Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fall Bassin' local style

Each year, I always tell myself to take a day or two and try to target largemouth bass during the fall transition.  For many bass anglers, this is considered a right of passage or even a requirement for any experienced angler.  As fate would have it (actually family commitments), the last three years have not afforded me the chance to get on the water during this time period.  Well, I finally was able to make several trips over the course of the last week or so and try to get in on some of this famed fall transition I have always read about.

The first trip was a success and resulted in two of the three largest largemouth I have landed this year at 18.5" and 19.75" last week at the Smithfield HOW Event.  I followed that trip up with a tournament win at the inaugural Hooked for Breast Cancer benefit tournament.  My latest outing was a trip to the local neighborhood pond having not fished it since July and August of this past summer.  The plan was to keep it simple as far as tackle goes - a spinning rod with a small finesse style soft plastic worm, an ultralight spinning rod with a beetle spin for the crappie and bluegills, and a frog rod in case any topwater action was happening.

I launched shortly after lunch and was greeted to a pleasant day in the mid-70's with the slightest hint of a breeze crossing the surface of the pond.  I started off by targeting the now withering lily pads with the frog, then would follow up with a few casts using the finesse worm and ending with the beetle spin.  I worked this pattern for the first half hour until I missed a massive blow up on the frog.  That told me all I needed to know.  The ultralight and finesse worm were stowed for the time being and I focused on the frog.  I eventually coaxed a couple of bass into the Hobie on the frog, but none of them were substantial by any means.
As I made my way out of the main body of lily pads, I started honing in on submerged structure, which for this pond means trees and stumps.  I switched over to the ultralight first to try and coax the aggressive fish on the outer edges of the submerged trees and worked each pocket until I covered the whole target area.  After a few minutes of this tactic, I was rewarded with a feisty little 14" largemouth that slammed the beetle spin hard.

Once I finished that approach, I worked the same target areas from the outer edges back to the inner pockets using the finesse worm.  A key point needs to be clarified here - finesse has different meanings depending upon how you are fishing.  You can use "finesse" tackle or lighter gear with smaller presentations, or you can use "finesse" tactics by keeping your movements and presentations slow and purposeful when the bite is finicky or slow.  I was using the former paired with traditional soft plastic worm presentations having learned that the fish were still aggressive.  For my soft plastic worms, I use the Confidence Baits Draggin' Head almost exclusively now, because the hooks are razor sharp and require almost no "pro-style" hookset.  Just a slight raise of the rod and the fish is hooked.

Back to the fishing.......

In a pond of this size, the depths are not huge but the structure is everywhere.  Some of it is fized like the submerged trees and stumps, while other forms of structure are transitional.  These forms include algae mats, floating clumps of leaves and my favorite - floating logs.  While targeting a submerged tree, I saw what looked like the top of a tree in the middle of the pond.  As I maneuvered closer, I noticed that it actually was a huge floating laydown from where a tree had fallen in the water at some point and had ended up towards the shallow end of the pond.  The top of the tree was just barely afloat and created a prime staging area for a bass in the middle of the pond.

I fired off a cast past the laydown and let the plastic worm drop straight down before beginning my retrieve.  The first cast got hit hard at the kayak but came unbuttoned.  I fired off a second cast and worked it just like before but then paused as it came closer to the kayak.  Even with my finger on the braided line, the pickup was virtually undetectable until I saw the line moving away from me.  A quick vertical snap hookset and the fight was on.  Thirty seconds later and the battle was over - a nice chunky 17.5" largemouth made it's way onto the measuring board!
The rest of the day was just as productive with the plastic worm taking center stage and landing me five more bass, albeit none over 13".  My favorite part of the day was working a huge lily pad field at the back of the pond.  I could see multiple pockets of open areas back in the pads that normally are not accessible.  So I parked the Hobie in a spot that looked appealing and started working the open pockets with long casts and my trusty Stanley Ribbit.  I missed two blow ups - one from the bass not taking the frog completely for a hookset and another from the Ribbit's leg getting hooked and blocking the hook from a good hookset.  I was able to finally capture a frog strike on video even thought the fish wasn't huge.  All in all, it was good day for a short three hour outing.

