The Morn After Christmas

Posted by: Larry Bozka on December 22nd, 2011

The Morn After Christmas

By Larry Bozka

 

‘Twas the morn after Christmas, where out on the lake,

Not a creature was stirring, not one fish awake.

The reels had been strung full of mono with care,

In hopes that a bigmouth would soon leave its lair.

 

With rubber-soled deck shoes on thick cotton socks,

He stepped to the bow for his new tackle box.

His rods had been strapped to the deck with great care.

And just to be sure, he’d included a spare.

 

His family still snuggled all warm in their beds,

He’d left before dawn with a kiss on their heads.

Now out on the water, the sun soon to rise,

He hoped for light wind and a haze in the skies.

 

The boat slowly drifted in wisps of dense fog,

Toward a spot in the cove where he knew laid a log.

The outboard was silent; the hull drifted in.

To a cove that held water that looked clear as gin.

 

For many a year he had come to this spot,

Where once a great trophy it’s said had been caught.

A largemouth so grand that the folks prone to prattle,

Said it carried a tail twice as wide as a paddle.

 

Its mouth was so big, some people persist,

It could easily swallow a man’s entire fist.

This bass was in no way just run-of-the mill,

But a two-foot-long lunker with switchblades for gills.

 

 

Its dorsal fin stood like the rack on a buck,

And to catch it the angler would need more than luck.

Somewhere between all the force and the stress,

He had to know something of fishing finesse.

 

A sport where the quarry has tricks all its own.

And the angler who hunts it is bad to the bone.

This bass was no rookie, far back in the pines.

Where time and again it had broken men’s lines.

 

The fish had it figured when the next guy arrived,

It didn’t much matter what the angler contrived.

Assuming she’d answer the great urge to strike,

That bass was dead certain all lures are alike.

 

The hook called a “circle” was only a rumor.

Its alleged advantage made the fish shake with humor.

“How silly,” it thought, “Now they’re at it again.

These fishermen know, in the end I will win.”

 

“Yet another new angler comes out Christmas day,

With lures that are new and all rigged a new way.

I’m supposed to believe that a hook meant for tuna,

Will catch ME the Great Bass, this lake’s Grand Kahuna?”

 

So certain it was that the fish left its lair.

The angler looked on; his boat was right there.

The sight of this beast made his mind reconsider,

Perhaps it was folly to take on this critter.

 

Still, he’d sharpened his hooks and he’d rigged all the gear.

And when the big bass ‘neath the boat did appear,

He hastily cast a fresh Roadrunner lure,

Its curly tail held by a hook red and sure.

 

Its shape was as round as the big basses’ eyes.

And when it was set, to the fish’s surprise.

The strike didn’t end with a free-flying hook.

Instead with a shudder, the rod bucked and shook.

 

Tight as a string on a brand-new guitar,

The line it held fast, so the fish had to spar.

It leapt and it dived and it twirled all about.

But when it was done it was just flat played out.

 

The angler reached down, and grabbed by the lip,

This gargantuan bass, on a scale that it tipped,

“12 pounds, 7 ounces!” the hand-held did say.

Of all Christmas brought, that fish made the day.

 

He took just a moment to admire the bright sheen.

The eyes big as quarters and the scales a deep green.

Then he lowered it back into waters so clear.

That two sweeps of its tail and that bass disappeared.

 

No longer a rumor, but a story to tell,

His kids and his grandkids they all know it well.

At the time when we pray for a world cloaked in peace.

The best gift of all is a trophy released.

 

Happy Fishing to all,

And to all, a good bite.

