Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Peacock Bass Fishing on the Amazon River

Written by on February 16, 2013 1 Comment

On January 31 Mark and I set out to catch peacock bass on the Amazon River because, well, someone has to catch peacock bass on the Amazon.  We flew from Detroit to Miami, then from Miami to Manaus, Brazil.  Manaus is in the bottom right of the map, below.

Map showing the large city of Manuas bottom right, the Itapara River at pen point.

Map showing the large city of Manaus bottom right, the Itapara River at pen point.

 Our destination is a river mislabeled the Itapara on the map, above.  See, locals had printed so many of the above maps, they found no reason to correct the spelling and print good ones.  The river’s real name is the Tapera River and it’s a tributary of the Rio Blanca, which is a trib of the Rio Negro which is a trib of the Amazon River.  One might say we were going to fish the headwaters of the Amazon. 

To get to the Tapera River from the busy town of Manaus, we jumped in a plane that had both wheels and floats.  


 We flew across numerous stretches of river. 

View out the float plane.

View out the float plane.

About an hour and a half later, the pilot saw what looked to me like a pretty narrow stretch of river.  The pilot circled once and landed on the water.


 Waiting for us on the water were fishing guides in boats. The guides loaded up our gear and we rode off down the river for about a half hour before pulling up on the beach where our cabin awaited.

The floating cabins.

The floating cabins.

Up closer, the cabins look like this. 

Our cabin on the river.

Our cabin on the river.

The inside of the cabin looks like this.  The two twin beds made things super romantic. 

Inside our cabin.

Inside our cabin.


 The cabin also contained a toilet and shower. The shower was a drizzle of water pumped in from the Amazon, but it did the trick.

The wee bathroom.

The wee bathroom.

After we settled in, we covered up from the sun and headed out into our boat with our guide, Preto.  

Covering up.

Covering up.

To catch a peacock bass, one can use jigs, subsurface lures or large top-water lures. The one below is a top-water lure that you have to jerk and jerk and jerk across the water to annoy the peacock bass.  It was one of a couple of lures given to us by two great Texans that felt sorry for us after our first couple days on the river weren’t real productive.  The lure below turned things around for me in a big way and caught me more fish than any other lure.

Lure given to us by a kind Texan.

Lure given to us by a kind Texan.

 What’s fun about the Amazon is that the jerking motion of a lure not only attracts fish, it attracts caiman. 

Caiman attracted to our fish.

Caiman attracted to our fish.

Up close a caiman looks like this.

Close-up of a caiman.

Close-up of a caiman.

With a caiman approaching, it’s quite amazing to see how quickly you can reel in a fish. 

So every day for 6 and a half days, we fished from 7 in the morning until late in the afternoon.  Before the week was over, Mark and I caught 132 peacock bass, 14 of which were 8 pounds or larger.  My largest was 15 pounds.  My first big fish is below.

My first fish over 8 pounds.  Photo by Mark Oemke.

My first fish over 8 pounds. Our guide, Prato, is in the background.  Photo by Mark Oemke.

 The next day I caught this fish. 

Beautiful peacock.  Photo by Mark Oemke.

Beautiful peacock. Photo by Mark Oemke.

 Two days later I caught two big fish back-to-back.   

Another nice peacock bass.  Photo by Mark Oemke.

Another nice peacock bass. Photo by Mark Oemke.

 About a half hour later, I caught this one.

Prato is in the background.  Photo by Mark Oemke.

Prato is in the background. Photo by Mark Oemke.

 My last big fish was caught on a different lure, and this fish hit so hard it busted my rod.  I’ve never reeled in a big fish with a small nubbin of rod in my hand in the rest of the rod floating on the surface of the water. 

My former three-piece rod became a four-piece rod due to this fish.  Photo by Mark Oemke.

My former three-piece rod became a four-piece rod due to this fish. Photo by Mark Oemke.

So that’s peacock bass fishing.  Looks easy enough, now doesn’t it?  More on the truth behind the art of peacock bass fishing in the next blog posting.

The Importance of Friends When the Chips are Down

Written by on August 26, 2012 No Comments

The fact is, I almost didn’t go on the trip I’d planned with my Snowy Hoot-ers pals a few months ago, because the day we were to leave was two days after my dad’s funeral.   But Brenda and Sylvia encouraged me to drag my grieving self along and it turns out they–along with a few margaritas and some quality time on a river–was just what I needed.

Things didn’t start out so well, because we didn’t even get out of Brenda’s neighborhood before we saw a dog that had run away from its owner.  The three of us like dogs as much as owls and rivers, so we stopped so Brenda could take the dog back to its home.

Brenda at the front door while the dog looks on by the car.