The best action on the day was captured in video form as well, so enjoy the video montage.

The fall transition is in full swing, so get out there and satisfy those fishing urges you have.

Tight lines and be safe!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Getting "Hooked" to beat cancer.....

Today was the inaugural Hooked for Breast Cancer fishing tournament at Sandy River Reservoir to benefit Ms. Nancy McDaniel.  All proceeds from the tournament were donated to help the McDaniel family offset the growing costs of treatment for Nancy.
The day began at O dark thirty....literally.  Participant sign in and registration began at 0530 in the morning.  Safe launch was at 7:15 once thsun has risen far enough to burn off the lingering haze over the water.

After a tournament briefing and the rules by the benefit organizer Robert, we all launched and headed out.  The CPR (Catch, Photo, Release) Division was reserved for the kayak armada that descended upon Sandy River this day.  At last count, there were 10 anglers out and about chasing largemouth bass in hopes of returning to the check-in to register their three largest fish on the day.  The rules were simple: all bass 12" or over were eligible to be entered, with all bass over 16" recorded for DGIF data.

I pedaled out across the lake on a glass-like surface with nary a soul around me, since the power boat portion of the tournament had long since motored out to their preliminary spots.  As I was heading out, I spotted an appealing looking cove with some exposed trees.  Sandy River was approximately three feet below normal, so the normal target areas had changed drastically and forced the anglers on this day to choose their target areas carefully. 

I opted for three presentations today and promised myself to work them thoroughly and have faith in my decision.  I chose: a top water frog, a finesse soft plastic worm and a new bait for me, the Alabama Rig (albeit a small 3 headed casting one not like the monsters seen on the FLW and Elite Series Tournaments).  My first cast was at 7:30am, and I had my first fish in the boat at 7:34am.  Within the next 35 minutes, I would boat a total of 4 fish all on the topwater frog with only one of the fish measurable.  Not a monster at all but a measurable fish is recorded regardless, so the 12" bass was photoed and released.
I moved on to the next cove thinking I may have the start of a pattern for the day.  After two hours of dissecting each cove along the way out to my primary location, I landed four more fish again with only one measurable - another 12" monster!!!
As the morning wore on, the top water frog bit was losing ground to my preferred bait for the day - the finesse soft plastic.  I worked every nook and cranny at each laydown or exposed tree trunk I found - nothing until shortly after lunch when the action heated up for a period of five minutes right at 12:30pm.  I decided I had wasted enough time chasing laydowns, so I moved back into the standing timber and found a spot that looked appealing.
I worked the area around this location first, then turned the Hobie around and faced the now gusting winds.  This is when I landed three fish over the course of the next five minutes with every cast getting hit from the same tree stump.  I had a couple of nice ones come unbuttoned, but of the three landed two were measurable and larger than my previous ones.

One measured in at 13.25".....
And the other measured in at 17.25" one of the day.
By now, the fishing window was closing, and the winds were not relenting, so I headed back in making the long trek back.  I made it back with time to spare, so I took time to capture some of the reasons why we were there for the day.....

Third place in the CPR Division went to Derek with a total length of 37" I believe.  He received a $100 PowerTeam Lures gift certificate and a 6' YakAttack Park-n-Pole
Second place went to Jason (his first tournament by the way) with a total length of 40".  He earned a FishDV8 custom award plaque, a $150 PowerTeam Lures gift certificate and a YakAttack Kayak Starter Pack that had some GearTracs, and a YakAttack VisiCarbon Pro safety flag and light.
In the end, the length of the three fish I entered totaled 42.5" and was good enough to earn 1st Place in the CPR Division.

