1/10/2017

To Crate or Not to Crate


When I decided to fish from a kayak it quickly became clear that I'd need some way of organizing, carrying, and securing all my onboard fishing and kayaking gizmos. A messy deck on a small boat is a recipe for problems. And not having a place for everything adds time to set-up and tear-down, taking away from my already limited fishing time.

Doing my research, it seems that most kayak anglers solve the organization problem with a milk crate. Take a standard crate, attach some add-ons like rod holders and tackle boxes, bungee it into your boat's tank well, and you have a nice cargo solution. There are several benefits to the crate, but after a lot of thought I opted not to have one. I may change my mind later when I discover some kind of fatal flaw with my approach, but here's my current thinking.

First, I should point out some of the advantages of a kayak crate:
  • It's rugged. After all, it's made for commercial hauling of milk, so it's got to stand up to some abuse.
  • It's inexpensive. Sometimes you can find businesses that will give you their old ones, but even if you can't they're pretty cheap to buy.
  • It's customizable. You can get a crate in about any color you want and you can modify it to suit your needs exactly. Customization is easy to do for a person with even modest DIY skills. In fact, you can accomplish a lot just using PVC, zip ties, and bungee cords. But if that's not good enough there's a great aftermarket for crate customization parts.
  • It works well in a wet environment. A crate won't keep its contents dry, but it'll drain quickly and won't wilt in the water.
So there's a lot to like about kayak crates. Why am I not doing it? Some of the reasons are peculiar to my kayak and some are related to advantages presented by alternative solutions.

Just a bit too small
First, making a crate work well for the Guacamole requires more effort than simply bungeeing a crate into her tankwell. The rear tankwell on my kayak is relatively small and has a rounded bottom, so a standard-sized crate doesn't fit very well. I'd need to build some kind of platform for it - something to lift the crate off the deck and potentially above the gunwales. Also, I need my storage system to keep contents secure in the event of a capsize and with a milk crate that means engineering some kind of lid. Without a lid, every piece of gear that I can't afford to lose would either need to be tethered or made to float. Fabricating a platform and lid are doable, but it's more effort, expense, and maintenance than I think I really need to do in light of other alternatives.

Second, while keeping things dry isn't actually a hard requirement for me, to my way of thinking if I'm going to mount a hard box on my kayak, why not go the extra mile and get something watertight? Otherwise, there are a lot of other interesting alternatives to a box that one could consider. For instance, some kind of bag (like a duffel or a backpack) could be used instead. A bag would be lighter; would secure contents from spilling out in a boat capsize; and can more easily accommodate odd-shaped items. Bags can also be inexpensive and very easily secured to the boat with a bungee or leash. On the other hand, you can't really mount a rod holder on a bag very easily.

Third, I'd like my fishing tackle to still be readily available for use without the kayak. If I want to bank fish with my family, or go on somebody else's boat, I don't want to have to gather my fishing tackle from the crate and put it into a different container. I could just bring the entire crate, but I'd still need to remove the kayak-specific stuff, like the anchor. Also, since you must carry a crate in your hands, it likely means an additional trip between the car and the fishing site or boat. Yuck. Another solution is to buy duplicate tackle - one set for the kayak crate and one set for bank/power-boat fishing - but that's a waste of resources. I simply don't want to buy or carry extra crap if I can avoid it! Ideally, I want to use my little minimalist tackle pack for all my fishing - bank, kayak, or power boat - and I want it ready to go at a moment's notice.

Finally, when I started thinking about how I wanted to rig my kayak for fishing, I realized that I could put as many rod holders directly on the Guacamole as I would need. Up to seven (!) without having to cram them on or go to an expensive rail-based mounting system. So the most compelling reason I could think of for using a crate - additional rod holder space - wasn't really a requirement for me.

Tackle pack and kayak pack

Dry box
In the end, I decided to just use a pair of backpacks: My minimalist tackle backpack to hold my fishing stuff, and a simple mesh pack to hold my kayak stuff (the anchor system and a dry box for things like keys, wallet, cellphone, flashlight, etc.). Keeping the fishing tackle in a separate pack from the kayaking gear makes it easy to grab-and-go when I want to fish without the kayak.

As for the kayak backpack, I chose mesh because if I'm putting a wet anchor and line in it, then it needs to drain water readily and allow stuff to dry out inside. Amazon has several mesh backpacks to choose from, most of which are intended for swimming or scuba gear. I got one that was inexpensive, highly rated, and came in a large variety of colors. Admittedly, it's nowhere near as rugged as a crate, but it seems up to the task of holding its intended contents. I like the fact that it's easily secured to the boat with a leash, but I'm thinking with the anchor float and dry box inside, the bag will probably float when fully loaded. So it may not even need a leash. I'll test that out when I get a chance. And I very much like having the option to carry it like a backpack during portage.

So I'm bucking convention for storage on my fishing kayak. I may discover that there's some other very compelling reason to have a crate that just hasn't occurred to me yet. But I think this approach will work well for my purposes and be more flexible.

Packed up and ready to go

1/09/2017

My Kayak Anchoring System



I've been working on getting the Guacamole rigged for fishing. One of the key items is an anchoring system. Most of my fishing will be done on impounded reservoirs and easy-going rivers. At least initially. While anchoring isn't quite as crucial a safety concern in these sorts of calm waters, it's still important to be able to stay in place and oriented in a single direction while fishing.

I've done a lot of reading about different approaches to kayak anchoring on the various forums and blogs. I even bought a kayak fishing book that had a decent discussion about it. On a full-sized boat this is easy: Get some kind of anchor and line, throw it overboard, and tie it off on your boat. Done. But a kayak isn't so simply and there are a surprising number of things to consider, some related to safety, and some related to convenience.

It was really tough to balance simplicity with convenience and safety. I didn't want a complicated system with too many parts, too many things to remember, and too many components to fail. In fact, I'd love to just have that anchor and line that I could tie off to a cleat on my boat. But tying off an anchor line to a bow or stern cleat can be a tricky proposition on a kayak due to the potential for tip-over. The system had to be a little more elaborate. But whatever the system, it's gotta work, work reliably, and work without much hassle so I'm not discouraged from using it. As Einstein supposedly said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."

Given my likely paddling locations, I decided to start with a single anchor. This might not work out - in some conditions, it's necessary to anchor off both the bow and stern to maintain the boat's orientation. But I can always add another anchor if the single anchor system isn't cutting it. In order to maximize flexibility for orienting my kayak on a single anchor, I'm using an anchor trolley. An anchor trolley allows me to anchor off the bow, stern, or anywhere in between without ever leaving my seat. And in a stable current/wind, that allows me to orient the boat in almost any direction. I bought an H2O Kayak Anchor Trolley off Amazon. The user reviews are pretty positive on it and the price was only $20.

Given that my "home lake" is 40 feet deep in some areas, and I know I'll fish those areas in the winter, I needed some way of managing a relatively long anchor line. For that I got a simple plastic rope winder that I can wind my anchor line onto quickly and easily.

