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High Winds ... Eagle's Nests OK

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Wed, 02/23/2011 - 13:34

February 20 & 21, 2011.  Over the last year all three eagle's nests that are visible from Jefferson's Reach on the James have fallen due to high winds. Two of the nests were rebuilt in the same tree, while the third was built further off the riverbank, too far to be seen from the river.  Needless to say, after all the high winds we had over the last week, I was curious to see if Bandit & Smokey and Baba & Pops still had their nests intact.

This past Sunday was the first trip on the James to Eagle Watch in almost a week.  I was praying the five pairs of resident bald eagles in Jefferson's Reach didn't experience any problems due to the extreme weather. We backed the Discovery Barge II out of the slip and cruised slowly downriver, soaking in the early morning air and loving all the wonderful colors in the sky.  We lost sight of the Richmond Yacht Basin and proceeded around the bend toward Henricus ... onward to Bandit & Smokey's nest location.  Their nest is in the most precarious of locations, far out on the limb of an old oak tree.  Thiers was the nest I was worried about most, but all was fine.  Bandit was keeping a watchful eye perched on a nearby tree, while Smokey hunkered down, incubating their clutch.

We worked our way out into the main channel and proceeded down past the Varina-Enon Bridge to excellent results.  Sure enough one eagle was perched high on a leafless oak tree, which was a sign that all is still good with Varina & Enon's nest.  Continuing downriver towards Virginia & James' nest we saw two immature bald eagles, perhaps some of the last remaining migratory eagles in Jefferson's Reach for the 2011 winter season. 

This Winter an interesting observation was made with the immature bald eagles. We would often notice the curious behavior of two immature eagles paired and playing in flight.  It makes me wonder, seeing so many immature pairs, if bald eagles might try to start finding a mate earlier in the maturing process.  Just a thought, but one that I will carry in my mind for a while.

We arrived in Virginia & James' territory, and there was one eagle out hunting on the river, another great sign that all three pairs so far are still nesting.  We neared the Jones Neck cut and turned left into the old river channel, heading towards Deep Bottom and into Rebecca & Capt. John's territory.  The past two trips, we had not seen either bird, but did see one about ten days ago.  Rebecca & Capt. John are a curious pair, as they may actually have two nests that they occupy.  These two birds have also not been in their favorite areas at all this year.  Their nest is not visible from the river, so it's impossible to tell whether or not it's being occupied still.  Once the Center for Conservation Biology does their semi-annual fly over, counting eagle nests, we may be able to find out for certain, but it could be that Rebecca & Capt. John are hunting the inland ponds on Jones Neck.  It's interesting that they have been so sporadic in their sightings.  Time will tell. 

Lastly, we arrived at the nest site of Baba & Pops.  We looked high up on a hill into the top of a pine tree, and lo and behold, the nest was in perfect condition! One of the beautiful eagles was nestled on top of their clutch.  There is no telling how many eggs any of these pairs of eagles have, but I can confidently say that four out of five pair are incubating eggs.  The fifth pair may very well be, but their sightings have just not been consistent.  I'm hoping they have a second nest. Until next time,   --Capt. Mike

Both images taken by Lindy Thackston.  

Eagle Activity Update: Jefferson's Reach

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Thu, 02/17/2011 - 11:10

February 13, 2011. An exciting period has come for the Bald Eagles of the James, it is time for them to nest.  From my observations over the last two weeks, I'd say it's a good chance all five pairs of resident bald eagles on Jefferson's Reach on the James are sitting on eggs.  Why do I say that?  Over the last two weeks, I have only noted one bird at a time with all five pairs.  That means there is a good chance the other bird is incubating a clutch.

There are two nests visible in Jefferson's Reach.  Bandit & Smokey's and Baba & Pops'.  Three days ago, both nests were occupied by an eagle that was hunkered deep down into the nest, only popping their head up once in a while.  These two happy pairs are no doubt nesting a clutch.

