Monday, April 23, 2012

The Importance of a Backup Plan......

Last week, the winds and weather were favorable on my scheduled day off.  I was planning on just heading out for a quick trip for some potential dinner when the opportunity to head over to the Eastern Shore became too tempting to resist.  So, I loaded up the Hobie Revolution 13 the night before and my two primary rods for heavier presentations (ie: that means targeting larger fish), but I also carried my lighter rods in the event that the initial outing didn't pan out as planned.   You see, ever since my outing late in 2011 where I brought home a couple Striped Bass to clean and eat, my son has been on me to bring home dinner every time I head out.  My backup plan was to target Speckled Trout and Flounder later that day at Rudee Inlet in case the big reds weren't around the target area on the Eastern Shore.

I awoke the next morning and helped the family get their day started with some breakfast for my son and some coffee for the wife.  A quick hug and kiss to my son and wife, and I was on my way to the Eastern Shore.  I arrived at the Wise Creek launch a little later than planned, but I knew I was only going to be there for 4-5 hours at most before heading to Rudee Inlet for the second phase of my trip.  I arrived and unloaded all of my gear for the first part of the day and launched into a moderate wind that was blowing at approximately 10 mph out of the north.
The primary target area was the area just inside of the Smith Island shoals.  On days where the wind is really blowing hard and the tide is right, the shoals can be a risky proposition even for the most veteran of kayak anglers.  I erred on the side of caution and remained on the backside of the shoals to reduce the likelihood of any dangerous situations.  The area I launched from at Wise Creek is just north of Fisherman's Island, and it is a protected wildlife preserve that is home to a variety of creatures.  One can see any number of natural inhabitants when you come here.  Whenever I pedal out from here, I always take notice of the scenery that abounds.

I made my way around the northern flats that surround Fisherman's Island and dropped my heavier trolling rig in the water.  I was using a 6'6" custom Star Rod paired to a Shimano Tekota 500.  This rig is geared towards the potential for larger fish like bull reds and big striper but is still sensitive enough to use on smaller species like flounder, sheepshead and tautog.  I have it spooled with 65lb. braid and tipped with a leader of 80lb. monofilament.  I tied on a 3oz. chartreuse bucktail and tipped it with a pearl Marsh Works 4.5" Bayou Thumper.  I figured go big or go home.

While things were a little slow, I figured  I would give a shout out to my fellow kayak angler Rob Choi.  I had noticed his car in the parking lot when I launched, so I figured I had picked a good day to at least be out on the water.  You see Rob is well known in this area as a skilled kayak angler that doesn't have too many days on the water without some form of success.  So I took out my phone and gave him a quick shout.  I left him a voice mail letting him know I was out in the same general vicinity.  I barely had put the phone away, when he called me right back.  He told me that they had been chasing a small group of fish and had landed a few 40"+ striper already but the bite was not a good one yet.  Right at that time my clicker starts screaming at me, so I engaged the lever drag and began to stow my phone back in its protective case.  By the time I had a chance to get a hold of the reel, the fish had gotten off.  Oh well, back to drifting and trolling.

Rob was right - the bite was just off for some reason.  I caught up to Rob and saw that he was with some familiar faces: Kayak Kevin Whitley, Shante, Damien, Lee and fellow TKAA anglers Wayne and Mo.  It was our own little kayak armada and no other boats were anywhere to be seen!!  We all were hunting for the big reds that frequent the shoals - some of them were standing trying to sight the fish, while others were trolling and casting.  The water clarity on the southern side of the island was a little cloudy due to the action of waves and current on the shoals.  Water clarity was at most a foot, so sighting fish would be a challenge to say the least.  When none of us were getting any hits at all, we decided to beach the kayaks on one of the small sandbars created by the shoals and have lunch.
The day wore on and no bites were to be had by anyone, but the time spent on that little sandbar was one I will cherish nonetheless.  My schedule doesn't always allow me to get on the water with Kevin, Rob, Damien, Lee or Shante, so the social aspect of the day was a huge bonus for me being able to hang out with kayak anglers of this caliber.  While we were hanging out, we were milling about on the sandbar and noticed some movement in one of the shallow pools on the front of the bar.  There was a small ray that had become disoriented when it had ventured into the small pool during the ebb tide and became trapped.  We worked our way into the shallow pool and helped guide the small ray out into the main current and swim away unharmed and less stressed.
As the tide began to shift, the consensus was to call it a day and head on back during the incoming tide on the chance that there were incoming fish in the flats and cuts that surround the island.  The wind was dead into our face on the way back, but the Mirage Drive made quick and easy work of it.  Once I made it back to the launch, I loaded up quickly and bid farewell to my friends.  I quickly made my way back across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel towards Rudee Inlet to target dinner.

