The day started off at 4am to the sound of my alarm chiming as I rose from my all too short slumber of 4 hours. The night before, I had pre-rigged two rods (one heavy, one medium heavy) for live bait presentations, a third with a small profile jig and a fourth with a 10" soft plastic in the event any larger predators made their way into my view. By 4:35am, I was out the door and on my way to Oceans East 2 to get some clams and fiddler crabs for the day's target species....spadefish and sheepshead.
The 4 mile traffic delay at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel should have been the warning I needed to avoid the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, but me being the stubborn person that I am plodded along through the delay and arrived at OE2 a few minutes after 6am. Behind the counter, a friendly face helped me in my decision on how much bait to purchase - a dozen clams and two dozen fiddlers should do the trick. While I was there, I couldn't help myself when I passed the Marsh Works display. I snagged three packs of the 3" Bayou Thumpers in colors I was running low on and added them to the total purchase.
I made my way over to the beach and was fortunate enough to find a spot right next to the launch. I took my time and loaded up the gear I would be taking, stowed the live bait and shoved off. The surf launch was calm, and I quickly made my way to the bridge pilings to start my quest. As I pedaled away from shore, I took time to look over my shoulder to see the sunrise on the horizon. I had missed the first hint of sunrise by only 20 minutes or so due to the traffic delay, but the sunrise was still a beautiful sight to see.
By the time I got on the water, high tide had long since been reached, the slack tide was ending and the start of the outgoing tide had begun. A little voice inside my head tried to warn me and inform me that the day was going to be a struggle. The predicted current flow from NOAA was -.7, but I had been at the CBBT previously when the same predictions were in the same range and they ended up being greater. Before the current started to ebb at maximum flow, I was able to manage 5 croaker, albeit the last one by pure accident. I'll explain a little later.
Remember, I said today was a day of firsts. It was the first time I had used clams and fiddlers as bait; the first time I was targeting spadefish; the first time I was targeting sheepshead; the first time I would be able to look at the CBBT structure using my Elite 5 DSI; and the first time I was on the lookout for "Mr. Brown", otherwise known as a cobia. All of these seem like worthy reasons to spend the morning on the water right?
So, I managed to capture a couple photos of the larger croaker, definitely not monsters to say the least....
Along with the photos above of the bridge complex, I also captured this one showing the effects of the ebb current and how rough it was.....notice the angled photo? The kayak was tossed around pretty good today, albeit no white caps but it was ripping much greater than the -.7 predicted in my opinion.
I stopped and chatted with various boaters all along the complex. It seems we all were having a tough go of it today. The boaters were using gudgeons for the most part and not having much luck.
I even saw our nation's finest hard at work.......
And even managed to capture a few images of the Elite 5 DSI in action, with this one being the best showing a huge bait ball and some structure on the bottom.
Notice the speed displayed? 1.15mph, doesn't seem fast, but that was the speed of the current still during the slack tide. So, many of my goals for the day had been fulfilled, albeit with no spades or sheeps to show for it yet. Remember that fifth croaker I mentioned, well.......
About midway through the morning, shortly after the 4th croaker, I had made my way from piling to piling in search of the spades and had made the decision to stop chasing spades and focus on sheepshead for a bit. So, I reeled in the clam bait and was ready to secure it. While sitting in a balanced position, I was looking downward at the live bait rig I had just retrieved, when I got an uneasy feeling suddenly. You know that feeling that someone is watching you or that something just doesn't feel right?
At that precise moment, I heard a wave crest and looked up in time to feel the entire kayak surge upward and roll left lifting me literally out of the seat and over I went into the 81 degree water. I managed to slow my fall and basically slipped over the side somehow while maintaining a hold on the kayak. My life surged before me in slow motion as I felt the water rush into my clothes and into my eyes and ears.
I gave a few rapid kicks and bobbed up to the surface. I took a couple quick breaths, opposed the Mirage Drive fins and righted the kayak fairly quickly even in the rolling seas. I reached across the hull and gave a couple swim kicks and lifted myself back into the seat. The contents of my kayak were now strewn across the immediate area in some form of a scatter plot on a graph. I looked around and took a quick inventory of my gear and that's when the heartache set in.......
