Tuesday, December 26, 2006

All's Well That Ends Well

Some have called it an obsession.

Some think it is an addiction.

It has been labeled an escape or even a way to hide but I think I have finally figured it out.

All this time I have been driven to fish and nobody has noticed -

It's the Blog! I fish so I can post.

When the sky cleared off yesterday I began to wonder what the change in weather might do to the fishing down in Palacios.

I tried to see if Matt was interested but he read my mind and before I could ask he politely declined. I called Paul to wish him a Merry Christmas and let it slip that I was considering a midnight rendezvous with the sea wall and he informed me that he was heading to the woods.

I guess if I was going, I was going alone.

It was clear but chilly when I headed out at about 1:30AM - 31 degrees with a north wind blowing about 5-7 knots. I noticed that my trusty vehicle "The Blue Tracker" did not start as quickly as usual and I wrote it off since I hadn't driven it in a couple of days and it was cold. Little did I know that this was but foreshadowing of things to come.

The water was extremely low and clear which historically has meant no fish. After an hour of fishing "the wall" and the 1st Street Pier without a tickle, I moved down to the Pavilion Pier. Once again I noticed a sluggish start of the vehicle but paid it no attention.

I decided to move to the deeper water of the Boat Dock, but when I tried to start the Tracker this time there was not enough juice left for a proper response.

It was now 4AM and I was parked by the Pavilion Pier with a dead battery. I was pretty sure I could get a jump but my fishing was over. I needed to get back and get the battery replaced.

I tried to catch a nap in the car since there wasn't a lot of traffic moving around at that time of day. I was able to catch about 20 minutes of shut-eye before the chill crept in and I needed to move.

I noticed a police car parked outside the city hall and took a stroll down to see if they could render assistance to a stranded visitor. They were friendly but couldn't use the patrol cars to jump another vehicle for fear of damaging the sophisticated electronics. One officer did offer to come check on me when he got off at 7AM and said he would jump me with his personal vehicle. I was thankful for that but hopeful that I would be long gone by that time.

I pushed the Tracker around so it was facing the road, lifted the hood, and got out my jumper cables and hung them out of the engine compartment so passers-by would get the idea that I needed a little help.

Hey - this was almost like fishing...

The first two cars passed by without even slowing down to check out the bait.

I thought maybe I should stand near the open hood and hold the cables up in the universal sign language expression for "I need a jump". The next car that went by veered slightly away from me as he accelerated and I felt like I'd better check out my appearance in the rear view to make sure I hadn't grown horns or looked too much like a panhandler.

Hey, I don't get too dressed up to go fishing in the dark but I was decent! I did have several layers of clothes on and I had the knitted hat on under my Cabela's cap.

Just about the time I was thinking I might actually still be here at 7AM I saw a Honda Civic round the corner at a high rate of speed. There were two people inside and they seemed to be in too much of a hurry to even think about stopping. To my surprise the driver's window opened up and a voice from within said, "I'll be right back after I throw this paper". There was no slowing down or changing course - just the voice and a cloud of cigarette smoke -and the Civic was gone around the corner.

I was hopeful and waited expectantly with cables in hand. Sure enough, my benefactors returned and before you knew it had the hood up and cables attached to their battery. As I came around to my driver's door the man muttered, "I don't think you got a good enough bite, I can't hear any change in my engine". I was sure that my "bite" was sufficient and hit the ignition. The Tracker came to life and I was back on the road.

I thanked the paper guy and his significant other for their trouble and palmed him the only cash I had on me. Let's just say that is the best 20 bucks I ever spent. I was in need - he was willing - and we both were pleased with the result.

I debated on what to do next. I could go straight home and sleep a while then go get the battery replaced. Or, I could head to the big Walmart in Wharton and swap the dead Delco Freedom for something a little more reliable. That would put me on a collision course with Evans Lake which coincidentally was on the way home.

I got the battery and I stopped at the Evans' to try the old standby - the Big Green Worm. The lake looked to be in good shape. The recent rains had nearly brought the level back up to normal after the summer drought and the sun was well up in the sky by the time I arrived. I was disappointed after fishing for 30 minutes without a bite.

I was just about to call it a day when I got a wake up call.

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Hello Sunshine!

Mark & Rita just happened to be heading down the driveway when I landed this beauty and Mark came over to do the honors with the camera. What a guy! He lets me fish in his home water and provides expert photography services too!

It turns out that was the only fish of the day.

I did see some Sandhill cranes on the way home.

