.”

Mark says, “Poor Bob.”

And we both laugh.

Florida Shiner Fishing – A Humbling First Day on the Water

Written by on May 14, 2018 No Comments

We start our morning at the Quality Inn lobby where we find cereal and milk, tiny pastries, a waffle maker, and eggs which have been cooked and flattened into a round shape to put on an English muffin with a sausage of the same shape.  I go for the cereal, grab a piece of fruit and we’re on our way.

We follow the instructions on Mark’s phone to the 7/11, about 15 minutes away. Not one to loiter in a parking lot without buying something, I go inside with Mark to get a candy bar.  As we come out, we see an older model, white SUV with a bass boat attached.  The boat’s stern has been drilled numerous times and later filled, as if the owner had difficulties deciding where to put his transducer.  The SUV and boat are the only ones in the lot, so likely belongs to Bob Stonewater.  We see a guy in line at the check-out whose face is young like Robert Redford’s but just as well creased. We wait for him to pay for his food, introduce ourselves and are shaking hands with the Bob Stonewater, former pro fisherman and guide extraordinaire.

Now, planning for our trip to Florida took many, many months watching dozens upon dozens of fishing tournaments and fishing shows, each of which was followed–not coincidentally–by the arrival of numerous tiny boxes that rattled or wiggled just like the lures we’d seen on TV.  One particular show on InFisherman showed Bob Stonewater guiding several pro fishermen on Rodman Reservoir using shiners as bait.  And so of course we thought that if pros can change techniques and catch big fish, we could do.

And just in case I couldn’t pick up shiner fishing, I packed two fishing rods and two bags of tackle.

We follow Bob out of town and into the Florida countryside for a little over an hour to what seems like the middle of nowhere. We turn onto a bumpy, dusty road for a half mile to the Rodman Reservoir boat launch, which contains one dock.  The bathroom is a set of porta potties and I use one because peeing in the woods in Florida is a bit more adventurous than dropping drawers in the poisonous-snake-free woods of Michigan.

Bob Stonewater, who before he realized how challenging his day would be.

Bob has his boat in the water by the time I get out, and frowns when I bring on board not only our cooler with some food and water, but also two rods and two bags of tackle. He says, “Aren’t we shiner fishing today?” and I answer with, “Well, there are a few pieces of tackle Mark got me for Christmas that don’t work so well on the ice in Michigan, so I’m hoping you don’t mind.”

He says, “No problem,” though his face suggests otherwise as he places the bags on the bottom of the boat and puts my poles near his. He puts a square boat cushion on the bow and asks me to sit there, while Mark sits on the padded cooler in front of the console. We head off down a narrow channel with thick floating veggies on either side, then out into a large marsh that is Rodman Reservoir. It’s loaded with stumps and floating masses of vegetation, with a series of triangular, numbered signs: green signs on one side of the safe channel; red signs on the other. Bob weaves past a few of these and stops the boat in front of number 60-something, with a dead tree nearby and plenty of floating mats of veggies.

Rodman Reservoir.

The temperature is in the low 70s, it’s calm and Mark and I both excited because we hadn’t gone shiner fishing in quite some time, as in not since the mid-1990s when we’d hired a different bass guide who’d taken us to two lakes near Orlando, neither of which produced big fish. In fact, they didn’t produce many fish at all.

I feel like a kid as Bob puts a shiner on a weedless hook with a bright orange bobber about a foot above the shiner and throws the hapless minnow into the water.   He hands me the rod and says, “All you have to do is watch the bobber. I’ll help with the rest.”

Help schmelp, I’m thinking. We fish all the time during the liquid water seasons in Michigan. This should be easy.

I watch my bobber go left, then right, then back left and under the weeds. Bob suggests I twitch the line a bit to pull the minnow back out so I can see the bobber. I do, and suddenly, the bobber disappears. Bob calmly says, “You have a fish on, so lift your rod and feel the fish.” I do that and don’t feel much of anything. “Now lower your rod and tighten the line, and when it’s tight, set the hook.”

I reel down until I feel tension against the line, make sure my reel is locked down, and yank the rod with my usual great gusto, swinging upwards quickly. I’m awestruck as the shiner and bobber rise swiftly out of the water and into the air in a spectacular arc, past my ear and behind me somewhere on the water.

Fish 1, Amy 0.

Bob looks at me, sighs and says, “That was a big fish.” He takes the rod from me, reels in the minnow, shows me the bite marks on the shiner and says, “And it was a bass. See the bite marks?”

I nod sheepishly.  He says, “ You have to wait for the bass to have the shiner in its mouth. This is not reactive fishing like you’re used to. You have to feel the fish on the end of the line by lifting up the rod.” And he shows me how. “If you feel a fish, tighten up the line, reel down until your rod is horizontal to the water and then jerk off to the right real hard.”

I feel like telling him that at least I’d gotten the last part right, but he seems humorless, so I say nothing as he throws my half-eaten minnow into the water and puts on a less traumatized minnow.  Bob launches the new minnow out to the weed mass and hands me the pole. “If you ever need to put the rod down, remember to leave it in free spool so that if a fish bites it can just run off with it and not my pole.” I nod.

At that moment Mark’s bobber disappears. He lifts the rod tip, determines there’s a fish on the line, reels up a bit, sets the hook with a grunt…and rips the shiner out of the cover of the weeds, leaving it momentarily stunned on top of the water while the bobber goes flying behind him. The shiner wiggles once and disappears into the water.

Fish 1, Mark 0.

Bob reels in Mark’s bobber and repeats much of what he told me, adding something about “how hard this is going to be.”

Mark and I have fished together since the mid-1990s.  We’ve paid guides in Canada, the Amazon, Florida and in Michigan, and Bob is turning out to be the most intense of the guides. But, I think to myself, at least he’s not fishing. Our Lake St. Clair guide had fished all day and out-fished us, all the while telling us our spin casting technique could use some work.  Bob has three lines out and keeps handing us what he thinks is the most active pole.  He says he has no intention of fishing.

My bobber disappears again, and I’m not sure if it’s because the shiner has pulled its way under the floating weed mass or if I really have a bass on. I lift the rod and it feels like a fish, so tighten up my line, feel a little tension and set the hook…only to bring the shiner and bobber flying out of the water again.

Bob asks me to reel the shiner toward the boat, and he shows me that this time, there are no bite marks on the shiner. He says, “That was all shiner action. Next time, wait until you’re sure. You gotta develop the feel for this.”

“Clearly,” I mumble under my breath.

Score: Fish 2, Amy 0.

A few minutes later, the score is Fish 2, Mark 0. Bob adds another shiner to Mark’s line and tells him, “You just lost a really nice fish.” He walks him through the required motion again, then throws another minnow onto the water. He says, “The fish are biting, so let’s get one!”

Mark watching his green bobber…and hoping he doesn’t screw up again.

I’m not feeling confident or chatty and I’m very focused on the task at hand. I watch my bobber head out into open water, turn around and head back to the weeds. I pull it away from the weeds a couple of times and the fish keeps going back into the weeds to the same spot. It’s not super fast action, so I figure it’s a good time to try out my new Megabass Grenade—a large squarebill lure. I mean, I’d gotten it for Christmas, and here it was April.  I throw it out into open water, reel for perhaps 5 seconds, feel something on the end of the line, smile inwardly, set the hook with great gusto, reel and…and hook into a log. Bob quietly pulls up anchor, takes my fishing pole, hands me one with a minnow on it, and I humbly watch the bobber while Bob maneuvers the boat on top of my lure and removes it from the log. I thank him and tell him I’m done fishing with my stuff. He kind of grunts in response.

