Thursday, April 28, 2016

Reel fun testing

Sittin' on the dock of the bay...

I’ve had my UP2 fitness tracker for well over a month now and it’s still going strong. The batter life still lasts about 10 days and I haven’t had any trouble with the strap breaking on me. So I decided to put it to some rather unusual testing to see just how accurate its readings are. I took it fishing. Yeah I know I’ve taken it to the local trout stream or farm pond and it’s held up. But I mean fishing as in, big rods, big reels and BIG FISH.
Testing some new gear aboard the Wound Tight
So the family and I, along with some friends, chartered a boat to go fishing for striped bass on the Chesapeake Bay. It turned out to be a gorgeous day for boating and a hot day for fishing!
Ryley, his friend Tanner and Kyle battling three stripers at once!
We went out about mid-day aboard the Wound Tight and within an hour away from the dock we had 5 fish in the boat. During that time we had a triple on the lines with all fish over 37 inches. Talk about some fun!
My wife with her 43 inch citation striper.
This was my wife’s first time out fishing on a boat and her first time fishing for striper. And wouldn’t you know it beginners luck struck again as she reeled in the largest fish of the day at 43 inches!
Ryley with his personal best 40.5 inch striper!
Ryley had a great time as well. He managed to reel in the second biggest fish of the day at 40.5 inches while his big brother Jacob pulled in a nice healthy 38 incher. They each managed to reel in another fish as we were packing up the gear and released them both safely.
My 39 inch striped bass. Yes I got my UP2 slimy!
But before that happened I was up and worked my arm off reeling in my 39 incher, the arm I was wearing my UP2 on. After my 6 to 7 minutes fight was over I checked my UP app to see if the tracker data was skewed in any way. Turns out the motion, of me reeling the fish in, was negligible. I am sure it captured some of my arm movement as steps but by and large it captured me walking back and forth on the boat and that was about it.
The gang with the catch of the day.
Within two hours of leaving the dock we had our seven fish limits (and threw back three more that we fought trying to reel in the lines to head back) and I had completed one of the most unique tests so far! I can’t wait to get my next item to test. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors…

Monday, April 25, 2016

The rule of three

Ryley's IGFA Certificate.

As I mentioned previously, this past year has been a whirlwind of activity for Ryley. But the fun didn’t just stop after the photo shoot, killing a buck or catching a muskie. Oh no, things continued to happen for Ryley throughout the Winter and into the Spring. 
Left: Ryley's SWS Kids blurb. Right: Ryley's BL Headliner blurb.
Ryley submitted his awesome 53 inch muskie to the International Game Fish Association and was accepted into their exclusive muskellunge trophy club. From there Ryley had one of his striped bass pictures appear in January 2016 of Saltwater Sportsman in their “Salt Water Kids” section. Not only did Ryley appear as a SWS Kid but he was also honored to be included in the April 2016 Boy’s Life magazine as a BL Headliner. That makes three magazines in one year. Or as Ryley likes to call it, the year of the magazines!

If that was not enough earlier this year we received word from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife that one of Ryley’s muskie photos had been chosen for their kids fishing photo contest! Ryley was invited to head up to the NJ Pequest trout hatchery for opening day of trout season on April 9th. So for the second time in a year we headed back up to NJ.
Ryley with his award and new fishing pole and reel.
While at the hatchery Ryley was given a certificate of appreciation along with a rod and reel combo. To top it all off he was allowed to fish in the hatchery education pond which was fully stocked with some behemoth trout! The fishing was slow at first. We were only allowed to use barbless hooks and night crawlers which made it nearly impossible to get a good hook set as the wind was keeping the lines slack. Ryley was becoming increasingly frustrated with his inability to hook into a fish. 
Ryley sitting on top of our Engel cooler waiting for a bite.
Things only got worse when he did hook a fish because of the barbless hooks. Even the slightest mistake would relieve the pressure on the hook and the fish would come off. But things picked up as the wind died down. Ryley managed to bring a nice quality fish to shore so that I could net him and then dear old Dad moved the rod too quickly and broke the 2 lb test leader. But all was not lost. Ryley managed to fish the next couple of hours and bring in 9 trout and we decided to keep only the biggest and release the rest. 
Ryley with his three trout measuring 17 to 19 inches.
Despite the initial troubles we had hooking and landing the fish we had a blast. Ryley learned how to reel in the slack and get a good hook set and I learned what not to do when netting a 3 lb trout for your son. We will put those new found insights to the test as we head out this week for trophy striped bass on the Chesapeake. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors…