Nite Ize Figure 9 Carabiner
For both safety and fishing-related reasons I wanted some kind of quick release mechanism to instantly detach from the anchor line. The traditional approach would be to tie the anchor line to an ordinary cleat using something like a highwayman's hitch. The only issue with that is locating the cleat on the kayak. It needs to be readily accessible from your seating position, but out of the path of your paddle stroke because banging or scraping your hand on the cleat is not fun. I went a different route and got a Nite Ize Figure 9 Carabiner, which has a carabiner clip on one end and a quick release rope attachment on the other. I attached it to my kayak's side handle. My anchor line ties off to that. Detaching the anchor is a simple matter of pulling the tag end of the anchor line from the Figure 9. Couldn't be easier or faster. And the Figure 9 is small, unobtrusive, and well out of the way of my paddle stroke.
Anchor float

If I detach from anchor using the quick release, I need some way to retrieve the anchor and line later; I don't want it to sink to the bottom of the lake! So I got a small boat fender as a float so that my anchor line can be found and retrieved.

The anchor line has the anchor (and chain leader) on one end and the winder on the other. The float is clipped onto the winder using a regular carabiner. I tie it all to the Figure 9 on the kayak using a 10' length of paracord attached to the float carabiner.

Winder with line secured using slip knots
The anchoring procedure is to drop the anchor into the water, letting out line from the winder. When the sufficient line has been let out, the excess line is secured on the winder using a couple of slip knots on the winder handles. Then I thread the tag end of the paracord through the O-ring on the anchor trolley, and secure the paracord to the Figure 9. Now the boat is anchored. The winder (and the attached float) is thrown into the water and the anchor trolley O-ring is positioned as desired, typically at the bow or stern. When you write it all out, it sounds a lot more complicated than it is! It's actually quite easy to deploy.

In an emergency situation, I simply pull the tag end of the paracord to unhook it from the Figure 9 and let it go. The paracord will slip out of the trolley O-ring on it's own, and the kayak is completely untethered from the anchor. The anchor, line, winder, and paracord are all attached to the float so everything can be found and retrieved later after the emergency is dealt with.

Dumbbell anchor
The toughest decision was what kind of anchor to use. When I had a power boat several years ago, I had to cut line and abandon a few claw and grapnel anchors that I just couldn't disengage from the lake bottom. I hated doing that because it was such a colossal waste of money! On a kayak it can be even harder to unstick an anchor because a kayak gives you very little leverage for pulling the anchor compared to a big boat. For the kayak, I decided to use a 10 lb dumbbell as my primary anchor. This was a difficult decision because there are situations where this is simply not a good idea. For example, in the ocean or a fast-flowing river, if you lose your paddle you may need a rock-solid anchor to keep you from being carried out to sea or into dangerous sections of the river! In those kinds of waters, it would be foolish to anchor with a dumbbell! But most of my paddling will be on reservoirs and I am very diligent about following the weather forecasts. A kayak is so light that it doesn't take a lot of weight to secure it in these calmer waters. So I decided to use a deadweight anchor, with a dumbbell being an inexpensive and convenient way to do that. I also have a 3 lb. grapnel anchor on hand for whenever the situation warrants it because there are occasions when I'll want to get on fast-flowing rivers.

To turn the dumbbell into an anchor, I attached a small (6 inch) piece of rope with knots on each end to my dumbbell using heavy zip ties. This created an attachment point on the anchor to which I attached my anchor chain using a stainless steel quick link. The chain is attached to the anchor line using a carabiner.


The last part of my anchor system is mesh backpack to store it all in. A fair amount of thought went into that decision as well. So I'll save it for its own post.

12/29/2016

PSA

On an iPhone or iPad, open "Settings". Go to "General". Tap on "Text Replacement". Now, if you're a naughty person and you're on somebody else's device you could tap the '+' sign and set the device to auto-correct a word like "yes" to something like, "I have a big butt."

Not that I would ever do such a thing.

12/28/2016

Maiden Voyage

My feet and a very pretty view.
My kayak had been hanging in the garage for a couple of weeks just looking forlorn as I waited for free time and the weather to cooperate in letting me take her out on the water. Finally got my chance yesterday. Mostly cloudy, highs in the upper 60s, very light winds. About as good conditions as one can hope for in late December.

Ready for launch
Without much fanfare, the SS Guacamole took her maiden voyage on Shearon Harris Lake around 2:30 PM yesterday. I was only on the water for about an hour and a half, but it was a lot of fun and I learned several things.

A picture of my left foot
Another picture of my left foot
First, I didn't capsize the kayak so that's a success! Even for this newbie, the Guacamole seems to handle pretty well. I didn't have any problems controlling her, although she takes pretty wide turns. I figured out that I can get her to turn more tightly by reverse paddling on the side of the turn. I don't have a lot to compare her to, but she seemed to ride kind of like a Cadillac – easy-going, cushy, comfortable, but not very agile and kind of ponderous feeling. The FeelFree Corona is supposed to be a very stable kayak and I've seen YouTube videos of a dude standing on one. But I didn't feel confident enough to attempt that, especially in December. Maybe in the spring when things warm up, I'll attempt it near the shore and if I capsize I can use that as an opportunity to practice re-entry while on the water.

A picture of my right foot. Yeah, I'm stone-cold crazy.

I can see now that a decent headwind will be pretty tiring solo paddling this big boat. I get the feeling that two paddlers would make it easier to propel, assuming those paddlers can be sufficiently in-sync. But I'm fine with the amount of effort required even when solo paddling because it's not that bad and one of the reasons I wanted a kayak was for the exercise. For fishing and exploring the water with my family, it'll be great.

A selfie: Contemplating how to best photograph my feet
I learned a couple of things:
  • No matter how careful you are, you're going to get wet. Now, I didn't have any illusions about that, but actually getting wet in December reminds you of it. If nothing else, the paddles are going to drip a lot of water on you. It didn't help that I forgot to install my scupper plugs! I realized it just as I was putting in, but the plugs were at home so I just accepted that for the first trip I'd be sitting in some water. It wasn't that bad actually. For the most part, the seat kept me out of the little bit of water that got in the boat, but having the scuppers plugs will keep everything more dry.
  • Kayaking works muscles that I generally don't use much. Even with that short time on the water, I feel some mild muscle aches today. Nothing bad, but enough to make me aware of it. During that time, I did hustle it across the main channel of the spur of the lake that I was on. Twice – there and back. That's probably a couple hundred yards each way and I did it quickly without stopping because that channel is where the power boats zoom down the lake and I didn't want to be dealing with them or their wakes on my first trip. 
  • I haven't rigged the Guacamole for fishing yet, but it's clear that I'll need to place the rod holders thoughtfully. It would be very easy for the rod holders to get in the way of my paddling! I'm installing flush-mount Scotty holders, so if worse comes to worse, I can remove the holders when paddling long distance. But it would be better if they just didn't get in the way.
As I wrote about in my first kayaking post, I put a lot of thought into making it possible for a single person to load, transport, unload, portage, launch, and store a big tandem kayak. I'm happy to report that that objective was achieved very nicely.