Read: The Morn After Christmas »


Nissan’s “Off-Road Experience” Covers Serious Gnu Terrain

Posted by: Larry Bozka on December 8th, 2011

MEDINA RIVER RANCH RESORT, BANDERA, TX – Hang around “serious” off-road enthusiasts long enough and you’ll inevitably concur with the conventional four-wheeler contention that a “stock” vehicle … unaltered, straight off the lot without a single modification … is not a “serious” off-road vehicle.
Ditch one more stereotype. After four-wheel exploring this majestically rugged piece of Hill Country terrain at the wheel of a 2012 Nissan XTerra, I can personally attest that it just ain’t so.
It was not just the XTerra that I and a host of automotive/outdoor media folks were allowed to drive several weeks ago during an event that the company aptly dubbed “The Nissan Off-Road Experience.” We were handed the keys to the entire lineup, from the Titan pickup and its compact cousin the Frontier to the classic Pathfinder SUV and its flagship big brother the Nissan Armada.
Nissan Corporate Communications manager Steve Parrett and crew led an advance team of trail designers to mark an off-road test route on the sprawling, rocky property 55 miles west of San Antonio. The result was as challenging a trek as anything I’ve driven. I figured that one out when I motored up to the first high-rise climb of the trip … and believe me, it was a trip.
If you’ve ever brought a high-powered bass boat up on plane, showering down on the throttle as the bow rises higher and higher until nothing ahead is visible, when sheer faith is the only thing you have until you trim down the motor, feel the bow descend and, ultimately, the rig settles down and can finally breathe, you know the sensation. It’s a gut check. It’s one that I had previously experienced only once on the same scale, many years ago on a craggy hillside near Georgetown.
The experience almost gave my white-knuckled passenger a heart attack. Fortunately … or, depending on your outlook, unfortunately … I was too young and enamored with all things road-radical to be anything but jazzed about it. Automotive Writer Harold Gunn braves a dropoff on Medina River Ranch near Bandera
Back then I was into off-road vehicles in a big way, so much so that I ignored the obvious insanity of the budget I relegated to acquire just about every custom accessory known to West Coast off-road aftermarket truck-tricking companies so that I could own the baddest Blazer in Texas.
It took tons of money and barrels of fuel to feed that beast. I know of at least one mechanic who financed his kid’s freshman year in college with the incessant flow of money that poured into that vehicle.
I digress, but for a reason. You can’t teach a 23-year-old kid anything, especially in regard to finances and the questionable need for high-powered four-wheelers and half-ownership in at least one offshore fishing rig.
Now, however, at an age well beyond twice that figure and with, I would like to think, immensely better judgment, I’m just a tad more conservative with the money I spend.
If I were to drop the dollars for an off-road animal of a truck or SUV, I would do so with the intent of getting the entire package at once. Everything I drove that brisk autumn day, regardless of model, proved that it is now completely doable.
No accessories required.
That said, once again, if I were to drop the bucks for a new Nissan 4WD pickup or SUV, there would be snowballs piling up in the Sahara before I’d put said vehicle through the murderous terrain that was carved out of the brush for the aforementioned test drives.
No way. Never. Zip. Out of the question. These are not just “serious” four-wheel-drive vehicles, depending upon one’s budget and personal preferences, they are also luxury vehicles. It seems a bit of a paradox to mix the two components, but again I speak from experience on this one.
The gentleman who picked me up from the airport in San Antonio and drove me to the ranch just outside of Bandera did so in a brand-new Nissan Armada. The Armada is a full-size SUV with the capacity to accommodate eight passengers amongst 97.1 cubic feet of cargo space. There are multiple seating configurations to fit every need from Friday night football games to pre-dawn drives to the deer stand come Saturday morning.
Nissan touts the Armada as having “built-in heroic capability, expressive design and exceptional comfort.” The last two traits are up-front understandable, and in fairness, I did not pause during the press briefing to ask for a definition of “heroic capability.”

