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Bob Laney

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.

On the early spring warm and sunny day of April 6 I drove from New Bern to Bogue Banks (Emerald Island to the Chamber of Commerce type persons). About halfway down the island to the west of Fort Macon is the Salter Path beach access. It is my favorite access because it is free to park and some of the spots are in the shade. It is also a moderately long way from the towns of Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle, so the beach is less crowded and the sand dunes are undeveloped.

I will let the photographs speak for themselves. The day was pleasant and restorative for me. It was the first day for me in many months when I did not have to make some big decisions or do something constructive or difficult. Relaxation in the sand, sun, wind and surf.

On the chilly but sunny Saturday afternoon of March 11, 2023, I pulled my canoe out of the storage shed and upgraded some outfitting. It already had yellow floatation bags permanently installed in the bow and stern.  And it already had a purple bag and green river dry bags.  The dry bags served two purposes.  When paddling they are filled with empty soda pop bottles to provide light and cheap flotation in case of a turnover.  When canoe camping then the bottles are removed and replaced with camp gear for the overnight stay.

But all those bags are covered with dozens of straps with loose ends that flap in the wind while riding on my Jeep canoe racks so as to whip the Jeep roof and make an awful racket. The loose ends are also dangerous I case of a turnover and could wrap around an arm or leg and cause an entrapment. It took me a couple of hours to trim and tape off the ends of all those straps. 

Then I moved on to adding carabiners to my kayak deck cords to hold a paddle handle and make a self-rescue device with a paddle float.  Many kayaks are manufactured with a groove in the deck under bungee cords to hold the paddle handle. My Romany Excel does not have the groove, so I had to invent my own system.

On the rainy, chilly Saturday of February 25, 2023, I wanted to paddle my kayak or canoe. But the last couple of times I tried that I found that my sore left hip, which is scheduled for joint replacement surgery in a couple of weeks, interfered too much with my balance and flexibility.  So, I tried biking the Neusiok Trail in Croatan National Forest, to see if it was more manageable. 

This was the section to the north of where the trail crosses NC Hwy 306. I was able to bike, but poorly.  Despite the national forest being essentially flat, and the trails mostly smooth, with no rocks, I found the Neusiok to be surprisingly rough.  Most of the trail was crenelated with endless pine tree roots which were high, hard, and lumpy. Plus everything was wet and slick; the trail had mud puddles; and there were some stump holes.

I never fell over or hit the ground, but I came close dozens of times.  In the end, I felt too unstable to keep on with the project.  For the next month and a half during my hip surgery and recuperation I will need to fall back on walking city and county park trails, and YMCA workouts for physical conditioning.

In addition to my Garmin Montana 700i GPS, I also navigated with the All Trails app on my cell phone. It worked great! I can recommend this app enthusiastically.  The app found the trail and my location quickly, is accurate, the map is easy to read while on the move, and is considerably easier to operate than the Montana.  But the Montana is still a necessary tool for outdoor trips because it operates by satellite access when outside of cell phone range; it allows the exchange of text messages with folks back home; and sending 911 SOS requests.

New Bern, NC, is not right on the sea-coast; it is inland about 30 miles. But it lies at the junction of the Neuse River and the Trent River.  Its waters are stained dark with the tannin from the cypress and oak trees.  The land is mostly swampy.  Everywhere that I have lived the outdoors people there engaged in a wide range of activities.  New Bern sportsmen and women have the most uniform interest in that more people here kayak than any other activity by far.  Right downtown just a few blocks from the Tryon Palace are several pockets of swampy wilderness where I can paddle.

In the early afternoon of February 21, I canoed one of those pockets.  The put-in and take-out were in the parking lot behind the New Bern Town Recreation Department.  The trail followed Lawson Creek to where it joined the larger Trent River, which then joined the much larger Neuse River. 

The trip held several significant elements for me.  First, I had recently sold my canoe and kayak, trading up for lighter and sleeker boats of each type. This trip was my first in the new canoe. It had many features similar to my prior canoe, but it was lighter and wider, with harder chines, which changed the handling characteristics. Second, I had spent right many hours changing the outfitting to hopefully store and deploy my gear more efficiently and smoothly, like the pump, bladder, paddle float, map, and so on. Third, I have had for several years a technical and complex Garmin Montana 700i GPS, but I had just recently read the manual, gone through all the screens and programed the functions to suit my needs.  I wanted for the first time on this trip to test the GPS by marking waypoints, planning a route, and following it “live” on the water. Fourth, at 70 years of age and needing a second hip joint replacement surgery, I am getting less steady in all my sports. I was nervous that I would lose my balance and fall into the chilly creek, necessitating a long, cold, difficult self-rescue. Lastly, the older I get the less strength and stamina I have, so I have to sometimes dial back my expectations of speed and distance covered.

This trip was a mixed bag of results.  I am glad I went because I made significant progress in assessing my and my equipment’s capabilities and needed improvements.  But several things failed, including one item miserably.

The new canoe worked well.  The lighter weight made it easier to load, unload and haul around by hand. The extra width and harder chines made it a little more stable.

The outfitting of equipment was somewhat better, but not good enough.  I used a hiking day pack in place of a true, sleek, deck bag.  It was clunky and slid around too much. I will need to replace it with a real deck bag. I still need to test my self-rescue invention of two C-clamps with two paddle-handle carabiners to use with a paddle float and get back in my boat. The water bladder with a hose worked better than a screw-top canteen.

The Montana 700i was an idiotic bust.  I had spent many hours over many days programming all the functions to suit me. Then the night before this paddle trip I plugged it into my computer and upgraded the operating system and the maps.  When I tried to use it on the water nothing was working right and the icons were all mixed up.  The GPS tried to route me back to the put-in by leaving the creek and traveling down city streets!  Later that evening I called Garmin support and found that the program has a glitch.  When the customer does an upgrade then it resets the whole GPS back to factory settings!  How completely stupid!  To me, that makes the device nearly worthless.  I gave the staff person a firm tongue-lashing. He apologized profusely and offered me a $120 discount on a related product that may work better.

My balance was less sure than some years ago but acceptable, I suppose.  I wobbled a few times but did not fall into the drink. 

My fitness and stamina were unacceptably low.  After about a mile and a half hour, my arms and shoulders were so sore that I could hardly paddle. Also, my back, hips, knees, and ankles were stiff and uncomfortable.  I will need to take many, many more paddle trips to build up my strength and flexibility.

I am glad I went paddling, but I have a lot of progress to make.

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