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Blue Ridge Outings

Fishing on Brice Creek

Notice the caption does not say “catching.” Those are two different things. Also, the photographs do not show fish flopping on the dock. That’s because I had no clue what I was doing.

On the warm, sunny afternoon of May 18, I went fishing in Brice Creek at the dock on the back side of Creek Side County Park. This was my first-time fishing in a couple of years; and the first time at the coast in about 30 years; and the first time on a coastal creek ever. The closest I came to touching a fish was three times I felt a very light tap on my line. Before I could set the hook the fish were gone. When I reeled in the lure, I found the rascals had stolen my bait.

I was using live night crawler worms on a large circle hook with a 10-pound test nylon line and a medium weight pinched on about two feet above the hook. The problem was that there are hundreds of factors that could be affecting the fish biting, including where to cast in the creek, sunshine, my shadow on the water, underwater structure, spawning, wind direction and force, time of day, season, water temperature, kind of bait - live or artificial, size of hook, how the worms were hooked, how fast or slow I retrieved, and on and on. I did not know what to do about any of these factors.

Fortunately, I have several nice New Bern lady friends who are coastal fishing experts. They have agreed to guide me on a couple of fishing trips so I can learn some of the ropes. To quote the Terminator, “I’ll be back.”

On May 14 in warm temperatures, but under a cloudy and rain-threatening sky, I engaged in another paddling trip in my sit-on-top kayak. I put in the water at the dock behind the Town of New Bern Recreation Department office beside Lawson Park. My trip took me down Lawson Creek to where it empties into the Trent River at the downtown waterfront of old, historic New Bern. I was paddling solo without a partner, which is a bad habit that I need to break.

My last ten or so paddles in my canoe, sea-going kayak and my sit-on-top kayak have all featured the same uneasy feeling that my boats were too tippy, and I was unstable. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have concluded that the problem is not the boats, but me. As I have gotten older, I have naturally lost some of my athletic ability to balance. This trip included serendipity! I made the happy discovery of a way to get more stable.

Most times when I am paddling my balance points in the boat are my two butt cheeks on the seat. These two points are not sufficient to be fully attached to the boat. I have other body parts touching the boat, like my feet on the hull and my back on the top of the seat, but those points of contact were not solidly wedged in. On this trip, thanks to the wonderfully tall, sturdy, and supportive seat, I found that I could push my back into the seat more firmly; push my feet into the foot braces more firmly; push my outer thighs against the gunnels, and firmly wedge myself in. Thus, I have 7 points of contact instead of only 2. The benefits are several.

By being tightly attached to the boat, I can feel more quickly and accurately what the hull is doing. If the boat is starting to roll, I am there in the roll and working with it in real-time, instead of reacting to it and trying to correct my position a second or two late. Also, when the boat starts to roll, it takes my body with it, instead of rolling out from under me. That gives the boat more negative momentum and slows and shortens the rolling motion.

Even better, during my prior paddles, holding onto one “best” position was tiring and made my back, hip, and thing muscles sore. Being locked into the boat today, to the contrary, felt comfortable and comforting. I could keep up a steady paddling pace for a longer time.

This trip of 3 miles was my longest one since I moved to New Bern. I hope to soon paddle from Hammocks Beach State Park to Bear Island, and back, which will be about 6 miles. It was a wonderful day. Now I need to find some regular paddle partners.

Today, May 13, was warm. But working in the bright sunshine, wearing a neoprene wet suit in case I fell in the cool river, loading and unloading my 45-pound boat from the Jeep roof racks, configuring equipment, and hand hauling the boat to the dock launch, it was mighty dang hot. For the rest of the warm season (late spring, summer, and early fall) I am swearing off neoprene clothes in favor of polypropylene underwear and nylon short pants and shirt.

I put in Goose Creek, at the dock in Martin Marietta Municipal Park, and paddled downstream through the edge of the swamp and towards the Neuse River. Today was my first trip with a Pelican 10-foot-long sit-on-top kayak. It is 32 inches wide, which is 10 inches wider than my 22-inch Romany Excel sea-going kayak. But it is still 3 inches narrower than my broad-based canoe. The SoT kayak also had a sharper, narrow entry and exit shape at the water line, which made it track straight ahead better than the canoe. But its 7-foot shorter length makes the SoT track less well than the ocean-going kayak. . Oddly, despite large differences in the three boats’ widths, I could not discern much more stability from one to the other. I am guessing that the reason I mostly feel tippy and unsure of my balance all the time in all the boats is my advancing age and reduction in athletic balance. However, the more I paddle, then the better I feel.

The SoT kayak seat is a major positive revelation. It is made of open-weave nylon mesh on a sturdy, metal folding frame that is affirmatively attached to the hull. And the foot pedals are just right my size. It is far and away the most comfortable boat in which I have sat.

The wind was at my back pushing me downstream, which meant it was against me when I paddled upriver to take-out at the dock. I kept at it and pulled the paddle with my abdominal muscles instead of my arm and shoulder muscles to keep from getting tired. All’s well that ends well. A good time was had.

On another warm, sunny morning of April 21, I loaded my used (but new to me), sleek, sexy, narrow, long, and fast Nigel Dennis Romany Excel sea-going kayak onto my Jeep roof racks. Due to my avoiding exercise for several months due to arthritis in my left hip, followed by surgery, followed by more than a month of recuperation, my body was in poor shape.  My physical condition was weak and my cardiovascular system was not strong.  I had to struggle to get the boat lifted onto the roof. 

I went to the lake at Martin Marietta County Park, for practice, because i have another trip planned there this coming Sunday to paddle with three other friends. I went to the first of four boat launches, the one with rollers. 

Unloading the boat from the Jeep roof was another test of my strength, and I just barely passed.  After carrying the boat from the parking lot to the dock, I was so exhausted that I had to sit for a while.  Not an auspicious start.  I had successfully pared down my equipment from my last canoe trip before the surgery, so loading the boat was not too bad. 

When I got on the water things did not improve much.  The boat is so unstable and tippy that my muscles stayed tense the whole time.  Just sitting still in the kayak made me tired.  Paddling forward was even more exhausting.  I made it about a mile around a point on the lake and to the back of the next cove.  There was a beach with another entry and exit place made of sand.  I tested myself by getting out of the boat, onto the shore, back into the kayak, and paddling away.  I passed this test with no dunking, but again I was exhausted. 

I found that relaxing and paddling considerably slower helped the situation a lot.  I was less tired upon returning to the beginning point, but still worn down.  I know the kayak is narrower and less stable than my canoe, which I have been paddling for 55 years and with which I am totally familiar.  But, I have also developed an opinion that it is not as tippy as I am paranoid about.  I think that if I keep paddling it then it will always be tippier than my canoe, but I can learn to get used to it and not be so tense and paranoid.  And hopefully not get so tired.  We will see when I do it again this Sunday. 

Latham Whitehurst Park        

On the warm, sunny afternoon of April 20, I drove to Latham Whitehurst Park in Croatan County to find canoe and kayak launch sites and program them into my Garmin Montana 750i hand-held GPS. It was a three-quarters-mile hike through the woods and swamp to the Upper Broad Creek landing.

I was able to program the information into my GPS successfully. It was a pleasant afternoon outdoors.