A trio of Medina River Ranch Resort trophy blackbuck slip into the brush

Lest I call Parrett and take his time to request a definition, I think it’s safe to provide my own. Roughly translated: If you are crazy enough to steer a new Nissan Armada SUV down the Ranch Trail From Hell, it can handle it (mesquite limb scratches, excessive mud splatters and dust as thick as a door mat notwithstanding). It can not only handle it; it can eat a trail like that for breakfast and have room left over for a great big bowl of Rocky Road.
With around 4 hours to kill and a serious yen to get some good photos of the ranch’s abundant exotic game species, I asked Parrett if it would be okay if I took the XTerra (which I had yet to drive) out on the ranch road to see what I could find. He graciously agreed.
Right up until sunset, I put 37 miles on that billy goat of an SUV, about a third of which was spent off the ranch road. Emboldened by the morning drill and knowing that the 4WD XTerra is the epitome of the modern-day “stock” off-road vehicle, I ventured into countless senderos and pastures.
My mission? To explore strange new trails, to seek out exotic game animals of trophy proportions, to boldly go where no man has gone before … well, not in an SUV, anyway.
What a journey. One, in many ways, that mimicked similar “gimme” photo shoots and hunts that I had attempted before.
Take, for example, the resident zebras. The afternoon we entered the ranch in that deep-green Armada, the black-striped horses all but walked up to the truck and gave us autographs. Soon as I started looking for them they might as well have been ghosts.
I had almost abandoned the mission when one of the stocky, bristle-maned beasts appeared deep inside a rock-strewn draw that could only have been created by thousands of years’ worth of runoff gnawing away at the limestone. Then out came another. I followed the animals as far as I could, courtesy of the XTerra’s shift-on-the-fly 4WD and “Descent Control” function” (“Hill Start Assist” is yet another). I realized after the drive that throughout the entire excursion I had not once dropped the 4WD into low gear … an oversight that was obviously unnoticeable.
Zebras in sight, I clambered out of the truck and down the steep slope of the draw, side-stepping random mottes of prickly pear and trying not to lose my footing on one of countless loose rocks that could have sent me tumbling down the hill. Fear is a great facilitator of abilities one does not know one possesses until one needs them, in this case an impeccable sense of balance. The $7,000.00 Nikon telephoto strapped around my neck seemed to hone my extreme balancing abilities to new and undiscovered levels.
Ultimately, I got my zebra photos. And just before that, some really gorgeous shots of a trio of mature blackbuck antelope playing follow the leader while the setting sun backlit their tall and spiraling ebony horns. I also got shots of Sika deer, axis deer, a young mouflon ram and a rust-colored red stag that was limping from a recent encounter with another large-racked competitor.
And oh, yeah. The gnu. What’s an exotic animal photo safari without at least one good gnu photo?

Looking out the windshield of Nissan's 4WD XTerra

Maybe next time I’ll make it easier on my feet and wear Gnu Balance hiking shoes. (Okay, admittedly weak, but how many chances does a writer get to type the word “gnu?”)
My spirits and energy re-gnued, I climbed back into the idling XTerra and enjoyed a leisurely drive back to the lodge where my cohorts were already gathered around a dinner table the likes of which you might have found used by King Arthur’s court.
I won’t try to describe the taxidermy work inside of Medina River Lodge, other than to say it holds the best-looking mounted pair of battling African lions that I’ve ever seen. (If you come across another mounted pair of African lions in battle, let me know. We’ll compare notes.)
Going to the grocery store or climbing a rock-littered, high-climbing vista amidst the salt cedar and mesquite trees of the Edwards Plateau, there’s something in the latest “armada” of Nissan four-wheelers to meet the needs of every truck-driving Texan and then some.
“Serious” four-wheel-drive vehicles have never been so stand-on-their-own accessible. Anyone in the vehicle-shopping, test-driving mode for a new pickup or SUV, large or mid-sized, is doing himself a serious disservice if the process doesn’t include a test drive of one of the 2012 Nissan fleet’s remarkably diverse options.
How far you take it is up to you, not the truck.
(Note: For more information on Medina River Ranch Resort, go to http://www.medinariverranchresort.com/index.html)

Read: Nissan’s “Off-Road Experience” Covers Serious Gnu Terrain »


The Relativity of a “Real” Trophy Trout

Posted by: Larry Bozka on July 27th, 2011

 

“29-3/4 inches? Please accept my deepest sympathy.”