Mark is sitting in the front seat when he sets the hook on another fish.  Moments after he sets the hook, I find myself unwrapping his line from around my chest.  Bob approaches Mark with a look to kill. He takes the rod from Mark, reels it in quickly and shows him the bite marks on the shiner.  “That bass couldn’t have been any further inside that bass’ body before you took it away from him.” He goes on again about the steps to successful shiner fishing, and ends by asking Mark to please use his arms to set the hook rather than his body, because, “A previous big guy set the hook with his body while sitting in that seat and broke it.”

Then Bob pats Mark on the back and tells him, “You’ll get this.”

Mark stands, assumes ownership of his new minnow and says nothing.  I avoid his gaze because I’m worried he’s not actually enjoying himself.

As I pull my bobber away from the weeds again, I think about Dr. Glenn Pfau, a guy who charges willing governments and other entities a pretty penny to allow a few dozen top-notch staff spend time being broken down in front of their peers and built back up again, all to help improve their communication skills. I’d never suffered through his training—never been told my hair is too long for my age, that I don’t wear enough jewelry (in fact none), and that all my suits are at least five years old–but here I am on Rodman Reservoir getting that same sense of inadequacy while waiting for a fish to bite again.  All I could think about was what Mark said out loud:  “We’re ruining Bob’s reputation.”

“And to think,” I say, “he’s got us for three full days!”

Suddenly, my bobber disappears under the weed bed. Bob is standing by me and says, “Okay, you have a fish on. Raise the rod tip to make sure.” I raise the rod tip, but I’m still not sure I have anything on. It feels no more significant a tug than the shiner. I tell Bob. He takes the rod from me and raises the rod himself. “That is a bass.” He hands the rod back to me. “He’s moving, so tighten up the line, and keep it tightened as you lower your rod so it’s horizontal to the water, and wham!” I set the hook, my rod bends, I hear him yell, “Reel, reel! You got `em! Keep reeling!” I do as he says and am a strange mix of relieved and excited when Bob plucks a 2-pound bass from the water.

The first fish..

“Yay!” we both say. Mark cheers from the bow.

Score: fish 3, Amy 1.

Bob’s smile is short-lived, though, and as he throws the bass back into the water he says, “You lost a bigger one earlier so let’s put another shiner on and keep going.”

Can you say intense?

Mark’s bobber disappears and Bob is at his side in a flash. “Let it go for a bit.” We all watch as Mark’s bobber goes down and comes back up again in open water, goes down and comes back up again. “He’s being chased,” Bob says, “but it’s all minnow action at this point.” The bobber goes down again—just like it had previously—and this time Bob says, “The bass got it!” Mark reels down, sets the hook and…the bobber goes flying behind him…with the minnow still on the hook.

The look on Bob’s face was one a murderer might have before killing its victim. He looks at Mark and says, “That was a big fish. All it needed was a fisherman at the other end of the line.”

Score: Fish 4, Mark 0.  Bob winning, though, due to his amazing comments.

Bob takes Mark’s minnow off, and throws it in the water. Within seconds, an osprey appears above, circles around, circles again and swoops down to pluck the minnow off the water.  This same scene would play out numerous times before the day is over.  I set my rod down to take photos, making sure, of course, that my line was in free spool.

One of our shiners plucked off the water by an osprey.

Bob, meanwhile, has put another minnow out for Mark and as he does he says, “Lift the rod up to make sure the fish is there, then reeeeeel down to where your line is tight and the rod is horizontal to the water, THEN yank real hard.”

“But not using your body,” I add.

Mark nods.

Before Bob says it, I say, “You got this.”

I hear the cackle of either a purple gallinule or common moorhen—not sure which, and study the weeds for a moment.  A purple bird appears, about the size of a chicken with yellow legs and bright yellow and red beak. I put my rod down and pick up my camera and long lens. As I do, Mark sets the hook on a nice fish and reels it in. I turn back and the purple gallinule is gone, so twist off my zoom lens and put on the fish-eye lens to capture a photo of Mark’s bass. It’s perhaps 4 pounds, and Mark is all smiles and so is Bob as I take photographs. I put the camera down, pick up my rod and see my bobber has disappeared under the weeds. I lift the rod, feel nothing–in fact, less resistance than any time before.  Reeling in, I discover my minnow is gone.

“What happened?” Bob asks.

“I got robbed while trying to photograph a purple gallanule and then Mark’s fish.”

“Are we fishing or are we not?” he asks.

Mark says, “She likes taking photographs, too.”

I point to my Nikon 7200 and its 10-inch lens.

“Oh, well, hm,” he says. “Most people don’t know what a purple gallinule is.”

Score: Fish 4, Purple Gallinule 1, Amy 1, but feeling better.

“Okay,” Bob says, “we had a double, so let’s see if we can do that again. But first, we’re going to move to another spot.”

Bob sprints to the bow and lifts the anchor with ease, which is impressive given he’s 70 like Mark, born in September, like Mark, and just a few days older.  He puts the boat into gear and zooms us past a few triangular signs to another spot. He drops anchor, and seconds later, we hear what sounds like an echo of the anchor splash. I ask Bob what the noise was and he says, “We spooked a big gator.”

I mention how when fishing in the Amazon, we had to reel small peacock bass quickly back to the boat, because caiman were often nearby and sometimes pursued the caught fish. He says gators don’t tend to do that. I keep looking around for the big fella and it’s not until later in the day that we see one. It looks like it would measure 12 feet.

Big gator.

While the gators are not interested in our fish, the osprey have caught onto the fact that there are two boneheads from Michigan who have developed the habit of  yanking perfectly good minnows out of the water, into the air, and back in the water again, and who don’t pay as much attention as they should when their minnows are in open water. I say that because as one of my minnows is taking a cruise across open water, an osprey circles over, notices the action of my bobber, swoops down and takes my shiner right out from under the bobber.

Osprey swooping in for another shiner we’d flung around a few times.

Bob is beside me in a flash and says, “You’ll have to jerk that line right when the osprey swoops to keep it away from them.” He throws out another shiner, ensuring it lands near the bed. Like the previous shiner, this shiner heads to open water, and as it does, another osprey circles.  just as it swoops down, I jerk it away, and, for good measure, say, “No! Bad osprey!”

 

Fishing is steady all day, and we eventually start getting the hang of shiner fishing. We’ve each landed 10-15 fish, and I’m feeling pretty good about things when my bobber jerks suddenly away from the weeds to open water and goes under water. I lift the rod, feel tension, start winding up on a fish that’s hell bent to continue heading to open water, when it suddenly starts coming towards the boat.   I keep winding, hope it’ll stop before it gets to the boat, it does not, so I bend over, wind up and jerk…and the float ends up behind me. I wait for the scolding, and Bob says, “You did that just right. Not much more you could have done that time.”

Moments later, we are watching our bobbers when mine suddenly shoots off to the right and disappears. It pops up and reappears for a brief second, then goes down again and line starts spooling freely. I pick up my rod and feel the tension as the bass heads off to the right. I lower the rod, reel up the slack and wham! Bob gets the net this time, and I know I have a big fish. I reel and reel and bring the biggest bass of my life to the boat. Bob nets it with ease. He goes “Yay!” and gives me a fist thump. We photograph my fish and weigh it: 8 pound 14 ounces.

My biggest bass.

I’m happy as can be…until Bob informs me I’m not holding the fish right.

This is how to hold a big fish.  Note only one finger is to be used, and one should hide ones hand near the bass’ mouth.

I am also kind of bummed for Mark, because it was on his bucket list to catch a 10-pound bass and I’m the one with the largest fish of the day. His largest fish of the day is perhaps 7 pounds, Bob guesses, but we don’t weigh it.