I launched from the Owl Creek ramp right at 4pm and made my way to the front of Rudee Inlet in hopes of finding some flounder.  I was trolling a Marsh Works 3.5" Bayou Thumper in Morning Glory on a 1/4oz Marsh Works Bull Red jig head and a Killa Squilla in Pearl with a chartreuse tail on the same jig head.  I had no bites on the way out towards the front portion on the inlet to Lake Wesley.  This portion of the inlet is loaded with docks and moorings providing cover for the variety of species that inhabit the inlet.  No less that 10 species can be caught in the inlet as the year progresses.  This time of year is typically a bluefish and speckled trout window; however, the mild winter we experienced have accelerated the normal fishing calendar with croaker, puppy drum (redfish) and flounder already being caught in the inlet.

I pedaled my way up front to target the eddies created by the outgoing current around dock pilings and moorings.  I began by skip casting my lures under the docks and working my lures alongside the dock pilings.  On the second dock I targeted, I had a hard strike that took the Squilla for a quick ride but failed to get a hook set.  It felt like a puppy drum strike, but I think I tried to set the hook too soon before the fish had a chance to inhale the lure completely.   I kept trying the same dock but couldn't get any more hits, so I moved on to the next one.

That was the pattern I believed to have the best chance at success for the time being, so I kept at it but couldn't get any more hits.  Was my pattern wrong?  I pedaled back to the previous dock and noticed a subtle the difference I may have overlooked.  The first dock had a longer main dock that led out to a larger perpendicular dock landing creating a larger area of cover with more pilings.  The second dock I had targeted was not only shorter in length from the shore but also had a small floating dock at the end creating only surface cover but no pilings to provide cover under the water.

I pedaled around looking for docks similar to the first one and found another one farther back.  While making my way over to the dock, a family was fishing out of a boat in the center of the channel.  They were amazed at the ease in which I moved about in my Hobie, so I stowed my rods and made my way over to their boat.  I spent a couple minutes showing them the concept of the Mirage Drive and how easy it is to maneuver when used with the Twist and Stow rudder.  After the quick info session and chat, I made my way back over to the dock and promptly landed a nice 16" bluefish.  It was fun listening to the little kids on the boat squeal with joy.
I knew from our discussion during the impromptu Hobie demo and tutorial that they were fishing for dinner, so I offered up my catch to them.  They declined, so I pedaled over to let the kids watch the bluefish swim away unharmed.  I said my goodbyes and pedaled further back into the cove and saw someone fishing off their docked boat.  I noticed that they were using a lightweight swimbait that didn't have any action to it at all, so I offered up a few of my Marsh Works items as a sign of goodwill.  During our chat, I learned that they had just moved there from up north and had just picked up the "fishing fever".  I pedaled up to their boat and came alongside.  I gave them 4 of my Bayou Thumpers one each in Tequila Sunrise, Smoke, Voodoo Brew and Shrimp.  I also gave them a couple bull red jig heads, one in copper and one in white.

By this time, the sun was going down and no candidate for dinner had been landed, so I headed back towards the main launch to target some speckled trout or flounder.  I was working some submerged structure and getting some strikes, but I knew they were bluefish and was not too interested in that species for dinner, so I didn't set the hook.  I decided to change tactics at this point and tied on a Mirrolure in Hot Pink.  I had only been working it for a minute with a twitch twitch pause technique when I felt a strong pull on the rod and could quickly tell that it was not a bluefish.  This fish fought strongly on my lighter tackle and was very stubborn in not wanting to surface.  A quick 30-40 second fight resulted in something finally to take home for dinner - a nice 18.25" Speckled Trout!
It was now dark, and I knew my day was at an end.  I made my way back over to the launch and packed things up to head back home.  I sent my wife a quick photo from my phone and let her know that the trip was a success.  My son made sure to tell me the next morning how happy he was that I caught some dinner for us.  While I was glad to bring home some dinner, I typically only bring home a fish or two every couple of months.  I am a huge believer in catch and release and the preservation of the Chesapeake Bay fishery.

All in all a successful day, but it would not have been so had I not had a backup plan.  The other key to a backup plan is to always communicate with others prior to your departure about where your next location is going to be.  I had told my wife beforehand about my plans, but I sent her an updated text message as I was headed that way.  I also mentioned it to Wayne and the others at Fisherman's Island as I was leaving, too.  This way, I knew several folks knew not only where I was going, but also when I was heading in that general direction.  This may seem overcautious to some, but having a current float plan and sharing it with others is the key to keeping tabs on your whereabouts in the event that something happens and delays yours return home.

Until next time, tight lines, be safe out there and give something back to others by taking a kid fishing or saying thanks to a service member for all that they do.

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