My prize package included a Fish DV8 custom plaque for 1st Place and $500.  I immediately walked over to Nancy and gave her a hug and told her thanks for being there and handed her the $500.  I had told myself when I entered the tournament a month ago that any proceeds earned would be donated regardless of the amount.  The tournament entries, sponsorships and raffle sales generated over $6000 to donate to the McDaniel family to help them offset some of the costs they are currently burdened with, so the $500 I donated I hope will only help them that much more.

In the end, some might say I was nuts for giving that large of a prize purse away, but I firmly believe that a benefit tournament should be just that - to benefit a worthy cause.  Maybe if we all felt that way, we could all start "getting hooked to beat cancer" and any number of other worthy benefits out there.

Tight lines and safe boating!

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Fresh Approach.....

Having fished saltwater for the past three months fairly consistently, I decided to change things up a bit and target freshwater this week.  My first outing happened to be in support of a scheduled Veterans event in Smithfield, VA.  This event is a large scale outing where members of the VA, Wounded Warriors, Heroes On the Water and other local active and retired military-based groups gather for a day of socialization and recreation.  The activities included: a driving range, a chip shot golf target, walking tours of the facility, a herding dog demo, an archery range, presentations on kayak fishing and fishing.   Fishing options included: fish off the bank, in a boat or a kayak.

For these all day outings, volunteers arrive throughout the morning, but we were afforded the opportunity to get on the water and pre-fish in preparation for the outing that began at 11am.  I launched at 7:30am into what I would consider a perfect morning: picture this if you will.....a slight haze over the water as the early fall temperatures begin to assert themselves creating just the slightest fog as the sun creeps slowly towards it's zenith pushing through the clouded barriers on the horizon.  The slightest whisper of a breeze traces a path across the nose on your face bringing with it a virtual bouquet of crisp, clean air..........peaceful and serene......

I decided the best approach today would be two primary presentations - a soft plastic and a small beetle spin.  I started with the beetle spin to try and locate some smaller active fish.  On this body of water, the depths are constantly fluctuating with deep holes up to 14' in some spots and several depth transitions throughout the lake with brush piles and other submerged structure creating prime target areas for the anxious angler in us all..  I was able to locate an aggressive bluegill almost immediately.  A good sign......
The water was crystal clear, so locating the brush piles was fairly easy; however crystal clear water creates a new challenge - trying to avoid spooking the fish.  I quickly changed tactics and started making longer casts to try and not alert the fish to my presence.  A few minutes later while working over the first brush pile, I landed the first of what would be many largemouth bass on the day.  As I worked my watermelon finesse worm across the limbs, I felt each subtle tick until the line stopped.  I waited a second and saw the line start to move to the right.  A quick reel down of the rod and a sharp vertical hook set, and I immediately realized I had on a decent fish.  The water temperatures were a little cool, so when the largemouth didn't put up that much of a fight, I had no clue how big it was.   That is until I boated it......a fat 18.5" to start the day is always a good thing!
With no real fight or disturbance of the area, I went right back to the same brush pile but only managed a bunch of juvenile bass in the 8-10" range.  So I moved on to the next target area and hooked into more bass in the 12-15" class and so began the non-stop action I would experience for the the next two hours.  I landed several fish like this.....
and a bunch of these......
I continued to work the areas 20-30 feet in front of me and was rewarded consistently with good pullage from the hungry bass.  When I didn't find brush piles, I targeted exposed wind-blown points and the primary depth transitions 3-5' off of the banks.  These transitions were everywhere on this lake and consistently held fish all day long.

As I approached this one exposed point, I saw three pockets of exposed grass staggered along the bank.  I fired a cast at the furthermost grass outcropping thinking I would cover all three pockets by passing in front of each one first, then I would go back and work each pocket if need be.  As I worked my soft plastic in front of the first pocket, I felt a solid take and the line started to move quickly away from me.  I reeled down and quickly was rewarded instantly with a drag ripping run straight behind me.  I caught a glimpse of the bass as it raced past me and realized I had a good one on.  Fortunately, she decided to just run back to the portion of the shoreline where there was no structure to get tangled in or possibly break the line.