The hoist I use to store the Guacamole is very easy to manage for a single person. The only thing I don't like about it is that it raises and lowers one side of the kayak and then you have to manually level the kayak before you raise/lower it some more. That slows things down, but it's still a manageable system.

For transport, the Yakima Sweetroll carrier works exactly as I hoped it would. The carrier has four supports for the kayak that attach to the car's roof rack. It can attach to automobile manufacturer racks as well as Yakima racks.

Yakima Sweetroll carrier
The rollers have 4-way hinges so they can adapt to and cradle many different hull shapes. The rear supports have rollers that allow you to roll the kayak from the back of your car onto the carrier.

Rear support with roller
There is one minor complication with loading my particular boat onto the Sweetroll. The FeelFree Corona has a built-in "wheel-in-the-keel", FeelFree's signature feature that enables a single person move this big boat without a cart. But with the Sweetroll carrier, the idea is that you pick up the bow of the kayak and place it on the rear of your car. Then you go over to the stern of the boat, lift it, and guide the boat into place using the roller supports. The problem is that the wheel-in-the-keel could roll your boat right off the back of your car before you get around to the stern, crashing your kayak onto the ground!

The solution, which I got from a YouTube video, was to attach a carefully measured safety rope between the rear towing hook on my car to the stern of the Guacamole. The rope is cut to a length that will keep the kayak from rolling away once I get the bow onto the back of the car.

Safety rope attached between the car's tow hook and the stern of the kayak
So the way it works is I roll the kayak behind my car, with the stern centered behind the car and the bow angled off to the driver's side and overlapping the rear of the car. Then I attach my safety rope to the car's tow hook and the kayak's stern handle using carabiners. I also have a small rubber-backed rug that I place on the rear of my car to keep the kayak from scratching the car.

Ready to lift the kayak's bow onto the rear of the car
Once the kayak and safety rope are in place, I lift the bow of the boat and rest it on the back of the car (on the rug). Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of that. Then I go around to the stern and the safety rope keeps the boat in place until I can get there. I lift the stern and push the boat onto the carrier supports and then adjust the placement of the boat so that its centered on the supports. The rollers on the rear supports make all of this very easy to do.

Since I only lift one side of the boat at a time, and never the entire 80 lb boat at once, it means that I'm never lifting more than 40 pounds at a time  That's a very reasonable amount of weight, and totally doable by a single person.

After the kayak is place on the carrier supports, then I just have to attach the carrier straps and the bow/stern straps. Strapped down, the kayak was very stable and stayed in place perfectly to and from the lake.

Packed up and ready to go 
So, the Guacamole's been christened and her maiden voyage is in the books. I'm glad I decided to not complicate things by trying to fish on my first trip out. But I'm chomping at the bit to do it! I've been studying the nautical maps of my lake and staying abreast of the fishing reports so I have some ideas on where to try my luck. I've just got to get the Guacamole outfitted...

12/26/2016

BTS: 2016 Holiday Photo


Other than the occasional pretty picture, I really haven't written a pure photography post in quite awhile. I simply haven't been as prolific with my photography lately because I've been concentrating on fishing. As I get the kayak going, I intend to combine these pursuits. Hit the water, take some nice photos, and, fate willing, catch some fish! But for the holidays, we typically send out a Christmas card to all our friends and include some nice pictures of the kids. So I got to spend some quality time behind a camera recently. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at this year's holiday photos.

Rather than go on a cat herding expedition with my kids in the cold weather, I decided to work indoors and do a simple white backdrop for this year's photo. With backdrops, most of the time I prefer black. I like the way it looks and I'm better at shooting on it. But I figured a Christmas picture ought to be a bit lighter in mood, so I went with white.


The lighting setup was simple. Two key lights, camera-right and camera-left. As usual, I used speedlights (Nikon SB700). The speedlights were shot through white umbrellas. They were arranged symmetrically around my subject, about 3 feet away and 2 feet above, shooting down from an angle. The power on each speedlight was set to 1/8.

I actually prefer softboxes over umbrellas because umbrellas are hard to control spill, throwing light around everywhere indiscriminately. But a white backdrop needs to be lit evenly and brightly. It's best shot in a big space so you can independently light the subject and the backdrop. The area where I shot these photos was very limited in size. So I used the umbrellas to light my subject and the backdrop, deliberately spilling umbrella light onto the backdrop.

Two key lights with shoot-through umbrellas
I also lit the backdrop from below using another speedlight (Lumopro LP160) shooting through my trusty little Lumiquest Softbox III to get a wider spread. It was set to 1/4 power. The backdrop light was mounted on a camera tripod behind and below my subject. By the way, all of these flash power settings I arrived at through experimentation, chimping my way to the right balance.

Backdrop lit from below
I triggered the key lights using Nikon CLS. I don't use TTL mode much with CLS because I find it easier to work with manual power settings. But CLS can also set the flash power on Nikon speedlights remotely using manually-selected settings and that's my favored way of working. Similarly, when working with artificial lighting I also prefer to use manual exposure mode on my camera. I just find it easier to get what I want by setting the camera and flash settings directly than by messing around with exposure and flash compensation controls.

The Lumopro speedlight I used for the backdrop light doesn't speak CLS, so I put it in optical slave mode and it triggered itself off the other speedlights. I have a set of wireless triggers, but CLS and optical triggering works really well for close range shooting so I didn't bother with them.

As for my exposure settings, I used f/5.6, a 1/160 shutter speed, and ISO 100. I chose my aperture to get into the sharpest range of my lens, put the entire subject in focus, and give me enough exposure to avoid cranking my speedlights up to full power. I choose the shutter speed to effectively eliminate ambient light since the room has a mixture of incandescent and natural light from skylights. And when shooting flash, I like to shoot at the lowest ISO setting possible to minimize noise.

Dialing in the exposure with inanimate and (usually)animate subjects

Post-processing was minimal. I tweaked the exposure and contrast a bit, did some spot healing on a couple of skin blemishes, and added a bit of a vignette so the backdrop wasn't quite so flat.

Shooting this year's photos was a bit of a refresher. I haven't shot artificial light in several months, so I was rusty on the various settings and configurations of my equipment. Thankfully I didn't have to crack open any owner's manuals, but did have to think a bit as I went along and it took me longer to get everything set up. But I enjoy shooting with artificial light, even when it's slow-going. It's always an interesting thought exercise and it's fun to work your way to what you've envisioned.


12/15/2016

Low Frequency, High Amplitude

For my final installment expanding on D7's Somewhat Cryptic Advice for Better Living, I'm going to talk about priorities and focus.

Low Frequency, High Amplitude

My musician friends will probably assume "Low frequency, high amplitude" is an ode to bass guitar. While the bass is one of my favorite instruments, like my other somewhat-cryptic advice, the saying is metaphorical and isn't really about music. Unless you want it to be.

