Fishing For Conch on Long Island Sound

Matt is the captain. He likes to work early in the day. We were on the boat around 4:00 AM.

I spent Monday morning on-the-water. Erik Dobratz’s brothers Matt and David are fishermen… or I guess more accurately ‘conchers’. I packed up “Clicky,” picked up Erik and headed to the dock in Old Saybrook.

Matt is the captain. He likes to work early in the day. We were on the boat around 4:00 AM.

The boat itself is called “Free Bird,” though you won’t find that stenciled on the hull. It’s a “Downeaster” — a stubby working boat with a flat deck leading to a totally open stern. A winch and pulley on the starboard side are used to haul the conch pots out of the water. If you’ve watch “Deadliest Catch” you’ve seen winches like this in action.

It’s dangerous. You can lose a finger. Matt has.

Unlike “Deadliest Catch” we were heading into the totally ice free, reasonably flat Long Island Sound. The shellfish the Dobratz boys were going for sat under 90 feet of water off the shoreline between Guilford and Clinton.

The sky was just beginning to turn from black to blue as we headed down the Connecticut River past the two lighthouses at the mouth of the Connecticut River and into the Sound. Within a few minutes the reds of dawn were brightening on the horizon. Sunrise itself was still over a half hour away.

There’s a lot of trust being a fisherman. Matt’s lines are unprotected round-the-clock. Anyone floating by knows they’re full of valuable catch.

“Free Bird” motored through the sound picking up pot-after-pot of conch. Fish or crabs mistakenly caught were thrown back into the drink or left as bait for the next catch.

By the time the day was done 14 orange bags full of conch sat on the deck. They were sold and in an industrial refrigerator on-shore within moments of docking.

My final catch was over 500 photos! Here are my keepers. The rest I’ll throw back.

Here’s a little video I captured on my iPhone over the course of the morning.

A Day On The River With My Dad

I had hoped for a day that could be characterized by a scene like that. God, I hope that last sentence makes sense.

I’m tired. Long day. Lots accomplished. This crap about vacations being for resting… I don’t think so.

Stef was babysitting this morning. That put her afternoon shopping with my mom on hold, which left enough time for Helaine and me to hoof it to the top of Sleeping Giant. I expected this week would be sans walking. Wrong.

And I claim to predict the future for a living! What a scam.

Back–oatmeal–shower. Stef takes my mom and drives off. This leaves Helaine, my dad and me in the house. I had a plan. I asked my dad if he wanted to take a drive to take some photos? I knew the answer before I popped the question.

Have I mentioned I predict the future for a living? I’m pretty good at it.

We hopped in the car and headed toward Chester. The top was down on this sunny afternoon. This whole trip was a leap of faith. I programmed our destination and blindly followed the disembodied GPS voice toward the Chester/Hadlyme ferry slip.

My folks lived in Connecticut for fourteen years before moving to Florida, but I guarantee this ferry (and its sister that runs between Rocky Hill and Glastonbury) was totally off their radar.

My goal was simple–get access to the Connecticut River. Is there a better way to see it than crossing it in a boat? Actually, calling this ferry a boat is a stretch. I’m not sure how to describe it, except to say “small.” The web write-ups consistently say it takes 8 or 9 cars. Yes, but with a shoehorn.

We timed it perfectly, getting to the slip as the ferry was halfway to the other side. That gave us time to get out of the car and take some shots.

As I approached the ramp, a canoe glided by. A woman in a two piece was paddling as a large black dog stood watch in the front. I had hoped for a day that could be characterized by a scene like that. God, I hope that last sentence makes sense.

“The present ferry, the Selden III,was built in 1949. It is an open, self-propelled craft, 65 feet long and 30 feet wide. The vessel can accommodate 8 to 9 cars and 49 passengers. The Selden III provides a convenient, direct link between Chester and Hadlyme at Route 148.” – CT DOT

I definitely recommend the ferry over the free bridge a few miles upriver. The ferry toll is $3 for a car and passengers, but it’s a piece of heaven. About &#190 of the way across the deckmate looked up and told the handful of passengers there was an eagle overhead. Holy crap, there was!