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A toothy grin

My little #geartester practicing his casts.
Spring is upon us, despite the recent snow showers we had here in the Mid-Atlantic at the beginning of April. That means spring trout stockings and striped bass fishing! Ryley and I did a little bit of the former during our recent snow storm and will be doing some of the latter next week. But those are tales for another day. Today is about another one of those connections that Ryley made from his photo shoot with Field & Stream. It’s a tale about a BIG fish…
Me with my 23 inch, 6.75 lb brown trout.
Last May I myself caught a pretty big fish (for a brown trout that is) and received a citation for just how large it was. That citation was my ticket to the Maryland Fishing Challenge. This is a yearlong fishing challenge where entries can be earned for catching citation size fish or for catching invasive species. The challenge culminates with an awards ceremony and prize giveaway at the Maryland Seafood Festival. Needless to say I didn’t win anything but Ryley came away with a Costa del Mar cap and a new-found thirst to catch a big fish.
My ticket to happiness...
We bantered back and forth about how it would be next to impossible for him to catch a big striped bass (by big I mean 50+ inches) because they just don’t come along every day. We discussed about how most men fish their entire lives for a chance at a striped bass that big but never get one. He looked a little discouraged and saddened at the realization that what he wanted to bad was unattainable.

Being the Dad that I am I didn’t feel quite right after that talk either. So, cultivating the newfound friendship Ryley had made at the F&S photo shoot I decided to reach out to see if they could point us in the right direction. Turns out they could, and boy did they ever point us in the right direction!
Ryley on the dock with Mark's boat.
After a few emails back and forth I was put in touch with a New Jersey native and F&S writer Mark Modoski. It seems Mark knew of a place that carried some big fish that wasn’t too far from us. We would be fishing on a lake in northern NJ for muskellunge, aka muskie. Depending on what you read this fish has been called the fish of 1,000 casts or the fish of 10,000 casts. Suddenly after hearing how elusive these things were I wasn’t so sure we would be fairing any better than going after stripers. Mark was gracious enough to offer to personally take us out on his boat to go fishing for muskie since we hadn’t a clue about how to catch them.

So off Ryley and I went last Fall to search for muskie, hoping against hope that he would just catch a fish. I honestly didn’t even care how big it was I just wanted him to hook a muskie and have some fun. The recipe for the day was to slowly make our way around the lake with Ryley casting a 6 inch swimbait while we trolled a live rainbow trout off the stern. Much to my surprise Ryley did astonishingly well with casting the heavy swimbait all day long.
Ryley casting a 6-inch rainbow trout swimbait.
Halfway through the morning Ryley actually had a muskie follow the swimbait right up next to the boat. A couple times around the lake and we also had a few hits on the live rainbows but nothing hooked up. Then around 1:00 it happened. As we rounded a corner of the lake the bobber went under and line started to peel off the reel. Ryley picked up the rod and could barely raise it off the gunnel. He struggled for a few minutes then much to our dismay the bobber came floating to the surface. Ryley was somewhat heartbroken until we all realized that the bobber had broken free of the line and the fish was still on! What ensued was a flurry of activity in trying to assist Ryley with holding the rod up off the gunnel and steering the muskie into the next.
I think the look says it all.
Finally after a few minutes Mark slipped the net into the water and landed the fish. He kept the pole of the net level with the gunnel so that the fish remained in the water while he removed the hook from its mouth. Mark was shaking and started smiling uncontrollably and finally admitted that it was the biggest muskie he had ever seen caught in New Jersey. When he pulled her out of the water to measure there was no denying that she was big. We quickly measured her at 53 inches! Ryley and Mark proceeded to pose for a few photos and released her back into the lake to fight another day. The fish was so big it earned Ryley (his first name is really Shawn) a NJ Skillful Angler Award. You can check out another article about Ryley's catch here.
Mark Modoski and Ryley McCardell with their 53 inch muskie.
So how’s that for a fish story?!? Never in a million years did I think, when I first contacted Mark, that Ryley would catch a muskie his first time out let alone a muskie of such caliber. Grown men spend their whole lives chasing muskie and are satisfied with catching a fish in the upper 40’s and here my 9 yr old son catches a behemoth of a muskie on his first trip out. What are the odds? 

