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"A Fresh Start for 2012"

By Jerry White

Are you tired? I'm tired. 2011 simply wore me out. As I get older I'm a lot more resistant to change, and in 2011 we personally had to digest a lot of change. In a world with very few constants, that can be tough for folks like me. But like many, I normally use the New Year as a stopping/starting point - to draw a line in the sand and start again. This year will be no different.

As 2011 closes we all have work matters that need to be handled by end_of_year - so we can start fresh in 2012. We are all busy shopping, visiting, decorating, and doing all those fun but time consuming things that we do this time of year. Unfortunately most of that has to happen on the weekends, which doesn't leave much free time to toss a lure or to get the boat wet.

But, sometimes conditions and circumstances all line up. We found ourselves with a Saturday *and* a Sunday with no obligations and a surprisingly decent December weather forecast. This is pretty much our last chance to get on the water before we ring in 2012. So let it be planed, let it be done. We're taking the boats out!

THE PREP:
The prep started on Tuesday the 13th. The location we wanted to go was the Honeymoon Island/Caladesi Island area. This location is about an hour north of us, and we can launch our boats directly behind our condo. So why drive that far? Stay tuned - there are lots of reasons to make the journey.

Weather Report THE PREP - Weather:
This is how the forecast looked as of Tuesday. This weekend is looking pretty good!
THE PREP - Tides:
We would have a slow incoming tide pretty much all day. In the winter, this is probably the worst of tides because it means the colder ocean water is coming in to the warmer shallower flats and mangrove lined shore. But, it also means there will be fish on the move, so chances of crossing paths with them is increased. We won't be battling an outgoing tide at the end of the day. In Tampa Bay, outgoing tides are like a toilet flushing, lots of movement, which is great for fishing but can be lousy for leisurely paddling. Incoming tides are like the toilet filling up, pretty uneventful. For my goals, that's a good thing for Saturday.

THE PREP - Marine Forecast:
This is *my* most important recon metric. Hot or cold - I can deal with that. Shallow or deep - I can adjust. Wind and waves - I can't stand them. Hate them, hate them, absolutely hate them. But for Saturday, the forecast calls for "light chop". This is NOAA "CYA", and translates to very little wave height in the protected bay areas where we plan to go. That's about as good as it can get for this time of year.

THE FISHING FORECAST:
This time of year, we are littered with flounder. I have a secret weapon for them. See, flounder are bottom feeders, so you have to get the bait/lure to the bottom quickly. So I use a jig normally used for Pompano and tip it with shrimp [show pic]. The trick here is to use raw frozen/thawed shrimp. I buy them at Sam's Club, thaw out what I need by simply placing them in a cup of tap water. Cut them in desired pieces and put them in a zip-lock bag. Sounds crazy, but buying table grade shrimp is actually cheaper than buying frozen dead ones (which are quite nasty).

Redfish and trout are tolerant of the colder waters (in the mid 50's now), so they will be on the list or target species. Trout season is closed right now, but are certainly still a catch and release option. So the barbs will be bent down so they can easily go back to their feed and breed duties. No trout pictures are necessary … I've caught hundreds out here and damned if all trout don't look pretty much the same. Redfish - that's a different story. Since I'm pretty confident that I'll encounter those fat flatties (flounder), I plan to have a cooler ready for them. If I happen to land a keeper redfish, then it's "ice ice baby". I've been using this 12 Fathom shad tail/jig all summer and have caught just about everything that swims inshore in my area with it. No need to change now. [show pic] It will be fished close to the bottom as well. I'm sure I'll take a few similar lures, but no need to deviate from what's been consistently working for me.

So I'll be taking 2 rods, a spare reel, and a handful of tackle that will fit in my center hatch - that's it.

THE WAITING:
Nothing left to do now aside from watching the weather, and telling anyone that asks that we're booked for this weekend. Time passes …

GOALS:
We drown ourselves in self-imposed goals:
Must get to work in xx minutes, must loose xx pounds by xx/xx/2012, or I'm not going to shore until I catch something.

No goals for this trip, other than scoring some relaxing time on the water.

DEALING WITH CHANGE:
We opted not to go kayaking on Saturday because we got sidetracked. The detour still fit nicely into the "goals" I had set for the weekend though. We slept late, then sat out by the pool watching boats go by, dozing occasionally. I've been told I sometimes snore …

Poolside

ADAPTING TO CHANGE:
Well, Mr Weatherman is going to get coal in his Christmas stocking if I get to have any input. Saturday's weather was spectacular. By Sunday, a wee cold front was passing by which always kicks up the wind. I know we've had discussions about how much I just love wind - NOT. The morning started out cold and windy and I was ready to scrap the trip. I certainly didn't feel like devoting probably 3 hours in travel time, and load/unload time only to fish in the wind. See, just talking about this is stressing me out.

