Palm Springs weekend

In late September, my wife Jan, my sister Susan and I spent a long weekend in the Palm Springs area (apologies to y’all who’ve already seen some of these pictures on Facebook). Ostensibly, the original reason for the trip was a visit to the Thornton Winery in Temecula, to catch the Dave Koz Summer Horns tour. We saw this show last year in High Point at the Coltrane festival, and it was great! We had some Wyndham points we needed to use, and found a nice place to stay in Indio, at the east end of the Coachella Valley, about 25 miles from Palm Springs proper. We flew out on Wednesday, and up until the concert Saturday night, our plans were pretty fluid. We knew we wanted to see Joshua Tree National Park and visit some of the Temecula wineries, but that was about it. Susan found out about the Palm Springs Tram to the San Jacinto state park, and we decided to try that. Honestly, this was the highlight of the trip for me! We found out that Palm Springs is way more than casinos, golf and tennis :-)

The valley is at an altitude of less than 500 feet, and is hot, even in September. It was over 100 Wednesday afternoon when we drove in from LAX, but the palms were lush and there seemed to be no water shortage in this area. Thursday morning, we drove west from Indio to Palm Springs, went up the access road to the tram. It climbs to 2600′ in 2.5 miles. The Tram then goes up to 8500′ in about 10 minutes, taking you to the mountain forest from the desert, and dropping about 30 degrees F. We decided to head toward San Jacinto Peak, which is 5.5 miles (11 mile round trip) from the tram, and at an elevation of 10,834′. The trail goes through a beautiful forest, on the way to the peak.

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The summit is a rocky boulder pile, but it did have a picture-worthy sign.

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However, the views are fantastic. The peak is over 10,000′ higher than the valley, a perspective you don’t often get except from a plane.

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Friday, we headed 25 miles east from Indio to Joshua Tree National Park. We’d been advised (by folks we met on the summit of San Jacinto!) to start on the south end by I10, and drive across the park to experience the changes in the terrain and ecosystems. You start in the Sonoran Desert zone near I10, hot, with creosote bushes as the dominant flora on the valley floors. The road crosses the Pinto Flat and begins to climb. As it gets higher and cooler, you pass into the Mojave Desert zone, and the vegetation starts to change, with the eponymous Joshua Tree (a species of yucca) as the indicator species.

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There is a huge variety of plant life and varied topography in Joshua Tree NP, and the recommendation to drive across is a great one. We stopped at Key View, an overlook of the Coachella Valley from approximately 5000′. We hiked up Ryan Mountain, at 5400′ the highest in the park. Ryan Mountain is a stout 3 mile round trip hike, gaining about 1000′ from the trailhead, but it affords a 360 degree view.

Saturday, we said good-bye to the Coachella Valley, and headed up CA74 out of Palm Desert into the Santa Rosa mountains, through the Anza Valley, and to Temecula. The drive up CA74 is spectacular, as the road goes through so many hairpin turns you can’t count. If you drive this way, be sure to stop at the overlooks and marvel at the way the road winds back on itself. We arrived in Temecula around noon, and found that they were having a street festival and a massive traffic jam! We managed to get through and headed to the wine country. There are so many wineries clustered near Temecula, it’s amazing…at least 25 or so in just a few miles on Rancho California Road. We hardly knew where to start ;-) . Some are very big, and others are much more intimate. The first one we really liked was Weins, and if you go, I’d recommend it. Fantastic wines, and a very relaxing, friendly tasting room. We tried several others, but the first was the best! We ended our day at Thornton Winery for dinner and the Summer Horns concert. Our dinner table was in the center front of the dining area, but we’d hoped to be a bit closer to the stage. However, we realized that the owner’s table was next to ours, and we didn’t feel so bad ;-) . The concert was great, though the dinner itself was just average. They do have a Nebbiolo that was outstanding, though!

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After the concert, we headed a bit up the interstate toward LA, found a motel and stayed a short night, before we headed to LAX to catch the return flight to RDU. A great trip, and learned a lot about this part of southern California.