I guess I shouldn’t find it all that surprising given everything that has happened to Ryley so far. We have been truly blessed. He has been in Field & Stream magazine, befriended a hunting celebrity and went hunting with him and caught an enormous 53 inch muskie. Life couldn’t possibly get any better could it? Perhaps it could… Spring has a way of breathing new life into things. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...

Monday, April 11, 2016

Season's Greetings!

Ryley and I aboard the Wound Tight in 2015.
Well it's about that time of year again... time for some striper fishing! For the past three years I have been fortunate enough to be able to take my kids out for striped bass on a charter boat in the Chesapeake Bay.

Ryley catching, tagging and releasing "Humpback".
It all started when Ryley joined the Maryland Youth Fishing Club. Not only did he receive a cool patch but we also received an invitation to go out on a charter boat and help catch, tag and release striped bass for the Maryland Diamond Jim Tournament.

That first trip out was memorable to say the least. We went out on the Wound Tight in 3 ft chop and tried our best to catch some stripers. Of all the people on the boat, save the captain and mate, we were the only ones who didn't get sick. Shortly after venturing out the captain turned the boat around and took us in. We didn't even catch a fish!

Sunrise aboard the Never-E-Nuff.
The next year the wonderful people at the Maryland Fisheries Service took pity on us for the horrible time we had the previous year and let us go out on the Never-E-Nuff, We had a great time and the kids caught well over 60 striped bass and half as many bluefish!
Ryley with his 2014 and 2015 trophy striped bass.
But by far the most fun we have had, as a family, has been the past two years aboard the Wound Tight going after trophy stripers! I have been able to watch Ryley's skill level progress each time we head out onto the Bay. I have also seen him grow up considerably these past two years. I can't wait for this year’s trip! Below is a video from last year’s trip. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The right place at the right time

Photo courtesy of CJ Winand
It was late September, bow season in Maryland, and it was pouring down rain. Ryley and I were cramped in a double bull blind with CJ Winand, father of Jesse Winand whom we had met at the Field and Stream photo shoot for the How to Raise a Wild Child article. CJ and Ryley hit it off and joked around all day long at the photo shoot. As we we leaving CJ kindly offered to take Ryley deer hunting the following season.

CJ and I kept up contact throughout the summer trying to work out a date that would fit CJ’s tight schedule. We had planned on an early September hunt  but subsequently had to reschedule because CJ received word that he had drawn a tag for brown bear in Alaska. It was then that I began to truly understand what an opportunity with which Ryley was being presented.

CJ is a very soft spoken, down to Earth, God fearing man. He also happens to write for Bowhunter Magazine and is a TV personality on Bowhunter TV, on the Sportsman Channel. It’s not every day that a kid gets offered a chance to go hunting with such an esteemed writer and outdoorsman. Ryley was super excited to see CJ again and even more excited at the prospect of shooting a deer for the first time with a crossbow.

Photo courtesy of CJ Winand
Drops of ice cold rain dripped down my back as we sat in the blind. It was a welcome relief from the oppressive heat building up inside the blind. We sat waiting patiently for deer, any deer, to show up. Occasionally we would whisper amongst each other about hunting stories (CJ mostly told those) or play a game of rock paper scissors. The sun started to go down, the witching hour was upon us. But, unfortunately the rain had kept the deer bedded down and Ryley left the blind empty handed.
CJ however was not one to call it quits. Actually the time spent in the blind only seemed to intensify CJ’s desire to get Ryley on a deer. Over the next few days we worked out the necessary details to hook back up with CJ for a second chance at a deer. We settled on a Thursday evening hunt at the beginning of October. CJ was guaranteeing Ryley a deer this time; when CJ makes a commitment like that he delivers.

Having learned our lesson from our previous hunt the plan was to meet CJ a little later in the afternoon and sneak into the blind closer to sunset. Now, let me just state right here that when CJ first offered to take Ryley hunting the setup we found ourselves in was not quite what I was expecting. We were about 2 miles from CJ’s house, jammed in a double bull blind, hunting beside an abandoned old ford bronco smack dab in the middle of “suburbia”. In hindsight the uniqueness of this hunt, coupled with CJ’s passion for getting Ryley a deer, made this one of the most memorable hunts I have even been on.