Three hours later, after settting up camp, I realized I had not only come without a fishing pole, I had brought a kayak without a paddle.  No worries, they said.  Brenda had brought an extra pole for me, and we simply made arrangements the next day with a livery for a ride to the put-in spot on the river and to borrow a paddle. 

With details for Saturday figured out, we headed to downtown Beulah, MI to my all-time favorite restaurant, the Roadhouse Mexican Restaurant and Cantina.  They serve some great food and their margaritas are ones I dream about.


Here's to the margaritas! Photo by Brenda Sayles.

We only had one margarita the first night because there were fish to catch, we heard, at some local lakes. 

Sylvia with one of several not-so-huge fish pulled from a local lake.

We each caught enough fish to verify that indeed, there are fish in the local lakes.  We also saw a loon way,way off in the distance.

The three anglers after a bit of fishing. Self-timered by Brenda Sayles.

The next morning we took to the river . . . with a dozen Boy Scouts.  See, it’s cheaper go with a group than to get a private escort, and we’re all about saving up for more margaritas.  We dashed to get to the river before the Scouts.
Brenda and Sylvia on the Platte River.

Our plan to get ahead of the Boy Scout worked until we found a good fishing hole.  A good fishing hole meant stopping to try to catch fish. 

Brenda with one of several fish.

And that gave the Boy Scout plenty of time to catch up and pass us . . . sometimes.  Other times, the Boy Scout demonstrated at our good fishing holes that the upper Platte does indeed have a 50% tip-over rate.  We’d guess that at least half of the Scouts ended up in the river. 

Meanwhile, we paddled on.

Brenda about to go over some rapids.

Since Snowy Hoot-ers are into birds, I had to stop to photograph the flock of cedar waxwings that seemed at times to be following us down the river.  We also saw kingfishers and a great blue heron.

Cedar waxwing.

 Afterwards, we returned to my favorite restaurant to suffer through more great food and margaritas.

Selfs portrait by Brenda Sayles.

Later, we played chicken.

Another Brenda self-timer portrait.

 Sylvia misunderstood the idea of playing chicken.

Sylvia lying in the middle of a road.

After extracting Sylvia from the road, we wrapped up the day with a roaring fire.

Another Brenda self-timer photo.

Indeed, a camping trip with my pals was the best thing I could have done.  It was the kind of fun my Dad had throughout his life with his friends and family.  It also turns out that where I went camping, paddling and fishing was where my Dad used to go to a hunting camp to spend quality time in the woods with his gun.

Oh, and watch out Boy Scouts–the Snowy Hoot-ers have more trips planned for the future.

Snowy Hoot-ers

Written by on February 20, 2012 2 Comments

Anyone who’s published an e-book lately knows that just about every waking hour that you’re not working your regular job, you’re marketing.  My book From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds was published as an e-book in late December and all I’ve done is Tweeted, gotten LinkedIn, blogged, written articles for interviews or other blogs until finally, last Friday, I found myself sitting at my computer writing “blah, blah, blah.”  I decided it was time to get away with my two fun traveling pals, fellow biologists and adventurers, Brenda and Sylvia.  On Saturday we set out to see a snowy owl. 

You see, snowy owls don’t normally hang out in Michigan, but this year they’d been spotted in various places in Michigan because their population outgrew their food source in the arctic and some had to wander south to find food.  The two places the owls had been spotted that were closest to the Lansing area were the Tawas Point State Park and the Muskegon Wastewater Treatment Plant.  Treatment plants are smelly affairs, so I called the State Park in Tawas on Friday only to learn that the 5 owls that had once been seen there had moved on.  Our destination became the Muskegon WWTP.

Lansing didn’t have any snow on the ground but as we got to the outskirts of Muskegon, we found an inch of snow blanketing the area.  The wind was blowing mightily as well, and since one of the members of our party arrived to go look for owls without wearing any socks, we stopped at a local dollar store.  We didn’t ask why one would show up without socks in the winter time, but while buying socks we discovered several tiny bags of yogurt covered pretzels, sesame sticks and almonds, and loaded up with enough snacks to keep us through a winter storm. 

We arrived on the grounds of the Muskegon treatment plant and took in the fresh air.

Three well prepared wastewater treatment plant visitors, Brenda, Sylvia, and me. Photo by Brenda Sayles.

The wastewater treatment area is laid out like a series of football fields divided by earthen berms.  In each earthen berm is a concrete chute or notch that allows water to flow from one treatment cell to the other.  When we stood back and took in the giant area, we realized that from the view of a snowy owl, it might just look something like the arctic tundra.  We also realized that it might be difficult finding a mostly white owl in the mostly white area.  Luckily, we saw an old guy in a Buick driving around, flagged him down, and, after a wee bit of flirting, got directions to the cell where he’d seen an owl. 

Tundra-like grounds of the waste water treatment area. Owl is in the center of the photo.

