Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Who said it was easy?

If you've been following my Facebook Page or the blog over the last few weeks you know I've gotten a bad case of gar fever.  Over the years, I've caught gar by accident or just happen to cross one and get lucky.  I say "lucky" because I never knew how hard it would be to actually seek them out and target only the largest gar.  I've found a new respect for these dinosaurs.

I had made two other trips to the refuge searching for that big bite.  The first trip I caught a few small ones but I couldn't get the big ones to chase.  The second trip, I had a few follows and moved a few larger ones.  The only really good hook up came loose after a moment.  In all the commotion, I missed the clouds forming and got caught in a storm.  Not a great experience!

Landed on my shoulder at the launch on the last day...I felt it was a sign!

On the third trip, I decided to bring a secret weapon, a rope fly.  I know it's somewhat controversial for the purist but let's be honest.  I'm in a kayak, it was another 6 mile round trip paddle in temps reaching the upper 90's, I was only taking shots at gar 4' or larger, and really...a "gar fly purist?"

Finally a big rise and a quick shot

When I arrived, the gar were in the same area popping on top.  The water clarity was 1-1.5 feet, so you only get a second to get a fly in front of your target.  Most of the action I saw was from small gar.  I knew I would only get a shot at a few really large gar over the next few hours.  I could see them working the area but it's like that kids game where you try to hit the prairie dog on the head before he dives back in his hole.  There's no way to predict where they'll come up next.  Just stay ready...

About to lift off

My patience finally paid off and I saw a big gar within my range.  A quick shot and it worked.  The gar had eaten the rope, no way it actually WORKED!  So here's where it gets interesting.  Big fish with teeth and limited working space make for a tense situation.  These guys like to lunge and jump, waving their sharps all around the side of the kayak.  I eventually got the toothy critter in the kayak.  I didn't have gloves or a way to open its mouth.  I had to cut the rope out, effectively ruining my only rope fly.  I was skeptical and only tied one.

The kayak is 12 ft.

Going back to my traditional flies for the rest of the trip.  Another 2 hours passed before I saw a huge gar circling some bait about 30 feet from me.  In the water it looked massive.  It ate and on its first run came right to the kayak and confirmed my suspicions, it was massive!  Then it dove down and just pulled me for 50 yards.  When it came back up it had a friend.

Sharp teeth will cut you

I played the game for 10 minutes and felt like I might be able to get it in the kayak.  The first attempt failed.  It was way too heavy and when it started thrashing I felt like the kayak was going to flip.  I went for it again and got burned!  No hero shot with this dude, he took the fly and a piece of me with him.

Friday, July 15, 2016

GoPro Hero4 Silver review

There are a lot of action cameras on the market now and more launching everyday.  When I was shopping for one in December 2015, I was overwhelmed with all the choices.  Ultimately, I decided on the GoPro Hero4 Silver because of the touch display and Hilight tagging feature.  I did my usual intense, borderline lunatic, up all night reading every review I could find for days.  Even the ones written in a foreign language, from countries I can't locate on a map.

What I found was skepticism.  Some reviewers found the touch display useful.  Others not so much.  One review mentioned just making a "thumbs up" when you want to find something later.  That doesn't sound any easier than finding the frame I actually need.  I also came across several used GoPro's for sale.  A recurring theme was not enough time to use/edit.

When you’re creating an edit, you’re working with short 5-10 second clips (edits) pieced together to make an interesting 1-3 minute video.  It makes no sense to spend hours finding, editing and creating a 3 minute video edit.  In my 7 months of use, I've found editing is where the GoPro Hero4 Silver shines. The Hilight tagging feature and touch display save you time later when your searching for your hero moment.  That time saved is worth being added to some clandestine groups watch list.  I'm sure I'll regret it when I'm explaining my internet search history 3,000 miles from home but it's coming with me if I go!