It was an unusual day, and from several perspectives. For one, the week of Thanksgiving,
2005 was unseasonably warm. For another, David Sikes and his friends were
fishing in the afternoon.
Usually, big-trout trips on Baffin Bay are morning propositions. This day, though, due to rigorous schedule
demands, Sikes and crew struck out for the notoriously rock-strewn Cat Head
area of the legendary bay a few hours after lunchtime.

It was warm enough, Sikes recalls, that throwing topwater plugs seemed the appropriate
thing to do. As outdoor editor of the Corpus
Christi Caller-Times
, and a guy who is privileged to spend a good deal of
time on the state’s premier big-trout waters, Sikes’ assessment was based on
experience.

It was dead-on. In only a few hours of wade fishing, the longtime outdoor writer and
his companions had duped five chunky trout between 3 and 5 pounds on
slowly-twitched MirrOlure She Dogs. But as sundown loomed close, Sikes couldn’t
resist the impulse to switch to one of his favorite go-to trout lures, a
limetreuse-colored Saltwater Assassin threaded onto a Bass Assassin Screw-Lock
jighead.

Mullet-imitating topwaters are the gold standard for selective trophy-class trout, and for good
reason. Five of those reasons had already answered the calls of the group’s
chrome-sided surface-scratchers. The fish weren’t trophies, but they definitely
weren’t dinks, either.

Soft plastics like the Assassin are generally acknowledged as “numbers” baits. Yes, they catch their
share of lunker specks. They are, however, best known for their efficiency, a
proven propensity to consistently boot out large numbers of modestly-sized
fish. Still, something told the veteran journalist that instead of a topwater
plug, a slowed-down presentation of the wobbling plastic eel over the soft mud
bottom was the way to go. He already knew, after all, that the area held a
substantial number of heavier-than-average speckled trout.

It took only a few casts to verify his suspicions.

“I knew when it hit that it was a big fish,” Sikes recalls. “It put a serious bend in
the rod, and was taking line. I took my time fighting it. “When I got it close
and realized I couldn’t get my hand around its belly, I decided to walk it back
to the boat.”

The trout was hooked solidly in the bony portion of its jaw, the barb of the Mustad hook
firmly embedded deep in the corner. Yet, like every angler who has made a hasty
decision to hand-grab a trophy-caliber trout only to see his long-sought quarry
disappear in a splashy surge, he wisely decided to take no chances.

“The boat was about a hundred yards away,” Sikes recalls. “My buddies were already aboard.
They saw me coming, and from the way I was walking, they knew something was up.
When those guys saw that fish they flipped out,” he adds with a laugh. “The
thing was huge, in the saltwater fishing culture what we call a ‘football.’ One of my friends immediately picked
up a Boga Grip and got a lock on the fish’s jaw.”

According to the Boga Grip, a popular fish-weighing device that is accurate to the extent
that it can be certified by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) for world-record-verification
purposes, Sikes’ fish weighed just a few ounces better than 10 pounds.

“Is that thing accurate?” Sikes inquired.

“Yes,” his friend replied.

“That’s all I need to know,” Sikes answered. “I’m going to have this fish mounted.”

Back at Bird Island Basin, where the crew had launched that afternoon, a weighing session
on steady ground affirmed that the massive trout weighed 10 pounds on the
money. It’s not unusual for fish, especially thin-skinned species like speckled
trout, to lose an ounce or two in transit. Still, despite the shrinkage factor,
there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Sikes’ trout was a legitimate
double-digit fish.

Then the ruler came out.

“Oh, no!” Sikes partner said.

“Oh no, what?” Sikes replied. “What’s the problem?”

“Man, I’m sorry,” his buddy said. “But it’s not quite 30 inches long.”

Sikes checked the tape. Sure enough, the trout’s sprawling tail nudged the ruler at
29-3/4 inches.

“Are you still going to have it mounted?” his friend inquired.

Sikes was speechless for a moment.

“Yeah,” he answered. “I’m still gonna have it mounted.”

His buddies were excited, and happy for their friend. More than anything, Sikes says, they
were amazed that a fish of that length breached the 10-pound mark.

