Sunday, December 29, 2019

Socked In

The weather forecast last evening called for a slight chance of rain this morning so when I talked to David Dailey yesterday we both agreed that it was a go to meet and go fishing - but maybe we should bring our rain gear just in case!  When I got up this morning the forecast called for minimal rain the first couple of hours but then definite rain the last part of our trip, and for once, the weather guru's were right!

We met out at the Amelia Island Marina and made a quick run down the intercoastal to dip into Jackstaff and then up a small creek where
we set up to fish float rigs and live shrimp on an incoming tide. It didn't take long and these anglers - David's wife Marley, and their adult sons Will and Alex - were catching a few Seatrout. After we moved over to a larger creek and fished to no avail, Will switched to a jig and shrimp and picked up a nice sized Whiting on the bottom (all fish caught today were released).

After running thru Horsehead we made a brief stop at some docks at Seymour's Pointe then continued on down to Spanish Drop. Just as we were getting set up we could see the rain coming across the marsh from the south east so we all donned our rain gear and kept on fishing!  Both David and Alex picked up some hungry Seatrout drifting a float back to a point of grass while Will stayed with the jig, fishing a creek mouth, and he reeled in an aggressive Blue Crab!

The wind was beginning to pick up and the rain had continued so we pulled anchor and ran back to Seymore's where we were somewhat protected. This turned out to be our most productive spot. They all caught Seatrout and a good handful of them were of keeper size. Facing the 15 minute run back to the marina in the rain, we pointed it north and headed in and still counted it as another great day to be fishing here at Amelia Island, Florida

Friday, December 13, 2019

From Cane To Cane Syrup

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to an old time cane grind'n - sugar cane that is. My friend Daniel "Bubba" Rhodes had planted a patch of cane back in March as an experiment "just to see if he could do it" and it was time to be harvested and he put out the notice that he could use some help in getting it squeezed. Luckily, Daniel did the hard part Friday and cut, leafed and topped the cane and loaded it into his pickup truck and attached trailer and then hauled it to the cane grinder guy(Mr. W.)on the north side of Jacksonville. All we had to do was show up!

A couple of hundred years ago evidently farmers would hitch up a mule to a long pole then someone would either ride or lead the mule around and around the grinder while folks fed the cane thru the grinding wheels and collected the juice on the other side. Then they'd tote the juice to a huge cast iron pot and cook it down to syrup.  Mr. W. told Daniel that he'd need about 500 stalks of cane to fill his pot. We met out at the "farm" and began grinding at about 7:30 in the morning. Mr. W. had biscuits and sausage and coffee for everyone.

Mr. W. had two electric grinders - one was a 1/2 HP built in the 1930's in Jacksonville and the other was a newer model 2HP and boy did it squeeze some juice. Mr high school buddy Raymond Keen and I were shoving cane thru the smaller grinder while Daniel and his friend and neighbor Monroe worked at the other one.  It took no time at all to begin to pile up a huge pile of waste that collected on a chain link "sled" that Mr. W. said he'd drag off into the woods after we were all done.

Both mills were set up in such a way that the juice was routed thru some removable PVC pipes into the cooking shed and drained thru a rack with burlap bags acting as a strainer.  The grinder that Raymond and I were on eventually got in a bind (I was advised not to put two big stalks thru it, just a big 'un and a little 'un, but I miscalculated) and the grinder came to a halt. Yep, I broke it. By the time we got if fixed we were able to move the whole operation over to the newer grinder.

Eventually Mr. W. called for a halt - the big cast iron vat was full!  He had some huge propane tanks outside the shed that were piped in to multi-burner unit under the vat; Mr. W. said years ago they would use wood, but that made it more difficult to moderate the temperature. He fired it up and we soon found that the cooking needed to be watched constantly and the temperature adjusted on occasion.

All told, the cane juice cooked for about 4 1/2 hours. At first, there was a big "scum" of impurities that accumulated on top of the cooking juice. Mr. W. and his grandson monitored the cooking process continually and every once in a while they'd take some home made skimmers and take the scum off of the top of the juice. I assume they were adjusting the heat as needed.

Eventually they didn't have to skim anymore and then they really let it cook. If you look at the above picture you can see a large SS ring hanging over Mr. W's right shoulder; it fit perfectly over the iron vat and once the temperature was just right, the foam with it's impurities would spill over and be filtered thru some croaker sacks that lined the ring(click on the video to the left). Every once in while we'd remove those sacks, take them out in the yard and rinse them, and put them back for some more filtering.

This went on for a couple of hours. The cooking shed was hot and steamy but when you stepped in for a peek you could begin to smell the syrup! Those in charge (and boy did they know what they were doing!) knew when to lift the SS ring from the vat and remove the croaker sack filters and then three of them surrounded the vat and began taking rags and wiping the edge of the vat as the last of the impurities bubbled to the edge.   I don't know how they did it - it seemed like this process took an hour of wiping, wiping, cleaning their cloth, wiping, wiping, cleaning their cloth.  Even though we had some cooler temperatures that morning, it was hot and steamy in the cooking shed!

