Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kayak Fishing Jacksonville: Muddy edition

A few weeks back I managed to escape work and drive over to Jacksonville to stay with my sister. While her and her husband had work, I had nothing to do but fish. So I dragged the kayak with me and got up early the next morning to fish.

I'm impressed every time I go to Jacksonville by its sheer size. The city is massive and very spread out. Even though I was technically in the same "city", the drive to where I wanted to launch the kayak was an hour and half away. Prior to leaving, I did a bit of Google earth scouting and picked out some promising looking spots from my launch. The area I went to was Kingfish Park. Having never been there, I was pleased to discover a well maintained park, boat launch, and even a designated kayak/canoe launch.

I wanted to get out at first light, so I arrived in the dark and began loading the kayak. Very quickly, I noticed that the no-see-ums were out in full force. But after swatting at myself several times, I realized that they weren't no-see-ums. Rather, they were the world's smallest mosquitoes and they were busily attempting to drain my body of all fluid. Having brought no bug spray, I opened myself up to an absolutely miserable time trying to get the kayak ready. I'm kind of glad that I was the only one in the parking lot. Had others been there, they would have seen a 20-something year old man dancing wildly around a bright yellow kayak and cursing to no one in particular.

One thing that I fail to do on a regular basis is plan. Anything. I usually do things spur of the moment, so I tend to forget things. On this particular trip, I forgot my crocs. Even though they slip off constantly in mud, they're a much better option than what I brought with me on this trip: My flip flops. In addition, I failed to check the tides for that morning.

Now the tide screw up wasn't really something I could have changed. I honestly almost never forget to check the tides. And I didn't so much forget to check, as I didn't care. I was there in Jacksonville, I wanted to fish first thing in the morning, and I didn't really care -what- the tides were going to be.

But what I forgot about were Jacksonville's terrible mud-flats of death that result from low tides. I experienced these once before, and was pretty sure I found the gates to hell in the form of a soul sucking, bottomless mud flat that forced me to wait for the tide to come back in. You know it's shallow when your kayak gets stuck.

So as I dragged my kayak down to the water's edge at Kingfish Park, I looked out in horror to see a sloping mud bank that went 30 yards out and under a dock before touching water. As I walked, I immediately regretted having worn the flip flops. Ever step threatened to suck them off my feet, never to be seen again. And I would have simply removed them, but the mud is filled with broken oyster shells, and the last thing I wanted was to cut my foot wide open.

After a momentary "So this is how it ends?" freak out , as I was stuck in the mud standing next to a mosquito swarmed kayak, I managed to free myself, belly crawl onto the kayak, and kick my way through the mud into open water.

Having finally extricated myself from a muddy grave, I looked down to see the damage. You know that scene in predator where Dutch figures out the mud hides him?

Yeah, that scene? I looked something like that except I was wearing fishing clothes and I'm slightly less "roidy" than ol' Arny. Anyways, as my usual good fortune would have it, this whole thing had an audience. As, I began washing my arms and legs off in the water, I looked to see a Jon boat with two old men that had clearly witnessed my failure of a kayak launch. When my kayak (now stuck in the current of a rapidly falling tide) floated past them, I did my best to give them a respectable fisherman's nod, but it's kinda hard to look respectable immediately after floundering around in the mud like a mammoth in a tar pit.

Anyways, so with a falling tide, I began to paddle back into an area that I'd seen on google earth and figured it'd hold fish. But upon arriving, I noticed that the only time it could possible hold fish would be high tide. This is because the little creek mouth I planned to fish was now nothing more than a muddy ditch 3 feet above me.

I fished nearby anyways, and as luck would have it, I actually caught a small trout on topwater with my first cast. The rest of the morning was -slow-. Very slow. It wasn't until the tide turned that I even began having hits again. After a few dinky little trout on my DOA, I decided to pick up and switch areas. I paddled across what was at this point a raging river with the incoming tide, but eventually found calmer water and started fishing again.

I watched as an osprey flew down, nailed a mullet, and started to fly away. But as it flew, I saw a fish spook below it. In less than a foot of water, a 30+ inch Redfish was rapidly swimming directly at my kayak. I did my best to cast at him, but having already been spooked by the bird, he was having none of my DOA.

I started to focus on some exposed oyster bars and it quickly paid off. After missing a few chances at small tailing Reds, I managed to finally put the lure where it needed to go, and hook up. I tried out my GoPro mount for the first time, and was able to snap this picture from the video. I'll have to remember next time to wash off the lens before filming as it's obviously still dirty from my muddy launch. I should probably not point it directly into the sun either.

But luckily I brought another camera.

The fishing started to slow back down once the tide began to reach full high. I'd been out there all morning anyways, and it was past lunch time. So I called it a day, paddled back, and was pleased to see that the water now went all the way up to a sandy beach, and removing the kayak involved no mud.

I definitely plan to go back there soon and fish again. Since I'm stuck in Gainesville at the moment, I'm situated pretty much right between Jacksonville and Cedar Key. So really I can just take my pick with the kayak. It shouldn't be long before I have the fish in Jacksonville dialed in. I've just gotta make sure to check the tides, and avoid a muddy grave. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pig Hunting: Technician Style

It was once again raining. Ever since the beginning of June it'd been raining. And this night was no different. The roads were all practically flooded, and areas that weren't were deep with wash outs. It made checking on the deer a giant pain.