Later conversations about the fish assumed a strange and perplexing tone. A pattern
of sorts developed.

“I heard it several times in the next several days,” Sikes says, “basically the same story over and over.
I’d tell ‘em I had caught a 10-pound trout, and then get congratulated with a
slap on the back. Then,” he says, “they would ask me how long it was. I said
twenty-nine and three-quarters, that it didn’t quite make the 30-inch mark.

“And all of a sudden, they were offering me condolences.”

Today, Sikes’ wallhanger speck holds a place of honor above the fireplace of his home
in Padre Isles. Every time he looks at it, he can’t help but think about how
convoluted many anglers’ mentalities have become in regard to assessing the
definition of a “trophy” speckled trout.

“It’s too bad that’s the prevailing view,” Sikes says. “Here I am, showing people this
fish on the wall, and all they want to know is how long it is. Somehow, the
saltwater culture has assumed the strange quirk of gauging speckled trout
almost solely by length.”

He has a valid point. Consider, for example, the generally-held mentality for largemouth
bass. I don’t recall a single bass fisherman ever inquiring about the length of
a trophy fish. If anything, it’s an afterthought.

I recall, years ago, catching a 22-inch-long largemouth from Fayette County Lake near LaGrange. I
caught the fish well after the spawn. Instead of a football it looked more like
a pregnant cigar. It weighed a mere 7-1/2 pounds.

Like Sikes, I received my share of condolences from friends who looked at the photo of what
one guy snidely called a “long-mouthed bass.” Difference was, I agreed with
them. All I could see when I looked at that bass was three pounds of fish that
didn’t exist.

On the saltwater side, my career trout met the landing net in May of 1974 and weighed
an even 9 pounds. It was 29 inches long. I thought then, and still think today,
that it was a bona fide trophy.

I have yet to catch a bigger one, whether in length or in weight. If I caught a trout like
Sikes’ Thanksgiving ’05 speck today, you’d probably hear me hollering from
wherever you are reading this.

“I’ve tried to explore where the arbitrary line of 30 inches originated,” Sikes tells me. “We’re
such an ‘even’ society; maybe they wanted an even number (think 20-inch spreads
on white-tailed bucks). When I was a kid,” Sikes adds, “a 6-pound bass was a
benchmark. Now it’s 10.

“At first, when people expressed their sympathy I thought they were joking,” he says. “Then
I realized they were being sincere, that they felt it a pity. ‘Don’t worry,’ they say. ‘You’ll get there.’

“My first reaction? Where does this come from? Where can you find a negative? Where is there room for a negative in that fish-of-a-lifetime
scenario?”

Perhaps inadvertently, Sikes had already touched on the answer to his own question. Fishing, whether
it’s for speckled trout on the flats, largemouth bass on the lakes or blue
marlin off the Continental Shelf, consists of a surprisingly distinct group of
subcultures. We are, to put it mildly, a provincial lot, each with our own
degree of quirkiness.

It can be great fun. Sadly, it can also be a real downer for the fisherman who, at 28 inches, has
just caught the biggest trout of his life, and by a substantial margin, only to
be told by his peers that his so-called “trophy” falls short of “real” trophy standards.

Doing so diminishes not only the fish, but also the fisherman.

The odds of a speckled trout making it to a mere 5 pounds are infinitesimally small. For most
saltwater fishermen, even avid and experienced anglers like Sikes and his
friends, the likelihood of catching a 30-inch or longer speck isn’t exactly
overwhelming, either.

That aside, there are hundreds of Texas coastal regulars who will quickly assure you that they’ve
caught 30-inch trout. If you ask, though … assuming they’ll admit it … you’ll frequently
find that they didn’t have a measuring board on-hand when recording the
dimensions (understandably, the IGFA requires anglers to provide a detailed
photo of a potential record fish … with said fish accurately situated on a
ruler). The fear, of course, is that the alleged 30-incher, like Sikes’ big
fish, might fall short … even by a fraction … of the revered Three-Oh mark.

