Monday, July 29, 2019

Another Summer Fishing Tournament

As we do every year, my sons and I fished a local Fluke (also called Summer Flounder) tournament in late July this year. And like every year, we caught our share of fish, had a fish at weigh-in at the end of the day ... and didn't win. And we are okay with that, because we had a great day of fishing and a lot of fun.

This year, the Shinnecock Shores Fluke Tournament was held on Saturday July 20th, from 7am to 3pm with weigh-in from 3-4pm. It's a small local tournament fished by amateurs like me from the community. This year we had 18 boats entered, and their captains each paid a $50 entry fee. The rules are very simple: the heaviest legal-sized Fluke (not the longest) wins the grand prize. It must be caught that day, after 7am, by an angler on a registered boat, and it must be presented at weigh-in before 4pm. There's also a "consolation prize" for the heaviest Sea Robin, a nuisance fish that feeds on the bottom and steals bait and isn't considered to be as tasty. The prize for the biggest Fluke this year was $850, and for the biggest Sea Robin just $50.

It has been an odd year for Fluke fishing for a few reasons. First, there are more Fluke around than in most years, so we've been catching a lot, but the vast majority are "shorts" or fish that are below the legal limit of 19". Second, there are far fewer Sea Robins around this year than in the last few, which is great since it allows the focus to be on Fluke. Third, the usual spot for the largest local Fluke, the Shinnecock Reef three miles off shore in the Ocean has been holding lots of Sea Bass and even Mackerel, but not many Fluke. With all of that as context we had a strange fishing day. We fished the morning incoming tide for several hours, came home for a quick lunch and to regroup and freshen up our bait, and then fished a few more hours of the outgoing tide before hustling our best fish over to weigh-in. We caught 50 Fluke over the course of the day, and weren't very bothered by the usual brigade of Sea Robins. We chose to fish in Shinnecock Bay for most of the day, rather than the Ocean, because we knew that the Ocean seemed to have fewer Fluke lately. In the end, though, we caught our only keeper for the day, a mere 19.25", in the Ocean.

At weigh-in, only 5 boats presented fish. Most apparently had only shorts all day. We ended up having one of two fish just over 2.2 lbs, tied for 4th. The other fish were obviously larger, but the winner won by a long-shot, weighing in at over 7 lbs. We hear the angler took his boat to Montauk to fish for bigger fish. That's a big time and fuel commitment, and more than most of us would be willing to do, but his investment paid off.

After the tournament and weigh in were over, Shinnecock Shores held a great $25/person Lobster Fest that many fishermen and non-fishermen enjoyed together. My family brought along a cooler of beer and feasted on lobster, corn, coleslaw, and more and it was a great end to a fun day.

Next year, we're going to win the Fluke Tournament! At least, we'll try hard - as we always do.


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Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Best Fishing Rod I Ever Had

I once heard a story about a woodsman who was very attached to his ax. He’d say, “this is the best ax I’ve ever had. I’ve replaced the head twice and the handle three times, and it’s as good as the day I got it 25 years ago.” Of course, if he’s replaced the only two parts there are in that tool, how can he say it’s the same ax? I think I know how. I have that same feeling about a tool of my own.

Readers of this blog know that I try to take good care of my fishing tackle, and spend 2 or 3 days a year going through tackle boxes and trays to clean and reorganize my hooks, rigs, snap swivels, sinkers, soft plastics, tins, etc. I repack the boxes and trays after cleaning them up, I sand and sharpen hooks. I throw away things like rusty hooks or flattened barbs that I can’t use anymore without seriously risking a missed fish. 

I also take stock of my fishing rods and reels. I have about 10 at any given time. Some are lighter, some heavier. Some are conventional reels, some are spinning reels. Some are 6.5 or 7 feet tall, some are shorter. These rod and reel combos need attention, too. When it comes to rods, the most common problem is a broken rod tip or a ring popping out of a guide. These I get fixed at the local tackle shop, at least for the first few times they happen to a rod. At some point, I might decide that a rod has seen better days and replace the rod entirely. Usually, given the medium quality rod I often buy, that doesn’t happen until a rod is at least 10 years old. The reels are another story. Good reels can last 20 years if well taken care of. From time to time, though, I replace a reel that has a mechanical problem I can’t easily fix, or whose moving parts are sticking in ways that WD40 can’t fix, making reeling a less smooth experience. That, too, can cost me  fish.
One rod I’ve been fishing with for 25 years is a particular favorite. I use it for a range of fish but mostly fluke and bluefish. It’s a white fiberglass rod with guides set up for a spinning reel and a black rubber (hypalon) grip. The reel is a Penn Battle II 4000 spinning reel. Or at least it is right now. You see, aside from the expected minor repairs, I’ve replaced the rod twice and the reel once, at different times, when they needed to be changed. But for the entire 25 years, this has been one of my favorite rods. And I do realize that there’s no part of it that’s the same as it was 25 years ago. But to me, that rod and reel has been in my hands during many great days of fishing, and it helped me to land many fine fish. It really is a consistent 25 year experience. It’s not the parts that make it up, it’s the idea in my head about what it is that works for me in a rod and reel combo, and the way I use it.

