Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Keep Rollin', Rollin', Rollin', Rollin', What?!

Our trolling lines.

Typically I am a planner. I want to have as much advanced notice as I can to plan out my trips so we can get the most out of it or to make sure we are prepared for everything that can come our way. That is why I was so frustrated with our recent vacation in the Outer Banks. I had been planning our fishing trip for over 6 months making sure we were going out for the right fish at the right time in the right location. All that planning was for naught due to circumstances beyond my control. But it left a bad taste in my mouth. A taste I could only get rid of by going back out on the water.

So what did I do as a natural knee jerk reaction to that experience? Well I decided to go on a last minute charter four hours away with my nephew, Ryan. We had a loose idea of what we would be doing, pot hopping insearch of dolphinfish aka mahi-mahi. We really had no idea when we would be leaving, where in the ocean we would be going or when we would be back. Basically we put our faith in the Captain to decide what we should do and just "rolled" with it. 

Life throws you curveballs. Sometimes you swing and miss, as with our two attempts to go inshore fishing in the Outer Banks. But sometimes you swing and connect, which is exactly what happened on our recent trip back up to the lovely state of New Jersey.

The day before we were to head up to NJ we learned from the Captain that since we would be driving such a long way that we didn’t need to get to the dock so early. There would be plenty of time on the water to find some fish. The weather report had slight winds in the morning which were to taper off in the afternoon. Not the ideal situation for fishing off-shore but definitely not the worst.  But just as a precaution everyone took motion-sickness medication. We also learned that the typical trip would have put us between 15 to 20 miles off-shore but because of water quality and clarity we would have to make a run out to about  50 to 60 miles off-shore to get to the good water. This was shaping up to be more than I bargained for but we decided again to just "roll" with it.

Captain Eric and Ryley with his bull mahi.
When we arrived at the boat Ryan gave me a look that said “We are going 60 miles off-shore in THAT boat?!?” to which I shrugged and said the Captain knows what he is doing. Indeed Captain Eric Kerber does know what he is doing. He has run a successful charter operation out of Belmar for a while now and heads down to Florida in the winter to work for another boat. When not out on a charter, Captain Eric is an Assistant Manager at a local tackle shop. Oh and did I mention he is also part of the Field & Stream Hook Shot’s crew which had recently posted a “How to” video for pot hopping mahi? Yeah we were in good hands.

We all climbed on board, got our safety briefing and started to head out of the inlet. Luckily for us Captain Eric had some beanbag chairs on board to make the 2+ hour trip more comfortable. Unfortunately for everyone else, Ryley had confiscated both been bags and was fast asleep. The ride out was a little bumpy but not too bad. When we reached the first few lobster pots 15 miles off-shore we were greeted by green chalky water with horrible visibility. So we kept on truckin’. We found the same water around many more pots the farther we got out, but slowly the water quality improved.

Me holding up Ryley's catch while he threw the horns.
Then all of a sudden, as if by magic, the water went from green to a deep cobalt blue. We were in business. We woke Ryley up and got all excited that we would be slaying mahi momentarily. Then the routine set it. Pull up to a pot, cast cast cast, no one home and off to the next pot. Repeat. It was beginning to get discouraging but we kept at it. Then out of the blue “fish on” and Ryley’s line was screaming drag. I still had my line in the water so Ryan went over to help Ryley as the rod was doubling over from the mahi on his line. I quickly tried to reel in my lure so I could help Ryley and then felt a solid strike on my line and my reel began to sing. We had doubled up! We frantically tried to keep the lines from tangling when my other nephew, Corey, yelled he had a mahi on as well. A triple header! The boat was in absolute chaos. 

Corey with his bull mahi.
Every time Ryley or I would get our fish close to the boat they would just dive down again out of the reach of the gaff. Luckily Corey’s fish decided to give up rather quickly so we still had two more to get aboard. After a brief struggle with my mahi, she got close enough for Captain Eric to get the gaff in her. That’s when I took over helping Ryley so that Ryan could cast out to the one other mahi we saw circling the pot. I got Ryley into a rhythm of lifting the pole and then reeling quickly as he tipped his rod back towards the water. Lift and reel. Lift and reel. But the fish didn’t want to cooperate. He kept peeling line off the reel as soon as we got him close to the boat. He just didn’t want to be caught. Several times he decided to go airborne in an effort to shake the lure. Thank goodness that didn’t work. After what seemed like an eternity Ryley finally managed to get the bull close enough to the boat for Captain Eric to gaff him. 