But by this point we no longer cared. It was mid-June and with the exception of one or two days, the rain hadn't let up. At all. So we were all pretty much used to being waterlogged. After checking the last deer one evening, I drove the truck around the backside of a big peanut field so that one of the other technicians could use the FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) to look for any pigs.

They'd finally started showing up again. Right about the same time that the rain started. I'm assuming the nearby river bottom flooded enough that they got driven out of the swamps. That, and the rain kept things cool enough that seeing them wander around in the middle of the day wasn't unheard of. So when checking on the deer, we always carried rifles, and if it was at night, the FLIR and a spotlight.

Suddenly my buddy whispers "Pig...Pig...There's a pig out there"

I quickly stopped the truck, grabbed my 30-06, and took a rest on the hood of the truck. I couldn't hear anything my friend was saying from the cab. In my haste, I hadn't shut off the engine and the noise drowned out any whispering he was doing. But luckily I knew the routine. Wait for the spotlight, and shoot whatever is inside of it. Suddenly the spotlight shined, and I found my target in the scope.

I hesitated.

There's its butt...So that must be its shoulder.'S its butt, so...God that's an ugly pig. What am I looking at??

It felt like it took me forever to figure out exactly what I was looking at, but I'm sure it only took a moment. It was a big pig. Big, square, and ugly enough that I was indeed confused for a second on which was the head end. I quickly put the crosshairs on the shoulder, and squeezed the trigger.

Simultaneously, my friend's AK-47 fired off a round. The spotlight jerked for a moment, and then found the pig again. It was running. I quickly chambered another round, and just as I went to squeeze the trigger again, the pig flipped, and went still.

After a couple of high-fives, we walked out into the field to take a look at the pig. Upon walking up, we realized it was bigger than we thought. MUCH bigger.

I've yet to kill one this size since. And after examining it for a moment, we realized it was my 30-06 that hit the animal. The bullet struck directly in the heart and the pig ran no more than 50 yards from where he was hit. Even if he hadn't gone down immediately, trailing him wouldn't have been difficult. Not because of all the blood, but the smell. He smelled like a dumpster.

The rounds I fired this year were some that my dad reloaded for me. They were 175 grain VLD's. I'll spare everyone the specs, but if you're interested in them, shoot me an email (see what I did there?).

The bullets certainly did their job this year. They penetrate a couple of inches before practically exploding, leaving just a core that exited even the pig shown above. And we shot quite a few this year. I'm guessing right around 60. Unfortunately it wasn't like last year (that number pushed 160), but I'll take what we can get.

A few weeks later we got a chance to do some late night spot and stalk by using the FLIR. We spotted out a group of pigs that were too far for the spotlight to hit, so we hoofed it to get closer to them. Once in range, I was able to use my friend as a rifle rest, and put down this big sow.

As a good gesture to the people who work on the plantation, we gutted and skinned the pig and left it hanging in the walk in cooler for everyone to enjoy. By that point in the summer, we still had more pig meat than we knew what to do with.

A little later in the summer, while out riding by myself, I came across a group of about 10 pigs in the middle of the road. It was still daylight, so I was able to stop the truck, and make two well placed shots on running pigs. Once I got up to them, I realized they were perfect eating size. To add, one of them was hit right in the head, so none of the meat had been wasted.

I took this opportunity to fully gut and skin this pig. We usually don't gut them, and just cut the meat from the bone, but I figured this was my best chance to have a whole, undamaged pig to eat. It must've been midnight before I finished with both the pigs, and as I closed the cooler door, I realized: I have no idea what to do with these now. I don't own a smoker, and we don't have a barbeque pit.

The next morning I sent a text to my brother-in-law over in Jacksonville. "Do you want a full pig for the smoker?"

And by 10 am I had the pig in a cooler under ice, and was driving the Jeep over to Jacksonville to smoke it. We were pleased to discover that the pig fit in the smoker like a glove.

After smoking it all day the following day, we gathered everyone we knew, and had an absolute feast. I'd never smoked a pig before, so it was a learning experience for me and definitely something I want to do again. Just thinking about it makes me hungry.

I'm well aware that using Infrared monoculars to aid in pig hunting takes a little bit of the sport out of it. But with how big of a nuisance they are, some of the "sporting" parts of pig hunting kinda go out the window. Plus, it's just plain cool. I'll definitely miss getting to use that technology on a daily basis. It was a big perk to my job. But I've got enough awesome memories and hunting stories from it to last me a lifetime.

It's just too bad hunting stories don't fill your belly. I already miss the barbeques.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I'm Back!!


Job's over and I've moved back into civilization. I had an insanely fun time working as a wildlife technician and over the course of more than a year and a half of work, I never once felt like I was actually -at- work. I'll miss getting to practically do whatever I want: Hunt, fish, and shoot whenever I please. I'm also going to miss the peacefulness of the woods. No traffic, or lights, or anything really. It'll take me a while to get used to traffic and noise and what not. Just yesterday I combat rolled out of bed because I forgot how loud airline jets are when they fly right over.

I've now got solid internet. There's A LOT of writing to get caught up on, and I intend to start putting up quite a few posts in the coming weeks. Next post should actually be worthwhile, but I wanted to put it out there that I am indeed alive and still writing. Stay tuned!