In a previous post, I espoused the idea that in life, almost everything in which you control the amount has an perfect amount and that amount is worthy of due consideration. I also wrote about having a sense of ownership and genuine care for the outcomes of the things that you do.

These are statements about the importance of quality. I believe that when you do these things, you end up with experiences and outcomes that are meaningful, long lasting, and deeply satisfying.

One obvious problem is with these tenets is that applying them to everything you might need or desire would be very difficult if for no other reason than time. Commitment and thoughtful consideration is a huge obligation in time! How does one do these things in a world that is so full of possible activities, responsibilities, vocations, avocations, and distractions?

Low frequency, high amplitude – that's how. Low frequency, high amplitude is really a strategy that enables you to practice perfect tempo and owning it without burn-out.

If you're going to commit to quality, then you must also commit to managing quantity. I maintain that it's more satisfying to do fewer things really well than it is to do a whole bunch of things in a half-assed way.

In photography, there's an approach called "spray and pray" where photographers take huge numbers of photos in the hopes that a few of them are actually good. Digital photography encourages this approach because taking 10 photos costs no more in physical resources than taking one. Sometimes spray-and-pray is the best approach to photographing an event because the action is so fast and unpredictable. For example, if you're shooting a basketball game, firing off a stream of photos increases the odds that you capture that split-second, perfect moment in time in a slam dunk. But that's not always the case, and more importantly there's a steep price to this approach that may not be obvious: One, to take a lot of photos of a single event, you have to work extremely fast and that's not conducive to getting an ideally exposed, nicely framed, storyteller of a picture. Lots of professional photographers have discovered that slowing down and considering their shots before they click the shutter improves their success rates and they get better photos. In fact, one of the reasons photographers still like working with film is because the expense and effort involved forces them to do exactly that. Another downside to spray-and-pray is that you have more photos to sift through and edit to get to the keepers. Spray-and-pray essentially defers thoughtful consideration and commitment to the editing process. In some cases that may be a good thing to do, but you are also piling up a ton of work for that editing process. It's especially problematic if you shoot a lot and it will have a negative impact on your time and energy to shoot more.

Another example: The US military phased out fully automatic rifles in favor of guns that do limited bursts of 2 or 3 bullets. A fully automatic weapon is the spray-and-pray of infantry combat. (Actually, I imagine the term "spray and pray" originated from the military, not photography.) Studying the Vietnam war, the military figured out that fully automatic weapons wasted enormous amounts of ammunition and resulted in poor combat performance of troops.

I'm not always the best practitioner, but I advocate choosing carefully what you do, and how often you do it, in order to give yourself the time necessary to do those chosen things at a high level of quality. Limit your number of responsibilities, possessions, hobbies, etc. to the ones that are really important to you so that you have the time to do them well. Also consider limiting the number of times you do your chosen activities so that they can be higher quality. Dining out for one good meal, to me, is more satisfying than ten trips to McDonald's. As a blog writer, I usually enjoy writing a small number of meaningful and well-executed posts, than writing a bunch of vacuous and poorly-considered ones. That's one reason I prefer blogging to tweeting.

Outside of work and family, I have three main pursuits: music, photography, and lately, fishing. Three is the limit for me, and one might argue that it's two too many. I end up managing it by changing focus between them from time to time. Currently, I'm very focused on fishing so music and photography have been back-burnered. I'm just not doing much playing and shooting right now. I know I'll return to them because I always do, and when that happens I'll back-burner the fishing. In fact, I'm hot and heavy on it now but the real goal is to get to a level of competence with fishing that I can just do it and not spend so much time learning about it anymore. I'm sure a person could spend a lifetime learning about fishing, but I don't want it to be a life-long learning pursuit in the same way that music and photography are for me. I just want to reach a level of reasonable competence and then be a happy amateur practitioner. But I'm still building up to that level of competence, so for now I'm spending most of my disposable time fishing or studying up on fishing.

I just bought a kayak, which runs the danger of spreading my time even thinner, but I'm deliberately limiting my interest in kayaking to that required to fish only. I don't want to become a kayaking expert, I just want to acquire enough knowledge and skill to fish effectively (and safely) from a little plastic boat. In other words, I'm intentionally moderating the quality of my kayaking. It may turn out that I'm still spreading my time too thin. But I'm continually thinking about how to manage my life to keep the quality level high on the things I really care about.

So there you have it. Three now-not-so-cryptic pieces of advice for better living. I hope you get something out of it.

12/13/2016

The SS Guacamole


As I mentioned in my last fishing report, I've been interested in getting a kayak. Well, I am now kayak-enabled. I had a false start with a really nice used kayak off Craigslist, but that deal fell through due to a flaky, and in the end a bit creepy, seller. No big deal, I ended up buying new since prices are favorable in winter.

I have christened her the SS Guacamole for obvious reasons. The boat I chose, the FeelFree Corona, doesn't come in colors that I find particularly aesthetically inspiring, so I went with high visibility which is not a bad idea for a small, low-slung boat on the large reservoirs that she'll spend most of her time.

So if I'm not nuts about the colors, then why did I choose the Corona? Several reasons. First, it was within my budget parameters. I didn't have a lot of wiggle room on that. Second, I liked the size and versatility. Even though the Corona is considered a "tandem", at 13' and with a capacity of 617 lbs, she can reasonably accommodate 3 people and there's even a molded location and fittings for a third seat. So I can safely take both of my kids fishing. In fact, I could probably squeeze my entire family on her but that wouldn't be very comfortable. The seating can be configured for 1, 2, or 3 people, so when I want to fish with one other person, or all by myself, I can and it won't make the boat unbalanced. The third reason is that of all the tandem kayaks that met my price, size, and capacity requirements, the Corona seemed like the one that would be the most manageable for a single person to load and transport. That's key because my wife is not supposed to lift heavy objects, my kids are too young to be of much help, and I envision doing a fair amount of solo fishing. FeelFree's signature "wheel-in-the-keel" feature enables a single person to pick up the fore end and roll the kayak around easily. Of course, with a cart you can add that capability to any kayak, but having it built-in means you don't have to worry about where to store the cart when you get to the water. Also, the Corona has very robust molded-in handles, which I think are lot more comfortable, durable, and secure than the bolt-on handles on most kayaks. Combine all that with the right storage and transport systems, and that makes for a big boat that can be safely managed by a single person.