Luckily some friends had asked me to pick them up in Tampa after they got back from a cruise, and that delay turned the day around. By the time I got back home the winds had settled, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. So we decided that since conditions were right NOW, we'd launch the boats NOW and bypass the trip to Caladesi.

I opted not to take a cooler for keepers because if I got lucky that just means I end the day by cleaning fish … I'm feeling stressed again.

IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:
So we got our things together and launched in our backyard. My launch spot requires me to get about waist deep as I put the Mirage drives in the Hobies, etc. The water temp is in the low 50's but it certainly didn't feel like it with the sun on my back.

I know many of you are experiencing a real winter. So please allow me to take you along with us on our warm sunny outing today. Yes, some fish were caught and yes, it's on video, but most of what I have for you is just exploring and relaxing. And before you remind me, yes I know I need to put some lube on my Mirage drive…

Check out the "ship" on the left … it's named "Think B.I.G", and I agree.
I bet I could earn a decent living just keeping the hull clean on this thing … hmmm:

BIG ship

Moments later, here we are… mangrove shorelines, oyster bars, grass flats mixed with sandy bottom… this is about as good as it gets:

Flats

*FYI - I caught nothing out here, even using the raw shrimp

Sometimes, you just want to go fast:


Here's the first fish of the day:


And here's the last fish of the day.
You'll hear a heron as he flies away and later in the video you'll hear a young osprey advising my wife that she's not invited to join him for a shore lunch:


HYDROTHERAPY:
Remember I mentioned how tired I was? After this day, I'm not tired anymore. Sunlight and water certainly recharge my batteries. The attainable goal I set for myself was certainly met today. Working more hours won't get you *this*. Don't quit your job, because you always have to finance the fun. But we all need to take advantage of any opportunity we get to recharge and heal.

I still enjoy sharing this sport with people who have no idea what it's all about. We can also share this blessing with some very deserving men and women.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF INSIGNIFICANCE:
Please watch this 90 second video, and then we'll chat a bit. Watch it full screen, volume up, you know the words so please sing along.

The Star Spangled Banner is our national anthem, and it certainly has its place in our history and in our future. But lately, I've been drawn to "America The Beautiful", as it's more of a reflection of who we are and where we live. It's also a lot easier to sing. But as I did my research for this article, I read all of the lyrics, and never was aware of the third verse:

O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country lov'd,
And mercy more than life.

Whenever we attend a sporting event or go to a theme park, there are always moments where we celebrate our armed forces. It's times like this when I'm reminded of the service and sacrifice of the soldier. I'm proud, but I'm also angered that circumstances are what they are. These celebrations and tributes make me feel small, but at the same time make me feel as huge as the whole of everyone around me.

As efforts are made to bring more troops home, there are obviously increased numbers of returning soldiers that could use a little help. I personally can't even begin to comprehend what their experiences have been - the camaraderie of team, the love of country, the loss of friends, and the uncertainty of life back home. I know what a day on the water can do for my bruised spirit. So, I can only imagine what a similar experience might do to promote the healing of one of our soldiers coming home. We can help.

I've spoken in the past about the successful efforts of Jim Dolan and all the others affiliated with Heroes On The Water. HOTW is a non-profit organization that helps wounded vets by enabling them to spend some time on the water, fishing, healing.

THE RIPPLE EFFECT:
More troops are coming home (that's good), but the numbers of vets in need has also risen (that's not good). HOTW wants to continue to help, but as we all already know, it's tough to do more with less.

Yes, this is a solicitation. If you feel compelled, here is a link by which you can make a financial donation to Heroes On The Water. Please follow this link to see what your donation WILL accomplish:
Heroes On The Water Donation

Not only does HOTW provide the "instant healing" of a paddle fishing outing, but they're also working to establish local chapters which can help both soldier and family. If you have more time than money, check out the volunteer opportunities available through local chapters, or maybe even start one in your area. HOTW is laying the groundwork for larger scale ongoing efforts. And let's not kid ourselves, this type of program will need to be ongoing. It ain't over when it's "over".

But, if pictures can reflect the return on an investment, then here's your proof:

Heroes On The Water

Visit their website, and witness the good work that they're doing:
www.heroesonthewater.org

GETTING READY FOR 2012
2012 is an election year, so get ready for the information pollution that will pour from every media outlet. Yeah, you may want to keep those waders handy - it surely will get deep by the end of the year. And unfortunately, the news is rarely good news - these are tough times right now. But, we will deal with whatever gets tossed our way. You know me, it often comes down to a song. I paraphrase the Texas Troubadours of Americana, also known as ZZ Top, when I say, "Yeah we're bad … we're Nationwide …".

So for the remainder of 2011, get some rest, charge your batteries, and try to manage a little more eye contact and lot less e-contact. There's not an app for a hug.


See you out on the water, "from sea to shining sea".


"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after"
~ Henry David Thoreau


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