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Thank God for small blessings.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Holiday Hot Tip

The work week finally came to a close and it was time to decide how to spend Friday evening. I was pretty sure I was going to be fishing somewhere.

It took a full two hours to fight through the holiday traffic on the way home.

I had a few Christmas deliveries to make to some friends and neighbors in our fair town and in the process I received a "hot fishing tip" from my good friend Mark Evans. He and his eldest son Josh were heading to Sargent to chase redfish under the drawbridge over the Intercoastal Canal. The report was that last weekend there were several keepers caught on speck rigs and dead shrimp.

Paul & I had discussed a possible run to Palacios with Paul Jr. and Matt, but we decided to join the Evans at Sargent instead. After all, fishing is about more than catching fish - it's also about the shared experience and camaraderie right? It surely is when the prospect of a few nice redfish are involved!

Paul had the longest ride and even though Mark & Josh got on the road before Matt & I did we all eventually ended up on site at about the same time. There were about nine fishers in all and we were prepared to do battle. Everywhere you looked were rods & reels, dead shrimp, swivels, lead sinkers, leaders, glowing plastic shrimp tails, speck rigs, and jigs of every size and configuration.

On the first cast, Josh's girlfriend landed a keeper redfish. Game on!

Through the next hour or so all the guys began to wonder if that was just luck or if she had just been in the right place at the right time.

Paul was the next to strike gold.

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Josh looks on as Paul unhooks his red

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The Tale of the Tape

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Happy Fisherman

His fish was a little too short to keep but I think it was big enough to claim bragging rights among the Batchelder clan.

Matt & I needed to get busy or we were going to have to listen to Uncle Paul tell this story for years to come.

I didn't strike gold but did finally score on some silver.

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This tiny sand trout would make a nice meal
for the kind of fish I was hoping for.

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Matt & I changing our tactics

Just before we called it a night I managed to catch a whiting.

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"Give me back my hook"

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Similar expression

Not much to show for the night but we had a good time.

The best part of the trip was watching Paul & Matt try to catch a crab on some turkey necks we had purchased at the bait shop.

The trick to catching crabs this way is to tie a string on and hang the neck down to the bottom. Then just wait until a crab starts eating and slowly lift the neck up with the crab holding on and slip a net underneath to catch him when he lets go.

The problem was that these necks were frozen. Have you ever tried to sink an ice cube?

They tried attaching several sinkers to the neck. When that didn't work, Matt tried to break a brick he found so he could use it as an anchor and Paul was trying to tie on an oyster shell. They finally abandoned the pursuit and the crabs will live to pinch another day.

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John & Mark having a laugh about something.

Yes it was cold, damp, and dark and yes the fish weren't as cooperative as they could have been. Even so it was a trip worth taking and time well spent.

Blessings to all -

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Saltwater Review

I think I've made my last out of town trip this year. I took the one-hour flight to New Orleans on Monday and drove to Baton Rouge to meet Vincent, one of my staff, for a visit and dinner.

I was up extra early this morning headed for Thibodaux to attend a training session and to catch Corey for his performance review. I'd been trying to find a time to wet a line with him forever and this was the perfect opportunity. We were all "trained up" on Safety & Environmental topics and headed down south of Houma to a spot near a draw bridge that had a history of being a hot spot.

We were prepared with several rods, hooks, jig heads, soft plastics and of course the confidence bait - a couple of tubs of frozen shrimp.

I won't tell you how many different soft plastics I tried before I came to the inevitable conclusion that "you've got to give them what they want".

Corey picked up some nice redfish on the shrimp under a popping cork. I finally put on a bottom rig and started catching small drum and sheepshead.

I finally caught a red on the ultralight. Talk about magic!

All in all it was a great day. We got our work done, had a great converstaion and caught a few fish. What more could you ask for?

I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking. Enjoy!

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Fisherman's View - "Come to Papa"

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Happy Fisherman

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"That's What I'm Talking About!"

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Red #2 - They're getting bigger!

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Red #3
Hey - How about saving some of those for me?

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South Louisiana Fish Juggling

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Hey it's only a small drum but at least I'm not skunked!

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Check out the chompers!
This guy may need to see the dentist.

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At last I caught a redfish!

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The old timers say that the redfish's tail turns blue when they are feeding.
Who am I to argue with my elders?

Thanks Corey for an enjoyable and memorable afternoon!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Early Christmas Present

Too much traveling during the Holiday season can get you down if you aren’t careful.

