Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Deal

Beginning in 2007, three years following our mother’s death, my brother Cole decided the two of us should annually go fishing for a week each summer. The motion proceeded to pass unopposed, becoming law. In fact, during pre-marriage proceedings Cole utilized his unrivaled contract negotiation skills, persuading The Boss into agreeing to abide by The Fishing Pact of ’07* (see disclaimer). Article I, section I states: The Jahnman shall be permitted one (1) seven (7) day long fishing excursion every year forward. Additionally:

a. Said excursion shall be devoid of standard guilt trip encompassing week-long absence from betrothed
b. Phone calls from Jahnman will be granted cellular signal strength allowing—though not exceeding one (1) call per day
c. Betrothed acknowledges annual excursions shall be replete with alcohol and tobacco products
d. Location of excursion is subject to change annually
e. Jahnman agrees to resume all everyday responsibilities without question upon return from said annual excursions.

The inaugural trip’s plans were cemented before winter’s end that year. The stage was now set for years of unbridled sibling angling rivalry. Months of anticipation were spent pondering the fish to be caught at the first venue: Lady Evelyn Lake—specifically the outpost of Island 10, (

Set just over 300 miles north of Toronto, and accessible only by seaplane or boat ferried over the Montreal River then portaged over a small island before finally finding the lake, Lady Evelyn is the quintessential northern Ontario fishing outpost. Decades ago, the lake was filled with loggers trying to make a living removing outlying timber from the surrounding forest. They’d float the titanic trees down the lake to the channel (now dammed) leading to the Montreal River, and in turn downriver to mills for lumber and paper production. Many trees lay submerged, waterlogged and adorned with at least a dozen Rapalas of mine.

Scattered about the lake’s expanse are small summer cottages, old ranger stations no longer in use, and four outfitter’s camps. Having only visited Island 10, there is no telling what the other camps were like, but from the looks outside I’d say we chose wisely.

Ken Byberg and his wife Bev purchased the island, where a camp had already existed years ago but not in the grand fashion they wished. The Bybergs restored, and in some cases removed existing structures, ending up with ten rustic log cabins, (possibly the root of Island 10’s nomer) a central meeting house for community-style breakfasts and dinners every morning and evening, (also where they slept, upstairs) and a separate lodging area for employees. All dwellings came complete with wood fireplaces, running water, a simple yet amazingly genius septic system, and working electricity every day from 7am until 11pm. Being able to turn off the generators for eight hours per day saved them a great deal in fuel costs. Here we were, over 300 miles from major civilization, roughing it. Right.

All new campers for the week were to meet at a dock on the Montreal River in the morning. After being ferried across the river and given a history lesson of the area by Ken in his makeshift barge, we all portaged on the aforementioned island for a minute before being loaded into separate speed boats and taken from one side of the lake to the other, where Island 10 sat. Everyone formed an assembly line and unloaded luggage, fishing gear, and palates of Molson, Moosehead, and Labatt's from the boats to dry land before being assigned their group’s cabin for the duration.

We scored cabin 10.

The island is small; all the cabins are in close proximity, but not close enough that you can hear one another’s conversations, at least until the booze comes out. We walked up the trail from the docks to the cabins and saw our address posted on the back of the second one we came to. Home sweet home.

Fishing report to follow.

*I married a wonderful and understanding woman who never gave a second thought to me leaving her for an entire week to spend time fishing with my brother. Though part (e) of The Fishing Pact of ’07 is entirely true, all other parts may be slightly embellished for testosterone retention purposes.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rainy Day Record Rock

I avoided my cell phone’s alarm from 4:30 this morning until my wife’s alarm clock joined the fight, forcing me out of bed at 5:00. She was off to the gym for some cardio while I chose a simpler workout focusing on strengthening my right arm. After taking a meteorological look out the window I loaded the pockets of my rain jacket with clippers, pliers, a mini tape measure, and a few extra soft baits and lures. With no available yaking companion, this adventure was to be a light and quick old school fishing trip at the banks of 14th Street.