Ryley with his peanut mahi; more his size.
While I would love to report that we continued to slay the mahi for the rest of the day, we didn’t. We came upon several pots that help mahi, but we just couldn’t get them to bite. Ryan managed to hook up with a nice size almaco jack and at one pot Corey hooked into a decent sized mahi only to have if flop off the gaff. (Thank's Captain Eric!) We even located some floating jetsam, an old mail tub and mylar balloons, on the water and managed to get some follows and Ryley caught a small peanut mahi barely worth keeping. We had a decent day on the water and it was about 3:30 pm when the Captain asked us a question I don’t think we were expecting to hear; we could pack it in and head back to the dock OR we could throw out some lines and troll for tuna for a few hours before heading back in. He made it clear if we chose the second option that we wouldn’t be getting back to the dock until after dark, which meant we wouldn’t be getting back home until the middle of the night. Since it had served us perfectly well in those other instances we decided to "roll" with it again and we started to set out the lines.

The guys with their catch of the day.
I had no idea what to expect. Ryley and I had previously trolled for striped bass, but tuna get a LOT bigger than stripers. We had seen plenty of life already (porpoises, whales, turtles you name it!)  so we were hoping for the best while preparing to get bored out of our minds (trolling entails just driving the boat around with your lines out waiting for a strike). We were pleasantly surprised with tuna trolling though as the trolling part of it had lines splashing lures at the surface making a ruckus. We hadn’t had the lines out long with something struck a line and Ryan jumped on it. He fought the fish but ended up losing it as it got closer to the boat. About ten minutes later that same line got hit again and this time it was my turn. I ended up bringing in a butterball of a skipjack, which is part of the tuna family. That would be the last fish we would catch. Shortly thereafter we reeled in the lines and got ready for our two hour trip back to the dock.

Skipjack Sashimi
Once back at the docks it was time to unpack the boat and repack our vehicle. It was time for Captain Eric to take some last minute pictures and begin to fillet the fish. It was also time for one new thing to “roll” with. Captain Eric asked if we wanted to have dockside sushi in the form of skipjack sashimi. We all eagerly agreed because frankly we were starving. Captain Eric sliced it thin and we marinated it in soy sauce with some wasabi added to it. Now I love sushi. I could eat tune sushi all day long. But the skipjack sashimi was absolutely out of this world. I have had Bluefin and Yellowfin tuna and it never tasted that good. The skipjack was less than 5 hours old and it was glorious. I saw amazed to see that even Ryley joined in and had some of the sashimi, which he liked believe it or not.

Me and Corey with our mahi and Ryley with his.
This was by far one of the best times I have spent out on the water. Part of it had to do with the fact that I've always wanted to chase after mahi.  Part of it also had to do with the fact that we spent over 13 hours on the water relaxing and catching fish. But most of all I think it had to do with the fact that we just "rolled" with it. That kind of attitude made it so much more enjoyable for me and for Ryley. I wasn't worried so much that things had to be perfect and it allowed for me to enjoy those moments with Ryley just a little more. In those "roll" with it moments though it wasn't just me making the decisions, I often looked to Ryley for affirmation on what he wanted to do. That is an important aspect to keeping your kids happy during an activity no matter how long or short it is. They have to be up for it just as much if not more than you do yourself. So the next time you find yourself presented with an opportunity out of the blue just "roll" with it, like I did. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...

Monday, August 8, 2016

Going Ga-Ga!

The roaring opening campfire that greeted us to Camp Oest.
Our last Cub Scout Resident Summer Camp. As I type these words the realization is just starting to settle in. My son has completed his last summer camp as a Cub Scout. He is now preparing to enter 5th grade. This time next year he will have completed his first Boy Scout summer camp experience and will be preparing for Middle School. Just yesterday he was a cute little Tiger and now he is a handsome young scout working on his Arrow of Light Award. It all goes by so quickly.

Ryley earning beginner swimmer at the pool.
Luckily for us though, our week didn’t go by that quickly. We had just enough activities to keep us busy with enough free time sprinkled in to keep Ryley happy. This year we decided to attend a week long camp, just for Webelos Scouts, at Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation which is located outside of our National Capital Area Council. This would not only be our first year at Camp Oest, but also our first year attending any camp at Broad Creek. But this wasn’t the first time I had heard about Broad Creek. No, Broad Creek is actually the Scout Camp for the Baltimore Area Council, which I attended in my youth. Even though I stopped going to scouts before I could attend summer camp it was kind of a home coming of sorts.