I've been extremely surprised by how useful I find the Hilight tagging feature and touch display.  They have cut my editing time in half.  I know this because the first month I'd forget to tag and then spend hours looking for the highlight in my video.  I quickly learned to use the tagging feature.  It's really simple.  Push the tagging button on the side of the camera and later find the yellow tag (you'll see).

Press here to TAG that special moment

I haven't used every setting on the camera.  There are a ton.  I stay in the 1080, superview, 60/fps most of the time because the highest video quality Youtube will play is 1080.  The frames per second (fps) basically (from what I read/understand) you get less video blurring with more fps.

My normal settings

The next setting I use is time lapse photo set for 1 photo/second.  Why would you want a dedicated photo over a screen grab?  Check out these pictures and you'll see the quality is slightly better with the time lapse photo.

Screen grab.  Notice the nose is slightly blurred b/c the gar was moving.

Time lapse photo - The tail of the fish is moving but still has great detail, lines and edges (no blur)

It's especially noticeable if you zoom in or have any movement in the shot.  I've found that if there's some movement, the screen shot will likely have some blurring.  Time lapse provides better detail and quality when there's movement in the frame.  Also really useful for close up and action shots, when more detail is desired.  However, the screen grab is great when detail and clarity aren't needed, such as landscape and wide angle shots.  See below...

No detail really, no hard lines, can't see smallmouth bass, but the color and perspective are great!  
Again, great perspective, but the fly line is grainy 

Still need to learn the other features but I can quickly move from video to time lapse in seconds without removing the camera from the protective housing.  The touch display allows easy and quick camera adjustments.  You can change settings, review/delete footage, switch views and so much more.

Just hit the "mode" button until you see time lapse

touch display shows your view and settings

HiLight on the water use.
You're fishing and at some point you decide you have something that you want to share with the world.  Time to be a hero.  You can try the "thumbs up" find it later approach or press the Hilight button and tag your masterpiece.  I highly recommend using the button.  I struggled with this the first few trips and ended up pressing the off button, there's a lot of buttons, like 3.  I later incorporated what I call the "shut-off" in my process.  More on that later.

Now here's where it gets good.  You've been out a few hours and captured everything.  Not every moment is hero quality.  Let's be honest, not everything that happens in the world, or on the water, needs to be put on YouTube.  Lets just pretend we all agree and move on.  Here's how the touch display and tagging features really help.

This isn't hero quality- amateur hour

Time to talk about the "shut-off."  I mentioned earlier about accidentally turning the camera off when I first started using it.  I discovered a great reason for doing it intentionally.  It keeps your video clips manageable.  If you leave the camera on the entire time, you'll have one really long clip and unable to delete the filler between tagged clips (*GoPro will segment the clips when you download them later).  Example, you've been fishing for an hour.  You suddenly catch a fish.  It takes 2 minutes of video to show the catch.  You basically have 2 minutes of hero quality and an hour of near misses, break offs and texting your buddy that you're "killing it."  You're ready to delete that junk.  If you've been shutting off every 20-30 minutes and after every tagged moment, you'll have twice as many clips and able to delete the filler if desired.  See below...

What you see: 2 tagged videos, 1 time lapse photo, and 6:18 of most likely junk that I'll delete

There is a looping feature that will record at an interval of time (say 20 min) then start recording over itself until you stop it.  I'm not sold on it because you can't see everything and the camera never misses a moment.  While reviewing a video I once came across an alligator floating in the grass that I hadn't seen during my trip.  Plus if you forget you're looping it'll record over your hero moment.  I just let it run all day and scrub out what I don't like later.

Off the water use:
It was a good day.  You race home excited to see the video from the day.  Here's a screen shot of GoPro studio and 2 clips I have loaded (upper left side of screen).  The first is the Hilight tagged clip shown with a yellow chevron.  The 2nd isn't tagged.  These tags quickly allow me to see which clips have something I want to look at first.  I still look at each clip, if I have time, because maybe you forgot to tag or just missed something cool.