Happy to see only one vehicle already parked at the Mayo Bridge’s lot, I walked out into the cool and damp Richmond morning, rod in hand, down the familiar path to the James’ fall line. I staked my claim just above the unmistakable rock landmark used for shad season, as the earlier bird had taken roost closer to the rapids several yards west.

“What’s up man?” I asked, having recognized the familiar face from last year’s striper run.

“Oh, hey! How you doin?” The face responded, recognizing me in turn.

Neither fisherman could remember the other’s name, but made friendly small talk while casting blind lines into the river against a slight north wind. A light blue and red reflection from the illuminated Bank of America building’s logo glowed on the river’s surface, providing the only source of light in the darkest minutes before the dawn.

A short time later the sun began making an effort to start the day, and my companion hooked into the first striper of the morning. When the brief fight came to an end the fish was held up against the gray sky. Its silhouette revealed an eighteen-and-a-half inch keeper.

“Nice fish man.” I said, happy to know the rockfish were in here.

“I’m halfway to getting out of here real quick.” The earliest bird responded, referencing the two fish limit.

While he was still busy attaching his catch to a stringer, I hooked up.

At first the fish didn’t offer much of a fight. He swam upriver masking any sort of size. Though my line was taught, I felt nothing more than a few minuscule head twitches. As the fish turned right heading north out of the current and away from me, I got a feeling he was bigger than initially thought. My reel had read my mind and verbally told me I was correct. The contraption buzzed as the striper opposite my end stripped line into the James. I composed myself and braced my feet against the rocks below me for maximum fighting stance efficiency.

Not really.

The surprise made me giddy, forcing me to fight not only the fish, but my desire to horse it in to see just how big it was. I reeled when I had the chance, getting as many as several feet of line back at a time between short runs. When the striper was within ten feet of me, its dorsal and tail fins broke the surface parallel to my position, allowing for a sneak peak. I liked what I saw. Even more important, I knew The Boss would like it more—especially with a nice parmesan-pecan crust. The behemoth again turned and made a final run north and east downriver. From my peripheral, I noticed another fisherman approaching me from the right.

“Looks like a nice one.” The newcomer said.

“I think so man.” I grunted, not altogether happy with the unexpected intrusion causing me to momentarily lose focus.

I regained my bearings and brought the fish in close enough to grab the line with my left hand while my right held the rod, guiding the rockfish onto a shallow rock in front of me.

“WOOHOO!” I yelled, reaching down and grasping the lower lip of my catch, then holding it up for the other two fishermen to see.

My former acquaintance showed little intrigue as my fish was much larger than his, while the latter, most recent offered a “Nice fish!” as he encroached on my location.

“Looks like a nice twenty-five incher.” He added.

I reached for the mini tape measure in my pocket to confirm. Wrong. TWENTY-SEVEN!

I caught and released three smaller fish before the rain set in and three additional late risers emerged on the scene. Happily, I picked up my keeper from the rocks where I’d laid him, walked back to the truck, and drove home.

With my personal record striper in one hand and rod in the other, I was greeted at the door by Casino and The Boss, who’d just returned from the gym. Both parties’ eyes grew large at the sight of our unexpected dinner guest.

Excellent start to the day.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Swim in the James River

A kayak trip was planned upon the River James
On a beautiful April fifth morning,
Through none of the four acquaintances could a man find rightful blame
Save one for that day not heeding the high water’s forewarning

The Jahnman had toted a great deal of gear with him
In his crate three spinning rods and a five weight fly in stood tall,
Most of the options were for the shad; the chance for striper slim
Though with the possibility, he thought, “Why not bring all?”

This only being the Jahnman’s second trip upon the river,
His choice of anchor: a ten pound dumbbell
To which his fishing companions that day gave a shiver
And said, “That so-called anchor’s gonna give you hell.”

“I used it once already and it worked just fine.”
The boastful Jahnman decreed
“You worry about yours, let me worry about mine.”
He added, though there was no need

Our hero paddled out from Ancarrow’s
With a severe air of arrogance
He’d nary paddled past I-95 where the river narrows,
Though denied any possibility of danger saying simply, “There’s no chance.”