 At a better angle, and using my 400mm lens, I was able to get a better shot of what is an adult male snowy owl, sitting on a concrete chute between two treatment cells.

Snowy hoot-er who'd apparently been there for a while, pooping.

I felt particularly lucky to have seen this snowy owl, because I’m not likely to get up to the tundra any time soon, and I realized that in the real tundra, a snowy might be really hard to see.

A white head in the treatment tundra.

 Still, I was hoping for a better picture than one taken from far away, so I sat down in my ghillie suit, thinking I could creep up on the owl and take photos.  But I think I just looked like a giant bush on the otherwise white tundra.  The owl was not impressed. 

Me and my out of place ghillie suit. Photo by Brenda Sayles.

I was also hoping I could get the owl to do something, like move or fly or something, and to do that, I’d brought along a fishing pole with one of my cat’s stuffed mice on the end.  In Lansing, we had no snow, so I’d gone with a white mouse toy.  This did not work well either.

Snowy owl fishing didn't work well, either. Photo by Brenda Sayles.

While we didn’t get to see a snowy owl do something exciting like fly around or catch a vole or something, at least we saw one, thanks to the old guy in the  Buick.

Last shot of the snowy.

 In honor of finding a snowy owl, we decided to name ourselves the Snowy Hooters.  Look for more of our adventures in future postings, a month or so from now when I find myself once again sitting at my computer going, “blah, blah, blah.”

Amy, Sylvia and Brenda at the beach after seeing a snowy owl. Photo by some other guy we flirted with, willing to take our photo.


My Wee Vacation with the Little Old Lady

Written by on December 21, 2011 No Comments

My vacation for 2011 was a trip to Edwardsville, Illinois to see my sister, Aby, and her family.  The vacation lasted three days, 16 hours of which involved driving.  My passenger was my 75-year-old mother who hadn’t gone anywhere in a long time, either, and spent the drive pointing out the obvious, like, “Oh, look at that white barn.”  And, “Well, at least it’s only raining. It could be snow.”  She was right and we were glad it was only cold rain.

The view out my car on my way to Edwardsville, IL.
Mom also pointed out the construction zones.  She counted five in all.  They did not make us happy.

My favorite signs when traveling.

One goal of our trip was to arrive  at my sister’s in plenty of time to go see my nephew play basketball.  He looks something like this. 

My nephew, Collin, in his hoop gear.

It’s always fun to see someone you know up on the school wall.

Garvey, number 13, is the guy we came to watch.

And it’s really fun to see that someone score some points.  Collin didn’t play long but made 6 points.

He shoots. He scores!

I like taking photographs at sports events because well, consider the fact that Collin is shooting and two of his teammates on the bench aren’t even paying attention. Consider also the two guys on the other side of the door chatting as if there isn’t a game going on.

Is anyone else watching the game?

On the other hand, it was a bit hard to watch after a while. 

Four minutes left in the third period, Collin's team had 35, the other guys zero.

So Collin’s team won and we were all happy, and to add to my happiness I got to play the fast-paced card game, Scrunch, with Mom, Aby, and my niece, Kailea.  Kailea recently earned her red belt in Taekwondo so I try to be nice to her. 

Kailea with her constant companion, Smiggles, the ferret.

My sister, however, does not have a Taekwondo belt and we get a wee competitive sometimes.  The fact that I remain the Scrunch champion is hardly worth mentioning, anymore than the nice chats I had with Aby’s husband, Jay, and the great Christmas shopping I got to do with Aby and Mom.  And while I can’t show you most of the Christmas presents we got, I will show you the one Mom and I found.  It’s for Mark, of course.

A caterpillar pillow pal safely secured in our car.

Best of all was the group photo with Aby’s family.

Jay, Collin, Aby, Kailea, Mom, me and Maggie, the pups.

We packed a lot in during our short visit and had a great time.   Catching up was the best part.  Or well, maybe kicking butt in Scrunch.

Here Fishy, Salmon Fishy on the Manistee River

Written by on August 27, 2011 4 Comments

When Mark wasn’t raising discus fish and hamsters this summer he spent some of his spare time watching fishing shows on TV.  One show featured a fishing fanatic and guide named Doug Samsal who was filmed in a boat on a northern Michigan River catching salmon with spawn and bobbers which he flung overboard and watched float down the river.   This technique for catching salmon was new to Mark, so he hired Doug to take us down the Manistee River to catch salmon last Wednesday.

Unfortunately, the Manistee River is 3 hours from Lansing, which meant I had to take Tuesday afternoon off to drive “up north.”   I was missing work terribly as I drove, watching nifty clouds forming and breaking and leaving the mid-Michigan traffic behind.  Before reaching the town of Manistee, we wound our way to the nearby fish weir to make sure salmon were really hanging out in the Manistee River.

Salmon hanging out near a weir, Manistee River.