I turned my Hobie around and leveraged the proper angle on her to turn her and start working her in.  She made a couple more drag ripping runs trying to escape, but I could see the hook was buried good and I knew I had a good chance of getting this beast in.  I finally got her close enough and quickly netted her not wanting to waste any more time.  She ended up being the best fish of the day measuring in at 19.75".
By the time I headed back in to help out with the events planned for the day, I had landed 18 fish - 1 bluegill and 17 bass.  After the initial briefing from the hosts, I recognized a couple of familiar faces had joined us for the day as volunteers - none other than Kevin and Beth from TidalFish!
I made my way over and chatted with them a bit and convinced them to take a stab at kayak fishing.  We made our way over to the other pond and helped them get situated in a couple of extra kayaks.  Our hero participation for the day was a lighter than expected, so some of the volunteers were afforded the chance to get on the water if they wanted to.  I took both of them out and headed straight for a cove that had produced for me in the past.  I talked them through the location and presentation techniques I was using earlier.  As I was showing them how to work the lure, I hooked into a nice 17" largemouth.
At this point, Beth's reel started acting up, so I handed her the reel I was using rigged with the same soft plastic.  A few minutes later, Beth lands her first freshwater largemouth bass, and a good one at that!  She measured in at 16".  It was cool watching her reel it in and land it like she had been bass fishing her whole life.
Then again, being a well respected and veteran angler in this region, I had every confidence that this dynamic duo could handle their own.  The rest of the outing consisted of a lunch break with some good eats - chili, comfort soup, beans & weanies, chicken salad sandwiches and plenty of good desserts.  Although I wasn't able to get Kevin on a fish, I know a little more time on the water that day and it would have happened.  The fish were in a feeding mood, and I was fortunate enough to have figured out the bait of the day early on.

The event was a success yet again with smiles and laughter all around.  I was able to help out some friends experience the kayak fishing lifestyle and help them get on some fish.  A successful day on the water if you ask me.  Sometimes is pays to take a fresh approach.

Here's a video of the highlights of the day - enjoy!!

Tight lines and be safe!!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Seussical kind of day.......

Sounds funny and it really is ironic in some ways but my day on the water in Mathews County this past Wednesday was literally.......One fish, two fish, redfish, bluefish!  I landed three fish total over the course of 6 hours of fishing and hitting two different locations with my friend Darren.  We agreed to launch around mid-morning, since the tides and currents were running a little later than we normally launched in the past.

As fate would have it, the stars did not align for us on this day.  The day before, a front began moving in and resulted in a little bit of a cold snap overnight with temperatures creeping down into the upper 40's.  As per usual, the winds were up as well blowing at a steady 10-15 knot clip out of the West, not the forecast of 5-10 as noted on various weather sites for the area.

I arrived a few minutes ahead of time, so I figured I would just ride the outgoing current out to the planned fishing area.  Along the way out, there are plenty of fishy locations to target.  My favorite target areas are the push water spots in front of extended grassy points in tidal creeks.  This is the area immediately in front of the point that creates a lull in the current flow and allows any fleeing bait fish a place for refuge out of the swift current.  It also is a primary ambush location for predators like redfish, stripers and speckled trout who lay and wait on the downstream current seams and eddy pools.
So, I worked each of these locations as I drifted along and only encountered one half-hearted nibble.  When I made it to the inlet, the current was running a little better, so I found an eddy to sit in.  This technique allows kayakers to utilize the natural movement of an eddy to hold your position and still be able to fish without having to anchor.  Positioning myself here allowed my bait to work its way naturally with the current by casting back into the creek and letting it drift out to the bay with only a subtle twitch here and there.  Nothing.