The four men fought the current’s force,
Paddled upstream a-ways before finally stopping
Past I-95, now there was truly no recourse
As on the river’s surface they heard the shad a-flopping

All of the fisherman had caught at least one fish
All except the impatient Jahnman that is,
Who paddled farther upstream with the wish
Of finding the ultimate shad hole to call his

Just past the railroad bridge we went
Before dropping his dumbbell into the abyss
His companions all eventually followed with energy all but spent
With the hopes of ensuing shad bliss

After a short time of catching nothing still
The Jahnman again grew irritated,
And decided to move away from the hill
Nearest the floodwall, deeming it now overrated

Downstream upon the James floated many a vessel
Filled with accountants, doctors and at least one banker,
Keen eyes began to watch the Jahnman wrestle
The ten pound dumbbell he called an anchor

Our champion heeded no Youtube advice on proper anchor readying
He began to pull the line swiftly through the water
His boat turned sideways to the current resulting in unsteadying
Though he pulled and pulled the line much tauter

The Jahnman fought the current all the way to the rope’s end
Where his dumbbell laid stuck just below his yak
He said to himself, “Just one more hefty pull will send,
This dumbbell out of its fixture and back.”

With not one fish yet caught the Jahnman’s yak was tossed
Unpreparedness had led to our poor hero’s demise
The real shock emerged upon realizing everything aboard was lost;
Embarrassingly witnessed by many, many eyes

Well not everything, as the Jahnman is still alive and so is his boat
For which to God, PFD and friend Darren’s tow, he is truly grateful
Heed this warning for those that feel the need to gloat:
The more cocky, tragically, always the more fateful.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Most Anticipated Season

In January my brother-in-law Henry gave me a book from his library entitled The Founding Fish by The New Yorker staff writer, John McPhee. This, during the winter months when I was not equipped with the proper gear nor testicular fortitude to brave the barely unfrozen waters around me to hoist the yak about the Honda to go fishing. Reading was safer and would heed little or no squabble from The Boss, lest I leave it on the island in the kitchen, bathroom sink, couch. The book had an illustration of an American shad on its cover—just enough of a motivator for me to begin reading.

The fever I caught just hearing about the sublimity of shad season last year before I’d even caught one, came back in force. Before the end of the first chapter, McPhee melted my brain with a recounting of an American he’d fought for over two hours. Regardless of the truthfulness of his account, my hands began to shake as my brain burned; a common symptom propagated by the anticipation of getting back onto the James in search of the poor man’s tarpon. In a daze I laid the book down, unaware that its placement was in an aforementioned prohibited location; for which I’d get an earful later while pleading shad delirium as my defense. I searched high and low in a medicine cabinet, pantry, nightstand, and utility closet for something to break the fever. Nothing. Contrary to what could be construed as good judgment, I operated heavy machinery…all the way to Bass Pro.

Just looking at shad darts, spoons, Tommy Torpedoes and clouser minnows cooled my nervous system. For additional treatment I managed coherent conversation for a bit with the same crew I became acquainted with last year, this time reminiscing about leaps from mighty hickorys and Americans, the fish that got off right at the shore where I stood, and the Infamous Day of 53. I began to feel much better after making some small purchases. Homeward bound with sound mind I went, only to repeat the process in the following weeks with the conclusion of every third chapter. I’m not a fast reader.

I blamed John McPhee for any damage done to our checking account over the next two months; enough so that the man be inclined to take cover if he ever meets The Boss. Two weeks ago, in the middle of March in an attempt to ward off the onset of another episode, I opted for homeopathic treatment. I put our battery powered turkey thermometer in my pocket and Casino in the Honda to make the once familiar trip down to the Mayo Bridge. With my temperature running high, I hoped to transfer some of it to the James, whose surface was reading a bleak 48. Two days later—53. Five days after that—57. And this time the cormorants were back, good news for sure. I had to tell someone the shad were on their way.

“You used the thermometer to do what?!” The Boss asked after I’d stupidly implicated myself in a culinary crime.

“I washed it.” Was all I could offer.

Eyes rolled.

It wouldn’t be long now.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Aquatic 4x4

I have spent the shad offseason exploring new fishing opportunities in my portable rock; to coin John McPhee.

