Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hire a Fossil Collecting Guide?

I've always collected fossils on my own, for years, beginning with shark tooth trips with my Parents, sitting on the beach digging holes in the sand, sifting with our fingers, and finding shark teeth.  We found jars of them.  Later in life, I sought out better specimens and explored various sites in my region.  I expanded my collecting to the inland formations, searching the Devonian fossil beds for older material.  I did this on my own, with my daughter, and a few friends along the way.  I never imagined going with a guide to fossil collect...until recently.

Cathy Young, of Mid-Atlantic Fossil and Nature Adventures, contacted me via a fossiling friend, to help on one of her trips, using my boat to transport kids that were attending her paleontology camp to various local spots only reachable by boat, and some on private property where access is extremely limited except by her and her experts, who have permission on those sites.  I agreed to help and was very curious about her program.

As it turns out, looking back on my experience, Cathy, her experts, the volunteers helping as boaters and guides, really impressed me, not only on their knowledge, but how great they were with the campers attending her paleontology camp.  My bonus was to see a couple sites that I've never been to.  I didn't have much time to collect, as I had to be ready to move when the experts were ready to move.  That included gathering the campers assigned to my boat and keeping track of them so we could move quickly and safely.
Cathy Young is so nice and knowledgeable, and it was my honor to help her service out during the paleontology camp.  Cathy is the proprietor of the Mid-Atlantic Fossil and Nature Adventures.
The 2015 Paleontology Camp Experts:
In addition to Cathy, who is an expert in her own right, the experts, some world renowned, participate in each of Cathy's trips or activities, that occur from New York South to Alabama, ranging from fossil and mineral collecting expeditions to nature trips.  The experts for each trip specialize in the subject matter and location for each trip.

The 2015 paleontology camp had two experts.  I missed the first night's presentation by world renowned Dr. Bretton W. Kent, the author of one of my most prized books, Fossil Sharks of the Chesapeake Bay Region, that is so helpful for identification purposes.  I couldn't get off work earlier enough to make the trek down to where we were staying.  I did, however, get to meet him at breakfast the next morning, and that was a treat in itself.  Other than some small talk, I pretty much found myself tongue tied!

The other expert at the camp was Dr. Lauck "Buck" Ward, retired Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH), and is currently a Curator Emeritis at VMNH.  I was fascinated by everything that he said, because there were teaching moments for all of us, the volunteers and the campers.  He had a way with the campers too, seemingly grumpy at first, but they all loved him, and I believe the feeling was mutual for him as well.  I really enjoyed talking with him as he answered my endless questions.
Dr. Lauck "Buck" Ward presenting his fossils to the campers.  He had a way with the campers that grabbed their attention, taught them and made it fun for them.
Dr. Ward provided enthusiastic discussion on the geology, formations, and fossils of each site that we visited as the campers collected fossils of all kinds, including fossilized shells, shark teeth and other vertebrate fossils.
Dr. Ward in action teaching both campers and volunteers at one of the collecting sites.
Campers and volunteers having a great time collecting fossils at one of the sites.

Some of the campers and a volunteer searching for fossils along the beach of one of the sites.
Cathy's paleontology camp included all kinds of activities after collecting hours, most were organized, others just happened.  Meals were entertaining, and each evening there was a presentation about fossils and geology for the campers, and even a session about how to construct a necklace for shark teeth found during the trip!
One of the unplanned activities during free time between volunteers and campers was a water balloon fight.  At first, there seemed to be distinct teams, but eventually it was a free for all.  At any rate, I avoided getting wet, but many became drenched.
I was very impressed with the program itinerary.  It was very organized and well planned.  Everyone seemed to find their share of fossils and had a great time, campers and volunteers alike.  If the other trips are as well planned and organized as the paleontology camp, and in my mind there is no doubt of that, then you may have a great time attending one of Cathy's trips.  I'd say the trips are worth every penny spent.  You'll get to meet and collect with experts to some places that are off limits to most people, and others where access is limited.

So, would I hire a guide?  I'd say yes, and in this case, you'd get your money's worth.  I plan on attending trips as a customer in the future along with my daughter.

For more information, you can visit the website  Mid-Atlantic Fossil and Nature Adventures, or email Cathy Young at  You have a chance to find some great fossils and learn from the experts at the same time.  More importantly, you'll have fun.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Want Your Largemouth Big? Fish a Jig!

It was a cool fall day. We had a really good morning plastic worm bite catching big fish consistently.  Around mid-morning, the action died.  Did the fish move?  Did we catch them all?  I didn't think so, it was a classic fall spot.  It had plenty of structure with weeds, next to deep water.  The sonar lit up like a Christmas tree all around the area especially in deep water, so there was plenty of bait nearby.  Yeah, the fish were there.  They had to be.