Making it to the Hadlyme side was all I had planned for the day, but it was still early. I asked my dad if he wanted to visit Gillette Castle? It became our next stop.

William Gillette was a stage actor, born in the 1850s. His specialty was Sherlock Holmes. Born too soon for the movies (he has a few picture credits from the 1910s), he still did very well financially. Gillette Castle was his estate, overlooking the Connecticut River at East Haddam.

I visited the castle when I was a little kid and the fear induced by seeing this very weird residence (now a state park) is still with me! I felt sorry for the young kids being dragged in by their parents. They will not sleep well tonight.

“Gillette Castle, built at a cost of about $1 million and completed in 1919, features a number of peculiarities including hidden mirrors, a lock-protected bar and intricate, hand-carved door latches on each of the castle’s 47 doors–no two are alike.” –

I have more of an appreciation of Gillette’s home today. The outside is still strange to see, but inside is now more understandable.

It was hot today, so as I explored the home, my dad stayed downstairs. I can’t say enough about the Castle staff who brought him a chair and made sure he was comfortable. Then they let me backtrack (wrong way on the one-way stairs) to rejoin him when I was done.

We got back to the car and I punched the GPS screen a few more times, programming in our next destination. It wasn’t long before we were at the Goodspeed Opera House. As strange as it is to say, this theater in the middle-of-nowhere has an astounding history of spawning Broadway hits, including Annie!

Talk about spooky looking buildings!

The Victorian inspired theater sits on the river too, but at a much lower elevation than Gillette Castle. Unfortunately, there wasn’t the easy foot access we had there either. I went out and took a few pictures of the opera house and the swing bridge across the Connecticut and got back in the car.

That was it for us. We were ready to go home.

I am very lucky indeed to have a father I enjoy sharing afternoons like this with. I’m luckier still, he enjoys sharing them with me.

Bob Lacey Brings His Vacation To Connecticut

If he keeps the rest of his vacation as tightly packed as this first day, he’ll have no vacation.

My friend Bob came to Connecticut to spend a day. We weren’t going to squander it!

He left Charlotte, NC Saturday morning and was here by mid-afternoon. It didn’t take long to drop-the-top on my car so the two of us could head out. We hit the Glenwood Drive-In, a local dog house, before turning south to the shoreline.

Bob grew up here. He likes to go back to those places he remembers as a kid–especially the shore. We took I-91 south to I-95 then turned east&#185. We drove over the Connecticut River and exited on Route 156 in Old Lyme.

Old Lyme is an interesting place, because there are really two Old Lymes… at least to me. There is the beach area of Old Lyme with the Miami Beach Association’s plot of sand flanked by some loud beachside bars. There’s also the more quiet, more traditional Old Lyme. The homes aren’t as special as the care taken of them. In that way it reminds me of Greenwich or “The Flats” area in Beverly Hills. It’s quite beautiful in an understated way that can only be achieved when the construction in your town is mature.

We crossed back and continued up river to Essex. This is another picturesque New England community on the Connecticut River. Most people know it for its scenic railroad with steam engine rides up-the-river.

While Bob perused a gallery on Main Street, “Clicky” and I staked out the street, looking for photos to take. That’s where I ran into “W,” the dog. I held the camera very low to the ground and snapped away. It was too low for me to look through the viewfinder. I’m getting better at these low point-of-view shots, but still wasted most of what I took because the top of the dog’s head was out of my frame!

Down the street was a pretty town park which sloped to South Cove, on the river. Right in the middle a wedding party was posing for pictures. It was a spectacular day. I wonder how much angst the bride had hoping the forecast would come true?

Our evening ended with Helaine joining us for dinner at Lenny’s in Branford. Bob and I had the “Shore Dinner.”

As we drove home I saw I’d put over 100 miles on without going much of anywhere.