Summer 2009—I had been vying for the purchase of a fishing kayak for the past few months, amazingly to no avail. My friend Brendan had posited the idea in my head, an act for which he was promptly thrown under the bus when my appeal’s origination was brought under scrutiny by the boss, Jamie. The initial request had been significantly lessened from a Boston Whaler to a Carolina Skiff, to anything center console, before finally accepting defeat with the realization that something motorized was officially out of the question. A self-propelled craft would have to do. By the fall, my wife woefully agreed that before completing the round trip from Blacksburg following a Tech football game, we should finally bring to Richmond her Old Towne canoe. For the previous five-or-so years the green Discovery 178, abandoned by its rightful owners following their move east, laid on its gunwales in a gravel garden at Bj Lafon’s mother’s house on Brush Mountain. Other than the less than a handful of day trips when being borrowed from one local friend or another, the once majestic ship had spent most of its sad days collecting sun rays, storm runoff, cobwebs, and a transient mouse’s nest. After half a decade my conscience couldn’t take it any longer. The canoe deserved better. I deserved a boat. Not being terribly thrilled about transporting it on top of the family sedan for 220 miles, or the limited storage options back at the urban ranch, Jamie finally gave in after being promised the incessant I want a boat banter would cease following my reunification with the vessel; the canoe being much better than nothing. Positioned atop the Accord’s roof—sitting on special Yakima pads designed for such conveyance, then secured with borrowed ratchet straps, the four of us (dog Casino included) went home. Peaches and Herb played softly in the background.

But don’t go getting all misty-eyed. Thanks to craigslist and a fishing kayak owning family man in Virginia Beach, the moment was fleeting.

Long winded story abbreviated:

About a week later I found a posting on aforementioned site, stating the owner of a sit-on-top fishing kayak was willing to sell his boat or trade it for a canoe (preferably an Old Towne) in good condition. The boss o.k.’d the transaction. Following a round of emails complete with detailed pictures of each respective craft, a verbal agreement of barter was made. That same day, the Discovery 178 found its way back on top of the Honda sedan en route this time to greener pastures, or waters as it were. Now in my possession: a beautiful yellow Ocean Kayak Prowler 13. Best trade ever.

I have since taken my portable rock to a friend’s private pond for some crappie and largemouth, Swift Creek Reservoir for a nice paddle but no fish, Rudee Inlet for the same, and twice to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel for some delicious striped bass. Next is the mighty James for the shad revival.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Some Days Are Diamonds, Some Days Are Rocks

Casino had reclaimed her post to the right of me, again keenly staring at the moving water in front of her. I made sure she was clear of my feet before winding up my body for another catapulting cast into the frenzy going on across the James. This time I landed square onto my target like a perfectly punted football going end-first into the ground, or water as it were. My diamond jig had made no splash at all—just the cast I was hoping for as I figured this way, the lure would not spook the fish. I closed my bail and began reeling, anticipating a good game of tug-o-war to begin abruptly. When my invitation was turned down and I’d reeled my jig all the way back to shore, I grew confused. The rockfish were still splashing around so I hadn’t spooked them, plus they were obviously still hungry. What was wrong with that last presentation? The next cast flew as perfectly as the previous one; right on target, barely displacing the water’s surface. Nothing again.

I took a thirty-second timeout and pondered the situation, when out of nowhere a metaphorical Newtonesque apple fell on my head. I should change my presentation entirely, offering the converse of my previous two casts. I coiled up and let fly the jig once more. But this time before the missile found its target I abruptly closed the bail, jerking the lure into a position parallel with the water so it created an easily visible splash adding to the existing surface commotion. The slack had barely been reeled in when fish number two came on the scene. Again my right bicep flexed, pitting a new striped bass against my lackluster, but steady strength. As I brought the fish closer my dog’s ears stood erect as if she could hear my catch nearing her. Casino’s tail began to wag as she got up off her perch and walked eagerly, though yet again cautiously to see another specimen beached on the rocks. This one measured 21 inches and wasn’t quite as built as his predecessor. He’d offered a great fight nonetheless, and was rewarded by photographic recognition before being released.

Next cast, fish number three. Then four. I was having the striper fishing experience of my life. This day seemed to be nature’s way of making up for all the skunked days in New England as a kid.