This yellow tag gets you right to the action.  I've gotten good at tagging my clips.  Ciphering through video that hasn't been tagged is as excruciating as waiting to check out of Walmart when the person in front of you requests a price check on The Backstreet Boys Christmas CD because it's on sale for $6.97 not $7.97.  Don't be a victim of a poor decision, tag and tag often.

Delete it's junk

I read concerns over battery life.  I don't have experience with other cameras and battery life so I don't feel like I'm in a position to make an educated and informed comment on it.  What I have found is I need 3 batteries for a 8-10 hours of non-stop recording.  In reality, I feel like that's more than most will ever do.  I picked up a re-fuel charger for extended trips (kept me recording during my 2 week road trip).  I'll do a follow-up review on it but initial results are very positive.

The micro sd card I use and get ~240 minutes (4hrs) of record time on it

If you're trying to decide between action cameras take a close look at the GoPro Hero4 Silver.  In my limited use I've been impressed with the results.  It has captured my fishing adventures from the Florida Keys, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin.  You can check out my YouTube channel and see the results.  The quality is great but the real benefit is time savings when it comes to editing and creating a video like the one below.

YouTube link here:

Part 2 - I'll cover some gear I use for filming.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Caught in a storm - A kayakers nightmare

Ever have a bad experience and questioned how you ended up in it?  I recently got caught in a storm while kayaking in Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge.  I was unable to get off the water before the storm hit.  As I was sheltering at the base of a tree and lightening was crackling all around me, I questioned how I ended up in it.

Felsenthal NWR a 65,000-acre wildlife enthusiast's playground.  If getting "off-the-grid" is what you seek this is the place for you.  No cell phone service, limited public access, no homes, no ranger stations.  It's a maze of sloughs, swamps, lakes, rivers, creeks and lowland bottoms.  It's called a "refuge" because there is little to no human contact or development once you're out there.

Video of the event

Last week I ran into a large group of big gar in the refuge.  Of course I caught a small one.  I watched as a huge gar followed but rejected my offering, leaving me with a bad case of gar fever.  I spent the better part of Saturday afternoon researching gar flies then tying a few for Sunday's trip.

The weather has been sketchy around here for a day or two. Occasionally a storm will blow up and run its course quickly.  I knew the chances of a small storm existed when I drove to the launch Sunday afternoon.  In fact, I turned around at the launch and drove 8 miles back to the highway because I hadn't checked the latest forecast.  Good news, nothing was showing on the radar and the hourly forecast suggested a small chance of rain around 6 pm leaving me 5 hours to fish, worst case.

Waiting it out

It took about an hour to paddle the 3 miles to the area I knew held gar.  They were still there and popping on top.  I hooked several, including a 4 footer, but landed none.  Ironically, I was thinking this blog post would center around the challenge of catching gar on the fly.  In the excitement, I didn't notice how the clouds began to change (the video shows a clear change) around 4:30 pm.  At 5 pm, I heard the thunder and realized I was in trouble.  I was an hours paddle away in good conditions...

Early afternoon well before thunderstorm

The conditions went bad quickly.  A strong southern wind hit me first.  It was cool and refreshing in the 95F temperature.  I welcomed it and secretly thought it might aid in my return.  It was at my back as I was paddling north.  It didn't last.  A moment later and a strong northern wind slowed my progress.  The water got choppy and I was now paddling into a 15-20 mph headwind.  The cypress trees were swaying back and forth.  I was wearing a self-inflatable pfd.  Meaning you have to be conscious to activate it.  I started worrying about being knocked unconscious from a falling tree branch.  I made a make shift auto inflate pull from my dog leash by attaching it to the lever and locking it.  If I was knocked out of the kayak the hope was the dog leash would activate the pfd.  I'm in trouble...

Looking south, clear sky at 4 pm

Looking same direction as above, clouds building ~4:30.  All I saw was the gar pop on top. 

