Monday, March 07, 2016

Stuck in the Mud

February fishing was very slow and unproductive. I caught only a few fish which I released, like this shrimp-loving Flounder

as well as some Black Drum at Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina.

After Edisto Beach, we traveled north up the coast and camped at Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. I fished the jetty at the beach last year with some luck, but this year got skunked completely. The water was still too cold.

Disappointed but not defeated, my friend, Rick Lopez, and I took another approach and tried our hand at harvesting shellfish instead. Since there was a non-commercial clam and oyster bed at Murrells Inlet, we took our boots and digging tools and ventured through the mud at low tide. His wife, Barbara, joined us too.
Murrells Inlet clam / oyster beds (photo by Rick Lopez)
Within a couple of hours, we harvested a 5 gallon pail of clams and another of oysters. Not bad, considering we were all complete novices. All of us got stuck in the deep mud, but were able to eventually pull ourselves out.  We celebrated my birthday with them - yum!
Oysters in the cooler / Clams in the pail (photo by Rick Lopez)
Raw oysters with hot sauce, horseradish, lemon and cocktail sauce

We returned the empty shells to the Oyster Recycling Center at Murrells Inlet.
Rick Lopez and me at the Oyster Recycling Center.

The empty shells are returned to the mud flats so the baby oysters in the beds can grow. They depend on the calcium of the empty shells. Healthy oyster beds help to create healthy fish populations as well.
An impressive and stinky mound of oyster shells

Now, I'm up in the Smoky Mountains in Marshall, North Carolina. The mighty French Broad River runs right through the town. Spring has sprung, flowers are out and mud season is here. How's the fishing? Too soon to tell, so check back for more updates!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Rod Bendin' Redfish!

19" Red Drum
The Spotted Sea Trout were fun to catch, but once the January temps dropped, so did their bite. Heavy rains passed and cooler weather brought clear skies, improving water clarity. When the winds shifted to the north-east, the Red Drum started biting.
Red Drum, a.k.a. Redfish, Spottail bass, Spots, and Channel bass are probably the most popular inshore fish here in Florida, and with good reason. They bite and fight hard! I used live shrimp and set the drag light. After a couple of casts, my reel was a-screamin'.

The once-threatened Red Drum is making a rebound. Since it's classified as "bycatch" -- unwanted fish caught during commercial fishing for a different species -- it holds little value for commercial fishermen. In this part of Florida, there are strict size limits (18"-27") with a possession limit of 5. Because of these factors, their numbers are back up. Lucky for me!

Redfish are a schooling fish. Here are a few small "cookie cutters" -- all were between 14"-15", which I released.
The unmistakable spot near the tail makes Red Drum easy to identify.

Here's a keeper.
Spelled backwards, Red Drum = Dinner!
Redfish fillets ready to Broil...
Ready only 5 Minutes Later!
Broiled Red Drum with Thai Rice & Broccoli
Not too shabby! We also made chowder with it. The firm white meat held up well in the soup. A local favorite is blackened Redfish, but I haven't tried it yet.

Tomorrow, we leave the Gulf Coast and return to Edisto Beach, South Carolina. Whatever bends your rod, right? Check back, and keep your lines tight!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Southern Adventures with Sea Trout

2016 is a year of big changes bringing new adventures. Our home in Vermont sold in December, and my wife and I have been traveling around down South. Sadly, there's no ice fishing for me this year.

Nonetheless, we're escaping the cold and enjoying the Florida panhandle's "Forgotten Coast," an area rich with biodiversity. A major industry here? Fish, shrimp, and oysters. We love it.
The Forgotten Coast on Google Maps
Although winter means the fishing is typically slow, I did manage to catch some nice Spotted Sea Trout from shore in Alligator Bay.
View of Alligator Bay from Marina
Funny that they call them Sea Trout as their skeletal bone structure and dorsal (top) fin are really more like Weakfish than freshwater trout.

Sea Trout vs. Weakfish
Also, they have sharp front teeth. so be careful removing the hook.

Anyway, by drifting live shrimp on a lightweight rod, I found these fish put up a pretty decent fight! The legal limit here is 5 trout/day with a 15" minimum length, and allowing one over 20". I kept a couple of them (16" and 17"), and threw back shorter ones like this one.
Hooked Spotted Sea Trout before release.

I also caught a Ladyfish. Ladyfish are jumpers and fight pretty hard for their size. The Ladyfish ended up in a soup stock.
Sea Trout on top. Ladyfish on bottom.
Preparing Sea Trout is easy.  I gutted and then stuffed them with sliced lemons, baked them at 375 degrees wrapped in foil and sprinkled salt, pepper, and red chili powder. I bake a lot of fish this way because it keeps them really juicy.
Sea Trout ready for the oven. 
Sea Trout ready to eat.
The Sea Trout were excellent. I bet they'd be great grilled or fried.

Stay tuned for Redfish! 

Friday, January 01, 2016

Fishing On Ice

Catching a Yellow Perch through the ice 
Happy New Year! For you Northerners, let's hope 2016 kicks off with a productive season of hard water action. For you Southerners, I'll explain.

As the ice thickens on Vermont ponds and lakes, fishermen are preparing for a new season of ice fishing by stocking shanties, sharpening augers, digging out crampons, and re-spooling tip-ups.
A tip-up ready for action
I am honored to be currently featured in Stratton Magazine's Winter 2016 issue, "Fishing On Ice":

page 2:

page 3:

Thanks to Meryl Robinson for writing the article and Hubert Schriebl for the photos!
Checking the live bait
Keep your lines tight, the coffee hot, and stay tuned for Brattleponics' Southern adventures coming your way!

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Lettuce Harvest & Low pH

Another Compass School Aquaponics update from Eric Rhomberg:
Lettuce ready to harvest
"The lettuce has grown quite nicely, and today we harvested some to include in our school lunch. It's delicious!

Compass School student with Lettuce
A few weeks ago we discovered that the pH of the water was down around 5.5. We started more aggressively changing water periodically, which helped raise it a little. We then decided to gently bump it back up to neutral by adding a little dilute NaOH along with one of our water changes. We got the pH nicely back to neutral, with no observable signs of distress from the fish over the transition. But today we discovered the pH has crept back down to about 6.0. We're wondering what is causing this pH drop?"

Overfeeding the fish could do it. Back in August, I had problems with clogged water pipes from uneaten fish food. I had overfed the fish and the high ammonia level caused the pH drop. The ammonia toxicity killed a goldfish. After a partial water change and reducing the amount of fish food, the pH bounced back to normal.

pH fluctuation is a common issue in Aquaponics, but in my experience, the pH tended to tip to the high side more often than the low side. If the pH drop is not due to overfeeding, perhaps this thread at Backyard Aquaponics can be helpful, as low pH can be raised in a variety of ways. 

Stay tuned!

November 13 Update

More delicious lettuce was harvested today for lunch. The greens are looking good!

Lettuce for Lunch!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lights & Lettuce

Since the Compass School Aquaponic installation last week, we've had a couple of frosts outside. Brrr! 

But, another year of frost coming late means a longer growing season, which in my book, is a good thing.

How's it going at the school?  Here's the latest news from science teacher, Eric Rhomberg.

"We've got the lights set up, and we've transplanted in a bunch of lettuce. It was pretty cool to dig up the lettuce from our outdoor garden, wash off all the dirt until they were just bare "plant", and then stick them down into the gravel hydroponic bed. Looking good!  The fish seem active and "happy", the water is beautifully clear, and the plants look healthy. We're loving it!"

I agree. Lookin' good in Bellows Falls!  Stay tuned for more updates.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Installation at Compass School

Yesterday I moved my Aquaponics system to Compass School, where it will be used for high school science experiments.  

It sits under a west-facing window as before, but now it is mobile. Check out the stand that the students built for it! They painted it and even added casters to roll it out of the way when they need the counter space for other lab projects. Nice work!

It took about an hour to set it up in its new spot.
To buffer the shock to the fish, I moved about 20 gallons of water with the system. We then added 10 gallons of dechlorinated water from the school's water supply. Here's an inside look shortly after setting it up.
Why is the water so cloudy? Well, a lot of organic matter was stirred up when I emptied the grow bed. The grow bed is 100 pounds of expanded shale, creating a lot of surface area where the plant roots, fish food and decaying fish food collect. Since I hadn't rinsed the grow bed media since I built the system, I rinsed it all in another plastic bucket before moving it. No worries. The water should clear up soon as the solids settle to the bottom of the growbed, and the water is cycled.
Eric with barrelponics system
Anyway, I'm psyched that the system is in good hands with Eric Rhomberg, the science teacher. I think it looks pretty cool in his classroom. Don't you?
The water cleared up by this morning. Here's the fish happily eating their breakfast. Looking good!
Check back for more updates from Compass School!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Moving Plants

Since I harvested the Tatsoi, I removed the overhead fluorescent light ballast. Now all my plants are receiving only indirect natural light through the window and really bending toward the light. There's only a few plants in the system left.
Spearmint front Left, Sorrel middle Left, Rosemary far Left, Apple Mint far Right
I transplanted this wild spearmint a couple of weeks ago into my Aquaponics system. It has kept its color and its roots have quickly grown. I moved it closer to the window and put it into a corner of the growbed.
I thought I'd face it pointing away from the window to see how long it would take to turn itself around.
When a plant grows toward the light, the observable effect is called phototropism. Positive phototropism is what happens when it grows toward the light. Negative phototropism is when it grows away from the light. I haven't seen negative phototropism with any of my other indoor plants.

Here it is the next day.

Here it is two days later. Pretty cool, huh?
 Like the other low-light herbs I'm growing, it looks like Spearmint is acclimating just fine.