The more disorder I could get my diamond jig to make, the better my chances of enticing a rock to bite it became. After several more casts fish number five emerged. Following said fish, my unfit arm needed a rest. I laid my rod down to Casino’s impatient dismay who looked at me as if to say:
“What’s your deal man? There are fish all around you. Stop crying and catch more. How often do you experience a day like this?”
I disregarded her questioning glance and continued with my break.

Having been so caught up in the frenzy, I’d failed to notice the two new fishermen on my immediate right, the furthest of which was my new friend Charles. He caught my wandering eyes and smiled while nodding his head.
“Looks like you’re into em’ today.” He stated.
“Man I’ve never had a day like this in my life!” I said.
“Keep after em’ man. They ain’t gonna be around here for too long.” Charles added.
“I will Charles, just need to rest the arm for a minute.” I retorted while rubbing my right upper arm with my left hand.
“That means it’s a good day.” Charles laughed as he threw another cast into the river, but not into the ongoing frenzy.

The other fisherman closest to me looked as if he was skipping work; a guy in his late thirties, wearing khakis and a tucked in shirt with some company’s logo on it, casting a medium/light rod not nearly far enough into the current to entice even an errant leftover shad.
“Hey man, why don’t you take a couple of casts with this?” I questioned, offering the stranger my rod.
“Eh. No, that’s alright.” He responded hesitantly.
“Seriously, I need a break just try it out. You’re not gonna get to where the fish are with that.” I said, motioning to his rod.
“Well…alright, if you’re sure.” He said.
“Yeah man really, go for it. I told him.
“My name’s Mark.” He said.

Turns out I was right; Mark was skipping work. After our introductions, I handed him the Shakespeare and gave up the ghost—showing him exactly where the fish were splashing the surface.
“Cast right into that frenzy, and make sure you close the bail right before the jig hits the water, believe me.” I instructed.

Mark followed my instructions without question and on his second cast was rewarded with a nice 22 incher that he horsed in, more so than enjoying the fight.
“Man that was great.” He said with subdued excitement. He seemed awkward using another fisherman’s equipment, though he had no reason to be.
“Get another one man. It’s fun isn’t it?” I asked.
“That’s the biggest fish I’ve caught in this river for sure. Yeah it was awesome, but here, take your rod back.” He told me.
“No way man. I already have five. Get some more.” I refuted.
“You sure?”

Mark ended up catching three or four more inside of ten minutes. Each new fish brought Mark further out of his shell. After that last fish, he ended my break with a sincere thank you while handing my rod back. He stuck around for a little while to watch me fish, knowing for sure he couldn’t possibly catch anything with his rig. I caught several more in the 20 inch range before my largest, though not longest catch of the day arrived.

“That’s a big boy you got there!” Charles yelled to me. He’d kept an eye on my progress while he remained camped out on the right of us, content catching an occasional straggling 12-18 inch schoolie outside of the main current the big ones were hiding at. I nodded while focusing on the beast pulling my arm. I could tell this fish was different, but tried not to get myself too excited about it’s projected size before making visual confirmation. This striper was experienced in the art of war, knowing just when and how to align itself parallel to the current for maximum drag, as it swam away from the force pulling it.
“Man, that’s gotta be the nicest one yet.” Mark said, eagerly awaiting a glimpse of my catch.
“Yeah.” I grunted. “It’d be nice to see it before it has a chance to get off.”
I continued to nervously fight the fish; reeling meticulously when allowed to, permitting line to be taken back off the reel when ordered to. I don’t remember feeling any soreness in my arm this time; the adrenaline must have masked the fatigue.
“Almost. Got. Him.” I struggled to say before bringing the fish in close and shallow enough for a first look.

Charles' intrigue got the best of him. He decided to walk over for an official inspection. Mark traversed the path above and behind me to get his own view. Casino performed her now usual routine. I stopped reeling and walked backwards as the fish got closer to the rocks until it was properly landed.
“That is a beauty.” Charles slowly remarked in perfect simplicity, before retreating back to his spot.
I laughed and jumped eagerly over my excited, but still cautious dog to claim my prize. This bass, I believe my ninth of the day, measured 23 inches, and weighed six or seven pounds as far as I could tell. Mark offered to take a picture of it for me and I obliged. I was still not fathoming how amazing this day was; as seen in the goofy picture of me looking like a kid after catching his first fish. That may be the best thing about the sport; no problems in the world exist when you’re out there fishing. Catching just brings excitement to the serenity.