I tied on a black and blue jig, leaving a chewed up plastic worm as the trailer, and tossed it out, let it sink, keeping a tight line as the jig fell.  All of a sudden, the line went slack as I felt a tap, so I set the hook hard and my rod stopped as if I'd set into a rock, but all of a sudden there were head shakes.  The fat largemouth lept out of the water trying to throw the hook as I plunged my rod down into the water to prevent it.  It failed in it's next attempt to dislodge the hook after rocketing under my boat hull, and I finally brought it to the surface and netted it.  That first fish went 19 inches long.

After that, the action continued all morning as I caught 17 more fat bellied largemouth bass, all over 18 inches and my 5 biggest over 20 inches long, with the largest one being 22.5 inches long!  Man, did they ever love that jig that day.  My love for skirted jigs and efforts to reincorporate them into my daily bass fishing arsenal finally paid off.  What a day!

This was one of five fat largemouth over 20 inches that fall day that fell for my jig and eel combo.

My jig and eel combo from that day that caught a bunch of bass like the one pictured above, and in the basses mouth in the picture below.  Plastic worms make great trailers, by the way.
A few years ago, one of my goals was to become proficient in flipping and pitching skirted jigs because they catch big bass.  There is no questioning that.  Denny Brauer became famous on the B.A.S.S. circuit catching massive limits, winning tournaments and tons of money using them, as have others over the years.  They aren't new by any means, but one thing is for certain, when that jig bite is on, it's big bass time.
This largemouth bass hammered this jig and eel combination.
Now let me just say right now that I've always been a believer in these lures.  Many years ago, I fished them from shore and from my boat and landed quite a number of good sized largemouth bass.  But, for some reason, given the effectiveness of soft plastics, I sort of got away from using them.  A few years ago, upon remembering those good times, I was determined to make it part of my arsenal again.

My first step to meet that goal a few years ago was to replace my old flipping rod.  I purchased a Powell Max medium heavy pitching rod and an Ardent flipping reel.  I didn't care for the reel, so it has since been shelved.  Instead, I use my old Shimano Castaic, which to this day I feel is the best pitching reel that I've ever owned.  I spooled up some Power Pro braid, and I was in business.  By the way, I don't believe that the fish care about seeing the line, so I tie directly to the lure.  I set the hook very hard and found myself snapping off fluorocarbon leaders, so heck with that.  So far, so good without the leader.
My current pitching/flipping rig consists of the Powell MH pitching rod teamed with a Shimano Castaic Reel.  I love this combo.
The next step was to practice.  I stood on a stool in my back yard every night and pitched jigs of different sizes into a coffee cup.  At first, I started close in, about 15 feet away, and missed often.  Then, I got the hang of it.  I practiced every night, moving the cup further away, and eventually was able to put it in the cup most of the time, or at least hit it at distances out to 30 feet.  After that, I used multiple cups and pitched or flipped to all of them.  It was fun to practice too.  One evening, a mockingbird chased my jig a few times making it more interesting.  I had to reel it in quickly to keep the bird from getting hooked.  I couldn't wait to put my skills into action, and it didn't take long for the fish to cooperate.

Jigs are awesome.  They come in plenty of colors, sizes, head shapes, and they can be teamed with many different types of trailers, ranging from pork to soft plastic ones in a zillion shapes and sizes.
My last outing had this box with a decent selection of jigs and trailers, along with some Carolina rig supplies and a few odds and ends.  I carry a box of jigs every time I go largemouth fishing now.  

This green pumpkin jig and plastic craw combo not long ago caught a nice bass and chain pickerel on back to back pitches.  I may have caught more on it that day, but I didn't pull it out until the end of the day.  Prior to that, we were on a good chatterbait bite.
Chain pickerel and other predatory fish love skirted jigs too!   This medium sized chainside inhaled my jig and eel.
So here's the deal, everyone knows jigs work.  They catch plenty of fish and more often than not, they'll be big.   Don't take my word for it, read up on other successes or check out the countless articles in fishing magazines and on-line forums.  Better yet, if you haven't tried them, give them a try, and don't give up!  Some day, they'll pay off for you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What the ??? Interesting Fishing Stuff

Big fish pictures always catch my attention when viewing forums or Facebook, but often the ones that I get a kick out of are the unusual photographs of unusual things that happen to us while we are outdoors.  So, in the spirit of the blog revival, I thought that I'd share a few of my favorites.

I love big fish pics, as I said earlier.  Even more interesting are views of the business end of a predatory fish, like this lake trout caught by Bob Barber:

OK, so this is a catfish.  So what?  Well, for us, in our small fishing circle, it means quite a bit.  This fish is a flathead catfish, not from these parts.  Yep, they're invasive.  Even more unusual, is that my buddy Mark caught it on a plastic worm!