We don’t yet have all our shopping done, the tree is not yet up, and we aren’t even sure whether we are coming or going half the time.

I think it is important to keep some balance in your life so when we were packing for the trip to Salt Lake City, I included the UL & a box of white Roostertails “just in case”.

It was a busy trip, we arrived in time for evening services at the Mid Valley Church of Christ on Sunday. Monday and Tuesday were filled with meetings and employee performance evaluations. We initially had a Wednesday morning flight home scheduled but changed to an early afternoon flight which turned out to be unnecessary.

Rather than trying to change back and getting caught in some kind of mixup, I decided to get up early for a trip up the mountain to visit my favorite spot on Snake Creek and see if there were any hungry trout to be found.

I had been told about a coffee shop near by our hotel that served fresh roasted coffee and tried to grab a cup on my way out but they were not yet open. I settled for a Starbucks and a bagel instead and headed off for Heber in the dark. There seems to be something about my fishing habits lately that involve starting out in the dark or maybe its just that I’m “in the dark” so often that’s where I feel most comfortable.

I arrived at Snake Creek before daylight and installed all the proper equipment: hip boots – “check”, hemostats & nippers, “check”, box of white roostertails, “check”, ultralight loaded with 4lb test, “check”, hat, gloves, jacket, bandana, “check”. I even remembered a rag to wipe my hands on – now that’s optimism.

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I jumped a raft of ducks that were spending the night on the open water across the fence from the dirt track leading to my first stop – the big pool.

I made a stealthy approach in the crusty snow and my breath looked like a steam train in the morning air. Flatlanders like me can’t walk very fast at this elevation especially when dressed for the 28 degree temperature without huffing and puffing a little.

I came up to the edge of the pool in a crouch and decided to wait a few minutes before making my first cast as the light was just beginning to show along the far ridge.

The water flow looked good and though there was still quite a bit of aquatic vegetation visible I felt like this was the right place at the right time and I was in perfect position to hook up.

Just as I was about to make that all-important first cast a muskrat popped up less than three feet in front of me and I don’t know who was more surprised – him or me – but he dove with a splash and was off to the opposite side of the pool. I was thinking that I was glad I didn’t snag him on my first cast or I would have really thought I caught the grandaddy of them all.

I noticed that I had tied on an old and battle scarred roostertail – I was using a 1/16 oz white with a silver blade. The shaft was a little bent and one point of the treble hook was missing but I thought I would give it a go instead of re-tying on a new one. Hey – it worked before why not now?

I began casting short, working the tail of the pool and gradually increasing my distance and varying the retrieve. I was a little disappointed that I did not get a single strike, rise, or follow-up as I dredged the pool for 15 minutes. I didn’t notice a lot of human sign and was a little perplexed about the situation.

I decided to move downstream and try my luck in the grassy channels, riffles and cut banks between the pool and the Heber Creeper trestle and eventually hit the lower end before heading back. Before long, while casting upstream and guiding the RT between the grass and vegetation as best I could, I finally got a hit. It was a small rainbow that jumped twice and promptly spit the hook.

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I was happy to have come in contact with a fish even though I wouldn’t have a picture to prove it. No worries – the best was yet to come.

As the sky continued to lighten up I continued to cast upstream into a nice piece of water that contained several parallel grassy channels. I would aim my cast as far upstream as I could and guide the drift trying to keep the offering as deep as I could. It was frustrating as each cast would result in an eventual snag of grass, seaweed, algae or something that would require me to clean off the hooks. The air temperature was low enough that the tiptop and second guides on my rod were also icing up so I was spending a lot of time messing with my rig after each cast. My hands were getting cold and I was mystified as to why I couldn’t seem to locate any fish. Then the magic began!

I hooked up on a big rainbow about midstream and she rolled and took several strong upstream runs which instantly warmed me up inside and out. I was finally able to coax her to the bank which was pretty tricky as there was a 15 foot swath of weeds between me and the open water.

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Just as I was about to lift her up to the bank my improved cinch knot failed and there she lay in 3 inches of water ready to bolt before I got a picture. Not so fast! I learned a thing or two from Brother Paul about re-catching a lost fish on Snake Creek and I made a slick two-handed grab-n-flip to shore. Eureka! She measured a full 20” and was as fat & sassy as they get.