Shenandoah Smallmouth

I had a chance to get away for a long weekend with my fishing buddy, Sam. We needed a smallmouth bass trip, weighed our options and the weather, and headed to the South Fork of the Shenandoah. We’d decided to camp, and headed for the Shenandoah River Outfitters near Luray, VA. When we got there, they asked, “do you have reservations?” That’s always a bad sign. I’d checked their website and it was showing clear availability all month, even on the weekends. Seems that was not really the case. They said they could give us Thursday and Friday night, but not Saturday. Fortunately, they had a cancellation, and we ended up with a site for the entire weekend (plan B was a motel in Luray). It’s a decent place to camp, but it sure is kinda crazy on the weekend as they manage the tubers, canoeists, and rafters. I’d never seen a 36-canoe trailer before, but they have a couple of them! We got there in time to cook dinner and then go out to wade fish a bit before dark. We tried an access point a couple miles downriver from the camp. Sam caught a couple of bass, and I got a nice fallfish, on a popper, no less! As it got too dark to wade in fast water, we headed back to strategize about our float plan for Friday.

We decided to float from Foster’s Landing to Seekford Landing, which is 5 miles. We used the trusty “bicycle shuttle” (me dropping off Sam at the upstream point with the boats, and leaving the truck at the takeout, and biking back. Saved a shuttle fee of about $50 ;-) . Here’s a shot of me as we were ready to start out.

Joel at Foster's Landing

Joel at Foster’s Landing

We floated from about 11AM until 5PM, and both had good fishing all day. We each caught 25 or so smallmouth plus additional sunfish and fallfish. No big bass, but they were all hard-hitting and acrobatic. Here’s a typical fish…

Shenandoah smallmouth

Shenandoah smallmouth

I caught almost all of mine on a brown crayfish pattern. It was working for me, so why change a good thing? I was intrigued by the sunfish on the Shenandoah. They would hit in some very fast water, much more so than where I’m used to catching sunfish on a smallmouth river. When a fat sunnie gets sideways in current, you’ll think it’s a nice bass…except no jumps.

For Saturday, we decided after considerable thought, to wade fish. Sam wanted to show me the area below the Luray powerplant, where he’d had good success in the past. We headed up first thing in the morning. The problem was that the water was quite cloudy. I think that it was from the water coming over the dam, stirring up sediment that had settled out by the time it got a mile or so downriver. Anyway, we couldn’t see our feet, which is not good, and decided to go downstream. We fished Bixler’s Ferry access, Bealer’s Ferry access, Foster’s Landing and Seekford Landing. I did reasonably well, especially at Bealer’s. Sam didn’t connect on as many bass, but it was still a great day.

One thing that was an issue for us both floating and wading was the amount of aquatic grass. Many areas were almost matted down with it, making the fishing tough. Sam had fished the Shenandoah before but didn’t remember the grass being as dense. Maybe he was fishing earlier in the season. We weren’t sure. Anyway, it was a great weekend and good company. Sunday, we both needed to get back home so we packed up and drove the 4.5 hours back to central NC. Already looking forward to the next time I get a smallmouth on my line!

Sunfish on the Eno

June was a busy month, with most of my time dedicated to being Director of Shakori District Cub Scout Day Camp. I’d not been over to the Eno River lately, so with glorious low-humidity sunshine the weekend forecast, I decided to carve out some time for fishing today. I wanted to fish some of the long, deeper pools, so I packed my float tube instead of planning to wade.

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The stretch where I headed is one of the upper parts of the Eno River State Park, but it’s a place that’s very lightly used, even on a holiday weekend. I only saw two other people in the time I was there.

I hiked in from the road, carrying my float tube with pack straps for easier transport. The water was cool, low and clear. I started working some streamers up next to the banks, in the shady spots, and started catching lots of sunnies. Not big, but lots of fun.