The other three pairs, Virginia & James, Varina & Enon, and Rebecca & Capt. John all have nests built far off the river, nestled in deep within the pines, oaks, hickories, and sycamores. Over the last two weeks, there has been only one bird at a time from these pairs out on the riverbanks.  Normally I see two, unless they are nesting.  This could be very good for the eagle population this year in Jefferson's Reach.  The eagles will be sharing te duty of incubating their clutch for about 35 days.  Their eggs will hatch around the second or third week of March, which coincides with the annual run of hickory shad and blue back herring.  Pretty smart birds if you ask me.  --Capt. Mike

The Photo's Story:  This is an image of two eagles trying to nest on the James.  No, this isn't a pair in Jefferson's Reach, but the pair that is supposedly trying to nest in the City of Richmond, just below the Powhite Bridge on the James River.  Judy Self has been watching eagles on the James for many years, and has been watching these two just about everyday for the past month.  As of her last report, they still have not laid an egg.  It's getting late though, hopefully soon we will have good news.  --Photo by Judy Self

Boat Record Blue Catfish - 78 lbs!

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Fri, 02/04/2011 - 18:01

February 3, 2011.  Sometimes when you think you know something about fishing, the opposite happens and you realize how incredible this sport can be, and unpredictable.  That happened yesterday on the James River ... again.

I had a trip booked with my good friend and fellow guide, Tony Horsley.  He brought two of his hunting buddies on the trip, both from out of town, but familiar with fishing.  So we are out on the river and we catch a few decent catfish in the 24 to 35 pound range.  We caught one fish about six or seven pounds which I filleted.  We were going to fry it up for lunch.  Along the way we ate smoked duck breast, marinated duck, and venison sausage with crackers.  Tony treated us right with these wonderful game treats.

I set up on a spot I like to fish, cast out the lines and start the process of cooking lunch.  Homemade tartar sauce and fresh fried catfish.  I cooked up the meal and as soon as it was cooked, it was eaten.  We found a good combo for saucing up the catch ... you dipped the fried catfish strip into a little buffalo wing sauce, then into homemade tartar.  Mmmmmmm, mmmmmm good.

About 45 minutes or so at the spot we were fishing, we had only caught one fish, a 21-pound blue cat.  Lunch was wrapped up, we were ready to go and decided to give it an extra five minutes or so.  We are talking on the boat about the pair of eagles that are flying around us, and we are looking at their nest when the next thing I know, Dana has a pole in his hand.  It's the smaller of the eight rods I fish with, and it has a good reel, a Shimano Calcutta 400 spooled with 30 pound monofilament.  Here's where it get's 'fishy' and where I start to rethink everything I know about bluecat fishing.

The rod Dana has the fish on had a small circle hook, perhaps a 4/0 circle, with a small piece of bait.  The small piece of bait has been used in the last four or five spots.  It was just a pretty piece of bait, and we kept on using it.  I am a firm believer in fishing for big blue cats with fresh bait, which means changing everytime you reel in.  For some reason, we just kept on casting out this little piece of shad on a little hook.  That is the rod we usually use to catch a smaller fish to cook and eat.

Dana is reeling in his fish, and rod is really bent over far, but I've seen that rod catch 50 and 60 pound fish before and it didn't really look much different.  Tony is up high on the boat, looking down at the scene happening on the stern of the Discovery Barge II from the top of a storage bench.  I hear Tony yell, "I saw a really big tail."  I saw a huge swirl on the top of the water.  When I saw the swirl, I knew it was big, then almost instantly I saw the fish.  Wow, what a monster catfish.  We got her in the net and it was all I had to get that big girl over the railings of the boat.  Awesome.

Upon weighing the fish, it showed 81 pounds.  Minus the three for the net the fish was in while weighing, I pronounced proudly, "We have a new boat record ... 78 pounds!"  We checked it three times and sure enough a boat record by five pounds.  The old record was 73.  With that said, I give the official boat record to Dana Eggers, from North Carolina with his 78 pound blue catfish.  Congratulations Dana!  --Capt. Mike

The Photos Stories?  Top Right:  Dana and a head shot of his 78 pound blue catfish.  You really get an idea of the size of it when you look at the size of the fishes head compared to the size of Dana's.  --Photo by Capt. Mike

Left:  This is the shot that shows how big this blue cat really looks.  I still can't believe the size of the this fish.  --Photo by Tony Horsley

Jones Landing: First Fish of the Year

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Tue, 02/01/2011 - 23:28

I belong to a pretty cool fishing club ... Jones Landing on the James.  It's a mixture of people, all different in their own way, but with one thing to bind us all together, the James River.  During the 2010 fishing season we had some outstanding fishing competitions and this year is going to just as strong, if not stronger.