Some of my recently purchased items were still present and functioned according to plan and design. My newly purchased Olympus Tough TG-320 was now swimming amongst the fishes, but it was saved by the camera float wrist strap I received this past Christmas. My newly purchased Standard Horizon HX-751S Floating VHF Marine Radio was getting a nice bath as it it bobbed along the surface awaiting rescue. The other saving grace was a product I had purchased after I had lost a rather costly combo at the HRBT this past November to a rogue wave. That product I purchased was the 3 pack of Blakemore Rod Savers.
When I fell in, the rod I was holding naturally left my hand as I let go to try and maintain a grip on the kayak. When I re-entered the kayak, I didn't notice the rod at first, but as I pedaled back towards the bridge complex, I noticed the rod floating along as if it was just catching some rays and relaxing in the morning sun. I was relieved, since I had just purchased the Shimano Calcutta 200 last fall and had just received it back from a scheduled service and cleaning. My relief soon turned to despair and heartbreak when I realized what items were missing.....
Lost to "Davy Jones' Locker" were:
1. A conventional combo I had just purchased - Shimano Tekota 500 and a Star Custom rod (value $400)
2. A waterproof container of various lead weights - total value of $30
3. A small package of jig heads specifically for spadefish - not much value but the only ones I had today.
4. My bundle of 15 hand tied leaders in 30lb. flouro
5. My new spool of 30lb. Yozuri Hybrid
6. Lastly, and probably the most heart wrenching....a box of hand tied custom flies
I basically was crushed at this point - I had two dozen fiddlers with no means of hooking them, weighting them down or dropping them into the water. So, the plan of targeting sheepshead was over before it even began. The spades were nary to be found, and the only fish caught on the day were runt croakers. To add insult to injury so to speak, when I finally located the Calcutta drifting along, I reeled in the line that had been pulled out from the loosened drag I had set and discovered the fifth and final fish of the day - a 6" rat croaker.
I didn't give up - I kept fishing each piling diligently like Kayak Kevin and Rob Choi taught me. I started high in the water column and worked my way down a foot or so at a time to no avail. By the time I had made it out to the first island, I was needless to say a little demotivated at this point. I ran into Rob Lee while I was out there, and he reported that he had been catching nothing of any size either - he had landed some croaker, an oyster toad and a couple baby rock bass.
By this time, my stomach started talking to me, and I knew my day was close to an end. I knew that if I had not located the spades by late morning that my day would be pretty much over. So, I slowly made my way back to shore fishing more of the pilings until I had reached the small boat channel. I decided that I had worn out my welcome for the day and made my way back. I recovered at the beach successfully without any incident in the gently crashing surf zone and packed my gear and left.
A day that started with so much promise ended with utter frustration and disappointment. Some would say that any fish is better than no fish, in fact I utter that statement many times over to myself. But when you have a plan and it goes completely south beyond your control, you can see how one could be a little frustrated. This marks the third time I have been to the CBBT and not landed my target species. While the day ended in frustration, I know I'm still stubborn enough to go and do it again!!
Looking back on the day, I think there are a few lessons to be learned and shared here......
#1 - don't take anything on the water that you are not willing to lose and have to replace. It's a cruel fact about fishing out of a kayak, especially in heavy current.
#2 - what you do take, make sure you have some form of leash or flotation aid capability in place. Anything that is not leashed or has flotation will drop like a rock and be lost most likely forever.
#3 - self awareness and kayak positioning are critical to handling sudden changes in wave direction or wakes that may arise. If I had positioned myself to face the incoming waves a little better, I might not have been surprised and tossed like a rag doll. I also would most likely still have all my gear.
#4 - possibly the best lesson of all. Do not head out into heavy current without the ability to re-enter your kayak with the gear and rigging you will use on a given day. Self-recovery in moving water on an basic kayak is relatively simple compared to righting one that is loaded with rods, tackle organizers, safety flags, etc. that create significant resistance. These items also potentially limit how you can re-enter the kayak once it is righted.
I hope others can find some takeaways or lessons learned in my mistakes and avoid a similar situation in the future.
Tight lines and be safe!!