After being convinced there were fish in the river, we had a relaxing dinner free of any animals whining for nibbles, and drifted off to sleep in a motel room without two dogs wiggling around our bed.  Truly, a sad story so far, huh?

Overnight, Manistee received two inches of rain and the weather cooled off to a comfortable 60 degrees by morning.  We rose at 5:15, nibbled on a continental breakfast courtesy of the Microtel Inn & Suites and drove off into the dark of morning.  As we pulled into the parking lot at the boat launch fifteen minutes later, we heard a giant splash in the river, which could only mean salmon.  Soon our guide, Doug, arrived, lowered his barge-like boat into the water, grabbed a few rods and let us jump aboard. 

Our guide.

Doug motored upstream for a bit before dropping anchor and handing us spinning reels on long rods with lures attached to the ends.  He explained that he would move the boat to the various bends and holes in the river and all we had to do was cast our lures–Thundersticks made by Storm–into the water. 

Cast?  What happened to plopping spawn bags overboard and watching bobbers bob around, Mark asked?  Doug said it was too early in the season to use spawn bags because guess what?  The fish hadn’t spawned yet.  In fact, I noticed there were only a couple of other people on the river, two of whom Doug described as die-hard elderly fishing fanatics and one of whom Doug described as a guide with lesser abilities than his own.  I feared it was going to be a long day.

My fears were soon intensified because the fact is, Mark and I fish with bait casting reels and they have a completely different feel than the spin casting reels Doug handed us.  With spin casting reels you have to hold the pole just so and fling it just so and you stop the line from going too far towards the river bank by flipping the bale over.  On a bait casting reel, I simply stop the forward action of the line with my thumb. 

It turns out Doug is passionate about teaching people fishing techniques and he saw by my ten-foot cast and sigh of exasperation, and by Mark’s lure only going about fifteen feet before getting tangled on itself, that he had two people that needed a lesson on using spin casting gear.  As a bald eagle swooped across the misty water made pink by the slowly rising sun, we were shown how to hold the rod, how to fling the lure after holding the rod near our ear, and how to flip the bail to stop the line from going into the nearby shrubbery.  Doug’s method worked.  Most of the time anyway.

A perfect cast into a beautiful tree.

We also discovered how to snag our lures on the oodles of fallen trees in the Manistee River, and quickly learned from Doug how to get a snagged lure off a log, which is a handy skill to have indeed.  With our new skills in hand, and less than an hour into our river flogging day, we were into the rhythm of rods and spin casting reels we still disliked greatly when Mark got a fish on his line.  It was a smart fish because it ran off some line and then wrapped itself around a tree that had fallen in the water.  No problem, said Doug.  He took this long pole with a curlique on the end, found the line in the water and worked it off the tree it was tangled on. 

Doug holding the fish line grabber thingy in his left hand.

With the line free, Mark reeled his first fish to the boat and Doug netted the fish.  Mark’s fish was  not a behemoth by any means, but it was a nice fish.  And Mark was suddenly one fish up on me. 

Mark's first salmon of the day.

Mark released his fish and an hour or so later, he had his second fish on the line.  As with his first fish, Mark’s second fish took him for a spin around a log.  Doug stepped up with the line finder thingy only to discover that this time, the line was so entangled, there was no way to unwind it from the submerged log.

Doug coming to Mark's rescue again.

“No problem,” said Doug.  “When I think the fish is going to sit still for a moment, I’m going to cut the line.  You reel in the tangled up line from the tree as fast as you ca, hand me the end and I’ll re-tie the line.”

Say what?

But before we could say anything, Doug stood on the bow of the boat, held the line with his left hand, snipped it with his right.  Mark reeled in the formerly tree-tangled line, handed Doug the end and we watched Doug tie the ends together.  Doug let go of the line, Mark reeled again, fought the fish a few minutes longer and soon had another fish in the boat. 

Doug tying the two ends of Mark's line together.

I’ve never seen anyone re-tie a line to get out of a snag and still bring the fish on the boat.  I was impressed with our guide.  I was not very happy with Mark, though, because he was two fish up on me.  Luckily, his second fish was a much smaller fish, which I called a guppy.

As the morning wore on, I had a few smacks at my lure, got tangled on a few logs in the water, pulled up lots of old fishing line, had to have Doug help me get my lure off a couple of logs, and watched several fish blow out of the water after hitting my lure but not biting.   We had fish jumping out of the water all morning long, which was fun to see, but frustrating because I couldn’t catch one.

It was going on 11:30 when we floated back to the boat launch and Doug stopped to get his bait casting reels for us to use.  It was shortly afterwards that line finally went buzzing off  my reel.  On the end of the line: a small pike.  A half hour later, I got all excited again.  I reeled in another small pike.   The score was 2 to 2 fish overall but Mark said my pike didn’t count because we had come salmon fishing.  He said the real score was 2 to nothing.