Ryley and Kane catching catfish
But before we checked into camp Ryley and I decided to head up to my sister’s house to make good on a promise we made earlier this summer. My sister lives about 20 minutes from Broad Creek versus a 2 hour drive from our house. So we headed up on Saturday and spent some time with our favorite 7 yr old, Kane. As I previously wrote about, we had a less than stellar experience fishing in the Outer Banks this year while on vacation. So Ryley and I promised to take Kane fishing before summer camp. We grabbed our rods and headed to Bynum Run Park, located near Bel Air, MD to do a little pond fishing. The skies were growing dark and we didn’t have time to stop for bait, so I decided to use the only thing we had on hand; slim jims. I was expecting to hook a few sunfish on the Slim Jims but to my surprise the only fish the kids caught all afternoon were catfish. Now these were not your average sized catfish, they were all on the small side, less than a pound. But what they lacked in size was made up by the sheer number of fish nibbling at the end of the line. We spent about 30 minutes there and managed to pull in 5 fish and loosing so many others as we were reeling them in. Then the storm rolled in so we headed back to my sister’s house for some pizza. The funny thing about summer thunderstorms is as quickly as they roll in, they roll out. So after pizza the kids still wanted to go fishing. We hopped in the truck and headed back to the pond where we fished until it got dark and they caught way too many catfish for me to count.

Our home away from home for the week.

Once we completed the tour and our swim check we headed back to camp to set up our tent and unpack. This was going to be my big chance to test out a bunch of gear we had purchased specifically for summer camp as well as some other things we would be able to use year round. I quickly pulled out our Outdoor Research Bug Bivies and Ryley and I set them up on our cots. Next we got out our sleeping pads and sleeping bags and made our bivies as comfortable as we could. This year I thought I was going to be ahead of the game by having these bivies on hand to keep the bugs out once and for all. Things didn’t go as planned but you can read the full write up on the bug bivy here. After unpacking we set off for Ryley get meet some of his fellow campers for what would prove to be the activity of the week; Ga-Ga ball.

Ryley playing Ga-Ga ball.
Now if you don’t know what Ga-Ga ball is, you aren’t alone. I had no clue what it was until we got to camp and I saw all the kids playing it, as often as they could, in between activities, in place of activities, in the heat, in the rain; it didn’t matter when, they just wanted to play Ga-Ga ball. For an in depth explanation of what Ga-Ga ball is you can visit Wikipedia here. But essentially it is a variant of dodgeball which some believe is kinder and gentler. They must not have watched 9 and 10 year old scouts play Ga-Ga ball because there is nothing kind and gentle about it. It is quite vicious. But it is a load of fun and keeps the kids exercising without even knowing it. You basically try and hit the ball with your hands into other peoples legs (below the knee) to get them out. It is a pretty fast paces game and it done within 5 minutes or so, then the kids jump back in and play again. Ryley loved it so much he never even made it to the BB or Archery range all week. He cannot wait to get back to school so that he can suggest that they construct a Ga-Ga ball pit on his playground!

Ryley completed several activities towards his advancement during the week but I think he learned the most on his overnight camp out under the stars.... without Dad. This was his big chance to start acting like a Boy Scout. We packed up the minimal equipment he would be taking with him which was basically a sleeping bag, pillow and water bottle (More on how his water bottle performed all week here). Ryley spent that evening bonding with newly made friends around a campfire roasting apples, marshmallows and making memories. 

Ryley and Matt returning from the M.O.O.S.E. Overnighter
(Moving Onward and Outward Scouting Experience)
When I saw him the next morning I swear he had grown an inch overnight. Suddenly my little boy wasn't so little anymore.; he now walked taller and seemed more mature. He also sported somewhat of a "scar" from his overnight experience. He had been branded. Yes the hot-iron-in-the-fire kind of branding. Luckily for me, as my wife would have killed me, it was his hat that was purposefully branded with the Camp Oest brand, OTM (Oest the Most). 

The OTM Brand.

Hopefully he will follow in his older brother's footsteps and find himself receiving another brands in the not-so-distant future; the coveted PS (Philmont Scout Ranch). Although I do not know all of the details of that night, those are memories for him to cherish. I only hope that his first night alone in the woods was a formative experience in his life. One which he will hopefully repeat in the years to come on his trail to Eagle. 

