Thursday, September 19, 2019

Never Too Old to Rock and Roll

A Lifelong Love for Music

http://www.thelavarocks.com
I've been playing piano since I was about 5 years old. My mother was a classically trained pianist, and my father was an operatic tenor who for a time had a small performing opera company. Neither were professional musicians, but both loved and played music late into their lives. They had me take classical piano lessons for about 6 years starting in grade school, but as I discovered rock and roll, I didn't want to play classical music anymore - I wanted to play the songs I heard on the radio. I'm not now and have never been a virtuoso. I've known a great many keyboard players with better skills than mine. But over time I became good at learning to play songs by ear and occasionally found some sheet music. Most of all, I enjoyed playing music that I liked to listen to written by musicians and composers I admired.
Ezra, Don, Nick, Jeff

Over time, I met other musicians and was lucky enough to play in a string of bands in my teens and twenties, many of which performed for the public. As I got into my late twenties, though, my wife and I were raising three boys and building our careers and my music took a back seat. I still had a piano in the house – actually the grand piano that my mother played and that I learned on – but I played it only rarely and almost never with other musicians. In 2011 and 2012 I briefly tried to get one of my old bands back together, but it fizzled quickly and then, very sadly, one of the band members passed away.

A few years ago, with my kids now grown and careers well established, it felt like time to play again. Some neighborhood guys had recently put together a weekly jam at which people would show up, call out a tune, and we'd all try to play it. Often it worked out well, and I was having fun. Over the weeks and months I began to shake off the rust and to play a little better, and slowly I got to know some of the players and found some had similar tastes in music and complimentary styles. 

The Mermaid Inn
Organically, in mid-2018, a few of us began to talk about putting a band together. Originally, this was a guitar player named Nick, a mandolin and lap-steel player named Don, a guitar player named Ezra who hosted the weekly jam, and me on keyboards. Don would sometimes play bass, and at other times my left hand would be the bass. We began to practice weekly, separate from the jam, and to develop a catalog of music that we could all agree upon. We went through a few drummers and eventually landed with a local guy named Jeff. Having met each other at the Sunday jams at Ezra's house in a town named Laverock, I began to call the band The Lava Rocks and the name stuck.

During 2019, the band really came together. We had moved practices to my basement where I had a PA and microphones, and we developed a catalog of 30 or so songs. The music is what most people call "Classic Rock," including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, The Eagles and others. We played a private party at my house to try it all out and it was well-received, and we recorded a few songs at a local recording studio and put them up on our new web site (www.TheLavaRocks.com). Next, we got booked at a local bar called The Mermaid Inn in Chestnut Hill late this summer. We invited friends and family and played a full show. People seemed to have a great time, which is the real measure of success as far as I'm concerned. Some photos from that first show are included here.

The Lava Rocks are having a blast. We range in age from late 40s to mid 60s, and none of us are slowing down. The Mermaid wants us back in the coming year, and we are talking with 3 or 4 other bars where we'd like to play in the coming months. 

The Lava Rocks - Ezra, Nick, Don, Jeff and I - are proof that you're never too old to rock and roll!

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Fishing Big

Tuna and Striped Bass

Earlier this month, I got to do some serious offshore fishing with my sons Steve (28), Rich (26) and Mike (21) out of Montauk, NY. While we primarily do salt water fishing together on our own boats on the southeast shore of Long Island, once in a while we like to charter a fishing boat to take us places we don’t go, in hopes of a great catch and to teach us new techniques. With that in mind, we chartered a boat out of Montauk, NY, to fish off Block Island and offshore to the south for Striped Bass and Sharks.

We started out our adventure by heading to Montauk the day before our fishing trip to enjoy the town and walk around the marina, and to be ready to make an early start the next day. We had a great family afternoon and a great seafood dinner overlooking the inlet, and got to bed early so that we were able to get to the docks just after 5am with a cooler full of cold drinks and sandwiches. We hoped to fill that cooler with fresh fish by late afternoon!



Fishing as the sun comes up
We met Captain Art and his able deck hand Dylan, who was about the age of my older sons, we confirmed our plans for the day, and then shoved off from the dock on the 39’ Hatteras express “Halfback” before the sun came up. As we left the Montauk inlet on a heading toward Block Island, part way to Martha’s Vineyard, we talked some more about our plans. We’d start with a little Striped Bass fishing and then move onto some shark fishing, possibly stopping back to fish for Striped Bass on the way back to Montauk at the end of the day. The captain was quick to point out that we’d certainly adjust our plans to respond to conditions and what we saw on the fish finder, and we agreed. That was how we typically fish as well – have a plan to start off, and adjust to the situation for the best chance to catch fish.

Steve fights a big bluefish
So off we went, toward block island. Just 20 minutes into the run, the captain saw big bait balls under the boat and signs of predators chasing them. He figured we were seeing big bluefish, so we got some umbrella rigs set up and dropped them in for some fast trolling. In no time we had a few big bluefish hitting the decks, with plans to filet them to create some irresistible shark baits for later in the day. We kept the carcasses too, since they’d also help to bring sharks around. Soon enough we were back on the run out to Block Island.

By 7:30am we were a short distance due west of Block Island and ready to drop some wire-line rigged tube lures that look like eels to try to attract big Striped Bass. Over the next hour, four or five nice striped bass hit the decks, two of which were large enough to be keepers. One was Mike’s first keeper, and perhaps his biggest fish yet. We got these nice fish onto ice, grabbed some cold drinks, and talked about what to do next. We could fish some more for Stripers, but the favorable tide was running out, so we decided to head south, off shore from Block Island, to fish for sharks.  


