Thursday, October 22, 2009

Motobecane Fantom 29Pro SL Arrival

My new 29'er mountain bike, a Fantom 29Pro SL from BikesDirect, arrived last night. I was excited it shipped so quickly, but when I first saw the box, I was far from happy. UPS had managed to gouge four large holes in one side. However, after opening the package, I couldn't find any damage to the bike. All seems well so far.

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Below is a stock photo of the complete bike. I'm going to change out the grips and the pedals, add some rim strips, and perhaps install a longer seat post. At some point, I may also put on tires with a more aggressive tread. After assembly and some trail time, I'll post up a review here.

Click picture to enlarge.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Paradise Reopens

Fort Pickens Park, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, was closed for five years after Hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Dennis (2005) battered its home—the slender, peninsula-like Santa Rosa Island that protects Pensacola Bay. Finally, in May of this year, the rebuilt road to Fort Pickens was opened for public traffic. For fishermen, birders, campers, and history buffs, this reopening was welcome news.

Santa Rosa Island after Hurricane Ivan @

Back when I lived in Mobile, trips over to Pickens were fairly regular events, mainly because of the excellent fishing. With the island being so narrow, it is easy to fish both the bay side as well as the Gulf side, but the biggest draw for fishermen involves the pompano runs that occur along the beaches, particularly in early spring. Pompano, gamefish in the jack family, are usually caught on sandfleas and are valued for their robust fight as well as for their tastiness.

Yesterday, my friend David drove over to Orange Beach, picked me up, and hauled me over to Fort Pickens for some fishing. David's the Mobile native who first introduced me to inshore saltwater fishing and took me around to places like the Perdido jetties, Dauphin Island, and Santa Rosa Island.

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Temperatures were only in the mid-50s, but we decided to make a go of it anyway. We rolled east to Pensacola, made our usual stop at Gulf Breeze Bait and Tackle, and despite the fact that no sand fleas were available, we forged on with a couple dozen live shrimp and two frozen mullet.

However, when we stepped out of the car at the first beach access in Fort Pickens Park, I had my first "maybe this isn't such a good idea" moment. A cold wind was howling out of the north—picking up sand which felt like tiny needles on my skin and which immediately gummed up the worm drives on my two baitcasters. Just like that, not even out of the parking lot and without running water to flush the sand, I was down to one rod and reel.

Still, we fished. David was able to scrounge up some sandfleas with his fancy rake, but after a couple of hours with no bites, we decided to pick up and move. Before we left though, I grabbed a couple of .mov files on my digital camera. With the sound turned up, these two clips should give a pretty good sense of just how hard the wind was blowing. I feel compelled to note that we did see other fishermen that day, so we weren't the only nuts out there.

We relocated down the island to a place where we've fished a lot in the past. There, near the ranger tower, the dunes and part of the Pickens battery provided a much welcome wind break, and at this new spot, we found that the crystal clear water ran out thirty yards or more without getting over waist-deep. The water, unlike the wind, was surprisingly warm, so we stayed out in the shallows for most of the rest of the trip.

David finally managed to hook into a nice skipjack (ladyfish) that, for the longest, we thought was a pompano. It ran sideways like a pompano and did not jump like a typical skipjack. But it turned out to be the only fish of the day. We had lots of nibbles, and something kept taking our bait, but we never could figure out what was doing it. David guessed crabs. I have no idea.

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It didn't matter to me that I went 0'fer on the fishing. I had a great time catching up with David, and the park itself was reward enough. I mainly wanted to see beaches as beaches should be seen—free of condos and surf shops and restaurants. To gaze on the shore at Pickens is to step back in time and realize what early inhabitants or early explorers saw when they came upon a coastline. Truly, it is one of the more beautiful places I've visited, and I hope to take my son and daughter there one day to see its splendor. Maybe we'll even fish for pompano.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Another Pirate Turns 40

I spent the morning at one of my favorite fishing spots, the jetties at Orange Beach and Perdido Pass. Years ago, on the same rugged, barnacle encrusted rocks, I got my introduction to inshore saltwater fishing, and as long as I'm able to clamber back out there, it's a place where I'll occasionally return to restore my inner sense of rhythm. It's one of the settings where I feel most at ease.

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On these jetties, I've caught just about every inshore fish native to the area. Part of the appeal of the place is that I never know what I'm going to catch, but I almost always catch something. With an outgoing tide, predatory fish like to wait just outside the current spilling from the pass since the tide pushes food, be it shrimp or crabs or smaller fish. In terms of tactics, casting to the current line is ideal, and it's much easier to do when standing on the very last rock. However, the scramble out there with rods and tackle is no cakewalk, and lugging a bucket full of water and live shrimp makes the trip even more challenging.

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To transport all the gear, I use a backpack system copied from a fellow fisherman I encountered on the jetties several years back. It consists of a G.I. duffel with backpack straps, a five-gallon bucket with lid, and an aerated bait bucket. The lidded bucket holds the smaller bait bucket and prevents sloshes from soaking the backpack with smelly shrimp water. Tackle goes on top of the big bucket, and I slide a six-foot net down beside everything. Any other items (jacket, snacks, etc.) go in a stuff sack on top of the tackle box.

Once out on the jetties, the larger bucket provides a handy place to store catches. In the past, I've relinquished quite a few fish to the jetties because (a) they flopped off the rocks and back into the water, or (b) my stringer became stuck in a crevice in the submerged rocks. Between the long net for landing fish and the bucket for storing them, my catch and keep ratios have gone up.

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A new bait shop opened just across from where we typically stay in Orange Beach, so getting live shrimp was convenient for a change. The shrimp were surprisingly bigger than I'm used to and included a couple that were bordering on prawn-like.

Fishing was pretty slow on the whole, but I enjoyed being out there, listening to the crash of the waves on the rocks, and just slowing down. I did catch a few—including a pinfish, a catfish, a puffer fish, a couple of mangrove snapper, and a nice slot redfish. This last one, my birthday gift from the fishing gods, bit one of the really large shrimp and reminded me why I miss fishing down in the Gulf so much. I can't imagine many better ways to turn 40 than wetting a line in saltwater and having some success.

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UPDATE: On the 19th and 20th, I returned to the point of the jetties with some artificial lures, including a hefty looking bait made up of a large bucktail jig dressed out with a blue/white Cocahoe minnow. (I must give props to José Wejebe of Spanish Fly fame for this idea.) Both days, I hooked into a few nice bluefish with this lure and managed to land a couple of them.

A gear note worth adding involves Teva sandals (pronounced TEV-ə rather than TĒ-və, by the way). They work as advertised. I have had a pair of Teva Terra Fi sandals for years now, and they are some of the best shoes I've owned for rock scrambling, especially around water. I have navigated the jetties barefooted before. Not recommended. The Tevas are the way to go. They grip well, stay secure on the foot, and dry out quickly when wet.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bicycle Maintenance and Repair Sites

I'm learning more about maintaining and repairing my mountain bike. In the process, I'm accumulating links to online guides that detail various mechanical procedures. To get them all in one convenient space, I decided to create a single blog post with the links, and as I find more such sites, I will continue to update this page. Any suggestions are most welcome.

Sites with Videos

Sites with Text and Graphics