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I spent the next 3 hours catching and releasing three or four dozen sunfish. I had a few hits on poppers, but mostly on a variety of streamers. I kept hoping for a largemouth but didn’t hook any. I saw many small, 6″ bass swimming in the shallows, but couldn’t find any bigger ones. It was a beautiful day, and I enjoyed the sound of the wind in the trees and the pleasant breeze that gently pushed me downstream.

Knowing I had a ways to bushwhack thru the summer undergrowth back upstream to the access trail, I decided it was time to head back home for a cold one…it’s sort of like walking downhill, you know you’ve got to hike back out!

It was a great day. I need to see if I can get one of my buddies to do this with me one day, and do a car shuttle and a longer float. Something to plan for next time.

Sound system for the boat

I’d been wanting a sound system for the Defined Benefit. We’d been using a battery-powered portable speaker system, but I really wanted something that was set up and ready to go at all times. The problem was that I didn’t want to mount one in the console (cutting a hole), nor cut holes for speakers, and pulling wires on a boat can be a real chore. So, what to do? I was browsing Overton’s and the solution jumped out at me! They had a Dual MCP420GH Bluetooth Receiver with a universal gimbal mount for a very attractive price. It came with a pair of 6.5″ speakers, but I didn’t want to use those (remember, I’d have to cut holes in something), so I just put them back for possible future use. I got a pair of waterproof Poly-Planar MA840 Sub-Compact 3″ box speakers, because what I planned to do was suspend them from the T-top. The receiver itself I mounted in the electronics box of the T-top, next to the VHF radio. I had plenty of open connectors and fuseblock slots there. The gimbal mount had a plastic front cover, which I removed, as the electronics box is already weatherproof. I drilled two small holes in the electronics box, one on each side, through which I ran the speaker wire, and sealed with marine caulking. The speakers themselves I suspended from rails on the T-top, holding them in place with heavy duty cable ties. This means that if at some time I want to reposition the speakers, or buy a nicer set of speakers with more sound, I can easily do so…or add a second pair, and reposition these facing a different direction.

The results are great! The receiver works well for Bluetooth pairing with my iThings ;-) for both streaming audio and hands-free calling (not that hands-free calling is something I honestly think will be very useful on a boat!) FM radio reception is good, with the flexible wire antennae coiled up behind the radio (it’s good enough to get eastern NC classic rock station WSFL which is all I want, other than Bluetooth from the iThings!). The speakers are decent. The reviews were that they worked well, but just didn’t have a lot of punch…but what do you expect for a pair of $55 speakers? The whole package was under $200, and I’m a happy camper.

White Bass at Penny’s Bend

Here in the Triangle area of the NC piedmont, we have two main runs of white bass from our local reservoirs, Jordan Lake and Falls Lake. One goes up the Haw River from Jordan Lake, and the other up the Eno River from Falls Lake. I’ve historically fished the Haw River run, but I’d not done so in several years. The Haw is a bit closer from my house, about 18 miles as opposed to the 27 miles to the Penny’s Bend area of the Eno. The weather was looking great this week, with temps in the 70’s and blue skies, with redbuds and dogwoods blooming…but the problem was that Monday of this week gave us heavy rain and flooding, with both rivers rising several feet. I decided to go to the Eno, as the Haw is a much bigger river win a bigger drainage and I figured that the Eno would be much more fishable on Thursday.

I wasn’t sure if I’d want my canoe, but I figured it could ride on my truck if I decided not to use it. So, canoe on top and with a load of flyrods in the cab, I took off for Penny’s Bend. When I got there about 11:30 (a dog walk, a workout, breakfast and 3 lattes can slow you down in the morning), I was not encouraged. The water was very stained from the week’s rain. There were a fair number of fishermen on the banks, sitting on 5-gallon buckets they hoped to fill with bass, but the rods were still. I grabbed my favorite 5-wt, as well as my backup ultralight spinning rod, as I was not sure if I could find a spot for a back cast. The banks were muddy and slick from the several feet of chocolate-colored water that had been coursing thru 3 days earlier. At the Old Oxford Road bridge, the Eno is about a short double-haul cast wide. I watched from the edge of the bridge a while, and decided the water was shallow enough to wade to a little island next to the main current just at the top of the main pool…if I could get down the muddy bank with inserting a flyrod up my…well, you get the idea :-) . Whew! Made it, and then into the cool, fast water. It was probably about 60F, but I didn’t take the temperature. I was wading wet, and the water, calf deep, felt good.