Mike's first keeper Striped Bass
About an hour later we got to a nice ridge or fall-off to deep water, a place where there’d be an ecosystem that supports sharks. We got the boat into place and figured out our drift, and then we got to work getting a chum slick started, using chum pots full of frozen ground bunker and lots of cut up mackerel chunks tossed into the water a few at a time every few minutes. Slowly, a slick started to develop in our wake as the boat drifted. We tracked the speed and course of our drift and put several lines into the water on heavy rods with big floats and big hooks, each with a juicy fresh bluefish filet from the fish caught early in the trip. With good conditions, good chum, and good baits in place, we waited. Mike and Rich took turns with the captain up on the Tuna Tower looking out for signs of sharks around the boat, while the rest of us stayed in the stern area watching the rods and floats and listening for the click-click-click of the reel that means that a shark has taken one of the baits.

At times like these, the waiting is the hard part. It was a beautiful day, and the seas were calm, and it’s easy to get bored and sleepy (especially given how early we woke up). But we stayed vigilant and hour after hour watched the water around the boat and stood ready to grab a rod when a shark strike happened. We all knew that the boredom could quickly turn into chaos as we responded to a strike by getting other lines out of the way, getting a fighting belt onto an angler, and getting the fight underway.

A few hours into the wait, I saw a fin slicing the surface about 100 yards away and called it out to the others. We all locked in on it and watched it cut the surface for 50 feet, then disappear, then pop up again nearby to do it again – sometimes in the opposite direction. We figured we were seeing 2 or maybe 3 sharks near the boat taking interest in our slick. We shook the chum pot to add to the attraction near the boat, and we put one of the bluefish carcasses into the water. The sharks were around, but not yet taking the bait.

At this point, the mate started noticing some mahi-mahi near the boat. We quickly got some lighter rods out and the mate tried to get one of these colorful and tasty fish onto a hook by casting lures their way. Soon, we saw that quite a few of these colorful fish were around the boat, but like the sharks, none were biting. At that point, something crazy started happening. We saw a shark jump clear out of the water, full body maybe up 4 feet from the surface, and spiraling like a football, it went back into the water. And then we saw it happen again. And again. Over the next half-hour we saw this happen about 20 times. I got a little cell phone video of this happening, but it wasn’t easy. They were a good 50 yards away most times and we never knew where it would happen in the huge expanse of water around us.

We eventually figured that what was happening was that our slick attracted a large amount of mahi-mahi, and that the sharks (which we now believed were Spinner Sharks), were feeding on the fresh live mahi and couldn’t care less about our baits. The day was getting later and the captain and mate and I discussed options. Should we head back to fish for Stripers some more, stay and fish for sharks, or take a chance on trolling for some tuna? That last sounded attractive, but we knew it would be a low probability. I decided to skip the Striper fishing (that’s something we can do on our own), fish a little longer for sharks, and then, at the suggestion of Dylan, our mate, set up a pattern of lures to troll for Tuna on the way home.

In the end, we never did get a shark hookup and I think the captain and mate were feeling badly about that, so they tried extra hard for us by staying out a little late and setting up a serious spread of lures for tuna. It would be Rich’s turn on the rod if we got a hookup and he was up in the tuna tower keeping a lookout. 


Rich lands the prize - a Bluefin Tuna
As our time was running out, I saw a sturdy port-side rod bend over almost double. Hookup! Rich flew down the ladder and the mate and I cleared the extra lines. Steve helped Rich get a fighting belt secured around his waist and the fight began. Rich fought that fish for a good long while. The fish didn’t want to give ground and Rich had to keep the heavy rod angled just right while the boat continued forward and the fish fought. The mate was ready with a gaff (a heavy hook on a long rod used to haul the fish in) and was giving Rich instructions. The rest of us were helping in small ways, adjusting the belt, clearing obstacles, helping to get the line spread evenly on the reel at times. I opened the tuna door at the stern as the fish got close. We saw color and knew it was a tuna! Just as the mate got the leader, the tuna decided he wasn’t yet ready to give up and took another run. The mate dropped the leader and made way, and Rich held on and fought the fish some more. A few minutes later, the fish was alongside at the port side again and the mate landed a clean blow with the gaff and hauled a beautiful bluefin tuna over the side. It was a magic moment. High fives all around as Rich caught his breath. He had landed his first tuna and in that moment the trip went from disappointing to great. Dylan bled the tuna and got it iced down quickly.
With the mate, Dylan



Dylan cleans the fish
We celebrated all the way back to Montauk as the mate cleaned up the boat. Smiles and nods and thoughts of fresh Striped Bass on the grill and fresh Tuna sashimi for all. Back at the dock, Dylan weighed our fish and we got several photos. Dylan got the knives out to turn those fish into filets and steaks, and he helped us with a great tuna tradition – the angler who lands his first tuna eats the heart raw, immediately after it’s cut from the fish. This sounds barbaric, but it’s a tradition, and it’s all about the transfer of energy from a great ocean beast to the angler who caught him. Rich took a great big bite and shared some with the mate and with his brothers.
My sons show off their catches
We drove back to our summer house in East Quogue and I got some of the Striped Bass filets onto the grill for our late dinner while Steve, our resident chef and butcher, processed the tuna loins into steaks and vacuum-packed them for all of us. It was a great trip with a delicious end-product, and a great memory for me to share with my sons.


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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.

Links:


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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

Spring

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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