It took me a couple hours to pick out this backlash of expensive heavy braided line.  You can bet I'm not wasting that money if I can fix it.  The only problem, is, which one took the most time to straighten out, the backlash or the mustache?

Last year, my friend Howard and I were fishing for bass and chain pickerel on the Eastern Shore, and I had a fish slam my Rat-L-Trap very hard.  However, there was little fight after a couple head shakes.  The fish came in like a wet sock.  Here's why:

So the fish above cooperated so much it hooked itself twice.  Here's a dinky smallmouth bass that I caught a month ago that wasn't even hooked while wading a local river.  The hook was wedged between the upper and lower jaw!  Pretty smart little fish, eh?

While fishing with my buddy Ed one day out of his boat, he saw something on the bottom.  It's not every day that you see a wagon wheel!

How about the business end of a pumpkinseed sunfish?  Check out this fat one:

Largemouth bass will eat anything that fits in their mouth, but a line clipper?

My good friend Rodger found a great way to catch crayfish.  I'm not sure it's all that productive though:

My buddy Howard shows us the business end of the toothy chain pickerel:

This pic speaks for itself...where's the TV?

How about snagging your crankbait on a stump, and while trying to shake it free so as to not spook a good fishing hole, a fish bites your snagged crankbait?  Yep, it happened:

What does it look like when your buddy tromps through slush and ice faster than you do to get to your fishing hole?  Yeah, that's my good friend Jim Cumming far in the distance.  No, he wasn't drinking!

We'll leave on that note...until next time my fishing friends!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Fat Boy's Outdoors Blog Revival

Well my guilt has been overpowering, and with no excuse for lack of time right now due to a long bout with food poisoning, it's time to revive Fat Boy's Outdoors Blog.  I apologize to followers and readers of this blog for my absence.  Call it writers block, call it lack of motivation, or just call it lazy, whatever funk I've been in ends with this post.  I'll resume weekly posts, articles, and anything else that comes to mind in the outdoors world that I share with my friends and family.  This week, however, I'll try and post daily, if not every other day.

I'll start with some highlights since my last post, today, it's about fishing.  How about some noteworthy catches since then!  I would say my most memorable catch was that I all but tied my personal best striped bass catch at 45 1/2" long, a half inch shorter than my longest, but this fish was much fatter.  I caught this beast casting a Bomber Magnum Long A minnow bait, cranking it was fast as I could with stops and jerks along the way.
This may be the biggest rockfish (a.k.a. striped bass or striper) that I've ever caught.  My hands were cramped after the catch, and I shook for about a half hour from shock!
I knew this was a different class of fish when I hooked it.  The rod in the background of the picture was my buddy's rod and reel combo.  I was actually using an XH musky rod and reel combo, and this fish still took me around the boat three times during the fight.  My buddy Steve Kelley and I will never forget that experience.
Despite the net being seemingly a bit undersized, my buddy Steve expertly lead this fish into the bag!
My buddies and I made the trek to fish the Niagara River and had a great time.  For the first time, being the stubborn sort, I fly fished the majority of the time.  I managed to land several lake trout on the fly, including this one caught stripping a chartreuse wooley bugger.  It's not the biggest lake trout that I've ever landed on the fly, but it sure was a brute, leaving my forearm cramped and my knees knocking.
I love catching these fish on the fly, what a thrill!
Not all fish that are memorable are mine.  My friend Mark McWilliams caught the biggest laker that I've ever seen in person.  This picture still blows my mind.
This lake trout is massive.  The picture does not do it justice.  Incredible fish Mark!
Now, that was an amazing trip, and I have to acknowledge the incredible angling ability of my friend Bob Barber.  His ability to establish a pattern on the Niagara and many other bodies of water that he fishes is incredible.  He had the fish dialed in, landing big lakers and steelhead often, including this beauty.
Here's Bob with one of his many fish caught on that trip.  He had the fish dialed in. 
And kudos to Bob's Son Carson, nicknamed by our circle of friends as "Carson Van Dam" or "CVD"  due to his knack of putting fish in the boat at his young age, for not only catching his share of fish on that trip, but for netting many of them.  He was always first to the net and became quite the net man.  Perfect?  Not yet, but he's as good as many that I've fished with.  He'll be perfect soon, you can count on that.
CVD in action!
I have more fishing to catch up on, some with the "how to" format, and some more as updates to specific trips in future blog posts.  I've had plenty of good action of the past two years, too much for one post, although not enough fishing trips for my liking in total.  I hope to change that over the next few years, to get out more, and post here.

Thanks for your patience in waiting for my posts, and I hope that the past two years fared well for you!