Mark’s biggest, albeit, puny bass compared to mine.  Just ignore the way he’s holding his fish….

Bob calls it a day around five and says that Mark and I had used about 5 dozen minnows and each landed 15 or so fish each. Mark says our hook-up rate was pretty miserable. I mention that the ospreys got at least 5 minnows, so at least they are well fed.

You’re welcome, Mr/Mrs Osprey, for all the minnows.  

On our hour and half drive back to the motel, Mark and I reflect on our humbling day.  We  come to the conclusion that Bob is solely and singularly focused on helping people land big fish.  His intensity is because he wants us to be successful.  So, in spite of feeling at times completely inept, we agree we couldn’t have picked a better guide.

We wrap up our day with Popeye’s for dinner, because we are too tired to look for anything else.  Mark gets his fill of spicy chicken and I eat a box of fried shrimp. We drift off to sleep wondering if we’ll ever really get the hang of shiner fishing.  And whether Bob will show up tomorrow.

Fishing for Big Florida Bass – Day Three – the Springs

Written by on May 03, 2018 No Comments

We spend our first day in Florida getting acclimated to sunshine and warm air by touring three nearby springs.  After a simple hotel breakfast of conveniently round eggs and round sausage on round muffins, we head to our truck and see this bird.  It’s a mockingbird, and while known to sing up to 14 songs, it offers us not a single note before flying away.

A silent mocking bird.

Blue Spring is the closest spring to our motel, and the parking lot is nearly empty first thing in the morning.  It’s in the low 70s and we smirk to ourselves as we begin walking in the sun, thinking about those poor souls in Michigan.  We find several manatees sleeping in a protected area, which is roped off and well marked to make it clear nobody can swim or paddle in the area or in the creek.  Four rowdy kayakers are hanging onto the buoys and so excited about seeing a mother and calf manatee in the spring that one about falls out of their kayak.

Nearby, we see several black vultures on the ground, including one that refuses to move as we approach.  It would not be the last time we have a close encounter with one of these big birds.

We walk up-river and see a line-up of gar in the water, several inches apart, barely moving, as if prepared for an attack.

To a smaller fish, this might be the welcoming party nightmares are made of of.

In the middle of the river on a dead tree is this fella.

A cormorant hanging out on a tree.

As we walk along the boardwalk, I spot a kingfisher through the trees, diving down into the water and coming out with something in its mouth.  Zooming in reveals a crawfish had met its fate.

Kingfisher slurping down a crawfish.

Nearby, we find a gray squirrel rooting around for nuts on the ground.  Mark said it looked like a perfect taxidermy specimen.

We walk up river until we reach a gift store that has nothing interesting on the inside, but on the outside is an elderly couple with a small stroller, which, we discover contains a lhasa apsa. We ask the couple about the dog and they say it’s 16 and “We never thought it would live this long. But he’s our buddy so he goes everywhere with us.” Super cute.

Old Shih Tzu resting in its stroller. Not an uncommon sight in FL.

We head back to the car and head to Gemini Springs, which has a big parking lot and a lack of signs telling us not to feed wildlife. We always travel with peanuts just for such occasions and, in this case, we have the honey roasted variety. A casual stroll with a bag of peanuts and the very motion of imitating food being thrown leads to one squirrel approaching for a peanut, which, in a matter of minutes, results in a total of 15 gray squirrels at Mark’s feet taking peanuts.

 

One of Mark’s squirrel friends.

When the nuts are nearly depleted, we walk across a wide, open grassy expanse to some ponds.  We don’t get very far before we run into this fella.

This turtle got a free lift to the other side of the walkway.

As we near a pond, we see a 4-foot gator.  We watch him glide across the water and work his way up to a log to catch some rays.

A happy sunbather.

Check out the webbing. And the need for a pedicure.

Gator feetsies.

We walk on toward a large pond and look down from the observation platform to see tilapia hovering over round depressions which are their beds. They tilapia are bluish with large scales like carp. Two are face-to-face a few inches apart, and suddenly, both dash forward and touch open mouths, perhaps in a gesture to protect their beds.

Tilapia facing off, kind of literally.

Nearby is this bird, which did not seem too worried about us tromping by within 10 feet.

The poorly named green heron.  Per Audubon, this is one of a few North American birds to use tools to forage:  it will place a leaf, feather or other light object onto the surface of the water and when a fish comes by to check the object out–wham!

Nearby we find a large fishing pier over a seemingly endless wetland where five people are fishing.  Below, in the weeds, are several female boat-tailed grackles eating larvae…

Female boat-tailed grackle working for her lunch.

…while the male boat-tailed grackles loiter on the railing waiting for the peanuts Mark throws their way.

Male boat-tailed grackle taking the lazy approach.

It turns out, coots also like peanuts.

American coot waiting for Mark to throw another peanut.

As we start walking back to the car I hear the rustling of leaves above me and look up to see a hawk I haven’t seen before–buff colored on the top, with rusty colored stripes on its chest.  I take several photos, and upon zooming in on my photos, realize he has a squinty, goopy right eye, which, for a hunter, would surely make it hard to catch prey. It’s my first photo of a red-shouldered hawk .  I wish him a speedy recovery.

Red-shouldered hawk.

It’s gotten a little warmer—maybe the mid 70s—and we’re heading to the truck when I hear a bird call I’ve never heard before. I wait for a couple of minutes until this bird appears for a moment before flitting off.

Summer tanager.

We head to Wikewa Springs musing at the fact that we need air conditioning to cool off.  This park consists of a big, bowl-shaped spring perfect for shallow swimming, and a pond connected to a lake where several dozen Japanese students are frothing up the water while trying to kayak, some, it appears, for the first time.

We follow a boardwalk for several minutes and notice that oncoming people are primarily chatting and not really looking around. We see several types of lizards and this bird, which I think is a ruby kinglet.

Nearby, I see a smaller red-shouldered hawk than the one we’d seen earlier, perhaps five feet above us and only 15 feet away. I don’t have to use much of a zoom to get a photograph of it looking to its left, intent on watching a lizard. It pounces on its prey and disappears behind a tree.

Red-shouldered hawk giving us the cold shoulder.

We wrap up our walk and drive back toward the hotel in search of dinner. Afterwards, I call Bob Stonewater and we agree to meet at a 7-11 store at 7:00 in the next morning.

And with that call, Bob Stonewater was unknowingly on the eve of the three most challenging fishing days he’ll likely have all year.

An artistic-y photograph of my heron pal.

Fishing for Big Bass – Getting There

Written by on April 29, 2018 No Comments

The thing about living in Michigan is that winters are long and it’s hard to fish our rivers and lakes several months of the year unless you like ice fishing.  I’ve never gotten into ice fishing:  I prefer certain alcoholic beverages on ice, as well as Coke.  But standing on ice and waiting for a fish to bite, pulling it out of a tiny hole and putting it back into the frigid water afterwards?  That just makes me want to drink more alcoholic beverages on ice…inside my house, where it’s warm.

By the end of March, 2018, our Michigan winter had extended into spring and Mark and I were sick of snow and cold and antsy to go fishing.  We’d planned months before to go to Florida to fish with Bob Stonewater, bass guide extraordinaire.  All we had to do is get there.

We left on March 23 after I’d worked 10 hours and had failed to get everything done on my to-do list.  Mark drove–and you will see why we drove in a bit.  Between emails, I mentioned several times that I’d had exactly three crackers and a cheese stick for lunch.  Mark kept on driving, determined to get out of Michigan.  When I mentioned at 7:20 that a vacation was supposed to be fun, not torturous, and that I might kill him with the ice scraper if he chose to drive further, he finally pulled off for a drive-thru Arby’s.   We waited 20 minutes–first in the drive-thru line and then, after I lost patience, inside the building–for two lousy sandwiches and a potato cake.   It turns out every Catholic in whatever Ohio town we were in orders fish on Friday nights at Arby’s, that, per a local man missing two teeth and waiting with us for a sandwich.