I figured maybe the fish had moved out of the inlet already since the prime window for the outgoing current had already passed, so I headed out and worked the channel edges along the shoals by trolling two different lures.  Darren had made his way out to the inlet and anchored up in the same current seam I had just left.  He finally got some action and landed a smallish 14" striper.  For me, a whole bunch more of nothing.  I did have a gull drift along with me for a bit and watch me with some measure of curiosity as I moved about.
When no bites were found, I moved back to the southern side of the inlet and worked the shoreline grass and parallel cuts and drop offs.  Encountered a few small croaker bites but nothing of any size.  By this time, we were both contemplating other target areas, especially when one of the locals rolled up on Darren in their 18' fibergalss beast and literally dropped their anchor right on top of Darren.  Needless to say, neither of us were pleased, but who are we to argue with a mass of fiberglass and gas?   So we left and made our way back into the tidal creek.

I worked the shoreline along the way where I had previously landed some nice croaker and reds in my past trips to the area. I was rewarded with what would end up being the best fish of the day, a redfish that measured in at a shade over 15" that had a cool dot pattern.  He hit a chartreuse mullet on a Marsh Works short shank jig head.
 We worked a few more of the same target areas as I mentioned before, as well as creek mouths.........
and the small grass islands that you find buried deep inside the creek channels with nothing more than a couple minor hits but no takers........
After little action, we decided to load up and hit another spot that had reports of recent activity in the way of stripers.  We arrived and launched with high hopes of getting on some decent fish before the day was over.  Unfortunately, more of the same.....nothing.  I worked some structure around the bridges and got a few small hits but no takers, so I moved to an adjacent creek that had similar features as before - some current, grassy points and push water creating current seams.  A few minutes of diligent work and patience rewarded me with the second redfish of the day, albeit smaller at only 12" but a little chunky and this one was landed using the same jighead but with a shad colored mullet.
About this time, Darren called over to me on the phone and had decided to bag it for the day and head on in.  I agreed with him and told him I would be right behind him.  As I started to head back in, my line started to jump then stop, jump then stop, jump then stop.......I reeled in the slack to see if there was anything there and felt the head shake of a hooked fish but it didn't put up any fight.  Must be a small one then.  I retrieve all the line and quickly learn my reward was a bait fish sized bluefish.....
Not the best way to end the day, but I still caught a few fish.  In hindsight, I had broken one of my rules when planning a fishing trip.  I had launched with the intent of fishing the day after a front moved in and temperatures dropped.  I traditionally only fish in this situation when the temperatures are rising not falling, and I typically wait at least 48-72 hours to let the weather and water conditions stabilize.  If I had followed my basic rule, I would have targeted Friday as my fishing day versus Wednesday.

Oh well, I still worked my fishing plan for the day, caught some fish, spent some time with a friend on the water, found a new location to fish and returned home safely.  Not too bad of a day, even if allI could think about on the way home was how I had landed........

One fish, two fish, redfish, bluefish!

Tight lines, and be safe!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Still searching......

The first weekend of October signifies a couple of events here in Virginia this year.  First, it signifies a drop in temperatures for the most part.  While the water temps are still hanging around the 65-70 degree mark and slowly cooling, the air temps have dropped significantly overnight sometimes dropping into the high 40's.  Second, for the loyal bridge anglers in the area, it also signifies a change in the target species at the bridge complex.  Last but not least, this year the weekend of October 5th - 8th signified the 1st Annual Virginia Beach Boondoggle - a gathering of like-minded kayak anglers from all over that get together for some social mingling and fishing.

I met a couple of familiar faces at the launch - Matt from KBF and Josh from MKF.  After a few quick tips and tricks for Matt who had never fished the bridge before, I headed out with Josh for possibly one of my last chances at a sheepshead before the water gets too cold for them.  I have ventured out chasing sheepshead now for the last 3 months and have not had any luck in getting one into the kayak.  My last two times out, I have at least had one on the line that came unbuttoned, but none in the kayak yet.  Unfortunately, this day I would later learn would hold much of the same for me.