Before leaving to get back to work, Mark vowed to return in days following with his kids and a proper set-up. He thanked me again and walked up the path, back to the grind.

Charles and I kept at it for a little while longer. He eventually got into the frenzy and caught some nice ones--bigger than he’d been catching, before it died out.
“This was a great day man. The most successful striper day I have ever had.” I told him while packing up.
“How many did you get?” He asked.
“Altogether, fourteen.” I said, probably rather immodestly, not having to take a second to tally my total.
“Every now and again you’ll get a day like this.” Charles said. “Makes for some good stories.” He smiled his usual smile. We parted ways as we’d been accustomed to doing in the past few weeks of shad and striper season.

I went out to the Mayo Bridge at 14th Street once or twice more that last spring, catching one or two small leftover schoolies; they were still fun. I’ll always remember that day in May, those fourteen fish caught in two euphoric hours, the cut up fingers and thumbs I sustained from fishing line, lures, and the fish themselves. I wore that scotch tape with pride. As it’s now January, all I can think about are the future spring shad and striper seasons in Richmond; who I’ll meet, what I will or won’t catch. Let’s be serious, me not catch something? Happy New Year, new stories on the way.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rocky VII

I’d never had much luck with this surf rod in the past so I had no idea how heavy it quickly got with a five-pound fish and a river pulling against it. I held the rod at the reel base between my right middle and ring fingers while bracing the butt against my forearm for extra support. I felt like Sly Stalone in Over the Top, engaged in the arm wrestling match of my life.
I swung the rod to my left pitting the fish against the current hoping to tire him out, while retrieving line every chance I got when the monster wasn’t paying attention. My out-of-shape bicep, tricep and forearm began to burn, but I kept that rod tip high. My prey made a sudden move towards me, out of the direct line of fast moving water, permitting a significant percentage of what remained of the 50 yard cast to be re-spooled. He was now hugging the bottom near the bank close to my position, tired and ready to concede. I gently pulled my prize to the surface to see a beautiful striped bass turned on his side, now submitting to the decade old Shakespeare.
Casino had been keenly observing the fight from the front row, and now stood with tail wagging, and walked over to the rocks where the losing party had been beached. I laid the rod down and jumped over my dog to behold my first James River striped bass, which incidentally was the largest fish my veteran rod had caught. I clasped onto the fish’s bottom lip with my left thumb and index fingers while removing the single hook from the diamond jig with my opposite hand’s digits, and lifted it for a better viewing.
“Ha ha! Look at this girl!” I said to my four-legged companion who was keeping a safe distance from the foreign animal while trying to catch a whiff of its scent. I pulled out my pocket tape measure and laid it and the fish down for a quick measurement and picture. The catch measured 23 inches and was stout; not fat, but didn’t appear to have missed a recent meal.
I had made enough noise laughing and woo-hooing to overmatch the noise of the rapids and draw the attention of the two other fishermen in my vicinity. The man upstream showed little interest following a brief sight of my catch, and kept casting into the Fall Line. The angler downstream at the bridge was a bit more intrigued.
“Nice fish!” The man yelled as he waved at me.
“Thanks!” I returned.
Luckily they both held tight in their current spots instead of moving closer to me. They still hadn’t noticed the water continuing to churn.
I re-clasped the fish by its lower lip and lowered it back into the James while brushing off the small pebbles stuck to his slimy striped sides. He was happy to be back in his element; an inference proven by the unexpected burst of energy he’d mustered to dart back to the river’s bottom and out into the current to fight another day.
As excited and thankful as I was to have caught this fish, I knew there were many more still out there, waiting for a delicious looking two-ounce piece of shiny metal to fall in front of them. I brushed the striper marinade from my hands onto my shorts, picked up my rod, and went looking for another fight.