I had an extra bicycle hoist so I used that for storage as you can see in the picture. A hoist is ideal for single person operation as opposed to lifting the kayak onto a rack or shelf system. The hoist's capacity is 100 lbs, which is 25% more than the kayak weighs and the straps are rated at 1250 lbs, so there's enough capacity buffer in the system that it should be safe. I found a helpful page on the web that gave the optimal distance between the suspension points because if you don't get it right, you can warp the kayak over time. On the hoist, there are two claws attached to movable pulleys. The claws were designed to hold a bicycle up by the seat and handlebars. They were originally bent at 90 degrees, which is fine for a bike but didn't seem very safe for a kayak. I tried to replace the claws with stainless steel quick links but I couldn't attach them to the pulleys without major surgery. So I ended up simply bending the claws upward to ensure that the strap hooks don't slip off of them. It wasn't easy because the claws were quite heavy duty and hard to bend. But it worked and it's a simple and effective solution. I also threaded some closed-cell foam pads onto the straps to keep them from deforming the kayak. Hanging the hoist was a pain because my garage ceiling is so high (I had to rent a taller ladder from Home Depot) but I completed it last night. For the Guacamole's first night in the hoist, I parked the cars outside and suspended her only a few inches off the ground in case there was any sort of infant mortality failure with the hoist or my installation.

For transport, I bought a Yakima SweetRoll carrier. Once again, I needed to be able to load and unload the boat by myself. The SweetRoll has rollers on the rear supports, so you can to pick up one end of the kayak and put it up on the rear of the car, then pick up the other end and relatively easily push the kayak into place on the carrier using the rollers. I'm going to get a cheap rug to put on the back of the car to prevent scratches and I'll clip a safety rope from my car's rear towing hooks to the back of the kayak to keep it from rolling away on its wheel-in-the-keel when I have the fore end lifted onto the car. I haven't done it yet, but I've watched several videos, and this should all be doable by a single person. Still, she's an 80 lb boat, so it'll be a little workout every time I do it, which isn't a bad thing. I just need to remember to lift it properly in consideration of my middle aged back!

Now I need to do a little rigging on the Guacamole to get her ready for fishing. Short-term that only means a few rod holders and an anchor trolley. But longer term, I'd like to get a fish finder. I don't want to get carried away with rigging because I want to minimize weight and complication for transport. So I'm going to keep it simple.

The Guacamole will really open up lakes and rivers to me in ways I could only dream about when bank fishing and I'm just waiting for a reasonably warm day to get her out on the water!

11/27/2016

Own It

My second installment expanding on D7's Somewhat Cryptic Advice for Better Living is really a statement about personal accountability and commitment. The advice is two words:

Own It

My day job is in product management. Product managers are responsible for strategy, delivery, and planning around products that companies sell in the market. Figuring out what the products are, what features they should have, who to sell them to, what they should cost, etc. - those are all responsibilities of a product manager.

As a product manager it's easy to develop a mental and emotional detachment from your product. Somebody else may have invented it, somebody else is fronting the money to take it to market, and company politics may mean that somebody else has a bigger role in determining its future You might not have much on the line, so it's easy to think of yourself as just another employee. But in my experience, product managers are most successful when they act like the product is their baby and their own money is on the line - even if it's not. These are the product managers that genuinely stake a claim in the success of their products. These product managers have a sense of passion and urgency that tends to inspire and influence others, gets things done, and bring about success in the market for their products. They're compelling evangelists for their products. They sweet-talk, fight, and cajole others to ensure the right things get done. They take it personally when a competitor beats them.

If you have children and you're a decent parent, then you probably get this. When it comes to your kids, you take a very active and passionate role in their success. You defend them, you think deeply about what's best for them, you make plans, and you execute for their future. There's very little you wouldn't do for them because you have a genuine mental and emotional investment in their success.

That's owning it. and it's an attitude that should be taken with anything you claim to really care about.

There's another aspect to owning it: Commitment.

Have you ever seen Justin Timberlake on SNL? I'm not a Timberlake fan and kind of considered him one of these disposable pop stars with a pretty face and very little talent. So I was blown away when I saw how genuinely funny he was on SNL. (Which actually got me to listen seriously to his music and you know what - I was kind of wrong about that too.)

He's funny because he's all-in. He holds nothing back. He leaves it all on the field, as they say in football. You have to be that way in comedy. Heck you have to be that way in all artistic endeavors. Not being completely committed to the moment and becoming detached, analytical, or self-conscious kills authenticity and utterly destroys art. Timberlake know this and when he does a skit he's all-in and he's hysterically funny.

But it's not just art, commitment applies across the board. That same all-in attitude applied to Michael Jordan, Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, and the engineers and physicist who put men on the moon. They were intense, totally committed, all-in.

To own it is to hold yourself personally accountable for, and to be all-in in the pursuit of, its success. Whatever "it" is doesn't matter so much. It's the commitment that matters.

11/26/2016

Fishing Report - 11/26/2016

Probably the last decent-sized channel cat of the season. Looks like she was fattening up for the winter.
It looks like the catfish in my area have headed for deeper waters. It's been slowing down for the last few weeks while the weather is getting colder and the last couple weekends have been just short of dead. Without a boat or locating some bank area close to deep creek channels, I'm probably done for the season. Well, a period of unseasonable sunny warmth could draw them out to the flats temporarily until the weather turns cold again - and I'll try to take advantage of any of those that I get - but I think it's mostly done until the spring.

I've learned some more things that last few weeks:
  • My initial goal was really modest: I wanted to be able to catch channel catfish reliably in my neighborhood lake. I can definitely do that now. But ironically, after pulling in much bigger fish in other lakes, fishing in my neighborhood lake doesn't hold the same appeal that it when I set that goal. I'm a little worried that if I target and have any success with blue or flathead catfish, I may never go back to channels. But for now anyway, I'm delighted with 2.5-10 lb channel cats, but less so with the sub-1 lb to 2 lb cats that are in my original lake
  • I'm not slaying it by any means, but I think I can catch enough sunfish for live or cut bait going forward. I started getting better at it just at the time when those fish are heading for deeper waters too, but I think I'll be alright come spring.
  • I often call the sunfish I'm catching "bluegill" but in reality, the most common sunfish at my current favorite lake is the redear sunfish. I've probably caught more of those than anything else. It's a pretty fish and almost a shame to turn around and use them as bait.
  • My experiment with frozen bait didn't go well at all. No bites. Unfortunately, I didn't also use punch bait so I didn't have a control group for my experiment and I don't know if it was the frozen bait or if they just weren't biting at all. I may do some more experimenting with it again next year. But a better idea is to get one of those insulated live bait wells with the battery powered aerator (Frabill makes one). That would keep the bait fish alive long enough for me to fish with, perhaps even overnight.
  • On the other hand, I've come to the conclusion I don't really need to catch bait fish unless I start targeting blues and flatheads. The punch bait works great for channel cats and it's a lot less work to obtain.
  • But who am I kidding? I will go after the blues and flatheads sooner or later. It's just a matter of time and resources. 
  • The biggest resource I lack currently is a boat. I see these huge 10,000 acre reservoir lakes and I can only fish a few hundred feet of them because bank access is so limited here in NC. I'm literally confined to less than 1% of the lake! A boat would also allow me to get out to deeper waters so I wouldn't be so limited by season.
  • But I don't really want a full-size boat again. Too much hassle and expense to operate and maintain. I'm thinking a kayak would open up a wealth of fishing opportunity and would be good fun and exercise to boot.  I'd really like to get one (or two) in the spring. We'll see.