I was contemplating ways to throw Mark overboard when I finally felt a heavy tug on my line followed by intense pulsing of line being yanked from my bait casting reel.  I had 15-pound monofilament line to work with, Doug said, so I had to play the fish carefully.  This of course, made me nervous, because after flogging the water since 6:30 that morning, I wasn’t about to go home fishless.  My fish ran down river, dove under a log, bent my rod, made me reel quickly and tugged so hard I was unable at times to reel at all sometimes.  Doug moved the boat perfectly to keep me paced with the fish, and when it came to netting, Doug nabbed my fish and brought it into the boat.  My fish looked something like this.

My salmon.

I released my fish and we flogged the water for another hour.  The sun came out, the fish stopped hitting, and by 2:30 our arms were about to fall off.  Doug cranked up the boat and when it stalled out, discovered that the line connecting boat to gasoline had fallen off and the clip was broken.  I spent my ride back upstream to the boat launch holding onto the gas line.

Holding the gas line on the ride back.

And of course I was smiling.  Because at the end of the day, it’s doesn’t matter that my salmon was bigger than both of Mark’s fish put together, or that I caught two species of fish to his one, or that I caught more fish than Mark.  All that was the icing on the cake of a perfect day on a Michigan river.

Catching a Fish and Seeing a Giraffe in Michigan

Written by on July 27, 2011 No Comments

My sister, Aby, called me two weeks ago to say that when she and her daughter, Kailea came into town from Illinois there were a few things they wanted to do:  1) catch a fish; 2) see a giraffe; and 3) go to a beach on Lake Michigan.  It had been averaging 90 degrees in Michigan and I told Aby that people call this “the dog days of summer”, not “the largemouth bass days of summer”, so not to hold her breath.   And I reminded her that amongst my pets were two ferrets, a cat, two dogs, 11 hamsters and some fish, and that to my knowledge, Mark had yet to order us up a giraffe.

When Aby and Kailea arrived on the evening of July 20 to go fishing on my chemically correct lake, the temperature was still around 90 degrees.  Mark had purchased a new rod and reel and a couple of rubber worms just for Kailea, so Aby, Kailea and I went out with the new gear to sweat in a boat and try our luck at fishing.  

Kailea with a rod, reel and tackle.

Using a rubber worm on her new rod and reel, Kailea caught her first largemouth bass.  Woohoo!

Kailea's first largemouth bass.

Soon after Kailea got a bass, I got a bass that Kailea reeled in.  Then I got a pumpkinseed and she reeled that in.  Then the sun set and Aby and Kailea went to my mom’s for the night.  

The next day, my mom, Aby, Kailea and I set out on our giraffe hunt.  I had started the giraffe hunt the week before at our local zoo, the Potter Park Zoo, and, upon learning they had no giraffe, got online and looked for giraffes at other zoos.  I stumbled upon the Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek and was happy to see that they use giraffes as part of their web site graffics–I mean graphics.  I crossed my fingers that we’d actually see a giraffe at the zoo. 

Now, most people aren’t dumb enough to go on giraffe hunts when it’s 93 degrees, which is why it was quite pleasant during our visit last week–there was nobody around.  We went to the children’s zoo first, which was a pretty unimpressive collection of domestic critters hanging around in pens on pea gravel.  The first critters we saw were goats.

Binder Park goat.

They were friendly goats and Kailea got to feed them. 

Kailea feeding a goat.

Nearby, was a really attractive fella I had to photograph.  We did not try to feed him.

Cute-ish pig.

After checking out a few other domestic animals, we attended a 15-minute presentation that featured some of the other zoo critters.  This two-toed sloth was one of our favorites.

Two-toed sloth that, with his eyes closed, looks like he's sleep walking.

We also saw this hawk.

Hawk at Binder Park Zoo.

The show also featured some rats, snakes and a parrot, and after saying hello to each of them, we continued our giraffe hunt by entering the part of Binder Park Zoo called Wild Africa.  Wild Africa is a 20 minute walk or a short tram ride through the woods to a giant enclosure made just for African critters, including several birds and several brown fuzzy, furry critters that look like gazelles.

African bird in Wild Africa.

We also saw these guys.

Two zebras in Wild Africa, Binder Zoo Park.

What I liked about these two zebras is how perfectly their stripes matched when they ate side by side.

Synchronous stripe-ism, or some such thing.

As we were taking photos of the zebras and birds, far, far away we saw two giraffes running in the open.  They soon disappeared out of view off to our right somewhere, so we followed a path and discovered a large overlook where several giraffes were hanging around.  Their heads were at our eye level, and nearby was a lady sitting in a booth selling lettuce to feed to the giraffes.  You might imagine that I asked the lady for her job and that she would not give it to me.  But for $1 a piece, I could buy all the lettuce I wanted.  