Bob left after breakfast on Sunday morning. He was on his way to Maine for a week with his grown son, Christopher. If he keeps the rest of his vacation as tightly packed as this first day, he’ll have no vacation.

&#185 – Though I-95 runs mainly east-west in Connecticut, it is marked north-south. To go east, follow the signs for north and vice versa.

Thanks Jim

She tried to offer Jim a tip, but he said it wasn’t allowed. Helaine said he was polite and helpful and… like I said, he’s guardian angel material.

Helaine and Stef are on their way to a concert tonight. They headed out early. Helaine always likes to leave plenty of time. Today it was warranted.

While cruising on I-95’s Baldwin Bridge over the Connecticut River, they heard a thud. Then they saw a piece of tire. A dashboard light was on a few seconds later. Her tire had gone flat&#185.

We have AAA. She has a cell phone. A call was made.

It’s never fun to change a tire, though that was never a concern. I’m pretty sure Helaine has never done changed one and never will. On top of that, it’s raining.

So, there they are, sitting in the car waiting for AAA, when up pulled Jim.

Who is Jim? Today he is Helaine’s guardian angel.

Jim works for the I-95 Safety Patrol. Paid for by the DOT, the patrol cruises I-95 in his yellow van, offering free assistance to stranded motorists.

As Jim found the spare tire and began to change the flat, Helaine called AAA to tell them “never mind.” A few minutes later it was mission accomplished and the girls were on their way.

Helaine tried to offer Jim a tip, but he said it wasn’t allowed. She said he was polite and helpful and… like I said, he’s guardian angel material. We are grateful.

If you’re wondering if Jim’s performance had anything to do with my TV-boy status, the answer is no. There was no way for him to know and Helaine never offered it up, though he might know now, because I gave him a shout-out on the news.

On behalf of the Fox Family, my thanks for Jim and to all the other Jims out there. You know who you are.

In a perfect world, they’d allow you to accept tips..

&#185 – Originally, Helaine said it was a blowout, which to me means a physical breakdown where the tire comes apart. I’m not sure that’s actually the case right now.

Quoted In The Register

Thanks to a 20 minute conversation with Ed Stannard of the New Haven Register, I’m in Tuesday’s paper. The story is about Sunday’s horrendous weather and the havoc it caused in this area.

It’s out of The Register’s coverage area and not there, but I am seriously worried about flooding Tuesday night and Wednesday on the Connecticut River. If it’s not major, it’s sure going to be close.

By the way, being quoted n the paper this way is much better than being there for committing a crime – in case you were wonderirng.

Continue reading “Quoted In The Register”

I Hate That Woodchuck

Drunk people in Western Pennsylvania get up early every February 2nd and watch as grown men in top hats and tails hold up a groundhog (aka – woodchuck) by the scruff of the neck. If the groundhog sees his shadow, we get six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, it’s an early spring.

Punxsutawney Phil – rodent

It is Groundhog Day. This is the one day every year when Punxsutawney, PA gets on the map.

Since I know some of you reading this check in from outside the United States, let me quickly explain. Drunk people in Western Pennsylvania get up early every February 2nd and watch as grown men in top hats and tails hold up a groundhog (aka – woodchuck) by the scruff of the neck. If the groundhog sees his shadow, we get six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, it’s an early spring.

This is a media event. Look at how they were set up for this morning

As the Groundhog Day celebration has grown in Punxsutawney over the past several years, so has our preparedness for the many members of the media who visit our town each year.

There are provisions in place to allow for convenient parking for satellite and other press vehicles at Gobbler’s Knob, and a designated press area is available for those covering the events.

Please contact us if we can help you with any aspect of your visit to Punxsutawney, or if you wish to arrange a radio or other interview.

A video feed of the events will be provided by the state of Pennsylvania:

EVENT: Groundhog Day Ceremony

TIME: 5:45 to 8:00 (Eastern)

SATELLITE: AMC – 9 (KU Band Analog)

MHz: 36



DOWNLINK POL: Horizontal


AUDIO: 6.2 / 6.8

By the way, it’s a scam!