Looking north, clouds building ~4:30 pm

I was about half way when I saw a cloud to ground lightning strike.  I'm not going to make it.  It was time to find refuge.  I pulled up on a small island and took shelter below a small cluster of trees.  The lightning grew more intense.  It was all around me.  Then a explosion sent me to the ground.  My ears were ringing as a lightening strike had been really close.  I needed a plan.  I had no idea how long it would last, so at the first lull in the storm I jumped back in the kayak and made a break for it.  It wasn't meant to be...

Not going to out run this.  Trouble at 5:15.  The lightning started soon after and I left the water

The lightning continued.  The wind picked back up.  I crossed the refuge and beached the kayak.  It would be safer to run out than paddle out.  I've completed 9 marathons, I run regularly, but I've never run that hard.  My lungs felt like they were bleeding, the burning was deep inside.  I didn't stop or slow down.

The line from upper right corner to lower left corner passed over me.  Got out just in time.

It was a good decision.  Weathering the storm would have been a mistake.  It lasted 3 hours.  I returned and made my way back to my kayak once the lightning stopped.  During those hours and over the following day, I had time to think about my situation.  Here's what I came up with.

Pro's or what I think I did right:

Float plan:
Let someone know where you're going.  I sent a text to my wife with my launch location.  I was confident she would have alerted someone if I didn't return that night.  She has done as much before.

Stay calm:
In any stressful situation one of the most important things you can do is remain calm and stay in control of your emotions.  I could have freaked out and paddled like crazy through the storm.  However, I've heard more stories of people being killed on the water trying to out run a storm then people who sheltered and waited for it to pass.  

Evaluate the risk:
I went out knowing there was a risk of thunderstorms during the afternoon.  I checked several times before getting on the water.  Later, as the storm ran its course I had to re-evaluate the risk of staying or moving.  Eventually I decided to move and run out during a brief break in the lightning.  The storm seemed to be growing and I could hear more thunder in the distance.  

Keep thinking, evaluating, and adjusting:
The situation was very fluid.  In the beginning, I though I was going to make it back to my truck.  When the lightning started I knew I needed to find shelter and get off the water.  I wanted to be on dry ground.  Not on the water sheltering under a giant tree that might fall on me or be a lightning magnet.  There are large trees all over the refuge that were obviously struck by lightning.  Finding hard ground in the refuge is not easy.  Being familiar with the area was a huge benefit and I'll talk about that next.  As time passed I sensed this storm wasn't going to pass quickly.  It wasn't a summer storm like I had hoped.  But there were waves and after each was a small opening.  After 40 minutes in the storm I decided to move during one of these openings.  Again, the situation was fluid.  The opening I choose didn't last long enough for me to get back.  However, I was now close enough to leave the kayak and run out.  It was both quicker and safer to run than paddle.  Again, knowing the area was huge!

Know the area:
Like I mentioned earlier, being familiar with the area was really important.  First because it helped me get back safely.  Secondly, not feeling lost and being confident on my location reduced stress in a stressful environment.  It made it possible to keep moving in the storm.  Even if you're not on home water you should always take note of prominent landmarks.  You never know if you'll need them later.

I stopped wearing flip flops on the water 2 years ago.  Primarily because I do a lot of solo kayaking and felt like if I ever found myself in a bad situation I'd want real footwear.  I was happy I had shoes on when I was running through the refuge.  

Cons or things I know I did wrong:

A weather radio would have been helpful but I'm confident I could have avoided the situation.  More on that next.
Also, in my opinion a manual inflatable PFD isn't ideal in a storm.  When the winds kicked up to 20 mph the trees started swaying and cracking  All those downed trees I saw as bass habitat, I had a different picture in my head now.  Being hit by a falling tree or branch and knocked unconscious became a real concern.  I'll keep a traditional PFD in my kayak in the future.
I didn't have any foul weather gear.  A simple rain suit would have made things more comfortable when the temperature dropped to 73f.