And that’s the lesson I take away. In so many disciplines, it isn’t the tool itself, it’s the way the person using the tool thinks about it and leverages it’s characteristics to get the job done well. That’s true for the woodsman and his ax, and it’s true for my favorite fishing rod and me.

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Start of the Boating and Fishing Season

Another summer season of boating and fishing is coming! For me, it doesn't just arrive one fine day on the summer solstice – I spend weeks getting ready. Back in the second week of April, I started the long process of getting ready for summer boating and fishing by heading out to my beach house and opening up for the season, organizing and doing small repairs in the house, yard, fishing shed, and garage. I also spent some time taking stock of my fishing gear and tackle so that I could do small repairs and replace what I needed to.

First boat in!
By late in April, I got my boat Freedom (a 26' 2017 Edgewater 262CC Center Console fishing boat) into the water and tied up at the dock. I’m usually among the earliest but this year my boat was the first boat in my lagoon to be launched! It was still a little cold for fishing, though, and most of what I fish for hadn’t come into the area in large numbers yet. 
A nice early season bluefish

As we got into the month of May, the beach house was in pretty good shape, the boat was in the water and ready, and the fish had started to come in. On my first outing, my oldest son Steve and I got up early and spent the morning casting topwater plugs to striped bass. The bass weren't cooperating, but I did catch a nice bluefish that day, and it put up a good fight. As a bonus, Steve cleaned and prepped the fish for the smoker and it was delicious. Oily fish such as bluefish are really great when smoked, and Steve always does a great job.

Now, later in May, we've started fishing for Fluke. Things are slow but we're getting a few to bite and expect that things will pick up from here. The 2019 season is getting off to a fine start!

Early morning start for Fluke
Ready to go

Heading to the Ponquogue Bridge

Engines running well!
First Fluke of the season
Back home. Swans come to visit

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Not Catching a Tarpon

Leaping Tarpon
As my close friends know, fishing is a favorite hobby of mine. I go fishing often and really enjoy a quiet, sunny day on the water whether I catch fish or not. Of course, actually catching fish improves the day immensely.

I frequently share pictures of fish I’ve caught in my home waters of the northeast US, and sometimes I share pictures of fish caught while travelling to Florida or California. Once I even fished in Hawaii and had a great day catching bill fish, tuna, and dorado. A quick list in my head just now approached 40 different species that I’ve caught. With a little time for thought, I think the list might hit 50.

From time to time, I target a fish species I haven’t yet caught. Back in 2013 I wanted to catch a King Mackeral down in the Florida Keys. I chartered a boat and we had a great day, catching several different species and, in the end, I caught a beautiful King Mackeral that put up a good fight and leaped 10-15 feet out of the water along the way. Years before, tuna and sailfish were on my list, and it was a thrill when I got to check those boxes. In the case of the tuna (yellowfin, blackfin, albacore), they were delicious to eat as well, while in the case of the sailfish, the fish were revived and set free.

Tarpon, a beautiful game fish in southern waters, has long been a fish on my list. Sometimes called silver kings, these fish live close to shore but grow to 50 lbs or more, and fish of 150 lbs or more are sometimes caught. When in the Florida Keys, some large Tarpon can be seen every day swimming lazily around the docks at marinas. People even feed them! But catching a Tarpon in the wild is a surprisingly tricky proposition.

I had been Tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys twice before, but didn’t manage to catch one. The first time was on a charter with my brother in law, and the one Tarpon bite that day was his turn. He landed a nice 20 pounder and I'm sure that he has that photo somewhere. The second time, I was on two-day fishing trip with my son Rich. Day 1 was Sailfishing (we each caught one) and Day 2 was Tarpon fishing. On day 2 we caught lots of sharks and even a sawfish, but no Tarpon.