Kailea feeding a giraffe.

 Kailea fed the giraffes.  As did Mom. 

Mom feeding a giraffe.

I was about to feed a giraffe when I came face to face with this tough character chewing his or her cud.

Giraffe wondering where the lettuce is.

We were all so thrilled that we could all feed giraffes that we left soon after.  In fact, I was so happy to have helped Kailea get a fish and see a giraffe that I sent  her and Aby off to Grand Rapids to spend time with my father.  It turns out my father is Aby’s father, too, so it wasn’t like a punishment or anything.  Last Friday, July 22, my dad turned 75 and we celebrated by going to the beach.

Me, Aby and Kailea in Lake Michigan.

Holly came along, too, and after we beached, she and Kailea made Dad a birthday cake. 

Holly, Dad and Kailea with Dad's birthday cake.

So all in all, I think Aby and Kailea’s visit was a success.  In fact, remember that we spent about two hours fishing and caught three fish on our lake?  Well, after Aby and Kailea returned to Illinois, Mark, his nephew, Terry, and I spent one day on Thornapple Lake, two days on Lake St. Clair and one day on Lake Hudson and had only a half dozen fish to talk about.  And we didn’t see a single giraffe.

Fishy Secrets

Written by on July 24, 2010 No Comments

The problem with fishing is that when fishing goes well, fishermen are usually willing to share somewhat reliable information about their catch, but they often won’t give details about where they were fishing, exactly, and what they were using, exactly, and what color was working, exactly.  Indeed, from the average fisherman you are more likely to hear, “Yeah, the fishing was great.  I was on a lake in Michigan, and the fish were hitting all sorts of stuff.”

How helpful.

But see, the reason fishermen don’t want to share this information is that they really don’t want other people to find out about their secret lake.   For example, Mark and I went fishing last Saturday and he caught a bluegill, an 18-inch largemouth bass and a legal pike.  I caught two legal pike and a largemouth bass that was small but put up a good fight.  We went fishing at … 

Oh, no, I’m not going to tell you.  Because there we were, on a hot, summer Saturday, the only people fishing on a lake that is within 20 minutes of our house.  Nobody saw us grunt our way through the cattails with our kayaks in tow.  Nobody saw Mark sink knee-deep into the muck at the waters’ edge or heard the loud sluuurrping noise as he extracted his Croc from the muck.  Nobody saw us do the shallow-water boot-scoot boogie as we tried to get our kayaks out of the muck and into open water.

And I like it that way.

But while I’m not going to tell you where we went fishing because I don’t want to see you at the same lake any time soon, unlike most fisherman, I’m happy to share the details of what we used.  I caught my fish with a two-blade, spinnerbait with a yellow head and yellow and white skirt because, well . . . out of necessity.  See, I forgot to bring a knife with me, and because the line we use is 50-pound braided stuff that takes a year to bite through, couldn’t swap out my spinner bait for anything else.  Mark was in his own kayak on the other side of the lake and I was stuck with whatever was on my two poles. 

My primary tour de force is a medium-heavy Fennwick Iron Hawk pole with a Daiwa bait casting reel.  Dangling from this pole was the spinnerbait and I didn’t notice that the yellow paint on its head is worn off; the skirt so deteriorated it’s more a globule than a skirt.  But I was in a my usual hurry when we left on Saturday and I didn’t pay any more attention to that than the other pole Mark handed me.   Turns out that pole’s so old the lettering has been rubbed off.  It’s from the 1940s, belonged to Mark’s mother, and the Zebco reel on it squeaks worse than a sickly mouse.  Attached to it was a purple rubber worm with a pink butt, which I tossed out, only to suffer as the reel squeaked and resisted my every turn of the crank.  I like fishing for the quiet as much as anything, so set that old pole aside and kept to my spinner bait, which—I must note–even in its deteriorated condition, caught as many fish as Mark. 

While I wasn’t exactly well armed, Mark, meanwhile, was in his own kayak with a busload of tackle, a knife, plyers and two fishing poles with bait casting reels that both work well.  One rod is a St. Croix rod so well designed he can throw a lure halfway across the lake.  He was also smart enough to take a knife on board his vessel.  He started with a chartreuse and white Hank Parker “The Classic” spinner bait, which broke after he caught his first pike.  He then tried a Thin Fin, then a LuckyCraft Pointer, the latter of which caught him that big bass.  

Oh, I know, there’s lots of LuckyCraft Pointers, so I’ll narrow it down to a Live Pointer 110MR.

And, yes, there’s a few Live Pointer 110MR patterns to choose from.  But there’s only a few with a white fuzzy tail.

That should narrow it down for you. 

Now, you should thank me.  Because not many fishermen will tell you where they were fishing, exactly, what they were using, exactly, and what color was working, exactly. 

Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Little Blue Penguin Pals

Written by on July 01, 2010 1 Comment

Blue penguins are about 16 inches tall, which makes them too large to be called foot-long penguins but small enough to be the smallest species of penguins in the world.  They live in southern Australia and New Zealand, and spend their days at sea looking for small fish and squid to gulp.   In the evening, they return to their burrow, rocky nook or wooden house to rest.   In 2008, while looking for yellow-eyed penguins at Penguin Place outside of Denedin, New Zealand, Mark and I and some of the Alma College students saw a blue penguin in its wooden nesting box. 

Mark with some students looking at a blue penguin.

What we saw inside the wooden box was this little fella.

Blue penguin hiding from us.

My problem–and I have many–is that the blue penguin was kind of hard to see, and it wasn’t doing anything.  I wanted to see one swim or wiggle or wave or something.  I missed out on seeing a live one in the wild wiggling in 2008, because as were leaving Stewart Island, New Zealand in 2008, we learned that a blue penguin was using a particular rocky nook as its home.  Do you know how disturbing it is to hear that you just missed seeing a blue penguin in the wild?

You could therefore say I waited patiently for two years to return to Stewart Island to see a blue penguin actually doing something in the wild.  I was lucky enough to be part of the May 2010 New Zealand Alma College Experience and I was rather obsessed about getting up in the dark for a chance at seeing the blue penguin.

In contrast, Mark wasn’t really into getting up early to see a penguin rumored to exist two year prior, so I got up and walked to a rocky outcrop alone.  Stars were still shining overhead and the air was crisp with the beginning of the New Zealand fall.  I stood on a dock and stared at the rocks to my left, which  were splattered with white flecks.  I might have stared for 10 minutes, maybe longer, but when I could still see nothing but black rocks and black specks, a new white speck appeared and moved.  Without being able to see anything through my camera, I shot several photos, and I kept shooting as the white speck turned into a white blob, which jumped into the water.  When it emerged, I took one last shot and got lucky.

Blue penguin in the wee hours of the morning.

Seconds later, the penguin stuck its head in the water and disappeared for the day.

That one glimpse made us pals, so of course I had to make sure my pal returned from its adventure at sea.  At dusk, I waited at the same spot.  Mark joined me this time, and I was staring into the water when Mark suddenly pointed and said, “There he is!”  I couldn’t even bring my camera to my face before I saw the penguin jump out the water.  In a flash, it hop-hopped into its rocky nook and disappeared.  This is one of three blue penguin butt shots I took.

My blue penguin pal coming home after a day at sea.

Now, while this was an amazing experience, I still hadn’t gotten my fill of blue penguin encounters.  That may be one reason why Mark and Mel included in the 2010 Alma College New Zealand Experience, a penguin encounter at the Antarctic Center in Christchurch.  All the penguins at the Center are rescued penguins and have issues of one sort or another.  The penguin below has only one leg and a chunk of its flipper is missing.  His name is Bagpipes and he was found by a Scottish veterinarian holidaying in NZ.  He’s about three years old.  

Blue penguin swimming by.

 The blue penguin below gets hand fed.  He had food in his mouth so wouldn’t tell me his name.

Blue penguin gulping a fish.

Seeing blue penguins swim and get fed was fun, but the best was seeing a blue penguin up close.  I don’t know the woman’s name in the photo, below, but she’s holding CC, which stands for City Council.  CC was found in a drain by a city council worker in Napier, NZ.  She’s 13 years old.

CC coming out to see us.

I never imagined CC would end up right in front of me!

CC less thrilled about me than I am about her. Photo by Mark Oemke.

I’m afraid I chat with animals, and I gabbed easily with CC .  She told me about how her right eye got injured, and I told her about my other penguin encounters.  I also told her that when she leans over she’s like the size of a football.

CC chatting with me.

I had numerous blue penguin encounters at the Antarctic Center and fell in love with all of them.

Another blue penguin I fell for.

The thing is, every blue penguin is a cute one, whether it’s in a wooden nesting box, swimming in the water, hopping out onto the land, or just standing there staring at you.  So, the morale of this story is:  if you ever have a chance–any kind of chance–to see a blue penguin, do it.

New Zealand Kiwi Encounter

Written by on May 25, 2010 No Comments

In 2006, 2008 and 2010, I was fortunate enough to be part of Alma College’s New Zealand Experience, an 18-day class in New Zealand to take in the sights, sounds, culture and critters.  Mark and his coworker, Mel, set up the trip and included opportunities to see royal albatross, yellow-eyed penguins and other critters I’ll probably have to blog about in the future.

On my want-to-do list of New Zealand critter encounters was an encounter with a kiwi, a bird that looks like a chubby chicken with puffy legs and a really, really long beak.  While kiwis have wing nubbins, they cannot fly, and because they cannot fly, kiwis rely on people for protection, both to preserve their habitat and keep them safe from predators.