Pay attention to your surroundings:
Being honest, I got fish brain and it cost me.  I failed to notice the clouds changing in the distance (sequence of pics above show the change).  Looking at the video there was an obvious change in the weather.  If I had paid more attention to the conditions I would have been closer to the boat ramp when I heard the thunder and ultimately off the water before the storm.

Over rate your abilities:
No matter how confident you are in your kayaking abilities you will never out run a storm.  Don't let your mind convince you otherwise.  I was sure I could get back even after I saw it bearing down on me.  In fact, I hesitated and questioned if the storm was moving in my direction or going to be a near miss.  If you can see it, start moving to safety, and move with a purpose.  Lesson learned, the hard way.

That's all.  Hope some of this helps someone avoid repeating my experience.  It wasn't fun.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Flash - The Fly Roadtrip part 3

Part 1 here:
Part 2 here:

Strip, strip, pause...yep that looks sexy.  The musky/pike fly my buddy handed me just before we left the Ozarks had some moves.  With the right twitch the streamer would dart from side to side.  The nose would swing back and nearly touch the toes.  That's enough practice, time to swim it for real.  Strip it back in real fast, BAM!  From the tanic colored water a dark flash of gold explodes right at the side of the kayak.  My heart almost stopped cold...

What had I gotten myself into?  A few hours before I was waking up to rain in the back of my truck.  I had driven 13 hours to the "Driftless" area in Northeast Iowa.  It was 2 am when I stopped at the Yellow River State Forest park and made a cot camp in the bed of my truck.  The rain started shortly after.

As long as there wasn't any lightening I was fishing.  Only problem was you can't see or get cell service in the ravines.  I could hear the faint rumble in the distance.  It seemed like a storm was moving in on me.  I kept fishing.  Then suddenly the distant rumble became a huge crackling and booming right on top of me.  The "Driftless" had hidden it from me until the last minute.  I'm out!  It wasn't my fastest mile but I feel like it was a respectable time.


How does a fish that big move in that fast without being seen?  That was the thought I had as the 30 inch pike vanished beside the kayak.  My next thought was, remember to breath or you'll pass out and be eaten by one of those toothy critters.

Hit the point.  Hit the island.  Hit the downed tree.  Strip, strip, pause, nothing.  Too fast, too slow, not enough movement?   Let it get some depth first.  I should have read more.  I have no idea what I'm doing.  Pick it up, put it down over a point with deep pocket on the back side.  Wait, 7 inches of feathers and fluff can barely be seen swimming across the top of the grass.  Yeah, that looks good.  Jerk the rod tip right, give it a 2 count and do it again.  Nose to toes, pause, the head pulsed.  A flash of gold interrupts the dance.  

I didn't sleep much the first night.  Partly due to the white flashes that lit up the night outside my tent.  Mostly because of the gold flashes that lit up my afternoon.  I guess it was 4 am when a 40 mph wind dropped the left side of my tent.  Thankfully it wasn't raining anymore.

My body was moving slower than usual the next morning.  My mind was on overdrive.  My cell phone tried, unsuccessfully, to distract me.  At some point it was locked by my carrier.  It would take a day to get fixed, but I kept fishing.  I worked it out when I was forced off the water by the numerous lines of storms that would pass throughout the day.  It was both, frustrating and exciting, all at once.

Even now I can't stop thinking about what I'd seen.  How pike suddenly appear from the shadows and attack with a vengeance.  It became hard to look away.  The flash is a rush.  It's addicting.  It's unlike any type of fishing I have done.  You don't see them but you know they're close.  Often appearing right beside the kayak as you pick up.  Then the flash that was unlike the others.  More copper with a hint of red.  It had been a musky and it was a short strike.  My time was over, time to start heading home.  I completely get why musky have such a masochistic more cast, one more hour, one more anything for a chance at a musky!