CJ’s daughter, Jesse, had been there the previous day laying out apples in front of the blind. When we arrived, CJ quickly showed Ryley the area which he thought the deer would be coming from. As we sat in the blind we quickly settled in to our rhythm from the previous hunt; rock paper scissors. Within a matter of minutes our game was interrupted by the sight of two deer coming from our right, nowhere near where we thought they would be approaching from. It looked like a small doe and a spike were headed our way. They began making their way towards the blind and pile of apples when they froze, snorting and sniffing the air. Luckily for us the draw of the apples overcame any reservations they had about coming our way. We sat there motionless for what seemed like forever watching them nibble the apples waiting for the optimal shot to present itself to Ryley. And then as quickly as this hunt started we had a deer down. The grin on Ryley’s face says it all.

Ryley gave this hunt "two thumbs up"
After a few minutes we headed out to track down Ryley’s deer and while doing so received an informative lesson on why deer sometimes run in a wide circle after they are shot. When a deer is shot through the heart, the heart keeps pumping but doesn’t deliver any blood to the brain. Subsequently the deer becomes lightheaded and ends up travelling in a circle to find themselves piled up literally 20 yards from where they were shot, but from the opposite direction. And so it was with Ryley’s spike.

Photo courtesy of CJ Winand
What followed was a crash course by CJ of how to take great “grip and grin” trophy pic; shoot from below, make sure you have adequate light, clean the blood off the deer. Back into the blind we went to wait and see if anymore deer would show up before the night was over. As it so happens a few more deer did show up. There was a very light colored deer, which we initially mistook for a doe, which stood mere feet from us eating for about 15 minutes. Lucky for him we could just see the nubs protruding from the top of the button bucks head. As dusk started to settle in even more deer presented themselves, one a big body buck, but they were all about 60 yards away in the dwindling light and none of us felt that Ryley could make a safe ethical shot on any of them.

The lucky button buck.
We quickly gutted the deer and headed back to CJ's house. He had something else in store for Ryley besides a nice spike and some awesome grip and grin photos. Once back at CJ's house he presented Ryley with a Rinehart woodland buck 3-D target to commemorate the hunt. CJ is truly a class act!

Ryley with his Rinehart, the second buck of the night.
As it is with most things in life it boils down to the right place at the right time. This was doubly true for Ryley; he was at the right place and right time to meet CJ Winand and he was finally in the right place at the right time to take his first crossbow buck. And for the second time in six months Ryley found himself gracing the pages of Field & Stream again, this time their webpage...

Ryley with his buck and CJ Winand.
About a month after this picture was taken Ryley would be smiling big again. But that's a fish story for another day. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...

Monday, April 4, 2016

#ExpertGear UP2 Review

As promised I have put my new UP2 fitness tracker through it's paces. I have worn it in my everyday life for nearly three weeks. Not only have I used it to help me keep track of my steps but I have also used it to keep track of my sleeping habits, and as an alarm clock. Besides wearing it while I perform my daily mundane tasks, like washing dishes, I have also worn it while walking the dog, fishing and going on various hikes. By no means is this the top of the line model. It does have it's limitations but for what it is supposed to do it performs rather well. Below is a list of the specs and details taken from the Jawbone website.

Photo courtesy of Jawbone's website

The Skinny: Testing this fitness tracker has been enjoyable. It allowed me the excuse to get out and do more things outside with my family. It also kick-started me back to my exercising routine that had fallen to the wayside since Christmas. All the little things that irked me about my UP and Fitbit seem to have been addressed with the UP2. It's definitely not the Cadillac of fitness trackers, it doesn't have a screen to display your steps nor does it have a heart rate monitor, but it doesn't pretend to be. It's just a dependable workhorse.

Hits: The biggest positive, besides that fact that it accurately captured my steps, is that it has a magnetic charger. In owning an original Fitbit I found I no longer had to struggle to get my fitness tracker to charge. You simply connect the UP2 to the charger and it is held in place by the magnet. Also of note, that is an improvement over the original UP as well as the original Fitbit, is that of how it sits on your wrist. I can barely feel it on my wrist because of the lightweight and stylish thin strap. I found that it didn't snag on my sleeves when putting on my clothes and was slim as to not stick out when putting my hands in my pockets.

Misses: I had to open up the UP app to get my bracelet to sync the data to my phone. But as compared to the original UP I would rather sync wirelessly than have to plug it into the headphone jack. Also the band kept getting loose over time and had to be re-tightened. Lastly I had to go through 2 firmware updates, once when I first set it up and once about two weeks in and they were very slow. It was more of an inconvenience because of how much I liked the tracker. It felt weird having to take it off for such an extended period of time while the firmware updated.