It was try number 3 for me earlier this month, when I chartered a boat in Key West for a 4 hour early morning Tarpon trip. We began by fishing several spots near to the marina while we waited for the tide to start coming in, but saw no action. After about an hour, we eventually settled into a spot where we would fish for the rest of the morning. Within 10 minutes, we began to see lots of tarpon “rolling” at the surface, meaning they would surface and arc their long bodies in a way in which their long silver backs looked like a wheel just breaking the surface. Some appeared to be well over 50 pounds. Some looked pretty close to 100 according to my guide, Sean.

Our first real opportunity came when a good sized tarpon took one of our live baits and started peeling line off the reel fast. I had to let him run or he’d break the line. After a minute of pulling line, the fish leaped and flipped, about 30 yards behind the boat, and then threw the hook. Sean estimated him to be 50-60 pounds. Though I was disappointed to not got a shot at this one, it really was a thrill to see the fish run with all that line and leap out of the water.

Over time we saw a few more fish roll, and Sean was able to pitch a bait right near one of them and the big fish picked it up and ran. I got the rod and Sean quickly untied the anchor line, leaving it connected to a float so that the boat could follow the fish as I fought it.

What a great fight I was in for! The fish briefly showed itself near the surface and Sean said it was a big one, maybe 60-70 lbs. It was peeling off line, but from time to time I was able to get some line back. Sean moved the boat so as to relieve tension on the line and also so that together, by the direction of the boat and by the way I angled the rod tip, we could keep the big fish from moving into areas with fish traps and floats. If the big Tarpon moved that way, the line could get tangled in the traps and lines and we’d lose the fish.

As I fought the fish, he stayed down more than we expected. At one point, based on the way the Tarpon was moving, Sean wondered whether he was also being stalked by a shark. We never did find out, though. At one point a good 10 minutes into the fight, I was able to get the fish up to the surface, running away from the boat on the right (starboard) side. What a beauty! It was a big one and I got a good long look at it as it cut through the water at the surface, looking every bit the sea monster. Since the fish was at the surface and the boat was moving, I was able to get some line back -- but then the Tarpon dove down and doubled back crossing the bow. I had to run toward the bow to avoid the line getting caught. Sean wanted me to jump up onto the bow to keep the line clear but I’m not as good at “jump” or “balance” as I used to be, so I got as far forward as I could and extended to the rod to protect against line snags. The fish moved back and forth and stayed down a lot. It took line, I got line back. About 20 minutes into the fight… slack. The line had broken, and the big fish was gone.

I don’t know if there was a shark involved, or whether when the Tarpon crossed the bow the line scraped and got weakened, but the line was broken and the fight was over. I was disappointed, of course, but also exhilarated. That was a beautiful fish that I fought for 20 minutes. My heart was racing and my arms were tired. I got a good look at the fish swimming powerfully near the boat. Had I actually caught the fish I wouldn’t have been permitted to bring it into the boat anyway, but only bring it alongside for a photo. 

This time, I don’t have a photo I can share with all of you, but I’ll make due with the very clear motion picture in my mind. That fish was a beauty, that fight was exciting, and the fish gets to swim away and live to fight another day. (For those wondering about the hook, we use circle hooks that reliably move to the corner of the mouth, out of the way, and if the fish doesn’t throw the hook the same day, it is designed to rust quickly and fall out. That fish will live on!).

So, although I got closer this time, Tarpon is still on my list. I hope to be back to Florida to chase them again next year. Meanwhile, the positive memory of that beautiful morning fishing earlier this month will stay with me.

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Friday, March 29, 2019


The older I get, the less I appreciate winter. I don't ski, and I don't have any other winter activities that I enjoy. When my kids were younger (and my body was, too) an afternoon of sledding and then snowball battles and snowman-making was a great time. Those days are past.

My wife, who really enjoys winter, thinks this is all very curmudgeonly of me – and it may be. But I don't like driving in winter weather, I don't like short days with grey skies and minimal sunlight, I don't like how my achy joints feel in the cold weather, and I miss summer. When I'm lucky enough to have the opportunity, I combat this by spending a few days in warmer regions.

Now that winter is over, the days are getting a little longer and the weather is getting more mild. This makes me happy. I can take a walk in my neighborhood in the daylight after work. I'm looking forward to the classic visual signs, too, such as flowers and trees blooming in my yard and neighborhood. The feeling of spring also lets me start to think about my favorite time of year, summer, when I can boat and fish and swim on my days off. I'm dreaming of those coming days with a big smile on my face, and looking forward to my second summer with my new boat.