As the week began to wrap up the weather started to take a slight turn for the better. While the week started off sunny and humid it was ending with some cloud cover and rain which made the humidity drop. So too did the scouts start to wrap up their activities, whether it be Ga-Ga ball or earning a STEM award. But the camp staff at Oest had one last trick up their sleeve. Instead of doing the traditional "closing campfire" program on the last night at camp, they opted to hold a "Songfest" celebration the night before we were about to leave. Staff dressed up in costumes and pretended to play fake instruments in front of the kids, all while signing and dancing to music that spanned classic rock (YMCA) to modern pop (Shut up and Dance with Me) and a few songs in between. They staff ended the night by singing the always emotional Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day. I could definitely tell Ryley grew over that week at Scout Camp when he commented to me that hearing that song made him feel happy and sad all at the same time. Happy because he was going to be going home to see his Mom and brother and sad because he was going to miss the new friends he had just made and probably would never see them again. He said that's how it must feel when you graduate from High School. What a wise young man he has become indeed. On that note what better way to end my blog by sharing that song one more time. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...

Some other pictures and videos of us from camp...

Pool party was where it was at!
Ryley with the special necklace he earned at Project M.O.O.S.E.

Ryley with our Den Chief Nealan.

A little sing-along fun.

A STEM project; Egg drop.

Mail Call!

Slip & Slide Fun!

Closing Skit

Pucker Up!

Dad's turn!


To Bivy or Not to Bivy; That is the Question

Our Outdoor Reaearch Bug Bivies and the tent we would call home all week.
Be Prepared. That is what we always strive to teach our Scouts. Be prepared for life, be prepared for whatever it may throw at you. I had it all planned out. No more holes in the mosquito nets patched with duct tape. No more crazy rigging system to get the net to stay up. No more wasted money each year buying new nets. No more spiders or mosquitoes finding their way under the net. 

I had purchased two expensive bug bivies from Outdoor Research for Ryley and I to use for the rest of our Summer Camping days in Scouts. I had initially "tested" the bivies in the back yard for about 5 minutes and proclaimed to myself that although I could see a few shortcomings, these would work perfectly for scout camp. In doing so I had fallen into one of the classic traps that we teach out Scouts to watch out for; Overconfidence. I had convinced myself, without even thoroughly testing them out, that I only needed bug bivies to solve my problem. Fast forward to our first night at camp and we had already taken them down, in the middle of the night, and were sleeping in nothing but our shorts.

That night as I laid there on my cot, sweating to death, I tried to figure out a plan B. This is something I should have planned for before I ever left the house. I shouldn't have put all my eggs in one basket. I would have to suck it up and head to town and purchase some mosquito nets, paracord and wooden dowels. The next morning I got up, checked out of camp and headed to the nearest sporting goods store. Two hours later and about $100 lighter in the pocket, I was headed back to camp to try and assemble some sort of netting structure to protect us. I ran out of supplies as I built a sturdy frame for Ryley, so I opted to just sleep without a net all week. It wasn't that bad. Ryley slept soundly and I didn't get too many insect bites. Next time though, I will make sure to have a plan B handy in case I need it.

The Skinny: So for this adventure, as I have already mentioned, Ryley and I headed for a week of summer camp and needed some protection from bugs. We slept in a canvas walled tent and slept on cots (with sleeping pads). I had previously identified some potential issues that I thought I could work through. You can check out that review here. Needless to say the testing this time around did not go as planned. We only spent about 15 minutes in the bug bivies before I had to pull the plug. Below are some hits and misses of the bug bivies after having taken them to summer camp. While I have some opinions on the bivies I plan on testing them again one final time this Fall. 

Hits: To say the bivy is light weight is an understatement. Since the top part is made up of mesh it’s understandable as to why this is so light. The mesh also lets all the light in. Another positive is the bathtub floor. Not only does it keep the water and wetness out, as a sealed system, it also keeps the bugs out! That was always my one complaint about regular bug nets at summer camp. The insects would inevitably find their way up under the net and into my sleeping area. With this bivy that issue is completely eliminated. I also loved how there were straps on the inside of the bivy to anchor down your sleeping pad so that it would not come out from underneath you as you slept. 

Let me preface by saying that some of my misses are no fault of Outdoor Research and more having to do with how I was using the bivy.

