Monday, August 6, 2012

Paddling and stalking unwanted species

The goal of the day was simple - find some snakeheads, catch them, kill them and eat them or give the meat to someone who wanted it.  I met Seth (smbassassassin) and Mike (redfish12) at the launch and we set out with a plan to target snakeheads along the edges of the spatter dock (basically tall lily pads that extend out of the water) and in the holes we could see amongst the grass beds.  We also had a secondary plan for the day to try for some tidal largemouth as an alternative if the snake hunt proved unsuccessful.  Our adventure found us launching at the end of a falling tide, so the primary target areas we had hoped would hold fish were already too shallow in the first creek fingers we explored.

So, we moved out of the creeks and back into the main stem of water.  Although the grass beds were super thick, the water was exceptionally clear and sighting fish was almost too easy.  Unfortunately, the wind created some visibility limitations due to mild chop on the water surface, so we ended up spooking more bass than we landed.  We all sighted several bass in the 14-17" class which I later learned was known locally as the "Potomac Special", as well as some spunky little yellow perch, chunky bluegills, a couple of fat 24"+ blue catfish and several snakeheads including one that was easily 40" plus.

The primary target was still the snakeheads, so when we made the turn and flowed with the outgoing tide, we focused primarily on looking for the tell tale signs of bait fish frantically fleeing, otherwise commonly known as "nervous water".  This is an excellent indicator that a predator of some form is nearby, for snakeheads, it is fairly easy to tell.  To me, it looked like the surface waking in front of a school of upper slot redfish.  You could see the waking on the surface from as far away as 50 yards in some cases.

Pretty soon, we moved out into the bay area and started watching the shallow grass covered flats for the waking action of a irritated snakehead, and it wasn't long before Mike sighted them first.  He found a cut in the grass beds that basically acted like a freeway providing a direct line deep into the grass beds from the main channel.  As he sat amongst the outer edges of the grass beds on one side watching the cut, I positioned myself on the other side about 30 yards away.  After five minutes of watching and waiting with little action to speak of, I decided to target the thicker grass mats that had small visible pockets.  I had missed a nice one a short while earlier using the same pattern, so I figured I would try it again.  Glad I did.  A massive blow up was my reward and the end result was a nice 17" "Potomac Special" - the largest one of the day.

Shortly after that, the waking action started again only this time it was more frantic.  We later learned that the waking was from at least 3 different snakeheads.  Mike was tossing a super fluke with a paddle tail style bait, and I was using the trusty old Ribbit.  Mike had the first strike but failed to connect.  When the snakehead did not show any more interest in Mike's offering, I moved into the grass beds further in than Mike and cast perpendicular to Mike's casting area.  This resulted in an aggressive follow and enormous wake action but no take.

I started casting parallel to Mike's line but opposite of his direction.  My very first cast was immediately followed.  As I slowed the Ribbit to a painful crawl, the feet kept churning along with a rhythmic "blub blub blub blub" noise that apparently infuriated the snakehead.  He exploded on my frog and spat it before I could even blink.  It was a violent strike and one I will not soon forget.  The water's surface erupted like a volcanic explosion, and I caught a glimpse of the head and knew I had just missed a quality snakehead.

After 30 minutes more of trying, I abandoned my snakehead hunt for that area and joined Seth further along the bay and started working the same pattern again.  Seth had switched over to a senko and was working the deeper holes and pockets and quickly caught his first of the day, quickly followed by another from the same hole
As we moved along the deeper channel, Seth motioned me over to try and help entice some larger bass he was sighting.  I moved around to the opposite side of the hole and tried a few casts with no takers.  I decided to approach the hole from a different direction but I didn't see any fish.  I decided to move over to a duck blind nearby and work the edges.  I was not prepared for what happened next.  I had switched rods over to a fluke style bait with a paddle tail and started casting and working that along the edge of the duck blind.  I made a half-hearted cast directly into the center opening under the duck blind in the hopes of picking off another bass.  I wasn't prepared for the 40" plus snakehead that was apparently resting under the duck blind.  When he launched out from under the duck blind and eschewed my fluke out of his area, my heart skipped quite a few beats.  After a few choice mutterings under my breath, I couldn't entice any more strikes from this beast even with the Ribbit, so Seth and I moved on.

Seth and I continued to work our way around the tidal bay and spotted several more measurable fish but none were caught.  By this time, Mike had moved on from the initial target area decided to try a couple of different holes that had produced in the past.  Although Mike ended up with a couple smaller "specials", fish are fish and any fish caught is better than none.\ Although we did not have an exceptional day from a numbers perspective.  All three of us caught fish, and we even were privileged to see Mother Nature on full display.

 A Potomac River tasty morsel, rather shell from a molting crawfish.
 These two were quite the vocalists on the day........
The amount of snails, and large ones at that, was quite surprising.  This one was easily 4".

All in all it was a successful day.  I learned that the snakehead is an awesome predator, no matter how unwanted the species is.  You have to appreciate the shear size and speed of these creatures and how protective/territorial they can be.  I also realized that I was unprepared for the other species that inhabit these waters.  I will remember next time to bring a couple spinning outfits - one for small soft plastics and the other for a panfish style presentation.  I am already anxious to get back and try again.  Now that I understand how Territorial these creatures can be, I know a couple spots that I will be targeting when I return in the near future.

Thanks again to Mike for the suggestion of the location, and to Seth for spending time with a couple of Hobie nuts.  On a side note, the grass was so think that Mike and I paddled our Hobie Revolutions all day and didn't have any issues of note except for the cross winds blowing all day which made holding a track interesting to say the least.

Until next time, be safe, tight lines and always remember to leave the water a little bit cleaner than when you arrived!

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