There are several ways to see kiwis in New Zealand, some of which are easier than others.  Several towns–including Queenstown and Rotorua–have reserves with kiwis in indoor enclosures.  Since some kiwis are nocturnal, most of the indoor enclosures are in the dark as well. 

Indoor kiwi encounter in Queenstown.

The down side of indoor enclosures is the piece of glass between me and the kiwi, because it makes things rather impersonal.  And being in the dark, well, it’s hard to take a photograph. I wanted to see a kiwi up close and in person with no glass between, and I wanted to gets its photo.  I looked into kiwi encounters and learned that Stewart Island has more kiwis than people.  And it just happened that it was one stop on our Alma College NZ Experience.

On islands like Stewart Island, New Zealanders have put enough effort into trapping predators that the islands are virtually free of rats, stoats and weasels, all of which eat the kiwis’ eggs. I thought the odds were good I’d see a kiwi on Stewart Island.

Predator trap.

But once I got to Stewart Island I learned that there are several possible ways to  see kiwis.  One way is to hike around the bush until you stumble on a kiwi.  While that worked for one of my co-workers, I know that I could wander for days in the bush only to get lost and return with a weird rash. 

So Mark and I found another way to potentially find a kiwi near Stewart Island:  we hired a water taxi to take us to a small island where kiwis had been seen previously.  Mark and I did this in 2006 and spent three hours wandering around a beach looking at holes made by kiwis.  The holes look like this.

Holes made by kiwis.

Since that didn’t pan out, Mark got in touch with the tour company Alma College used–Travel Time Pacific–which recommended we contact Phillip Smith, a guy with all the right stuff:  a boat, the ability to take us to a remote island to look for kiwis at night, and a flashlight. 

In 2008, Mark, Mel and I, along with a dozen students, met Phillip at a wharf in Stewart Island and jumped onto his boat.  The sun set as we rode along, and it was dark by the time we reached a small island.  Phillip pulled the boat into shore as close as he dared, dropped a plank and helped us walk ashore. 

Phillip (left) and Mark on the start of our kiwi spotting adventure.

After issuing a few dim flashlights, Phillip led us into the woods, up and down hills and onto a massive sandy beach.  The only sound was the sound of the waves and the students “ooh”ing and “aah”ing at the dome of stars overhead.  We were on the verge of agreeing where the Southern Cross was when we saw a wave of Phillip’s flashlight.  Moments later, in the dim of his light, we saw our first kiwi poking her long bill in the sand, probing around for tiny crustaceans, insects and pretty much anything that wiggled.

Kiwis are sensitive to light, which is why only Phillip got to shine his dim “torch” toward the kiwi and why nobody could use flashes or strobes.  This photo was taken at the highest ISO my Nikon D100 had, and using a tripod. 

My first kiwi, near Stewart Island, New Zealand.

Getting a photograph of my first kiwi encounter in the wild was icing on the cake of what was otherwise a perfect night.  A lot of New Zealanders have never seen a kiwi in the wild. 

During our recent trip to New Zealand, 13 Alma College students followed Phillip into the dark to see their first kiwi in the wild.  I couldn’t help but be excited for them–on that huge expanse of beach, under a dome of stars, spending time with a hapless, special bird.

Sign on Ulva Island, off Stewart Island.

New Zealand – Week 2, Take 2

Written by on May 13, 2010 1 Comment

During our second week in New Zealand I discovered that I should have brought my computer to NZ rather than “renting” time on a clunky old computer at our hotels.  See, in NZ, you generally buy 10-30 minutes of time to use a NZ computer, and if you’re quick, you’ll think that 10 minutes will be enough time to check mail and compose a blog posting.  So I started with 10 minutes by putting in a $2 coin and ended up watching the timer at the top of the computer go from 10 minutes to 9 to 8 to 7, and found myself writing faster and faster as if I’d entered a typing contest.  I was about to finish the text of my blog posting when I saw that I had no time to edit what I wrote, let alone include a photo.  I began editing furiously, when suddenly the computer started to beep–and rather loudly–to let me know I had 25 seconds to either wrap things up or put in a new coin.  So I had to to decide:  Do I save what I drafted without a photo, or just go ahead and post it?  I quickly saved my draft, coughed up another $2 coin and spent the next 10 minutes watching the old computer slowly try to download a photo I took of a kiwi.  You know, the bird?  Very cute and odd and a real novelty in NZ.  I really do have a photograph of one.  And I really took it.

I bagged my original version of New Zealand – Week 2, because I wanted to write about kiwis.  But we’ll have to cover kiwis later.  When I’m home.  On my computer.  And can do a blog posting without worrying about a timer going off and time running out.  I got 2 minutes.  Gotta go.