OK – it’s not Enron or Tyco, but the Punxsutawney books are being cooked. This morning at sunrise, Gobbler’s Knobb, site of the groundhog, sat under a cloudy sky. That should have meant no shadow for Punxsutawney Phil. Guess again.

As always, Phil did see his shadow and word went out we’ll get another six weeks of winter.

As a weatherman… now a meteorologist… nothing thrills me less than knowing America is waiting to hear from the woodchuck that wants my gig! Damn you Punxsutawney Phil!

There is one good thing that’s come from Punxsutawney (other than my trip there, 30 or so years ago, for my friend Joel’s wedding at the Punxsutawney Country Club). it’s the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray, Andie McDowell and Chris Elliott¹.

I originally thought the movie was awful, but as I’ve watched it again and again and again, it has grown on me. Now I willingly watch and enjoy.

I wonder if anyone ever walks up to the woodchuck and tells him, “I wish I could have a job where I’m wrong 50% of the time and still get paid.” No – all the rodent gets is praise.

¹ – Chris Elliott lives, or lived, in a beautiful part of the state, not far from the mouth of the Connecticut River. if you run into him, please tell him I’m a fan.

My Flooding Concerns

There’s been a lot of rain in Connecticut this month. Some areas have gotten 8-9″ since Friday. The Connecticut and Housatonic Rivers have risen to flood stage, though both are receding at the moment.

I have used the word flood a zillion times and now I wonder if it might be too non-specific to be useful?

When the Connecticut River goes over bankfull in Hartford and fills a park with water, that’s flooding. When the Housatonic River starts encroaching on homes downstream from the Stevenson Dam that’s flooding. So are deep puddles on low sections of roads, basements with water and Long Island Sound moving ‘inland’ during winter storms.

All of these have different impacts. Most have different derivations. They all have the same name.

Is someone whose seen ‘flooding’ in the form of a submerged park in Hartford going to be wary of flooding when it’s flash flooding along a small brook? A flash flood could bring water to homes where it’s never been seen before.

I’ve often heard how Eskimos have many different words to describe snow. Maybe we need more words to describe flooding. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

The Snow is Finished

Yesterday was my day off – but how could I not work with a major storm coming! I went to work about 2:00 PM and, with Gil Simmons, did cut-ins through the afternoon. Then, I was on the news at 5, 6, 10 and 11, did more cut-ins through the evening and cut some special forecasts which ran on the station’s Internet site.

The snow didn’t come up to my expectations, though it was pretty bad. Some areas did get the two feet I called for. Most did not.

However, I didn’t get more than one or two small complaints – and I got nearly 700 emails this weekend! So, the forecast must have been close enough to prepare people for what came – and it was pretty awful.

After a storm like this I like to write and thanks everyone who went out and measured snow or sent me a snapshot. Attached below is what I sent.

Continue reading “The Snow is Finished”

Big rain

Yesterday’s forecast for today was mostly cloudy with scattered showers and thundershowers. I woke up this morning and it was sunny.

Let me pause and tell you one of the weirdest conflicts in my life is rooting for bad weather, just because I called for it! If I say blizzard and it’s flurries, even though I hate snow, I’m very upset.

So, obviously, I was on edge when I saw the Sun.

But, give Mother Nature credit for being somewhat predictable. By mid-afternoon, as the Emmy judges were leaving the house, the radar was showing building lines of thundershowers north and west of Connecticut (there were thunderstorms south too, but they were heading away).

These were big storms, full of those giant economy sized drops that you only get in the summer, and only in thunderstorms. It didn’t take long for streets to develop curb side streams, and puddling to take over low lying areas.

NEXRAD rainfall estimates show around 1″ of rain where I live, with higher amounts toward Waterbury and Meriden, and a significantly higher accumulation along the Connecticut River south of Middletown.

I picked up Steffie at work as a thunderstorm was just tapering off. They had closed the front door to the store because water was blowing in.