Anglers on the east coast have long hailed the abundance and variety of the fish you can target in the Hampton Roads/Chesapeake Bay region. From the citation flounder and speckled trout found all throughout the tidal creeks and rivers, to the sheepshead and tautog found near the CBBT and the bull reds on the Eastern Shore and off of the Sandbridge Pier - there is a little something for everyone. One of the more popular species to target this time of year is the striped bass. From the citations stripers off the coast of the Eastern Shore and York River to the schoolie action found near "light lines" in and around the region, they are a targeted species and one that puts up quite a fight on light tackle. The most notable light line being that of the HRBT or Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.
For me, finding time to make it out there during the week usually doesn't pair well with my work schedule and having to be up and ready to roll at 5am every weekday. A lucky star must have been shining down on me this past week, because I was able to make time to get out one evening under mild conditions and have a night to remember. The biggest challenge my fellow kayak anglers always caution newcomers about at the HRBT is the small craft traffic in and around the area. When fishing at night, it is always best to make yourself as visible as possible to decrease the chance at getting run over. Avoiding the small craft channel is a good option as well. Of course, sporting any reflective gear on your person and on your kayak only makes you more visible. Combine that approach with a high visibility hat and/or top paired with my trusty VISICarbon Pro kayak specific safety light and you have a winning formula for the start of a safe outing at night.
As for my evening on the water, it was a night to remember. Air temps at launch were 51 degrees with a slight wind out of the south, and water temps were hovering right at the 55-57 degree mark depending upon your depth. The night started off slow, which was to be expected due to a slack tide when I was finally able to launch at 9:15pm. As I paddled out, some nearby bank fishermen were having some good luck on speckled trout by casting a jig head with a swimming grub alongside the bridge pilings and just retrieving it back. I had brought only 2 rod combos to simplify my evening on the water. I paddled out and started scanning the area for any activity and used my fish finder to help mark where the schools of bait fish were at. After 45 minutes on the water, I landed my first fish of the evening - a feisty 20" striper. I landed him on a plastic sea shad rigged on a 1/4oz jig head.
I kept working the same area but found nothing. I noticed my friend Simon from KBF was peddling around in his Hobie Revolution looking for fish as well. He had only caught a few up to that point, but he and another KBF friend started earlier than I did. By the time I landed my second fish of the evening, a 12" speckled trout, both Simon and Steve were calling it a night and heading back in. I landed the trout using the new Marsh Works 3" Bayou Thumper in Voodoo Brew color using a slow crawling retrieve with an occasional short vertical twitch to create additional noise.
I wasn't able to use the Thumpers in earnest tonight, because the bluefish were stacked up in numbers and were chomping off the tails of them. Color wasn't that big of a concern for some reason, as long as it had some measure of a dark outline. I used a variety of colors from traditional sea shad, to a blue sea shad and even a greenish tinted sardine - all were hammered by the stripers. I even tried my favorite color - a salt and pepper shad but they never moved or even showed any interest in them, so back to the other darker colors.
A short while later, the incoming tide started to move in earnest, and I noticed surface activity almost immediately. So I paddled over to a spot and waited looking for the tell-tale "torpedo" shapes in the water chasing bait fish. Sure enough, there they were - stacked up 3and 4 deep nailing anything that dare stray too close. For the next hour and a half, I spent the majority of the time fighting the current and wind to maintain my kayak position. I had switched back to the sea shad soft plastic, since all of my Thumpers had been chomped by the bluefish. I also ran into Forrest from TKAA, so I chatted with him for a bit before heading back to my spot and trying to land a few more. In between paddling and maneuvering, I managed enough well-placed casts to land 14 more stripers, the largest measuring in at 23 1/4" and the smallest at 19 1/2".
Total catch for the evening was 17 fish with only 3 misses - a total catch length of 332" of striped bass and 12" of speckled trout. As the morning wore on and the tide began to get a little stiff, I forced myself to leave and head in even though the bite was still going strong. It was 3:30am when I finally managed to pull out of the parking lot and start to make my way back home. The one downside to this whole trip was that my original day off on Friday was cancelled, so I was going to be one tired individual by the time I got home. Well, I pulled into my driveway at 4:45am and set my alarm for 5:45am to try and get some semblance of a nap before having to get up and off to work shortly after 6am. My body is paying for it now, but it was worth it.