I had rolled the dice on this part of the trip.  At some point during the chaos I became willing to deal with just about anything.  For 3 days, I dodged storms, paddled out only to return an hour later, threw the Recon 10 wt until my arms burned, got lost on and off the water and sheltered in my truck.  Nothing I owned was dry anymore.  In every sense of the word it, sucked!  Yet, it didn't was awesome!   I'd do it again tomorrow...or maybe next year if I'm lucky!


Friday, July 1, 2016

Timing - The Fly Roadtrip part 2 (Ozarks)

Missed Part 1 read it here:

As I was driving off the Isle, my mind couldn't escape the strong scent of salt in the air.  My eyes focused on the occasional passing of a shrimp boat heading down Bayou Lafourche.  I was feeling refreshed.  The excitement of a new day filled with a new adventure had captured my attention.  I was ready to write a new chapter to this story.  How would it go?

I made a couple phone calls to get caught up on river levels.  I held out hope that the Flint River would be floatable.  In my heart I knew it was out.  The lady that answered the phone, speaking in a deep southern accent, confirmed my suspensions, "we're not putting people on the upper river now."  Shoal bass would have to wait.  I was homeless and lost at sea.  I needed a direction!

I called a buddy to see what his status was leading into the weekend.  I'm up for floating in the Ozarks but not over the weekend.  That's maddening!  Luck was on my side and he could meet me Friday morning for a quick overnighter.  We planned to meet at 8 am.  A late start for me but he's a good friend so I agreed with just a little verbal motivation (trash talking)!

I arrived at the access and unloaded quickly.  So quickly in fact, I left my wading boots in the truck.  It was funny until I had to swim down a flip flop in the first fast run.  I quickly sent a text begging my good friend to bring me some shoes.

The weather was exceptional.  No rain, warm days and cool nights.  As expected the first afternoon was slow.  Around 4 pm my, thoughts slipped to finding a gravel bar to camp.  I didn't want to be late the next day.  The day still held hours of fishing.  I just needed to be more judicious with my stops.

In an instant, the day changed from, a good friend isn't late to a good friend understands your late because the fishing redlined.  Time became measured in the space between eats.  I didn't make it to the planned gravel bar.  I fished up until I couldn't see and made a cot camp in the dark.  Being honest, I regretted that decision when I was gathering drift wood in the dark wearing flip flops.  Snakes have found a fascination with me or my kayak lately.   See below...

Found this water snake in my kayak while unpacking

I was up well before the light of Friday morning.  I greeted it with loaded bags, eagerly awaiting the itinerary of the new morning.  The sleepy fog was slowly lifting from the water as my line landed softly.  Then it went tight and darted to the surface.  A smallmouth bass exploded from the river and began dancing in slow motion.  My itinerary interrupted, no chance I'll be on time.

I saw the half empty kayak sitting at the edge of the river first.  Scanning for the owner to whom I owed an explanation for the delay.  Then he greeted me with a "good morning" and a dysfunctional fly reel.  My good friend came to the party with a new box of fly line in one hand and my new wading shoes in the other.   His excuse, "the dog ate my fly line."  Shenanigans!

A few good laughs followed with more verbal motivation soon ensued.  This little hiccup was only a short delay.  Being a good friend he finished rigging up down river.  It didn't take us long to realize we had timed this trip perfectly.  Rewards...

The irony of a road trip is timing.  On one hand, there are no time constraints.  You're free to take the scenic route.  Stay an extra day or depart early if you like.  Choose your path as you make it.  It's freedom from time!  But, on the other hand, timing can be restrictive.  My trip to Southeast Louisiana was met with high muddy water.  My trip to Georgia was cancelled because of high water.  We timed the Ozark stop perfectly and were rewarded with countless hours of uninterrupted fishing.   When we departed the river on Saturday the area was overflowing with people.  Good timing!

I rolled the dice on the next stop and just went in spite of the weather forecast.  Sometimes you just have to deal with the unknown.  See how it goes in part 3 here:

Watch the video here: