Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Bushman In Name Only

The Bushman cometh.
It seems a bit self-serving to write a post about how this blog got its name. The Bumbling Bushman isn't six months old yet and the total post count is laughable compared to those of more established Internet writers.

I am prompted by a challenge from the Outdoor Blogger Network to do so however. In case you haven't checked it out, the OBN is just about the greatest resource on the Web for anyone who enjoys anything and everything outdoors. The site is a well-organized clearinghouse of more than 500 blogs - all specific to activities from mountain climbing, to car camping, to ice fishing, to wildlife photography. I joined The Bumbling Bushman to it about a month ago and it's rapidly become one of my favorite spots on the Internet.

A couple of days ago, the moderators at OBN asked its members to write a post explaining how they named their blogs. The Bumbling Bushman was highlighted as one they were curious about, and who am I to kick free publicity in the teeth. So here goes...

Did anyone check this canoe for leaks?
Hi. My name is Jamie, and I am a bumbler.

It started early on in my development as a bushman. I remember we were on a family vacation to St. Johns in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I was 10 or 11 years old and about as addicted to fishing as a kid could be. Mom and Dad made room in our luggage for an old telescoping travel rod and a selection of casting plugs so they wouldn't have to listen to me whine the entire trip. By the first morning, I was thigh deep in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, casting an enormous wooden crankbait as far as my little rod could chuck it.

Watch out for the hole here.
I worked my way down the beach, further and further from family members and other vacationers enjoying the sun and the sand. Suddenly, the rod was nearly ripped from my hands and the drag peeled out. Fish on! I battled my unseen adversary for a minute or two. It didn't seem very big or very strong. When it showed itself, I couldn't help but be a little disappointed; a rather ambitious lizardfish, hardly bigger than the lure it had tried to eat. I worked the fish closer, expecting a routine catch-and-release, but when the fish saw my lily white legs sticking out in front of it, it charged. Maybe charged is the wrong word. The lizardfish was probably just trying to find some cover by which to rub out the hook in its jaw, but it sure seemed to me like it was attacking. I tried to sidestep the rushing fish, then I made for the shore, holding the rod far behind me and high-stepping to avoid the 11-inch missile that was still trying to seek and destroy. Impact came in a foot of water. The lizardfish had run into my ankle and embedded one of the barbs of the giant treble hook deep into my pale New England flesh.

I struggled out of the water, shackled by a huge fishing lure with five more points that wanted to impale me and a very lively lizardfish still attached and making my life miserable with every flop. I sobbed as I crawled up the beach and squatted in the sand. I had a death grip on the lizardfish, but the pain in my ankle was increasing and I didn't want to move. I just sat there, screaming, squeezing the life out of the fish and hoping to be heard over the lapping of waves by someone, anyone.

Dad finally came looking for me about 20 minutes later. He unhooked the deceased fish from my foot and threw me over his shoulder, crankbait still firmly entrenched. We drove to a medical clinic and the nurse looked at my situation. She turned as pale as her coffee-colored skin would allow her, looked wide-eyed at my dad and said, "We don't do fishhooks."

There was the time, many years later, when I went on my first duck hunt with my old pal, Nate. His experience level trumped mine by one session in a duck blind, but it was the first time for either of us hunting out of a canoe.

He came out of my underpants.
We crept down a wooded coastal creek, jumping wood ducks along the way. I had the shooter's position in the bow and quickly filled my limit of two. We switched places and I paddled on, with Nate banging away ineffectually at birds as they exploded off the water in front of us. He had just gone past the point of frustration, when one of the recently-flushed ducks decided to swing around for another high pass over our heads.

Contrary to every rule of safety and common sense, Nate twisted his body around, leaned back and fired into the air. The recoil threw him off balance and in a split second, we were both in the frigid, January water. As my fat reserves are far more plentiful than Nate's, I sucked up the pain and punished him by continuing the hunt until he reached a mild level of hypothermia.

There was also the time I scanned for seabirds from the top deck of my good friend, Brian Patteson's headboat, in the middle of the Gulf Stream off the Outer Banks. Brian organizes field trips (Seabirding Pelagics) to the deep for bird watchers who seek those specialized species that rarely fly within sight of land except to breed on islands far, far away. In those days, I often came aboard as a spotter and it was there I also learned just enough about open ocean trolling to get myself into trouble.

It was a day that Brian had given his first mate off, leaving the duties of tending the fishing lines to me. Our morning had been uneventful; a few birds, no fish. Now the midday sun was pounding down on us. We were 40 miles offshore and there wasn't a breath of wind. It was in the 90s and the humidity was close to 100 percent. I scanned the pupil-searing horizon for life, but there was nothing. Even the paying clients had retreated into the cabin for relief. I basically had the deck of the 65-foot Stormy Petrel to myself. Then I heard it - the line clip popped on the right outrigger.

Yeah, I got the shot.
I looked around for patches of Sargasso weed that could have caused enough drag for the line to pop the clip. There was nothing but deep blue water, 3,000 feet deep.

Dubiously, I looked back at the trolling spread. The bait in question was skipping merrily along the surface, just as it was supposed to. Then I spied the gigantic shadow following it.

At this point in my offshore fishing career, I'd landed a couple of marlin, but I knew the real glory was in hooking one. Marlin have obviously bizarre mouthparts and can be finicky to boot. I had been taught the basics of how to do it, but no one had actually let me do it.

I looked around and saw I had no audience. Brian was in the wheelhouse steering the boat, completely oblivious to what was happening in the stern. I picked the rod out of the holder and gave the reel a few cranks. The change in speed fired up the big blue marlin enough so that it rushed the bait and started swiping at it with his bill - classic hungry marlin behavior.

I threw the reel into free spool as I'd been instructed and watched the skirted ballyhoo disappear down the fish's gaping maw. The marlin turned and started swimming away and I counted, as I'd been instructed, to 10. At 10, I pushed the drag lever back to strike and hit him with everything I had. I nearly fell over as the fish spit the bait out unscathed.

I repeated the sequence, reeling in as fast as I could and the marlin charged again. He batted the bait and I let him have it. I counted to 10 and swung away - miss.

And again. And again. And again. For five solid minutes.

I can't tell you how strange and exhilarating it was out there at the back of the boat, way out in the middle of the ocean, just me and a giant fish weighing in excess of 500 pounds. It was hand-to-fin combat. A contest of wits. Who could best who.  

My intimate version of "The Old Man and the Sea" came to an abrupt end when, out of nowhere, Brian poked his head up the ladder from below. "What the hell's going on back here?"

"Ummm, I don't know," I fumbled like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "I think I might have had a strike."

"Goddammit," grumbled my captain as he climbed the final steps to the top. He looked back at the spread and saw the jagged dorsal fin of my marlin cutting the water just a few feet behind one of the baits. "You $#@54 jackass. There's a goddamn blue marlin right there!"

He snatched the rod from my hands and cranked the reel. The marlin rushed in again, opened it's mouth and swallowed the bait. Brian counted to 10, engaged the drag and expertly hooked the fish, which then exploded from the water and greyhounded hundreds of yards across the sea, much to the delight of the now very much aware passengers. Brian shoved the rod back at me. "Get up to the bow and crank this sonnofabitch in," he snarled as he dashed back to the wheel.

It goes without saying that the fish jumped itself off within seconds of me taking control of the rod.

These are but a few examples of my bumbledom. There are many, many more. My friends know that I can't tie a knot and I get lost in the woods easily. It's not even worth it to them to retell every time I forget some vital piece of equipment or lose my truck keys, or driver's license, or hunting license, or wallet.

I'm a bumbler ladies and gentlemen. A bumbler through and through. If we ever meet in the field or on the water, take pity on me and give me a hand. I can't help it. I was born this way.
My God! What's he done to himself now?


  1. The beautiful thing is that you don't let any of your bumblings deter you from becoming an avid bushman.
    Off to the Croatan...the timberdoodle population needs thinning. 1 for 5 at Morton yesterday after work.

  2. Tenacity is a rare and cherished thing... something about being tough and dumb comes to mind with me after reading this article..... I just appreciate your honesty and modesty in a world of exaggeration and chest beating... This piece show some great insight and transparency. I cant wait to see you and other in a few days to collect wild voracious piggies stuffed with oranges....

  3. Brian - Knock em dead buddy.
    Sean - I can't wait. It's snowing right now and the forecasted temp doesn't get above freezing for the upcoming week. Just don't ask me to tie any knots. See you soon.

  4. I only have one comment. You and I should NEVER venture forth together, alone. :) PS I added your blog to mah blogrollz. hope that's ok with you.


  5. Owl - are you kiddin' me? It would be epic. Thanks for putting me up on Fly Fishing the Southern Blue Ridge. I hope the link will entertain some folks.