Some day, I'd love to winter in warmer areas like Florida and return north for our summers here in the northeast. I'm not at that stage yet, but with each passing year I like the idea that much more.

What's your favorite season and why?

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Monday, February 25, 2019

A Visit to Lisbon, Portugal

Great Group Travel 

Earlier this month, Tacey and I were part of a group of 40 travelers from the Philadelphia area visiting Portugal. The trip was planned for us by Gate 1 Travel and they really did a great job. We left on a Thursday evening, arriving in Portugal on Friday morning and then spent Friday through Monday seeing the sights of Lisbon and neighboring areas with the help of an expert guide before leaving early on Tuesday to return to the US. It was an amazing trip, allowing us to experience so much in just a short time.

We had traveled in 2017 with about half the group on a trip to Iceland, and enjoyed reuniting with old friends. We were just as glad to meet a group of new friends with whom we could share the Lisbon experience. Together, our group of 40 traveling companions spent the first day getting to know Lisbon with Pedro, one of the amazing local guides who work with Gate1 Travel, the tour operator who arranged the trip. Over the next few days we visited Sintra, Cascais, Nazaré, Cabo da Roca, Óbidos, Nazare, and Fátima. We saw sights. We took photos. We ate seafood. We drank wine. We smiled a lot.

What follows are a few photos from our trip that I’m happy to share. 

Some views around Lisbon
Some views around Lisbon
Lisbon's ancient aqueducts
Walkways everywhere are limestone mosaics. This is flat ground!
Limestone mosaic walkways as art
A beautiful walkway in hilly Lisbon
A beautiful city park, with a monument in the distance
The monument mentioned above
A monument to Portugal's seagoing history
The famous Belém Tower at the waterfront
In Sintra, the town and the fortress walls above
The castle in Sintra
Tacey shops in Sintra
Cabo da Roca, the western-most point of Europe
The seaside town of Cascais
Tacey and Deke in the seaside town of Cascais
Seafood lunch in Cascais
The seaside town of Nazaré
Seafood lunch of squid and grouper in Nazaré
Fortress walls of Obidos
Fortress walls of Obidos
Walking the fortress walls of Obidos
Some of our group in Obidos
Great seafood everywhere
Great seafood everywhere
Octopus for dinner
At Ramiro, showing us the lobster for dinner
We began with clams and shrimp
Portugal is known for these very large tiger prawns, 10" long
Our full group, in front of the famous Belém Tower


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Sunday, January 27, 2019

What is a National Emergency?

Blogging a question, not an answer

When should a president declare an emergency?
I generally avoid blogging on political matters and will continue to avoid them here in the future. The closest I usually come in RapidGroove is sharing thoughts on making elections work well for our citizens. But with a long federal shutdown just ended in the last few days, and the threat of another shutdown just a few weeks away, talk of the use of a presidential declaration of a national emergency has resurfaced.

Count me among the many people who had no idea until very recently that there are many National Emergencies currently in effect. ABC News reports 31 of them. These emergencies have been declared by presidents going back to Jimmy Carter, and include emergencies declared by President Trump.

My question at the moment is whether there is a situation on the US border with Mexico that rises to the level of a national emergency. If we start with an agreement that we don't want illegal drug trafficking and human trafficking and we want people to enter the US through legal processes, is the declaration of an emergency to build a border wall the response to the current problems that experts recommend, or are there other measures that would address the most pressing needs identified by the experts? If a physical barrier (wall, fence, etc.) is a part of the solution, how much and exactly where? And what are the other parts of the solutions?

Backing up a little farther, is the situation on the southern border more of an emergency than other things at the moment? Is it more of an emergency than deaths due to gun violence, or opioid abuse? Is it more of an emergency than the terrifying effects of climate chaos brought on by greenhouse gasses?

Is a shutdown ever helpful?
I'm not looking for a fight on any of these issues. I'm asking a basic set of questions and hoping for a discussion. What constitute an emergency, is there an emergency on the south border and if so what does it involve, does a wall somehow address that emergency better and more cost effectively than other approaches? Are there other emergencies that surpass this one in importance, and if so why are we not talking about those emergencies when we talk about continued funding of the government?

Should the President seriously consider the use of a Presidentially-declared National Emergency to fund a border wall in the coming weeks? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.


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