11/23/2016

Every Song Has a Perfect Tempo

A few years ago, I wrote a post that had 3 simple pieces of advice for living. The trouble is, the advice was given as short, pithy, metaphorical phrases and I purposely didn't bother to explain them. They were open to interpretation and I thought it might be interesting to leave them that way. But now I think it's a good time to explain what I mean.

First, I should say, I'm no particular expert on living well and one could well argue that I have no business giving advice to others on the topic. But I have found these 3 things proven true over and over in my life and therefore have been useful to me. Maybe they'll be useful to you.

So I'll start with the first.

Every song has a perfect tempo.

I used to play in a band with a guy who said this all the time. He was a very interesting guy. A completely self-made dot-com millionaire. He was wicked smart (MIT engineering grad) and also happened to be a decent, kind, and approachable person. As near as I could tell, he did three things with his considerable wealth: 1) play poker, 2) play music, and 3) give away money through his charitable foundation. For a guy of his means, he lived in a relatively modest home, drove a Ford Explorer, and with a couple of notable exceptions wasn't prone to ostentatious display of money. His poker playing was much higher stakes than I could afford, but it didn't even register a dent in his wealth. He had a nice setup for music at his home, but considering he could afford a Prince-like studio, it was pretty low-key. And his foundation gave money to education-oriented projects and charities. Like I said, really nice guy. And a pretty darn good keyboard player.

Anyway, this guy used to always say, "Every song has a perfect tempo." He believed that every song had an ideal tempo such that any slower or faster than the perfect tempo would have a detrimental effect on the song. And he was adamant about finding the perfect tempo for each song and nailing it every time we played the song.

Now, he was only talking about music. But that phrase stuck with me and I've found it to be widely applicable to life. For everything in which you control the amount, there is almost always a perfect amount.

There's a perfect amount of salt you can put on a steak. Too little and it's bland; too much and it's, well, salty. There's the perfect amount of contrast for a photo. There's a perfect allocation of funds for your 401K. There's a perfect placement for your car in the garage. There's a perfect amount of stuff to put in your backpack. There a perfect balance of rod to reel. There's a perfect amount of overdrive from any given amp. There's a perfect balance of boss, mentor, and friend for your manager.

You might say, "Well, the perfect amount is highly subjective!" And you'd be right. It varies from person-to-person and is almost always situational. But within all of us, there are countless perfect amounts for everything and every situation, and there is tremendous contentment to be found in taking the time to consider something well enough to figure out the perfect amount. If you're prone to "more is better" type of behavior, you'll be happier if you slow down and think about what you're doing, what you're really trying to achieve, and how much is really necessary. If you tend to be too conservative (I'm talking resource utilization, not politics), overcoming your natural tendencies to conserve and thinking about how much is really required to accomplish your goals will greatly improve your odds of achieving them.

There is a perfect amount. Any more is too much. Any less is too little.

So the perfect tempo is not really about music. It's about thoughtful consideration. It's about taking the time when you're doing something to consider how to do it really, really well. It's about defining what "really, really well" is! If you believe that things worth doing are worth doing well, then find the perfect tempo for everything that you do.

11/20/2016

Charlie Strong and the Road Forward

I write this the day after Kansas beat Texas 24-21. As everybody knows, this marks the end of Charlie Strong's tenure at Texas. It's all just a formality at this point.

Several thoughts:

  • The last time I wrote about the 'Horns, I praised their heart this year. Boy was I wrong on that one. Never judge a team based on their performance against preseason cupcakes. Of course, at the time nobody knew Notre Dame was a cupcake; everybody thought they were a top-10 team. 
  • What Texas really didn't need was a controversial coach firing. And with the Kansas game we thankfully don't have one. Going into the game, Kansas was 1-9, had lost 19 consecutive Big 12 games, hadn't beaten an FBS team since 2014, and hadn't beaten Texas since 1938. Yes, 1938. It was truly an historic loss and getting beat by Kansas tipped the scales unambiguously. That is one good thing to come of this loss - it's made the firing decision obvious and unarguable to rational people.
  • I've been a Charlie Strong supporter from the beginning. I like many aspects of the way he runs the program, especially off-field. But I mentally detached from him after the Oklahoma State game. We had just lost to Cal. In that game, the offense was clicking but Cal exposed our weaknesses on defense. However, I figured Strong would fix it because he's a defense-minded coach and we had an extra bye week to work on it. I thought the next game, Oklahoma State, would be telling. They're a prototypical, pass-heavy Big 12 team. I thought the game would be a good indicator of whether he could fix our defense as well as how the season would play out in general. Well, it was in fact a great litmus test. We lost 49-31, the Cowboys put up 555 yards on us, and 2016 has been another miserable season. But the worst part of that game was this: We made zero progress on the obvious problem areas. Our issues were laid bare in the Cal game, so what the hell had they been doing for two weeks?  Squandering improvement opportunities has been a recurring problem under Strong: We did it in the summer of 2015 when Shawn Watson put together the most pathetic attempt at a HUNH offense I've ever seen. We did it in the off-season of 2016 when a defense full of physically talented but inexperienced personnel made no improvement. And we did it during the bye week before the Oklahoma State game. At that point I disengaged from the Strong camp. I didn't necessarily want him to get fired, but I wasn't going to argue that he shouldn't any more. 
  • Talent-wise, I think Strong leaves the program in better shape than he found it. Somehow, despite the mounting losses, he pulled in terrific recruiting classes. Which is a big part of why the losses and lack of progress are so frustrating and ultimately unacceptable. The next coach has a lot to work with and it wouldn't surprise me if he looks like a freaking genius very quickly due in large part to inherited player talent. On the other hand, with a few notable exceptions, it's talent that has largely under-delivered. It's probably more accurate to call it "potential" than talent, and "potential" is of course a loaded word. 
  • I hope the AD and the Board of Regents don't fuck up the hiring process. They made an absolute goat rope of the baseball coaching hire, although they did get nice raises for the country's best college baseball coaches. They run a leaky and undisciplined ship over at Belmont and frankly, I think Mike Perrin is in over his head. I'm praying they learned something from that debacle.  [11/23/2016 Update - Not off to a good start. If they already intend to fire Strong, by not doing it immediately following the Kansas game, they set up a messy PR situation if the Longhorns beat TCU and get a bowl game.]
  • And it won't be easy. There are no sure-fire candidates that we actually have a chance to land out there. Tom Herman, the presumptive top candidate, has only been a head coach two years and his success is in no small measure thanks to players recruited by somebody else. Nobody knows if he can build a program of sustained success. And he's had mixed results (losing to SMU is almost as bad as losing to Kansas!) in 2016 - a year in which Houston had legit playoff aspirations. Despite the hype, there's a lot of risk in going with him, as there is with any candidate that we have an actual chance of getting. [11/23/2016 Update - I just read a journalist who believed that a bidding war for Herman could go to $8M-$9M per year. That's Harbaugh territory and significantly more than Saban - for a person with all of 2 years head coaching experience and one AAC championship. He did win a national championship as OC at tOSU under Urban Meyer, but still he has a paper thin resume compared to other coaches making anywhere near that amount of money.  These are crazy times.]
  • I also hope the big-moneyed, always-meddling boosters don't fuck this up. They certainly did in Strong's case; the guy wasn't even on campus before McCombs and company started sowing the seeds of discontent. That shit is not helpful. Unfortunately with no can't-miss candidates, it's probable that there will be dissension over whoever we hire.
  • Finally, I hope the fans don't fuck this up. When Strong was hired, the level of fan scrutiny over the process was downright obsessive. The major Longhorns blogs were publishing all manner of rumor, innuendo, conjecture, pontification, and out-right bullshit about what was going on and the major players involved. It got to the point where people were tracking charter airplane flights into Austin to speculate about who was interviewing and what it meant. It was undoubtedly detrimental to the hiring process. And unfortunately I got sucked in and followed it way too closely. This time around, I know better.
We're still lost in the desert pulling a flaming dumpster, but as always, Hook 'em!