What fly to use? I decided to follow the old adage of a black fly in stained water. Tied on a black sparkle bugger, made a cast and wham! a small white bass on the first cast, aimed at the seam between the fast riffle and the eddy in the big, deep pool.

white bass 1(sm)

The next three casts brought 3 more fish! My streak broke on the fifth cast, however, as my bugger snagged a stick floating in the current. For the next hour or so, I was almost continually hooking and landing white bass. Almost all took my fly in a circle at the edge of the current no more than 20 feet across; with these bass, it’s all about finding a seam where the schools are traveling. These were not big fish by and large, but lots of fun to catch. So many, in fact, that they finally chewed up the bugger and I had to put on another one. A happy thing! By 1pm, the bite was slowing – I was still catching one every 5 minutes or so, but they were a bit bigger. My best fish of the day took the fly in the fast water, and stayed in the current, putting quite a bend in the 5-wt.

white bass 2(sm)

Another flyfisher arrived and took up a position on the other side of the riffle. He immediately caught one, but then no more. I was ready to go by then, as I’d really had my ticket punched. He slid into my spot as I climbed the bank (I found a better way up than down), and I wished him well and headed home for a cold beer!

A heckuva a nice spring day!

Shad fishing 2014…

The calendar said spring, but the weather was anything but springlike this morning when I headed to pick up Sam for our annual trip to Weldon. The temperature had dropped into the mid 20’s overnight, and was still below freezing when got to Sam’s house. It’s a good thing shad fishing is “civilized” with the bite being largely unaffected by time of day. We figured that by the time I navigated the traffic jam to his house, factoring the 1:45 hr drive to Weldon, we’d be on the Roanoke River by 10:30. And we were, but the temperature was still at freezing when we put the canoe in the river to paddle over to our favorite rock. We portaged the “big rapid” and set up shop at the top of “Little River,” a fork that creates a large island.

There was one boat anchored about 50 yards downstream of our rock, and they were catching fish. That’s a good spot they were in, but in a canoe it’s difficult to anchor and fish in such fast water. The flow was at 7400 cfs, higher than I’d like, but fishable (at that level, a river-knowledgeable captain can take a power boat up the rapids, but I would not want to do it at less than 10,000cfs) . The trick with shad is to find the right seam in the current and the right depth, along with the right color fly and right speed of retrieve…small differences can have a big impact on success. Our position was good, but not ideal given all the variables today. The fish were there, but not in the numbers we’ve seen on some trips. The water was still quite cold due to the late spring.

We started with pink flies and orange flies, but no strikes. We were using intermediate sink tips on 7wt rods. As much as anything, this is because you spend the day making long double-hauls, and it’s just easier with a rod with some body strength. Finally, since we weren’t catching anything, we hollered to the guys in the boat…”what color?” They said green and yellow. Tried that and started catching some fish. The sun went behind some clouds, the wind kicked up and I was seriously thinking about putting on my neoprene gloves, in late March! Geez, this is the South! After lunch, we tried some other colors, and pink produced as well as chartreuse. Go figure! All told, each of us caught 15-20 Hickory Shad. These are strong, acrobatic fish that will bend your rod.