Misses:  Because this bivy requires guy-lines it makes it difficult to use. If you chose not to use the guy-lines on each end the bug mesh tends to lay on top of you, creating an easy opportunity for a mosquito to land on the mesh and still suck your blood! Another issue with the guy-lines for me, in using it on a cot, it is made it very difficult to enter the bivy because the lines got in the way. Even not using a cot I can see how staking out the guy-lines would make it very difficult to enter the bivy without some maneuvering. I was lucky in that I could tie the guy-lines to the ceiling of the tent, which made it slightly easier to enter the bivy. Another thing that cause great difficulty in entering the bivy was the fact that you could only enter from the head area, like a sleeping bag. This was problematic when sleeping on a cot. Too much weight on the head of the cot and it tips over. But beyond that issue, when staked out the guy-line  prohibits entering from the head. Ounce you finagle your way into the bivy you have a difficult time getting in a sleeping bag, because there isn't much room in the bivy. I understand there isn't supposed to be much room, but all of the finagling to get into the bivy means you have less of a chance of getting into your sleeping bag correctly. Another issue I encountered was when I packed up the bivies. What turn out to be one of the hits turned out to be a miss as well, because of how it was constructed. The straps used to hold down the sleeping pad had velcro on it. When rolling up the bivy it is very easy, if you are not careful, to get the velcro stuck to the bug mesh. Do this enough times and you will create a hole and not have a very effective bug bivy. But my biggest complaint has nothing to do with all the things I thought might go wrong when I did my first review. No, it had quite a lot to do with the fact that we were camping in a walled tent, in the middle of summer in a hot and humid location with very little breeze. When sleeping in nothing but shorts on a cot it was definitely hot but not to the point of being uncomfortable. Inside the bivy it was unbearable. There was no air circulation at all. This has to do with the tight weave of the bug mesh. It definitely keeps out all the bugs, but it also keep out the air! To be fair though, this isn't like most tent mesh that feels light soft to the touch. The fabric is entirely more stiff and rigid because it has to be to stand up to use as a bivy. 

That is why even though it was an unsuccessful test at summer camp I am going to give the bivy one more try this Fall when the weather is considerably cooler. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...

Two for One Special

Ryley with his Columbia Hydroflask waterbottle.
Summer camp sure presented an opportunity to test out some new gear. Unfortunately I didn't get to fully test out the bug bivy, but as luck would have it we did get a chance to test out several Columbia Sportswear items. Thanks to a quick trip to the Columbia outlet Ryley and I scored ourselves some Omnifreezel bandannas and Watertight rain jackets. While at the store Ryley also grabbed a Columbia branded 21 ounce Hydroflask water bottle .

Ryley with the Omnifreeze banadanna.

Ryley used his bandanna the first two days in camp but as the week rolled along the heat and humidity were less of a factor. Towards the end of the week we got to test out the rain jackets a few times. They kept us dry. In both cases there isn't much to say about how the items performed. They did their job of either keeping us cool or keeping us dry.

Ryley and his Hydroflask made it through the night unharmed.

What I would like to concentrate on though is the 21 ounce Columbia Branded Hydroflask water bottle. Because of sports Ryley has gone through several types and brands of water bottles. Some have fared better than others. We have used insulated and uninsulated water bottles and prefer the type that are insulated to keep his water cold.

A dented Columbia Hydroflask didn't stop Ryley.
The Skinny: Ryley is pretty hard on his water bottles. One of the insulated ones we have at home it missing a few pieces. The other has been beaten to death because of baseball practice where teammates literally beat it with baseballs. Ryley's week of testing was no different. I wouldn't expect anything less from a 9 yr old scout. He was constantly filling his bottle up with fresh cold water. When he wasn't filling the water bottle up, he was dropping in the dirt on the concrete and down the hill or leaving it sit out in the sun for hours on end.

Hits: As an insulated water bottle I already have expectations of what this product was going to be capable of. I must say it did not disappoint me in the least. It did a great job in keeping cold icy water cold and icy for long periods of time. It was left out in 100 degree weather, in full sun, and still managed to have ice sloshing around inside. But most days, honestly, were spent going from water cooler to water cooler filling it up with cold water. During the intervening moments the bottle was dropped on concrete, rolled through the dirt and mud, kicked across the field and generally abused every chance we got. It's dented, for sure, but I wasn't expecting it to be bomb proof. Despite being dented though it did hold up. The inner vacuum chamber was not compromised in any way. The paint chipped off a bit but not too much. I think we spent less that $25 all together (got it at a Columbia Outlet store) and it was the best $25 I have spent on a water bottle for my son. It is going to hold up for a while longer and we will definitely get out money's worth out of it.

Misses: There was only one major issue we had with the water bottle. We purchased the sport cap to make it easier for Ryley to drink his water, What I did find was that if the spout was open and you dropped the bottle in the dirt (happened more than I care to admit) it was difficult to remove the dirt from inside the nozzle. And when I say difficult it is keeping in mind we were camping with limited access to a place to wash his bottle out thoroughly. A very minor issue, but honestly that was the only negative thing I could come up with.

I honestly can say I have overlooked Columbia Sportswear all these years for more "high end" name brand equipment. I will not be making that mistake again. Not only do they provide quality gear it is at an affordable price, especially for a growing young scout. I plan on having Ryley test out some Columbia PFG gear in the near future. I'll definitely report back on how that went. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...