The sun had set unceremoniously while we’d waited, and I drove on into the dark for another half hour before we found a motel room and passed out under clean sheets and a coverlet that weighed ten pounds and suffocated me.  I awoke at 2 a.m. in a slimy ooze of sweat, turned the a/c down to 60 degrees and went back to sleep.

The forecast the next day included snow in Cincinnati.  Weathermen were right about that.  And about everywhere else they predicted snow.

Note the sign in the far right, suggesting slippery roads.

I drove through snow for half the day and kept driving south until it was warm enough for the snow to turn into a snow-rain mix and then, finally, rain.

Who new rain would be welcome on a long drive?

It was 5:30 by the time we got to Mark’s nephew’s house under partially cloudy skies. We unloaded the drum set that had been in our basement untouched for many, many years, and left it in the capable hands of Mark’s three-year-old grand nephew.  Yes, that is the main reason we drove.

Betcha Mark’s nephew and his wife loved us after this, huh?

We tried to smuggle their French bulldog, Rubble, but they wouldn’t let us.

After dinner with Mark’s nephew and extended family and a night under covers that didn’t try to smother me, we finished our drive to Orange City, Florida.  Here’s how we new we had arrived.

No helmets, short-sleeves, and a dog in a side car.

We found colorful, cold drinks at the Swamp House Grill in Debary, about 10 minutes from our motel, along with crab cakes and sides, all while overlooking the St. John’s River, which is reputed to hold monster bass.  As we ate I was happy Mark was to going to have the chance to catch a 10-pound bass.  I’d set everything up to help him check that off his bucket list.  The rest was up to him…and a guide who’d turn out to be more obsessed about fishing than Mark.

Peacock Bass Fishing in Brazil – 2016 – Day 10 – Almost Pooping My Pants Again

Written by on July 23, 2016 No Comments

We are up at five and finish packing, which consists of putting all sorts of damp clothes into a large duffle bag, all of which are starting to smell like wet athletic socks that have been storedin a locker for a month.  Along with odiferous clothes are a bunch of unused, unopened lures Mark thought we’d have time to try but never did…just like our first trip. We go to breakfast with our carry-on luggage in tow, leaving our heavy bags for the guides to load into a boat. We’ve seen the last of our little cabin.

View out our back door.

View out our back door.

Now, the funny thing about having stomach issues is that instead of doing what I usually do at camp in the morning—look around to see what Amazonian bird might have shown up on a nearby tree and look for pink dolphins playing in the water–my mind is instead focused on the singular issue of bathrooms.  Once kicked out of our cabin, where, I ask, will we have access to a bathroom?  Alejandro says we can use the spare cabin.  I secretly cheer.

At breakfast, conversation turns to toilet paper and Dr. Coz says his wife wouldn’t like it here because of the toilet paper and how you have to reach up into the toilet paper holder and get it from the dispenser, with one’s head practically between one’s knees. Struggling to get the t.p. would put his wife right over the edge. Curt says that one of the things he’d un-invent would be those toilet paper holders. He goes on to say that the first thing he does upon sitting upon the pot is “reach way up there, grab the end and pull and pull until I have a big pile on my lap so I’m ready to go.”

The world's worst type of t.p. holder.

The world’s worst type of t.p. holder.

Dr. Bob says his wife goes through so much toilet paper he should invest in it. That led them to say that all women use a lot more toilet paper than men and they’re quite astounded by that.  I’m intent to keep an eye on the “spare cabin” to make sure it hasn’t disappeared and make a lame effort to defend women.

As we eat our breakfast, conversation turns to the “me generation” and how bad things have gotten with people expecting to get things from the government and how nobody does anything for themselves anymore. Curt also says the next president is important because of the number of old supreme court justices on the bench. He could not have known that chief justice Antonin Scalia would die within 2 weeks after our return.

Our breakfast done, I stop by the spare cabin and chat with my gut, asking it to behave itself the over 2-hour ride back on the airplane to Manaus, because there is no bathroom in the float plane.  Little did I know that would be the least of my worries.

The guides have loaded our luggage into two boats and there are two boats available to transport anglers to the plane. Mark and I get into Sappo’s boat and we wait no more than five minutes for the plane to fly low over the water to check out the scene. The plane banks, makes a quick turn and lands on the water.

As the plane lands, Mark notices that the plane puts up a lot more water than previous float planes we’ve seen land on water. I’m not paying a lot of attention, because the lenses on my camera haven’t acclimated yet to the warm weather—they were inside the air conditioned cabin over night and are all fogged up in the hot, humid morning air.  I wipe off the camera and lens and take one shot of the plane coming in because it’s not like I see float planes every day.

Float plane landing.

Float plane landing.

The plane comes to a standstill and I take another photo, still concerned about my fogged up lens.   The eight new anglers get out of the plane and into two empty boats motored by two other camp staff.   While we wait and watch them, Bobby shows me his photo of the plane and I just nod, still not catching on. The two boats head to camp with the new guests while Sappo and the other guide move our boats into position on either side of the plane.

You'd think I might have noticed how low the floats were in the water.

Just a photo of the float plane.  I wish my camera lens wasn’t fogging up….

Mark, Bobby, Dr. Bob, Curt and I all get into the plane and settle into our seats, Bobby and Curt in the front bench seat, Mark, Dr. Bob and I in seats behind them.  Steve, John and Dr. Coz are on the outside of the plane, either in the other boat or on the float, but I’m in my own la-la land,   fussing with my camera lens.  It’s only after John says that he is standing in water over his ankle while standing on the float did it finally register that the plane is listing to the back and to the left. The plane floats are taking on water.  In other words, we are sinking.

Still in disbelief, I click on the view button on my camera, look at the photo I took and just about get sick at what I see.  How did I not notice?

I tuck my camera away and calmly suggest that Mark take his seatbelt off in case we have to get out quickly.  I also move our carry-ons to the back of the plane.  As I am plotting our escape, warning lights begin flashing on the dashboard, along with warning buzzers.  In an instant, my breathing increases, my butt puckers, and I’m fighting back a voice in my head that’s saying, “GET OUT!”  I’m about to get out when the pilot suddenly appears with a pump in his hand—a two-foot high, plastic gadget—which he attaches to the one of the pontoons and uses to pump water. As he is pumping out the float, Curt is sharing calculations about how much water is being pumped and how much extra weight we might be carrying with us during lift off, should we actually get to lift off.

I’m pondering whether to thank Curt for that information when suddenly, just as quickly as the pilot started pumping water on one side of the plane, he appears to fly across the front of the floats and pumps water out of the other side.  Moments later, he tucks the pump away, reaches inside the front door, turns the warning lights off, tells the other three guys to get in quickly, and without any word about putting seat belts on or anything about safety, cranks up the engine and shuts the door. The co-pilot also jumps in and shuts his door. Without bothering to look at checklists, the pilot quickly guides the plane towards the camp, where, curiously, the entire camp staff are watching.  We do a tight turn-around and start heading down the long open stretch of water while the pilot pumps the steering yoke up and down, which makes the front of the plane go up and down.  We’d had to suffer through this on the Amazon the first time to get lift under the wings, but this time it’s beyond scary because the back of the floats are underwater and the front of the plane way up in the air.  The more the pilot pumps, the higher up the plane seems to rise, the lower it feels we are in the water.  The voice inside my head yelling, “STOP THE PLANE!  LET ME OUT!’ is getting louder, and it’s all I can do to not scream  when I look out the side window and see that instead of the guides taking the boats back to camp like they usually do, they are zooming along side our plane in their boats, faces looking intently ahead, worried.  I nod to Mark and as he looks out at the guide, I say, “Perhaps to pull our bodies out?” Then I tell him I love him and hang tightly onto his hand.