Ideal for: Serious calorie counters who don't want to break the bank and for the average health conscious individual who just wants help with tracking their exercise.

Bonus: The UP app is how you interface with your UP2 on your mobile device. This app is incredible and I found the daily suggestions from the Smart Coach were useful and informative. If I had friends on the app I could see how it would help keep me accountable.

So there you have it, my first #ExpertGear review on the UP2 fitness tracker. I can't wait to see what new item next month brings! Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...

Making the most out of your game: Trophy Striper Edition

Ryley with his 36" Striped Bass in April 2015 aboard the Wound Tight.
With Spring upon us most hunters are preparing for the upcoming turkey season. In the Chesapeake Bay, and all along the East Coast, anglers however are gearing up for the opening of the striped bass season. If you’ve never experienced the bite of a striped bass on the end of your line you should give it a try! Popular options range from pier and surf fishing to charter boat fishing. You can troll for ‘em, cast to ‘em or live line ‘em.

 In Maryland the trophy striped bass season generally opens up in April and runs through May and allows anglers to catch one fish. Typical charter boat costs average about $125 to $150 per person. Most people, after catching a striped bass, typically just filet the fish and discard the rest. If you are one of these people, STOP DOING THAT! You are throwing the best parts away! There is so much you are missing out on. If you are lucky, and smart, you could end up with a lot more than just your fish as well. (More on this later!) The next time you catch a striped bass try doing some of the ideas below to help extend the life of your fish and expand your culinary knowledge base.

Striped Bass ready to clean.

Some of you might be familiar with pork cheeks, aka hog jowls. Well guess what, fish have these too and they are just as tasty. The cheeks are located on the head right below the eyes, as can be seen in the highlighted yellow area above. The process is pretty straight forward and only requires a sharp filet knife. You will notice a rather large “scale” between the cheek and the gills. Insert the filet knife up under the scale and work in a circular fashion to loosen up the cheek meat from the head. Then simply remove the flesh by cutting it out and then remove the skin. These can be prepared a multitude of ways from grilling to sautéing. You can’t go wrong with sprinkling some J.O. No. 1 seafood seasoning on the cheeks and sautéing then in a little butter, just like a scallop. You’ve never heard of J.O. Spice? Well if you’ve lived in Maryland your entire life and eaten blue crabs chances are you probably have tried it, you just didn’t know it. Most restaurants is J.O. Spices instead of the other nationally known brand. If you find yourself with several cheeks, experiment with different seasonings to find what you prefer, J.O. offers quite a few varieties.  For more information on J.O. Spice head on over to their website at


No, these do not call for starch, and yes they are worth the work. As with the cheeks the collars are another overlooked portion of fish. These take a little more effort but result in more meat. The “collar” is the area of the fish directly behind the gills back to where one would typically filet the fish. This can be seen in the area above, highlighted in blue. The trick to removing the collars from the head is to have a pair of wire cutters and a sharp filer knife. First you need to take the wire cutters and clip the narrow point where the gills come together under the head. Next remove all gills from the fish. Where the gills meet the top of the head, carefully beginning to cut away the flesh until you are only left with bone. Then use the wire cutters to sever the bone until your collar resembles the picture below. 
Uncooked striped bass collars.
One of the most important things to do, or actually NOT do, is DO NOT SCALE THE FISH. Keep the scales in the fish as this helps protect the skin and meat underneath when you cook it. If the collars are large enough they can be split in half, however the best results are when the collars can be cooked standing up so that the fat located in the belly can help self baste the fish. Simply sprinkle some of the J.O. No. 1 seafood seasoning and some kosher or rock salt on the collars and grill them on high heat until they resemble the picture below. The cooking times will vary depending on the size of the collar. The best meat can be located attached to the pectoral fins and along the belly.

Grilled striped bass collar.
So there you have it, how to utilize some prime pieces of striped bass you’ve probably never heard of. Not only are they tasty but they also help you waste less of the fish! So if you find yourself out on a charter boat with your friends and the first mate starts to filet the fish you have two options; tell your friends all about cheeks and collars or keep quiet and ask the first mate for all the heads to take home for yourself! Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...

For additional recipes and insight in to collars and cheeks check out the links below.
Field and Stream (