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My faith was renewed and after returning her to the water I retied on the now treasured war-horse and continued to work the channels. After three or four unsuccessful casts I hooked another big rainbow. This one was a showboat and made an aerial display that Shamu would be proud of. After three full body leaps this acrobat headed for the bottom and dove under the nearest weedbed. I couldn’t break her free and waded out to try and salvage the fight but discovered that after getting me snagged in the weeds the fish had pulled free breaking off a second hook. My treble was now down to one hook point and I decided to change to a fresh lure. Call me crazy but I didn’t want to miss another one like that last one. She was every bit as big as the 20 incher and I was sure there had to be more.

Since I had stirred up the creek I decided to walk down stream and try a few casts before crossing the tracks. I picked up a few small browns and one rainbow all in the 13-14” range.

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I hopped over to the other side of the tracks and swung as far down stream as possible and began working my way back upstream. I ran out of battery on my camera before I ran out of fish. In all I landed about a dozen trout evenly divided between browns and bows.

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It was a great morning and provided the balance I was looking for. As I made my way back up to the spot where I had caught the two big bows I decided to try “one more cast” before heading back. Four casts and two fish later I was trotting to the car with a smile on my face.

I did try out the coffee shop on my return to Salt Lake City. Mill Creek Coffee Roasters is now on my list of mandatory stops.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Scouting Trip

I could have called this post "Fishing Road Trip" or "Two Crazy Brothers". Either way you would get the idea.

It started out inocently enough when I informed Paul that I was intending on returning to Palacios for my usual night-fishing excursion when I got back from the latest business trip. He was also scheduled to travel this week so it seemed natural that he was also looking for some R&R when he stated that he was considering joining me.

My trip was to be a whirlwind sweep of the Eastern Seaboard starting Wednesday and returning on Friday. We began the odessy by flying from Houston to Birmingham, AL.

My co-pilot was joining me and since I avoid the Atlanta airport experience at all costs, we flew Southwest Airlines to Birmingham which is as close to our first destination as we could get. We drove to Monroe, GA and visited one of my staff, Wayne, who is recovering from hip surgery and I'm happy to report seems to be doing remarkably well. We had a nice visit with him and his wife and proceeded on through Georgia to Gastonia, NC, just outside Charlotte, and stopped for the night.

We were up early on Thursday and drove through the rest of NC to Appomattox, VA where we met another one of my staff, Joe, for lunch at the famous Babcock House. I was conducting performance reviews on this trip and it was nice to be out where the work actually takes place for a change.

We proceeded on to Charlottesville, VA which was to be our stopping place for the night. We were to meet a third staff memeber, Kent, the next morning but were able to catch him that evening at the last half of his daughter's basketball game. It's been a while since we have attended a school atheletic function and I think even Joe enjoyed watching Abby and her teammates run away with the game.

Friday morning was spent finishing up my disciussion with Kent and participating in a 2-hour conference call before heading out to the airport for the ride home. Since we were flying Southwest, the closest return flight was out of BWI in Baltimore, MD.

I had figured the trip pretty close and thought we would have enough time to get to the airport, eat something (lowfat) and make the flight. I didn't plan well enough though and after experiencing heavy traffic in Northern Virginia, slow traffic approaching DC, and a big delay on the beltway, we arrived at the airport to hear our names being called over the intercom from the gate. We had to change to standby on a later flight but that gave us time to eat and relax before heading to Hobby.

We founa a great place to eat in the airport, Philips Seafood which serves up a mean Maryland crabcake and some lower fat dishes that we could enjoy. We started with some boiled u-peel-em shrimp (served hot) that were delicious. I also had some grilled tuna and Tracy had a grilled chicken sandwich. Both were served with a salad and we got steamed veggies as a side item. They have their own seasoning which has a lot of celery salt and enough red pepper to catch your attention.

We finally arrived at Hobby airport after 11PM. I had called Paul earlier to let him know that instead of my usual plan of sleeping for a few hours, I was going to rely on my three hour nap on the plane and was going to head straight to the seawall.

He has always been the more sensible brother (about sleep anyway), and did actually sleep for a few hours before joining me.

I arrived after 2AM and there was again no other fisherman to be seen at either pier or the seawall. To my dismay, there were also no signs of fish at any of these places. I also checked the new spot we had found last week -the bulkhead- but there wasn't anyone in town fishing. I tried everything in the tackle box and even pulled out the 10-footer and cast a double shrimp rig halfway to Mexico but the fish just were not there.

I met one other brave soul that, immediately, upon assessing the situation said, "Water's too clear. Need to move down to the marina". He meant down near Bayside RV park where the shrimp boats are docked. This is some of the deepest water around and he seemed to think that there were some fish there.