11/14/2016

Source Audio Orbital Modulator



I've owned the Source Audio Orbital Modulator for over a year now and during that time I've played a lot with it, jamming at home, rehearsing with my band, and playing at gigs. Here are my collected thoughts:

Pluses

  • Audio quality - The DSP in this thing is 56-bit and it has a very good-sounding buffer that can be true-bypassed. This is about as good as it gets in pedals.
  • Covers a lot of ground - With chorus, flanger, resonator, phaser, univibe, and tremolo all built in, the OM can replace a lot of other pedals. This is probably my favorite aspect of the OM. For me, modulation effects are something I use infrequently, so the idea of having individual pedals for effects that I might use once at a gig is not at all attractive.
  • Great algorithms - A versatile pedal isn't really so versatile if a number of the effects don't sound very good. Every single effect in the OM sounds terrific.
  • Two presets - Out of the box, you get two "slots" for saving your own control settings and the presets can be recalled using a footswitch dedicated to each . It's like having two pedals dialed up and ready to go. And it's essential for a pedal that covers so much ground.
  • Highly tweakable - The OM has all the expected controls, plus a few that are unexpected. You won't be suffering for lack of control!
  • Lots of options for real-time control - While you play, you can adjust parameters in real time using an expression pedal, MIDI continuous controllers, or the Source Audio's Hot Hand motion sensor.
  • Well made - Very heavy duty.
  • Compact -  The OM is smaller than the size of two Boss pedals, which is quite compact considering how many pedals this thing can replace.
  • Easy to get your sound - Once you understand what the controls do, it's easy to dial in the sound you want.

Minuses

  • Not intuitive - For the basic controls and functions, the OM is actually easy to use. But between some of the more esoteric controls unique to the OM (lo retain; mod source; control input) and several hidden parameters (control reset; true bypass/buffered output; tap tempo), there's no getting around having to read the manual. And unless you use it a lot you're likely to forget how to use some of the more obscure controls work, so you'll be referring to the manual even after you've initially learned it. I need to make a laminated cheat sheet with the hidden controls that I can stuff into my pedalboard.
  • Only two presets in stock configuration - I listed "two presets" as a plus. But presets are so essential and the pedal is capable of so many different effects, that I find myself wishing it had one or two more! On the other hand, that would increase the size of the pedal and I very much appreciate the OM's compact size. I suppose Source Audio's answer is the right one: The OM can be expanded with the Neuro Hub which allows you to store 128 presets for multiple Source Audio pedals, and adds more real-time control options.
  • Not stereo - I suppose you could argue that it makes some sense for a stompbox, but having the gorgeous OM sound engine limited to mono seems like an unnecessary handicap.
  • Multi-function knob - Fitting all that parameter control into such a compact pedal requires a compromise. In this case, the "option" knob controls 6 different parameters depending on the setting of a parameter selection button that cycles through the 6 choices. That means you can't see all your settings at once, and it's really cumbersome to do detailed editing where you might go back and forth between parameters many times.
  • Won't take a regular expression pedal without an extra cost add-on - The real-time control possibilities of the OM are very intriguing. Unfortunately, you can't get to them without spending more money! If only they'd included a standard TRS expression pedal jack...
  • Could use a tone control - For me, the one control missing is a simple tone control. Sometimes I'd like to dial down the digital perfection and get a less high fidelity sound. A tone control would be a really simple way to do that. Now, I could add an EQ pedal, but that would defeat the compact advantage of the OM and I'm not willing to do that.
I have almost as many minuses as pluses, but really the complaints that I have are somewhat minor. On balance, I feel like the Orbital Modulator is one of the best multi-function modulation pedals currently on the market, and at $170 street, it's really a no-brainer.

11/08/2016

Everything Good Happens Before 8AM

If you look closely, you can see my bobber floating in the water...


Although the weekend wasn't a total success for fishing, getting up early did yield a few nice photos. I didn't bring a real camera - this was taken with my iPhone. Not bad at all, although I doubt it would make a great large print.

Here are some tips for getting decent photos from your phone:

  • More than anything else, take advantage of good light, especially golden hour. The image sensor in a phone is tiny and noisy, and artificial light usually isn't practical with a phone, so good natural light is critically important. It makes a huge difference! Golden hour light is bright enough to work with the sensor, but still has softer, side-casting shadows and a lovely warm hue. These are all usually very good things in a photo. So when you're out and about around sunrise or sunset, take advantage of the opportunity and get some photos.
  • Clean the lens! Or more accurately, the glass window on your phone that protects the lens. It's terrible about accumulating dust, fingerprints, and general schmutz, and that is degrading your sharpness and contrast. Ideally, you'd use some lens cleaner and a good microfiber cloth, but who carries that shit around with them? I certainly don't. If I were going to bother with that, I'd carry a real camera. I just exhale some hot breath on it and wipe it off with a cotton shirt. Even that helps tremendously.
  • Hold the camera still. Use both hands, tuck your elbows against your torso, exhale, and slowly but deliberately press the shutter without jostling the camera. Or if you really want to go to town, use the timer function, place the camera on something (a rock, a bench, etc.) and take the photo that way. But I almost always just handhold it for a phone photo because I'm usually busy doing something else.
  • For a landscape, choose your focus point to optimize exposure. This is a little bit technical to explain, but it's really easy to do in practice and it can turn an okay photo into a terrific one. The standard camera app on an iPhone doesn't allow you to manually set exposure (how light or dark the photo is). Instead, it automatically sets exposure for whatever is in the focus square (that little square overlay on the screen that the camera uses to select what it's going to focus on). You can move the focus square by tapping on the screen. Now, in a landscape photo (and in many other types of photos actually because the sensor is so dinky), what you focus on doesn't really matter much because the phone camera optics will make everything in the scene in focus. So place the focus square instead to get the best exposure. Is the sky showing up as white and blown-out? Then tap on something light colored in the scene, perhaps the sky itself, and the phone will darken the exposure - there, now the colors in the sky are back. Is the scene too dark? Then tap on something dark and the camera will lighten everything up. So it's really simple: Experiment by tapping on various things in the scene until you get an overall exposure that either matches what you're seeing with your eyes, or just looks nice to you. One great thing about a camera phone is that what you see on the screen is what you'll get in the photo, so you can see the exposure before actually taking the picture.
  • Get an image editor app. This is optional, but very worthwhile. Consider it extra credit. An image editor app will let you tweak the photo afterwards to compensate for the inadequacies of the phone's image sensor and processing firmware. For example, with a landscape I might place my focus square to get the exposure of the sky right (in order to capture the colors in a sunset) but that will cause everything in the foreground to be a silhouette. I'll use an image editor app to lighten up the shadows (i.e. the foreground) so it matches what I actually saw. Best of all, you don't have to be a Photoshop expert to use these apps; they're highly simplified so that a normal person can figure them out. My favorite is Snapseed, which is excellent.