We were getting close to the end of the process!   Mr. W. must have known it was getting close - he said he could tell when the syrup began to "fall" in the vat and no amount of heat could bring it back up. (click on video to the left) The foam on top was light and airy and had turned a beautiful golden color. But Mr. W.  instructed his grandson(he knew what to do - he'd been doing this with his grandfather since he was a little kid) to use a hydrometer to test the liquid; they had a homemade PVC contraption that the hydrometer fit down in and  with one hand holding the hydrometer at arms length, he dipped out some of the syrup and poured it in. It only took a time or two over the course of a few minutes and they pronounced it ready.

The heat was shut off and two guys took some home made dippers and begin to take turns dipping the hot syrup into a modified beer keg that had a spigot down at the bottom.  Once all the syrup had been dipped out, the vat was quickly cleaned with water while it was still hot.

Daniel provided the bottles and caps and Mr. W. began to pour off the syrup into bottles. I had the honor of  putting the caps on the bottles but was warned to "grab them at the top" because boy were they hot! But I didn't drop a single one!

I had seen parts of this process a couple of times in my life. Once was over in the Branford, Florida area when I was young boy. I vaguely remember a tractor attached to along pole that went around the grinder. We must not of hung around because I don't remember any of the cooking. Also as a young boy, I remember my dad taking me out past the interstate in Yulee to a "grinding" and here they were  cooking the syrup.  So approximately 50 years ago!  This time I got to experience the entire operation and boy was it a treat!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Nasty Front Moving In

Yesterday we had record high temperatures here at Amelia Island but today we woke up to gloomy skies with a nasty front moving our way. I've already cancelled Thursday and Friday bookings!  But this morning was "fishable" so I met John Cipriani and his fishing buddies Dean and Bill, and Bill's daughter Sydney also came along for the fun!  We met at the Amelia Island Marina and this time we headed south, down the intercoastal to dip into Jackstaff, then into a small creek, to set up fishing a large run out with float rigs and live shrimp.  The weather was outstanding - just a bit cool and only a slight breeze.

BAM! The fish started biting almost immediately. We caught one Trout after another - all 11-14" in length and we were beginning to think they were all the same fish until Sydney(the rookie) hooked up and landed a nice keeper sized one. Once the bite slowed, we made the run thru Horsehead and set up at a grassy pointe to cast and let our floats drift by. Again, we had good action on Trout, but then
John's float slowly went under and he had a strong hookup and Fish ON!  John fought the fish patiently and after a good battle landed a big 21" Sheepshead - a fish big enough to take a last minute first place in the Angler's Mark 2019 Bragging Rights Tournament-Sheepshead Category(scroll down the right side of this report for standings).

We didn't quite fathom that we were sheltered from the wind until when moved on down to Pumpkin Hill and set up to fish a grass patch and found that the wind had picked up, the skies had gotten greyer, and the chill was more noticeable.   We fished for just a bit but had no real bites so we moved back to the mouth of Christopher Creek. We were sheltered here but the fish just didn't bite.

Our final stop was back at some docks at Seymore's Pointe, partly because it was somewhat sheltered,  it was on the way back, and we could fish some jigs up by the dock pilings. The front was really moving in and the mist was so thick it looked like a huge fog bank. But when these anglers began to catch fish the weather was forgotten!  In just a short period of time they landed six keeper sized Black Drum, some smaller ones, and a few more keeper sized Seatrout, all on jigs and live shrimp.

Heading back to the marina we were running right into the wind and the mist which made for a cold ride, but the Sea Born 24" bay boat were in was cruising smoothly and we made it back to the Marina in no time. Although the weather went bad in a hurry, we still counted it as another great day to be fishing here at Amelia Island, Florida.

Record Heat for December

I fished with Bob Blalock Tuesday morning, meeting him out at the Amelia Island Marina. The Angler's Mark is down for repairs this month and luckily a friend of mine offered the use of his new Sea Born 24' bay boat for a couple of trips.

We ran up the intercoastal to Lanceford Creek, back in there a ways, and found a grass patch to fish with float rigs and live shrimp on the very first of an outgoing tide.  There wasn't much happening but Bob did get a Trout or two before we eased over to a dock that usually holds a nice
Trout but had no luck there.

After cruising over to Soap Creek and set up to fish a large run out and here things picked up. We caught one Trout after another, drifting the float rig in the current and a few of these were of "keeper" size(all fish caught today were released). When the bite slowed we eased up along the marsh bank and fished some submerged oysters and picked up 3-4 small but feisty Redfish, and then another Trout.  That slowed, so we dropped back to the original spot - the tide had been going out for a bit - and sure enough, the Trout began to bite again - again, a couple were of keeper size.

Our next stop after a good run was over at the mouth of Jolly, fishing some oysters that were just exposed with the tide drop. I had a couple of outstanding trips the week of Thanksgiving at this spot, but it wasn't happening today. We fished further up Jolley for a bit, then tried the logs at Tiger, then headed back to the marina.  I heard on the radio that it was a record high temperature for our area and it was a great day to be fishing here at Amelia Island, Florida.