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It was a good day. It’s great to catch up with Sam, and we each caught enough fish to be content. I’ve had days when I’ve caught more, but also days when I got skunked. Fishing, catching and fellowship. I need to do more of this…

Winter trout

Today was my second day this season to fish the lake at Camp Clearwater, a YMCA camp near Chapel Hill. It’s just 8 miles from my house, and the local TU chapter supports a winter trout fishery there. It has been winter for sure, even here in the south, and the north bank of the lake was still covered in snow and ice, though the temperature was in the upper 40’s under sunny blue sky. Naturally sustaining trout populations are usually at least a two hour drive for me, so this is a luxury. While these are annually stocked fish, the lake is several acres in size and the fish are often quite challenging to catch. In December, I fished hard all day and caught just a couple. However, today was different. Unusually, I outfished my buddy Sam, though I need to give him an “assist” as in basketball, since he tied the flies I used for about half the 15-20 fish I caught, including this very nice one:

joel with nice trout (medium)

Most of the fish I caught today were smaller like this one. However, they were often spunky and acrobatic, with many jumps:

smaller trout (medium)

I caught about half of the fish on a Chili Pepper streamer that Sam tied (including the big one), and most of the others on an olive fly with an orange front highlight that another fellow angler shared (he called it a “Diawa” but I can’t find a pattern; will have to reverse engineer!). Orange seemed to be the ticket today. Lest you think I’m a complete fly mooch, I did catch one on flashback pheasant tail I tied ;-) . When I wasn’t fishing the streamer, I had a dropper rig under a strike indicator with the flashback pheasant tail as the upper and the “Diawa” as the bottom.

It was a great day, with great fellowship. I’ll be sure to sign up for Clearwater days again next year.

Bring on spring!

Here in NC we often get spoiled by warm days in February, hinting of things to come. It’s been a cold winter here (I know, we are spoiled!) and I’m looking forward to spring. As I shoveled a few inches of snow and slush off the driveway today, the sun was warm and getting higher in the sky, the wind light, and the birds chirping. Soon, the shad will start their migration up the rivers from the sounds and Atlantic Ocean, and I was thinking about sunny March days, catching dozens of fish. I am looking forward to being able to (hopefully!) mesh my newly flexible schedule with the arrival of fish, warm days, and sunshine. In the mean time, I’ll enjoy a day of trout fishing this weekend at a local pond, stocked during cold weather…

Chartplotter/DSI installation

I’ve been running the Defined Benefit without a sonar (depth finder) since I bought it in September. I’d been waiting to get myself one for a Christmas present ;-) . It’s possible to spend big sums of cash on these things, depending on screen size and feature set (such as touch screen interface). I wanted something with GPS, stored waypoints and routes, the ability to use a NMEA 0183 interface to send position data to a VHF radio, a set of base charts, and, of course, good sonar function. I decided that screen size was a place for some savings, so I looked for the 4 and 5 inch screen units. I found a Lowrance Elite-4 DSI for $319, with a $100 rebate on top of that (Lowrance has just come out with new 4 and 5 inch models, and is flogging the stock of old ones).

I spent some time on a couple days this month getting it installed. Running the transducer wire to the console was a pain, as the pull cord in the conduit must have been wrapped around a wore or stuck on a cable tie. I ended up having to get a vinyl-coated flexible wire and pushing it thru the conduit. Then there was the question of whether to mount it on the console or in the T-top box (where a fused power connection was easily available; the console dashboard hookup on the DB is both quite full of wires and hard to access). I mounted it on the console, as a) the transducer cable, at 20 feet, wouldn’t reach the T, and b) my wife couldn’t see the display in the T! I realized that I needed to order an NMEA 0183 interface cable ($30), and pick up a spool of wire to connect to the power bus in the T, and to extend the NMEA interface cable, since it was only 6 feet long. Getting the wires to the T for the NMEA 0183 and power was more difficult than I’d hoped…I couldn’t get it pulled up from the bottom, so I had to switch and pull from top to bottom, and I to pull the wires one at a time, as the bundle wouldn’t make the turn in the frame otherwise.

With the wires in place, I could connect to the VHF and power. It powered up, and got a GPS fix and set the time/time zone. I powered up the radio, and there was the lat/lon on the display! I can tell the transducer is connected, as the temperature sensor was working, but until I put the DB into the water, I can’t test the sonar. Hope the transducer is positioned well.

I’m sure that saved myself at least a couple hundred bucks in installation fees, and likely more.