Seating in the plane:

Pilot                Co-pilot

Curt, John, Bobby on a bench seat

Dr. Bob in a solo seat; an open space, Me and Mark in a shared seat

Steve behind us

Dr. Coz in the way back

 

As the guide throttles his boat alongside the plane and the pilot is pumping up and down, each man around me has worry oozing from his every pore.  On and on we bounce like this, for at least 30 seconds, maybe longer, and it seems to me all we are doing is making waves and giving the floats more time to fill with water.   In those 30 seconds, I revisit my life and all the big fish that got away and wonder why I’m not having a hot flash, and wonder if it would it be better if I had a super hot flash and passed out and missed out on my own demise?

Then suddenly, we reach flat water, which, for some reason, is a place where we are beyond or on top of? the waves we are creating, and can finally accelerate beyond what Curt said later, was 40 mph (he was watching the controls the entire time).  The guide boats disappear from view, no longer able to keep up, which I feel is a good sign…unless we don’t make it off the river, in which case, they better keep following.

As we try to accelerate more an more, what worries me–besides flipping over backwards and drowning if we go upside down, and piranhas finishing me off if I don’t drown, and the fact that I’m not wearing my sports bra in all this bounce–is that we keep going and going down the river, and I can’t see out the front window because the back of the plane is down so far in the water, and I don’t know how much straight river we actually have left before there’s a bend in the river. We go on and on, accelerating, until finally, we rise off the water—maybe about ten feet—only to drift back down towards the water again. As the plane drifts back down—in that few moments in space—I recall that our trip to 2013 was delayed because the float plane that was supposed to have taken us out of the jungle clipped trees and half of one wing got torn off.  We’d waited for six hours while another plane came in to take the gringos off that river, took them to our air field and finally, took us to Manaus.  So, knowing that one does not always clear the trees in the jungle, I am holding my breath and my heart is racing and I’m biting my pursed lips and I’m not liking that John is capturing this all on video, when the pilot pulls up again.  This time, we continue rising higher and higher.  When I look out the left side of the plane, all I see is trees….as if we didn’t have a lot of straight river left.

We are just above the trees and sighing out loud when we hear from the back of the plane, Dr. Coz yelling: “I think I might have crapped my pants!”

We all chuckle nervously. I squeeze Mark’s hand.  Dr. Bob, sitting next to me, pulls out this orange and black gizmo called SPOT which he takes with him on trips so he can be rescued. He says he had his hand on the button the whole time we were taking off, which amazes me because he was chatting to me about something most of the time. I notice that there’s another SPOT on the ceiling between the pilot and co-pilot. So at least if we’d gone down, someone would have spotted us quickly…and pulled out whatever of our body parts could be sent to our loved ones.

Finally safe in the air, I take this selfie of two happy people.

Finally safe in the air, I take this selfie of two happy people.

The flight is smooth until about half way back when we get into clouds and the windshield is covered with raindrops. The pilot hardly notices, engaged again in great conversation with the co-pilot and gesturing with his hands.  At one point, he takes off his headset and turns around in his seat to answer Curt’s question about the dynamics of getting us off the water. Afterwards, he puts his headphones back on and goes back to chatting with the co-pilot.

We experience a couple of drops in altitude as we hit turbulence, but again, the pilot is unbothered, so I decide to be unbothered, too.

A little over two hours later, the weather breaks for us to see our way down the runway in Manaus. I am relieved to be on the ground and, after waiting politely behind the Brazilian man who guided us back inside the airport, I make a beeline to a toilet to contribute more to the waste stream. When I return to the lobby, Bobby is pushing a cart with my luggage on it, along with a lot of other luggage, and all I have to do is head into the shuttle. Two women are operating the shuttle; we learn later that Jon was called away and could not be there due to a funeral.

In the shuttle on the way to the motel, Curt shares that the pilot likely fully fueled up before he left Manaus to save time and make it such that he could do all his trips without delay. So, he was weighted down with extra fuel he didn’t need for a 1.5 hour ride. Add excess water in the floats with having excess fuel and it’s no wonder our takeoff was so tough.

We get keys for a room at the motel, and once again, I’m hooked up with another guy. We exchange keys so I can be with Mark.  We drag our soggy, smelly stuff up to our room, shower, and take a nap…in a double bed, together.  There’s nothing like a nice double bed after a week in the jungle on a twin bed…while my spouse was in a twin across the aisle.

Amazon double beds

 

Later, at lunch, Curt says he wasn’t worried about John on the flight off the water because if the plane went down, John could swim like a fish.  But he was worried about caiman and piranhas maybe eating John. We try to convince Curt that piranhas wouldn’t have eaten John if he went for a swim, then we admit that piranhas do tend to munch on people in confined spaces…like upside down airplanes.  Caiman, though, well, all bets are off with them when swimming.

Bobby says that he almost asked to get off the plane. He, Curt, Steve and Coz have all done this 13-15 times on the Amazon, so clearly this was one of the worst flights.  Bobby shares another memorable flight, where they smelled diesel fuel and it was dripping inside the plane. Mark and I counter  with our last trip to Canada and how the float plane blew a “jug” or cylinder and the oil splayed all over the windshield and how we landed on the water just as the engine died, then were dragged to shore by other guides using boats and ropes. Reflecting on the fact that our last two float trips were hair-raising, I announce that I can happily stay off float planes for a long time.

We go with Curt and John to a mall next door and it’s a mass of humanity that I wasn’t mentally prepared for, having just come out of the jungle. People are moving in every direction in stores that are packed like our malls were twenty years ago, and only now so at Christmas. We ask a lady where the pharmacy is, and I loiter outside while the guys go inside, to give Curt some privacy while he picks up whatever it is he came for.  As we leave the mall I see a place that I think might have puppies but instead was a place for little kids to play.

A place called Puppy Play which had no puppies.

A place called Puppy Play which had no puppies.

As we walk back to the motel, cars and trucks and motorcycles buzz by and tI find it amazing—and crazy–what we get used to in the urban environment in Manaus. Not to mention, it’s super hot.

Back at the motel, we wander up to the top floor where there’s a pool and an open area nearby with lots of trees and shrubs still intact. I go upstairs and get my camera and 85-400mm long lens and spend the next 35 minutes in the sun trying to photograph birds. I see an ani of some kind, a red-billed sparrow, a small brown bird I’ll never be able to identify, a few other birds I’ve not seen before, and a bird that could be a kiskadee or a flycatcher, as there are many that look like it. I finally get a decent shot at a blue tanager, which had deceived me in that village we got stuck in in 2013. Mark reads the paper in the shade.

A beautiful tanager.

A beautiful tanager.

 

Palm tanager.

Palm tanager.

Red-browed finch.

Red-browed finch.

Ani.

Ani.

We take another nap and when I wake up I need to do something before being cramped on a plane for many hours. I put on my shorts and go up to the work-out room, and see Steve up there pushing some weights around. I work out for 20 minutes while Mark dabbles on three different pieces of equipment without exerting himself at all.

Later, I do one more birding stint, and finally get a shot at a parrot which lands in a tree far away, in the fading sunlight.   Vultures also fly by. As I shoot, it occurs to me that I see more birds in a few hours overlooking a lot in Manaus than I did during one week in the jungle.