11/07/2016

Fishing Report - 11/6/2016

I did a lot of fishing this weekend, but it was mixed in terms of results. On Friday evening, the whole family went to the lake. The kids and I got skunked, but my wife caught one medium sized fish. We only had a couple of hours, and with the kids it wasn't high quality fishing time. It was very high quality family time though! I spent most of it trying to help everybody else catch fish.

On Saturday, I got to the lake at 8AM. I went to the location that's been very successful for me. Fished for an hour and got a couple of bites. I didn't set my hook well enough on the first one and the fish coughed it up before I could get him to shore. I caught the second bite - a small fish, a couple pounds or so. I released him since we're well stocked on catfish.

A couple of other people showed up and that upset my flow because the bank and foliage is arranged in such a way that I can't cast into my preferred spot without casting across the entire fishable bank. This spot is a little cove with reeds, and fallen and overhanging trees, which is a perfect catfish sanctuary. These folks set up camp between me and that spot so I would have had to cast across them which would have been very uncool. So instead I cast out to where I figured it would be slow, and it in fact was. But it's not like I own the lake and they were very nice people. I could have moved, so I can't complain. Actually I should have moved but I didn't have enough time to find a new spot by exploring so I just shared the location with my new friends. You see, finding open bank on lakes in NC can be challenging because there is so much forest that goes right up to the water, making it impossible to cast very far. It saves a lot of time and frustration to get on Google Maps and use the satellite view to find open bank before you get to the lake.  But the lesson for me was that fishing on Sunday is better since most respectable folks are at church! And I guess I should have a longer list of suitable bank fishing locations on the lake in case my first choices don't work out.

About an hour after that, my wife arrived. She wanted to sleep in, and since I was not having a whole lot of luck, it seems like a great idea in retrospect. Anyway, she arrived and within minutes she caught a fish, which she reluctantly released. (As a relative newbie, I can say with some authority that it's emotionally hard to release a fish when you're new to it; you're not confident that you'll catch more and you want to keep 'em all!) Then, about 20 minutes later, she lands her personal best fish, a 5.25 lb channel cat. From what I've seen so far, that's pretty big for this lake. I've only caught one that was bigger.

I on the other hand, continued my string of bad luck. I got hung up not once, but twice and lost a couple of expensive floats. (Note to self: Find a cheap source of weighted floats!) That was karma: I'd been feeling a little smug and put out about how often my wife and kids get hung up and lose their rigs. Apparently the gods of fishing are nothing if not ironic. I caught no more fish that day. It was a bust. My wife however caught a couple more that she released, including one she caught on a live bluegill given to her by the folks that we were sharing the bank with (they were throwing the bluegill back in). She had the Midas touch and I was really happy for her because she'd been skunked a lot in the recent past and hadn't caught a big one yet. So it was awesome to see her get her day.

We kept her big fish. She wanted to show it to the kids and although we didn't really need it, it's not like we were going to let it go to waste. I made a catfish gumbo that night with her fish using a recipe I got from this video. It was delicious. Highly recommended! And I was mightily impressed that one fish fed a family of four and we had plenty leftover. By the way, that video also showed me that I was leaving a lot of meat on the catfish by simply filleting the sides with a knife and chucking the rest. On my wife's fish, I took the time to cut the meat from the bottom of the fish (there's a lot there on a big fish!) and to take any small pieces of meat that were missed in the filleting process. I stopped short of scraping the sides the way the guy does in the video, but I managed to get an additional 25% to 30% more meat!

I decided to devote Sunday morning to advancing my ability to catch bluegill for use as cut bait. The lake nearest my house reopened after Hurricane Matthew and I've had some luck in the past catching bluegill there, so I decided to go there. I also wanted to test out some Berkley Gulp Alive Crickets as bait. Gulp crickets are soft rubber crickets impregnated with a scent attractant. There are a lot of positive reviews for them on the 'net. We've had some luck with actual live crickets but they're a pain for me to procure and deal with, so I was hoping the Gulp crickets would be a good substitute. I'll cut to the chase on that: For this trip, they didn't do very well. I fished with a rubber cricket for an hour and a half and caught a small catfish with it, and had several nibbles. But it seemed like the bluegill, who are very cautious and like to peck at bait a lot before they actually hit it, lost interest in it after a couple of swipes. I ended up buying red worms from the lake store and using that instead. I'm not totally giving up on Gulp crickets yet, but first impression was not positive. Next time I'll start with worms and confirm that the fish are biting first, then try out the Gulp crickets.

It took a couple of hours before I started catching any bluegill. That might be weather related since it was notably colder than usual on Sunday. I was only planning to fish for 2 or 3 hours, but I didn't start getting any bites until that far into it, so I ended up staying at the lake for 6 hours! I really wanted to get some bluegill! In the end, I caught 6 bluegill, one pumpkinseed (which was cool because they're pretty and I'd never caught one before), and one crappie. One of the bluegill was really big - about the size of my whole hand (and I've got big hands). The others were small to medium. That evening I did some research online to make sure it was legal to use crappie as bait. It is. And in the lake I'll be fishing with it, there are no size or creel limits either.

Unfortunately, I knew I wouldn't be able to use the bait fish right away. So I intended to freeze them for use next week or at some time in the future. I did some research to find the best way to do this. I brought a cooler 2/3 full with ice, rock salt, and water to put the fish into immediately after catching. The idea is to keep them as cold as possible until you can get them into the freezer. When I got home, I got them into a zip lock bag as quickly as possible and laid them flat in the freezer so they'd freeze quickly. I have no idea if this will actually be effective or not, but the theory seems solid.

Eight fish are enough for my next catfishing expedition, but for 6 hours of work, that's pretty pitiful. I put more effort into catching the bait than I will into catching my actual target fish! I'm going to have to get a lot more efficient to make this worthwhile. At some point I've got to get fast enough at this that I can catch the bluegill right before fishing so I can use them live. So I'll be doing a lot of research on targeting bluegill for next few weeks...