It's been a cold winter, which has made that first fish for the club in 2011 that much more elusive.  We've been talking about that fish for a month now.  We've seen them jump, and even had a dream or two about that first fish.  I personally have been out twice before this past Sunday, and I've heard about two or three other trips made by members in their jon boats.  No bites, just cold wind and the old college try.  This past Saturday, a good buddyof mine, Jeff Duncan, asked if I wanted to fish on Sunday for a few hours, and I said ABSOULUTELY, but let me check with my wife first!!

With permission to fish in hand, we loaded the boat around 11AM on Sunday, January 30.  It was a perfect day to fish with 50 degree temperatures the day before, and the air temps were slated to get to near 50 again.  No wind and a good combimnation of veteran river fishermen.  We had fresh-caught minnows for bass, a few new lures to try for smallies and some frozen gizzard shad for catfish.  Upon loading the boat I noticed the water clarity was not the best, so I thought catfishing might be our best bet.  We headed out to our first spot, a catfish hole, a place I've been wanting to try for the last two weeks but hadn't.

Jeff and I cut the shad up and cast out two rods each. We put them into the Discovery Gheenoe's rod holders, and started to fish for smallmouth bass.  After a few casts, I put the smallie rod down and focused on the catfish, trying to get a bit by calling on the river gods, by giving it the old catfish call.  About five minutes later, one of Jeff's brand new rods made a jump, with a little line pulling off the reel.  A definite hit.  Thirty seconds later, we had the first fish of the year on, now all we had to do was land it.  The fish fought pretty hard for 38 degree water, it came to the surface and rolled, then splashed.  A minute later it was at the side of the boat, so I reached my hand down into the cold water, slid my fingers into its jaw and clamped down .... no way was the first fish of the year getting away. 


Jeff gave the blue cat a big kiss, we took a few photos, weighed it, blessed it, and let it go to tell its story.  Congrats to Jeff for catching the first fish of the year out of Jones Landing ... a 16 pound 7 ounce blue catfish.  Oh yeah, can't wait to go again!  --Capt. Mike

Honoring a Friend on the River

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Fri, 01/28/2011 - 11:47

The Honoring of a Friend on the River

The James River is full of life, history, and opportunities including the opportunity to forge special friendships.  In mid 2009 through the end of 2010 I enjoyed a brief but powerful friendship with Danny Jefferson.  Danny was a Chickahominy Indian, and a respected man of their Tribal Council and very active in the community.

He was direct and very observant and was the kind of guy that would teach you things when you didn't even know you were learning.  Something I'll never forget ... the evening of December 12, he called to say, "I saw you grow on the water this past year, I just want you to know that ... I saw you with my own eyes."  The next day, Danny walked on December 13, 2010.

He taught me a lot about bald eagles, but that evening after we talked I realized he taught me a few things about life along the way.  Now he will always be a part of who I am becoming.  I wanted to find a way to honor Danny on the River.  Something deep and spiritual because that was the kind of guy he was.

People always ask me where I run my eagle tours.  I always say on the James River between Deep Bottom Boat Landing and the Richmond Yacht Basin.  It's about a five-mile stretch, half of which is in the parts of two oxbows (Jones Neck and Hatcher Island) and the other half is the main river that connects them.  In that reach of river live five pair of resident bald eagles which happen to be the ones I follow most of the time.  That is the area Danny and I worked together.

I found a way to honor Danny Jefferson in my work.  I believe naming natural things gets you closer to them; it helps them become more familiar.  The stretch of the James River between Deep Bottom and the Richmond Yacht Basin now has a name ... I have started to call it, 'Jefferson's Reach'.  That is the exact area Danny 'reached' out to me and the lucky folks we carried out on the river on the Discovery Barge II.

Now when people ask where I work, I can proclaim Jefferson's Reach on the James.  Or when out on the river, I can let people know we are in Jefferson's Reach.  What a perfect segue into talking about history, eagles, and Virginia Indians.  -- Capt. Mike


The Photos Stories?  Top Right:  This is an image that always reminded me of Danny and the great history of the James River.  You can go back as far in time as you wish in this image.  The sunrise has not changed in eons.

Bottom Left:  This is a necklace Danny made and presented it to me on the Discovery Barge II, after a Capt. John Smith Watertrail tour.  The necklace is made of bones, beads, copper, sinew, wampum and the centerpiece is a 'scute' from an Atlantic Sturgeon. The rattail at the top is Danny's signature.  To learn about Atlantic Sturgeon, click here.