When Paul arrived I suggested that we give that a try but he had another idea. We have heard about a hot spot down the coast near Port Aransas and both of us have been chomping at the bit to give it a try.

Needless to say after fishing another hour or so without even a bite we were both ready for a Scouting Trip.

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We both enjoyed the time together and checking out a new spot. We didn't find the fish but we did learn something. We rode the jetty boat from Port Aransas to San Jose (St. Joe) island and were determined to fish the jetties. We learned that when the boat gets clear of the dock you'd better be hanging on because they don't waste any time getting across.

We also learned that there were a lot of dolphin and pelicans working in the area indicating that there were some fish around.

Finally we learned that had we been there earlier we might have had stringers that looked like these:

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There was a party of five that had arrived at 6AM and had fished along the jetties until they were halfway out to the end. They came in to catch the 10:10 return boat which we were also on.

For perspective just think that the smallest fish on the stringer is at least 15" and you get some idea about the size of the bigger fish.

I predict we will again return to Port "A" another day when we have a little more time. I think we may be on the first boat across too!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Friday Night Lights

The Weather Man is never right.

Generally when the forecast calls for freezing temperatures in the Houston area, our actual temps in Needville are up to 10 degrees warmer. When the latest cold front blew in on Thursday, we had colder temperatures in our fair city then those recorded at George Bush Intercontinental airport. Go figure.

Normally this wouldn't cause me much cause for alarm, but Paul & I were planning to head down to Palacios for some early morning saltwater fishing. The predicted low for Friday night/ Saturday morning was 32 degrees...

We got out of the city before the traffic got too bad and joined Tracy for dinner at Pier 36. After a few hours of shut-eye and a pot of strong coffee we bundled up and headed for the seawall. I was stylish in my custom-made hat compliments of Mrs. Bocks. Thanks Robyn!

Between us we had enough rods, hooks, and soft plastic bait to start a guide service. It turned out that the prediction was wrong again and it was a comfortable 40 degrees and calm.

When we arrived at the 1st Street Pier, I got a little suspicious since the pier was empty and there were no cars in the parking area. We decided to fish the wall down to the corner light to start off. The water level was as low as I've seen it - between the tide and the north wind a lot of water had been pushed out of the bay.

I picked up a couple of undersized specks at the light and then connected with a nice redfish that was just a hair too short to keep.

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He took the limetruse Texas Tackle Lil' Trout Killer. Paul was fishing with the 1" Double Shad rig and connected with a couple trout of his own.

I hooked up a couple of Berkley Gulp Crabs on the 10-footer and sent them for a ride thinking that I might connect with a red or black drum but that was also a non-starter.

We took a walk out to the pier but didn't have any luck there either.

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Things slowed down and I decided to try my new idea - insert a glow stick into a big grub. I use mostly glow stuff and I figured if a little is good a lot would be better.

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If there were any fish nearby they probably thought this grub had escaped from the South Texas Nuclear Plant.

I hung it up on the oyster beds and had to break off and reload. I had a 2" double shad rig loaded on 1/4 oz jig heads and decided to give that a try. I was thinking I could get out further and maybe find the fish. I picked up a keeper speck coming through the light and was hopeful this would be the ticket.

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After another hour of no action we decided to take a walk down to the little jetties near the pavilion pier. Things were quiet there as well and Paul suggested that we walk out on the big pier so he could have a look. I informed him that all I had caught or seen caught on this pier were hardheads and gaftop. We were both surprised when I connected with a speck on my first cast. I picked up a couple and then brother Paul took over. He got hot and caught the next several fish including two nice keepers.

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They were taking the Lil' Speck Killer right down on the bottom.

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The water was so clear we could see a few sheepshead working the oysters below the pier. I tried to entice them with a Berkley Gulp Shrimp but they weren't interested.

We spoke to one guy at the seawall that said he had fished the bulkhead near the boat launch area so when the daylight started breaking over the horizon we took a break and went exploring. We found a new spot where some guys were wade fishing. We watched as one guy caught fish on three of four casts and put two on his stringer.

"Note to self - Pack waders on next trip to Palacios".

Sometimes it pays to observe the locals.

We stopped off at the cleaning table and after putting the filet knife to the three keepers in the raw wind, I was thankful we didn't have too many more to clean.

I've never had a bad trip to Palacios Bay but I rate this one at the top of my list.

Being able to share a fishing trip with your brother is a treasured event. Having a couple of hours in the car to discuss life and things of a spiritual nature is priceless.

Fish on Brother!

Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.