Friday, May 4, 2012

Pedaling the blues and croakin' at night......

Mid-week outings are fairly limited for me due to work and home commitments, but when the stars align and my schedule works in my favor, I try and take advantage of it.  Such was the case this past week.  I had originally planned to target stripers at the HRBT with recent reports of multiple 30" plus specimens being seen and caught in the bay.  I had been forewarned though by a good friend that I needed to be mindful of the bluefish.  For those that have never tried fishing amongst bluefish, the challenge is two-fold.  First, you need to get the lure past the feisty blues that sit at the surface and attack anything that comes near to them.  Second, you need to select a presentation that will entice the big stripers to hit, since the larger ones are more discerning on what they will strike.

I launched at 9pm at the start of the maximum outgoing current and searched the entire length of the Norfolk-side of the HRBT tunnel complex.  I didn't see a single striper but landed several bluefish in the first hour on the water.  No matter how heavy a presentation I was casting, the bluefish were so thick that I barely had time to engage the reel allowing the lure to fall before the lure was hit by the voracious blues.  I started out with a 1/4oz. jig head paired with a Marsh Works Bayou Thumper in Pearl.  When that didn't fall fast enough, I stepped up to the 3/8oz and still kept getting nailed by blues.  When my largest jig head at 1/2oz was still getting nailed by blues, I knew that I would have a very difficult time getting to any of the stripers that I could see lurking below.  All of the Thumpers I was using were soaked in some leftover Gulp Alive formula I had laying around from an older Gulp container.  Gulp products are very effective but are easily shredded by saltwater species, so I typically steer clear of them but love the fish attractant formula.

I made my way over to the island and the outer rocks to see if the stripers had moved away from the bridge pilings for a possible reprieve from the ravenous blues but didn't find any.  I did find some slower moving current near there and figured the jig head approach might have a better chance of getting lower in the water column, so I made a few casts.  I was getting subtle hits that felt different from the aggressive bluefish hits.  After a couple casts, I got a good hook set and knew right away that this was no blue.  This fish pulled a bit harder.  Ended up with a nice Hickory Shad measuring in at a shade under 17".
A few minutes later is when the bluefish blitz was on for a solid 2 hours.  The surface was busting with cruising blues that had corralled hundreds of glass minnows into several pods all along the light line.  I knew exactly when and where the glass minnow bait balls had moved, because the sea gulls and other birds would start sounding off to their other winged friends.  Just about that time, I would see the tell tale sign of surface strikes and aerial launches as bluefish would crowd the glass minnows to the surface and attack.  I simply pedaled my Hobie Revolution 13 within a few yards of the activity and make a cast.  This would last for 15-20 minutes before the bait ball would dissipate and move along the bridge span until they were located again by the bluefish onslaught.  The bluefish landed were almost identical in size consistently between 12-14" with an occasional 15-16" landed sparingly.
When the outgoing current began to decrease in intensity, it became easier to position myself near the eddies behind the bridge pilings.  This also meant that it was easier to get my presentations lower in the water column.  When I began targeting the eddies, the bite changed from an aggressive one to a familiar machine gun bite, the tell-tale bite of the ever popular croaker.  For their size, they are not only very tasty, but they are also fun to catch on light tackle.  Croaker can reach sizes up to and above 19-21".  Tonight I only landed 7 or 8 of the smaller ones ranging from 7-12" nut the fight was fun nonetheless.  Here are some examples of the few that I landed:

When targeting croaker, it is critical to use smaller hooks but not too small.  They will attack anything that comes near them.  They are also notorious bait stealers, because they will attack a soft plastic or live bait with a machine gun like attack until the bait falls free or into smaller pieces.  To combat this, I targeted bluefish first, but when the soft plastic had become too shredded into smaller unusable pieces, I simply threaded the remaining piece back onto the jig head and cast it right into the dead water right against the bridge piling.  This is where the Marsh Works Bayou Thumper came in handy.  Thumpers are made of a very resilient material that will hold up to several bluefish strikes until they finally sever the tail.  When that happened, I would target the bridge pilings.  This technique produced the few croaker I landed for the evening.  This technique also resulted in the only flounder bite of the evening - a nice little juvenitle flounder at 12" that was released to go back and grow bigger.

When the jig head and scrap plastic of the Bayou Thumper made it away from the eddy, anew species of fish joined in on the party - the weakfish (aka grey trout).  The grey trout is different from the speckled trout in that they have a different color to them.  They are typically more greenish in tint that fades into a silvery belly.  The markings are also not spots like the speckled trout, they resemble dashes more than spots.  While the minimum keeper size is 12" in the state of Virginia, the maximum daily creel limit is only one per angler.  Since the grey trout population has not been as plentiful as the speckled trout, I never keep any.  So, the largest grey trout landed was a nice little chunk at 14" that was release to go and grow bigger.
  When the slack tide hit shortly after 12:36am, the bluefish bite continued albeit somewhat slower for the next hour.  I was still catching blues and the occasional croaker or weakfish, but I knew my night of fishing was coming to an end.  When I saw a lightning strike about 10 miles away on the far side of Newport News, I knew it was time to make a hasty exit, so I stowed my rods and kicked the Mirage Drive and Turbo fins into high gear and make short work of the nearly mile and a quarter journey back to the launch.  While Mother Nature cut the evening short, the night was still a success.  I landed over 60 fish in a little over 4 1/2 hours, five different species of fish and learned a new pattern for those nights when the striper bite is not in full force.

Until next safe, be aware of the environment and take a kid or service member fishing.

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