That trepidation, if we stop to think about it … and then, pause to honestly assess how many documented
30-inch trout we have caught or seen caught … is frankly a little bit insane.

Through the organization of the good folks at Cabela’s, I made a flats fishing trip with the Texas Sporting Journal magazine team to
Port Mansfield a couple of years ago. The weather, to put it politely, sucked.

Still, having driven so far and to such an awesome locale, optimism prevailed. My fishing buddy and
video production partner Dave Aitken and I were eager to start casting. We joined
Capt. Charlie Buchen for a day aboard Buchen’s airboat. Buchen’s Air Ranger
could … and did … take us everywhere we wanted to go. Considering that the wind
was blowing like a newborn hurricane and hadn’t let up for days, the airboat
was a Godsend.

We ended up just beyond the mouth of a tide-carved “micro-delta” south of Mansfield Harbor. A small
slough, a connecting link between an inshore lagoon and the open flats, was
rushing hard from the recent onslaught of rain coupled with an outgoing tide. It
was virtually packed with finger mullet.

As the continuous parade of baitfish washed out onto the flat, they were forced past a pile of matted grass
on the northern fringe of a 2-foot-deep cut just outside the shoreline. Aitken
and Buchen walked out on the flat a few hundred yards past the cut. Meanwhile,
I headed the opposite direction, intent on investigating the telltale “smacks”
of mullet getting hammered by unseen predators.

Like Sikes, I instinctively went for the soft plastic shadtail in my tackle pack, a
red-colored PRADCO “Yum” on a quarter-ounce jighead. The first time the lure
swept past the densely-layered vegetation it was immediately assaulted by a
21-inch speck. On the featherweight Salt Striker spinning rig, the fish was a
blast to catch … and, a harbinger of what came next.

I waited a few moments, relishing the layout. It was as “fishy” a place as I’d seen in years, a textbook
big trout haven.

Then I saw the shadow.

The fish was motionless, its broad, spotted tail flagging just enough to keep it in place. It briefly
surged forward, then back-finned a foot or two inside the olive-green carpet of
grass.

I pitched the lure into the slough, opened the reel bail and let the bait tumble until, second later,
everything melded into bright broken shards of shattered saltwater, iridescent purple
flanks, blurry glimpses of a gaping yellow jaw and desperate thrashes of a
violet-hued head as thick as a wrestler’s wrist.

My heart pounding like a hammer, I kept the presence of mind to loosen the drag lest the 10-pound
monofilament meet an unseen obstruction. The trout surged out onto the flat, its lavender dorsal fin exposed.

A little rod pressure and the fish turned its head. Then, just as abruptly, it raced away again, but this
time with a bit less momentum.

The trout’s drooping ivory belly dragged the bottom, stirring up silt. I was already imagining … yes, a 30-inch fish … when I finally led it
ashore. A pocket tape measure verified 26-12 inches. The Boga Grip dipped to almost 6-1/2 pounds.

I must admit that I was, for the briefest of moments, disappointed. Then I looked at the billowing storm
clouds rolling offshore, heard the wind’s shrill whine, saw the angry whitecaps churning the flats and suddenly realized that my kneeswere wobbling.

I’m talking full-blown, tumble-your-stomach, buck-fever knee knocks.

It really came home, though, when Aitken strolled up atop the wet sand bank and I saw the wide-eyed look on his face.

“Man,” he said, “that’s a real trophy fish.”

I lifted the trout, its strength still apparent as I attempted to hold it still for a photo. And with
that, my intrepid fishing buddy took a shot of a magnificent fish that to this very day makes me smile every time I look at it.

Several months ago, J.P. Greeson was kind enough to put it on the home page of Texas Fishing Forum. I looked at that picture once again, the sheer
wildness of it and recalling the strategy that went into making it happen, and smiled once again.

I’m with Sikes.

If there’s a negative in that picture, for the life of me I can’t see it.

Read: The Relativity of a “Real” Trophy Trout »



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