Amazon birdie I still need to figure out.

Amazon birdie I still need to figure out.

We pack up and head downstairs around 7:00 p.m. for a couple of beers. Afterwards, we go back to the room, shower again, and lounge around until 9:00 when we drag our luggage downstairs and drop it by the front door. The rest of the guys are having beer in the lounge and their stuff is already by the front door.

Before the shuttle shows up at 10:00 p.m., I shake Dr. Bob’s hand and tell him it was a pleasure meeting him and fishing with him. He gives me a big ole hand shake in return.

At 10:00 a brute of a guy loads our stuff in a shuttle van; a woman drives us to the airport alone. It’s a horribly bumpy ride in the back of the shuttle, one we notice more leaving the motel than when we came in. En route the talk is about things like wells and groundwater. At one point someone asks Bobby about his ranch and how many deer he’s harvested this year (all huge brutes) and Bobby says he uses a helicopter to get the deer to spread out so the hunters have a chance at them. Curt says, “I love having a rich friend with a ranch and giant deer. It’s so much fun.”

At the airport, we unload our stuff onto two carts and the woman driver takes off without a word. It’s far more impersonal without Jon around. We check in at a line with few people in it, Curt, Bobby and Dr. Coz in the first class line; the rest of us in the other. We drop our bags off and are happy to do so because they seem to have gotten heavier and smell like jungle rot. We get through customs and security and soon are sitting around the terminal area sharing photos on our cell phones. Well, most of us are—I didn’t recharge my phone. Steve shows us photos of his three Clydesdale horses, one of which he had shipped from somewhere across the country, along with his miniature pony which looks clearly tiny next to the big fellas. Steve also talks about the 12-acre pond he built on his property—sounds like a lovely place.

Curt shows us photos of his family and his two rescued dogs, both mutts. He also shows me a giant rattlesnake that was right outside his backdoor and which he “dispatched with a bit of lead to the head.”

Mark mentions our 16 acres and our new log cabin in Northern Michigan, and shares the realization that it’s on the Black River and we’d fished a tributary of the Rio Negro the first time in the Amazon. We named our new cabin Rancho Rio Negro.

After photos are shared all around, I hit the bathroom, and on the way back, point out to Mark a stuffed sloth a lady was watching for her 8-year-old son. Ten minutes later, Mark returns with my own stuffed sloth. It’s in a plastic bag and I take him out so he can get some fresh air.

Amazon sloth

On the way back from the bathroom, I pass Coz going to the bathroom. He stops me and says, “So, how much toilet paper did you use?” I stretch my arms out as far as I can and say, “About that much.” He laughs and says, “I thought so.” Such a funny guy.

The announcement to board allows people 60 and older to board first, not first class, not women with children. Many people get on, many of them fishermen. Mark waits for me in spite of qualifying, and we are happy this time because we paid for seats with more leg room without having to change seats. I’m in the middle of three seats and the guy by the window has nothing to say, which also makes me happy. John sits across the aisle; Steve and Dr. Bob a row ahead of us. Mark is in the aisle and John takes the moment to ask Mark why we saw so few birds in the jungle. He also asks: “If I were dropped off at some random spot in the middle of the jungle, what’s the odds that’d I’d discover a new bird or bug or something?” To that, Mark says, “Pretty good.”

I take my contacts out, put my glasses on, put a blanket around me and am about to nod off when a light lunch is served. It’s a sub sandwich with a big wad of bread, single piece of lettuce, two super thin slices of tomato, a micro piece of cheese and some smoked turkey, also thinly sliced. I pass on the chips and give them to Mark; ditto with the fruit. I save the biscuit for later. I’m still seeing what makes my gut happy and hope my new diet of little food does the trick.

The rest of the trip blurs together–landing in Miami, waiting for our luggage to show up, saying good-bye to some great guys we admire and loved hanging out with.  Several hours pass slowly at a gate before we fly to Detroit.  We land in Miami and wait 45 minutes for a shuttle that never came and finally get pity from another shuttle company who drops us off at Days Inn where we will never stay again due to their poor shuttle service.  Then we are in the cold that is the winter of Michigan, driving home, which feels as foreign as the noise and movement and everything else we have to get re-accustomed to.  Still unable to make a fist, blisters on my hands, tired beyond belief, I am already missing the simplicity and the danger, the freshness and heat of the jungle.

At home, we are greeted by our two dogs and two cats.  All are well behaved until we wake up the next morning to find the dogs have provided an editorial.  A little bit of fishing line later, and even their bed is back to normal.

Snickers and Winston posing with the stuffing from their bed.

Snickers and Winston posing with the stuffing from their bed.

Within a week, I no longer long for normal and wonder when, if ever, we’ll get to return to the Amazon.  We caught a total of 1,278 fish that week, 127 of which were 8 pounds or bigger. The biggest of the week was the 19-pounder caught by Dr. Coz.  As I look back, I wonder if perhaps what I really long for is a rematch with a bigger fish than his.

After note:  Upon returning to the states, I contacted my cousin, Ryan, a pilot, who contacted a sea captain friend on my behalf.  He explained the pumping up and down we experienced “helps break the surface tension of the water when you are trying to get up on the step, the step being the area on the float with the least drag and best acceleration. That pumping the yoke process is pretty common when you are on the heavy side. Doesn’t mean they were necessarily doing anything unsafe.”  Isn’t that reassuring?

Peacock Bass Fishing – 2016 – Day Nine – Oh No!

Written by on July 12, 2016 No Comments

Friday: 2/5/2016

On the fifth day of fishing in the Amazon I awake in the middle of the night wondering what I’m doing here, because the pain in my right hand is constant, and when I stand up at what is about 4 a.m.—though I’m not sure because my watch is on the counter because my left hand is also puffed up—my gut seems to be rather large and extended, making me feel about three months pregnant when yesterday, I wasn’t pregnant at all. To add to my misery, as I rise to stumble to the bathroom, I experience a hot flash so amazing that I am capable of reheating leftovers anywhere on my body. I open the door to the bathroom, the light goes on and the fan starts humming like it always does to wake up my roommate who flops over happily in his twin bed. I close the door behind me, sit down to take a leak, and just as the one-inch cockroaches emerge from under the floor mat, the lights go off. I’m already sweating and it seems unfair to make me wave my arms to turn the lights back on. But it works—the light go back on and I go about my business without fear the cockroaches will crawl up my leg.

The cabin toilet.

The cabin toilet.

I flush the toilet, which makes a rather loud noise for the middle of the night, not unlike a small machine grinding something up and spitting it out, which in this case is pretty much what the toilet does, storing the waste in the pontoons under the cabin until we tourists leave camp. I open the door, step into the main part of our floating cabin, the door shuts behind me, and it’s suddenly very dark. I poke around until I find a water bottle and the aspirin I left on the counter, then work my way back to my twin bed across from Mark’s. I spend the next twenty minutes wondering if my hot flashes could spontaneously ignite the cabin. It’s a great thought to nod off to, which I did until a little before six.

Mark is up and “ready for another great day on the river,” and, at breakfast soon thereafter, 82-year-old Dr. Coz says he’s just getting warmed up and could stay another week. He asks Bobby if he can take the coming week off and hang out in Manaus, then fly back to the jungle afterward, because while the camp is full next week, the following week they only have 4 guys, so there’s room. Ain’t nothin’ like an 82-year-old dentist being more physical than my wimpy self.

Bobby, meanwhile, is sitting at the table applying a BENGAY look-alike to his hand, and offers me some. I take it readily, and find myself smiling as I inhale a smell that reminds me of the ointment my mom had applied to me when I had a chest cold as a kid. I rub some on both hands and promise never to come to the Amazon again without it. Bobby mentions they also make the stuff in a spray. I thank him for sharing, and it’s about then that Dr. Coz finally concedes his shoulder’s a little sore; Bobby says he’ll spray his shoulder before they go.