New Years Europe trip

We’re now a week back from our trip to London and Paris, and I’m finally back on US Eastern time, tho I am nursing a cold I’ll blame on traveling. It was a truly great trip, in spite of weather that could have been better. We (myself, Jan, and my sister Susan) flew direct between RDU and LHR, so that reduced some of the air travel stress. On arriving in London after the overnight flight, we were happy that one of our rooms was available for check-in at 8AM, as that gave us a chance to get organized for the day. Since it was raining, we opted to head to the British Museum, getting there about 10 (opening time) along with everyone else in London. However, we saw a lot (Susan had never been there before, and the last time Jan and I were there, it was a short visit) and it was a great start to the trip. We went back to the Chesterfield Mayfair to prop up our feet for a while. We had tickets to the G-Funk jazz show at Pizza Express in Soho, so we headed over there about 7:30PM to have a slice before the 8:30 show. We’d heard about this venue on internet radio, and it was outstanding. Imagine a basic pizza chain restaurant, where you go down into the basement to a room that seats about 75 people at tables, with about 10 feet between you and the performers. Miles Gilderdale (of Acoustic Alchemy) is the lead of G-Funk, and put on a fabulous show for 2 solid hours. If we lived in London, we’d be there all the time…

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On Tuesday, we slept in, knowing we’d stay up for the New Year’s fireworks, so we headed to Buckingham Palace a bit before 11 to see if the changing of the guards, or Horse Guards parade was going on. Alas, canceled due to blustery, rainy weather. We headed down the Victoria Embankment, went by St. Paul’s Cathedral, and then crossed the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern Gallery. We headed back for dinner at the Chesterfield Mayfair (quite nice) and then to the edge of St. James park to watch the fireworks. We’d read about this, and it lived up to expectations, despite the stiff breeze blowing the pyrotechnics.

New Year’s Day brought more rain but also the London New Year’s parade, featuring about 8500 participants and a half-million spectators. The parade stages on Picadilly and around Berkeley Square, just a couple blocks from our hotel, so we watched an hour or so before heating to West End for a matinee performance of Matilda. This is an excellent show, and we were fortunate to have seats on the 3rd row on the center aisle.

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We turned in early since we were catching the 0540 train to Paris. The weather actually sounded promising for the 2nd, with rain ending about the time we arrived in Paris, and sure enough, we got to Paris with clear skies and the sun coming up (at 9AM local time, with the hour difference from GMT). We took a cab from Paris Nord to Notre Dame, and then strolled toward the Louvre…to find a 4 hour line to buy tickets. We stood in line for about 30 minutes, and then a fortuitous chain of events transpired. Where is the “loo” at the Louvre queue? Google said try the Carosel du Louvre. I reconnoitered, and found not only a fine facility for 1.5€, but also a very short line to buy tickets at the Museum Pass shop. Some quick texting and we were in! Saw the high points (gee, the Mona Lisa is small from across a sea of people in the room) and absorbed the ambient culture :-) . Then, to the Tour d’Effiel. There was a ridiculous line for the elevator, so we stood on queue for about 45 minutes to walk up to level 2 (the top was closed). It was well worth the walk! We had dinner, admired the lights on the Tower, and strolled up to the Champs-Élysées. The Christmas lights were still up and were spectacular. However, we had a train to catch (the 2113 to London) so we headed to the station.

Friday the 3rd, we slept in, and then tried to ride the London Eye. However, it was shut down for technical problems while we were in line :-( (the Eye was due to shut for 2 weeks for annual maintenance on the 6th). Oh well. Grabbed some fish & chips at a pub near the hotel before the evening show of Les Misérables, which is my all-time favorite musical. We had the great fortune to have seats on row 4 for a great view.

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Saturday was our last full day, and we decided to visit the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, and to try the Eye one more time. Successful on both counts! Some Google homework for the reader – why is there a big blue cock in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square ;-) ? The Eye is spectacular, particularly after dark…

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What a great trip! Almost makes up for 9 hours cramped in an airplane seat, fighting the jet stream, headed back to North Carolina…