Hoping I won't need to punch anyone, cuz this is as much of a fist as I can make.

Hoping I won’t need to punch anyone, cuz this is as much of a fist as I can make.

The rest of the guys show up to eat, and while they pile up their plates, I ponder whether eating is a good idea in my bloated condition. I decide that eating nothing will make me woozy, so take on an egg and a melon slice and nibble on some bread.

We get ready for the day like any other day, except that this time I make absolutely certain there is toilet paper packed in my dry bag. Our destination is essentially a lake connected to the river and sprinkled with trees. My hands scream at the idea of pulling six-inch lures across the water, but it’s my turn to rip lures while Mark does clean-up with a jig.

Shortly after we start fishing, several pink dolphins appear like they had every other day. Amazing swimmers and super smart, the dolphins have figured out that where there are anglers, there are fish weakened due to having fought a hook on our line.  Our guide, Sappo, motors our first few small peacock bass—three to five pounders—back to shore so they can recover and not become dolphin food. As we head away from shore, though, Sappo releases one fish, and by the flash of pink and splash afterwards, it’s pretty clear the dolphins—a.k.a. potos–had breakfast on us.

Amazon dolphin.

Amazon dolphin.

We continue flogging the same shoreline for quite some time, and at one point, a fish hits, I set the hook, and the most amazing pain shoots through my hand and up my entire right arm. Momentarily powerless due to the jolt, I lower the rod to get a different grip. The fish gets off and I reel in nothing but my lure. Behind me I hear, “Amy,” so turn around to see Sappo using his arms to show me to keep the rod tip up. I nod, not willing to say “Eu nao posso,” or “I can’t.”

To add to my misery, the day is super hot and when I have a hot flash, I feel like keeling right over and fall out of the boat and into the water. My gut is still bloated, my right hand is killing me and my glasses keep fogging up so I can’t see very well. I pour water from a water bottle over my head to try cooling off and that helps one of my many problems. I curse myself for wanting cheese with my whine, and force myself to rip lures again and again. As I throw and pull and reel, pull and reel, I find that the jerking of lures is putting more pressure on my stomach while also straining my inflamed hands. I survive on auto-pilot until about 10:30 when I see a perfect spot to go take a leak.

See, the thing about being a woman in the Amazon basin is that when Nature starts calling, you start looking for suitable places, which is where there is at least one big tree to hide behind and at least one rise to duck down behind as well. I’m always happy to find such spots.  Sometimes I see birds when I’m looking for good spots for taking a leak.

Rufescent heron.

Rufescent heron.

At last I find THE spot, and am quite happy when Sappo pulls the boat to shore. I jump off, bounce my way across the very unconsolidated, springy, leafy vegetation, until I find my way behind some trees. I’m thinking once again about snakes and tarantulas and can only and hope for the best…

…And then it happens.

As I squat down, my gut explodes and I’m suddenly caught literally with my pants down, sinking in the Amazon leaf debris, relieving internal pressure both fore and aft so to speak. I call to Mark and ask him to bring me the gray waterproof bag, which contains toilet paper. He comes within a few feet and slings the bag sideways. He tells me to take my time. I tell him if I do I’ll need to get pulled out because the thick, fallen leaves aren’t supporting me. I whisper, “Go away snakes and spiders,” as I finish my business, bury my mess and step gingerly to one side…where I immediately start sinking. I move my other foot, take a step forward, and begin quickly springing my weakened body up the rise towards the boat. I reach the boat feeling only marginally better, so sit in the water to cool off.  I thank the piranhas and other aquatic nasties for not wanting to eat me.

When I’m finally feeling less like a firecracker about to implode, I thank the guys for their patience and we return to fishing.  We find a new area to fish and between casts I see a bird I’ve not seen before, which I later identify as a black-tailed tityra.

Amazon black-billed tityra.

Amazon black-billed tityra.

It’s Mark’s turn to rip the big surface lures while I throw a jig, which is less strain on my hands. My gut is content to just grumble for a while, my hands reasonably hanging onto the pole, and I start getting into the groove of things again…when the sun hides behind a cloud and the wind kicks up. Rain starts within a half hour and the temperature drops several degrees.

Cheery weather.

Cheery weather.

It rains until 2 p.m. and I tell Mark I’ve never fished so much with a wet butt until this trip.  My rain jacket is soggy inside and out, and my hands and toes are shriveled up like prunes.  We catch only a couple of small fish in the rain, but learn later that Curt and John ripped through the rain and kept catching fish on a black and purple ripper. John got three 14-pounders. I’m so happy for him I could throw him in the water wrapped with bacon.

We fish until we get to a back eddy where we hang out in the shade and eat the last of our daily world’s-driest-cheese-sandwiches, washed down with rain water.  As I’m chewing, I notice an orb weaver—a rather large spider—that has made a superb web between two trees next to our boat. He’s hanging out between trees, somehow able to avoid the pouring rain.

We continue flogging a large, shallow area with trees, catching very little all afternoon. My gut seems to be twisting itself up for round two, but I’m determined to get home before I do any more to relieve my stomach in the jungle. I’m soaked, and because the temps have fallen, I’m borderline feeling chilled.  I wonder if I can force a hot flash to come on, but, unable o figure out ho two do that–and in spite of my angry hands–continue flogging the water to keep warm. Mark catches quite a few fish on a red and yellow jig but continues fishing with it even when the tail is bitten off. Having flogged surface baits for a while, I ask for a jig and Sappo hands me this small blue and green thing that is so light I cannot cast it very far. I ask to swap it out, and in the last half hour, use a black, red and white jig. Right as Sappo says we are going to move, I say, “Uma momento, por favor,” and reel in my second to last fish, a three-pounder. We move one more time across the river to another cove and I pull in a six pounder on my very last cast.

Before we leave, I ask to wait to try to add one more new bird to my list.  It’s sprinkling and dark, so not my best shot of my first long-billed wood creepers creeping up a tree.

Long-billed wood creepers.

Long-billed wood creepers.

When we return to camp, I take a few more photos, like this one of the cook cabin.  Or the cook in the cook cabin.  Or the cute kid in the cook’s cook cabin.

Kitchen cabin.

Kitchen cabin.

We take a few more photos with Sappo for the record book. He shakes my hand and says “Good job, Amy.” I shake his hand and say, “Muito obrigado,” or “Thank you very much.”

Amazon Amy and Sappo

Mark tells him, “Voce um grande guia,” which is, “You are a great guide.”

Amazon Mark and Sappo

Back in our cabin, I relieve my gut one more time and take another Amazon shower consisting of water pumped in from the river. Afterwards, we open our wallets and leave payments and tips for the cook/camp staff in one envelope and the guides in another envelope. The recommended base amount is $200 per person. The first envelope gets handed to our camp host, Alejandro and he counts it and divides it amongst the camp staff. The other envelope is handed directly to the guide, at a base of $200 per person. We tip both for doing a good job. We also give Sappo a knife Mark bought many months ago just to give to whomever our guide turned out to be.

We enjoy some drinks on the hill overlooking the cabins and share the day’s fishing stories, most of which at least have elements of truth to them.

Cabins from the hill where we met for drinks and snacks before dinner.

Cabins from the hill where we met for drinks and snacks before dinner.

At dinner, the stories include the various trips to Venezuela that Steve and Dr. Bob went on to hunt or fish. Bobby and Curt add that they went to Venezuela many times and that the economy and government now is on the brink of collapsing completely, that they pulled out of there years ago. (Within a week after our return, the national news would show Venezuelans standing in line to get basic food supplies, and that a revolt is likely).

Dinner in the dining cabin.

Dinner in the dining cabin.

During one of his trips, Curt shares how he got on an elevator with an Indian couple who couldn’t remember where their car was located, so hit every button on the elevator. The door opened, they’d get out, look around, and get back on again. After the third or fourth time doing this, Curt shut the door and told them to get another elevator. Too funny.

Curt’s son, John, said when he was growing up, Curt would go to the grocery store every Sunday to get the newspaper and read up on the Dallas Cowboys. He’d test the clerks to see who could do the math involved in getting a paper or other products, such as 3 items for a dollar—he’d only buy two and see if they could figure it out. I think there’s a bit of a devilish side to Curt.

Fabiano (the cook helper), Mark, John, Dr. Bob, Bobby, Dr. Coz, Steve,  Bobby, Curt and camp host Alejandro.

Fabiano (the cook helper), Mark, John, Dr. Bob, Dr. Coz, Bobby, Steve, Bobby, Curt and camp host Alejandro.

I’m off to bed early and add Cipro to my aspirin regimen to calm my unhappy gut. I go to sleep thinking surely, my troubles are over.  Little did I know.

Peacock Bass Fishing 2016 – Day 8 – My Trouble Begins

Written by on July 06, 2016 No Comments

Thursday, 2/4/2016 

I wake up at 4 a.m. with a crampy pain in my left hand and it takes an aspirin to help me get back to sleep again.  It’s an interesting pain–puffiness mixed with tingliness in my hand, and when I place my arm just so on my bed I experience a ray of painful tingles up the area where my tricep would be had it not fallen off years ago.  As the aspirin works to make the pain bearable, I have plenty of time to wonder if I’ll be able to handle a fishing pole.  I contemplate duct tape and how helpful if might be to have my hand duct taped to the fishing pole if I can’t hold onto it.  I fall back to sleep realizing that the life of a bureaucrat who types emails eight hours a day does not make for a fit angler in the Amazon.

Two hours later at breakfast, I hold a cold can of Coke to my left hand and the cold seems to help a little.  The guys don’t seem to notice as they talk about the tree frog calling out all last night.  Curt says the frog finally shut up around five a.m.  and that if he could have brought a loaded shotgun he’d have blown the frog right out of the tree so he could have slept better.  I can only laugh.

It’s a warm morning but the icy pop and aspirin has made it such that I can grab onto a pole, so nothing else really matters.   Sappo guides our boat into a lagoon where peacock bass are chasing bait fish near tiny, grass-lined islands.  We use our surface baits to attract them around the islands, and, in deeper areas we throw jigs.

Some of our jigs.

Some of our jigs.

Every time we hear splashes, Sappo moves the boat in that direction.  After a few casts, and we are usually able to entice the fish to bite. It’s an interesting way to fish—listen for splashes, move in that direction and cast to the big splashes.

Mark's biggest fish of the day.

Mark’s biggest fish of the day.

I’m in an intense fishing groove for hours, until just before lunch, when a wave of heat overcomes me.  There’s no breeze and I’m feeling suddenly woozy, so Mark asks Sappo to pull off onto one of the islands so I can cool off …and take a leak in the water.   The lagoon is so open I have no other option for taking a leak anyway, and this way, I can solve two problems at once. As I sit down, it feels like sitting in a giant puddle after a warm rain storm, the only difference being that these puddles have piranhas in them.  I know piranhas won’t attack unless cornered or threatened, and feel like a kid, sitting in water up to my chest, splashing the water.  Truly, the only difference between me and a kid are a few wrinkles and the fact that part of my heat is due to hot flashes.

After I’ve cooled off,  we motor back to the same area we’d started fishing earlier. We’re about to head out of the lagoon when a fish hits my line, drags me and the boat to an underwater log I didn’t see, and hangs me up there. Sappo waves at me to stop reeling because he thinks the fish has rubbed the lure off on a log and is gone.  He pulls out a long stick he keeps with him in the back of the boat, and has wrapped it around the line a couple of times to free the lure, when the line starts going out again. Sappo quickly untangles his stick from the line because it’s suddenly clear the fish is still on the line. I reel, the boat gets pulled around a bit more, I yank with all my might and pull up my biggest fish, a 14-pounder. It will remain my biggest fish of this trip, one pound shy of my biggest on our first trip to the Amazon, and one pound larger than Mark’s largest this trip.  Poor fella.

Me and the fish that beat Mark's biggest.

Me and the fish that beat Mark’s biggest.

Once we finally head out of that lagoon, the rest of the day is disappointing.  We enter one lagoon after another, one of which has a plastic bottle floating on top the water, which means it was already fished today. We retrieve the bottle and get a few fish now and again, but it’s really slow compared to the morning.

At one opening amongst some trees, Mark throws his lure and loses it to a big fish. We look for 15-20 minutes for the lure before finally giving up on ever seeing it again. I hope the big fish can rub the lure off on a log somewhere.

Some of our lures.

Some of our lures.

As we are looking for Mark’s lure, the sky darkens, the wind kicks up and it suddenly starts to pour. We motor 20 minutes in the driving rain to a small inlet, during which I discover my Marmot Precip raingear is as waterproof as a sieve.  We eat lunch in the rain under some trees while Sappo bails our boat. And then Nature calls.

For some reason, I convince myself that it’s safe to pee in the woods when it’s raining because–I surmise–snakes don’t come out in the rain.  And while I had to pee in the water earlier due to the open landscape, at lunch we’re surrounded by trees and I feel I have to venture out in search of a pee spot rather than look really obvious about it.

So off I go, springing over the land in search of a spot out of eyesight of the guys.  I find the perfect spot–behind a tree in a wallow–and there, in the Amazon, in the pouring rain, I make an interesting discovery:   wet pants and wet underwear are not easy to pull down in the rain–neither slide down easily.  I pull down my pants and, with them lying in a heap on the ground, roll down my underwear, both while reaching up under my sieve of a rain coat. Because it’s raining, it’s hard to know if I’m peeing on my own pant legs, so I just hope for the best.  And of course, using toilet paper is impossible in such condition, so when I’m done, I wiggle and roll my underwear back into place, pull up my pants, zip them, pull my rain jacket down over my butt and laugh out loud because I can’t remember being so wet in forever.  I laugh again when I realize I’ve sunk down eight inches in the unconsolidated leaf litter.

I spring back to the boat and before enjoying my cheese sandwich, stop to photograph the men, who have no idea how good they have it.

Ain't nothing like lunch in the pouring rain...after taking a leak in the pouring rain.

Ain’t nothing like lunch in the pouring rain…after taking a leak in the pouring rain.

We fish the rest of the afternoon, and over time, I’m more and more challenged by my puffy hand and my wimpy disposition. I pop another aspirin and try to ignore a bit of a shooting pain up my arm when I get a ten pound peacock in another lagoon.  My ten-pounder is followed hours later by a couple other smaller fish. All said, it’s a long afternoon; the fish not very cooperative.

It turns out that my 14-pounder makes me the big fish winner of the day, and I get congrats by all.  I thank them and say I’d do a “high five” if I could unfist my hand.  We drink beer, have a dinner of lasagna with beef and ham, and another entre of beef with potatoes.  I will note here that until this point, I had not eaten any meat.

At dinner, Curt asks about time travel and how quickly the week passed “with ye all.” He says, “Just a week ago I met you guys at the hotel and now here we are a week later.” It’s true that tie flies when you’re having fun.  Even if you can’t give high fives to celebrate that fact.

 

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