Josh and I launched to cool air temps and 2-3 foot rollers in the surf.  Before we had even entered the Hobie to make our way out, we were was soaked from head to toe and cold.  The 5-10 knot winds weren't helping either.  Once we made it past the first set of breakers, the wave height swelled even more to 4-5 feet, but we just pedaled through and made my way to the bridge.  Along the way, we were chatting with one another about nothing in particular when we heard a noise.  I looked to our right and noticed that we had some interested tag-a-longs...........

The dolphins hung with us for about 30 seconds, then headed off on their own.  By the time we made it to our first spots, the sun had made it's way past the first layer of cloud cover on the horizon and started to warm the cool air.  We parted company and went to our planned fishing spots for the day.  I went straight for the same location where I lost my last two sheepsheads determined to ge one in the kayak.

After about an hour of working over the first 3-4 sets of pilings, I finally felt the slight weightless feeling you get when a fish takes your bait and swims upwards.  I reeled down and gave a quick vertical hookset, which was followed by a surge downward as the sheepshead realized it was now hooked.  What ensued was the most exciting and adrenaline filled 60 seconds of my angling career to date.

The sheepshead made a bulldog surge downward, but I was able to keep him off the bottom.   He then launched himself on a drag ripping run straight to the next set of pilings.  I reared back on him slightly to create some pressure to try and steer him clear of the pilings.  As the sheepshead turned, I felt the line go slack.  Knowing that the fish was most likely still on, I reeled quickly to take of the slack in the line and quickly realized he was swimming back towards me.  I was caught in between two pilings trying to make my way to him, when he surged straight down underneath my Hobie.  I had him hooked good, and he was not happy at all.  I got him under the kayak and started to reel him in when he made one final bulldog run downward.  It was then that my heart was broken........and my line for that matter.  The big sheepshead had wrapped the piling base underneath of me and broke free.

The rest of the morning held nothing of note for me other than a bunch of oyster toads and this healthy 10" sea bass.......

I may have one more chance to get out there to try and get one before the water temps get too cold, but my search for that elusive sheepshead still continues.

So close yet so far away.......

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Rainy day but smiles were all I saw ( a post-tournament report)

This past Saturday was the 8th Annual TKAA Kayak Fish for Charity Tournament to benefit Project Healing Waters and Heroes On the Water.  Every year I enter this tournament as a volunteer to assist the veterans who participate with us.  The entry fees go to benefit two worthy causes and the sense of fulfillment of everyone that participates is unparallelled.

I was able to pre-fish the day before, and I chose to spend it chasing after sheepshead and tautogs but came up empty.  I landed several fish including: oyster toads, croakers and sea bass, but my mind and heart really weren't into it, because I was already focused on the event the following day.  I was already formulating the spots I wanted to fish in hopes of helping a vet land some fish.

As luck and misfortune would have it, mother nature had other plans.  Not only were we approaching a full moon cycle which tends to change the prime fishing times, but the weather took a turn for the worse with rain moving in, temperatures dropping significantly overnight and a falling barometer.  In a little over 6 hours past midnight, the air temps had dropped from 75 to about 67 and continued to fall to around 63-64 which on most days is not that big of a deal.  Unfortunately, the winds picked up and were blowing steady in Rudee Inlet 5-10 knots with a constant barage of rainfall.  In other words, it was downright cold, wet and frustrating!
Not to be deterred, I launched and hit some sheltered areas first, then worked the shallows, some deep drop offs even some of the known fishy spots but to no avail.  We worked our way up towards the populated areas with all the docks and ran into a swarm of bait stealers but still no fish to speak of.  As I looked around, I noticed not many people having any luck either, but I was working my little keester off trying to locate some fish.  We made our way back towards another prime area and waited until the tide and current started to move.

I worked a variety of presentations to try and entice a bite - various plastic & jighead combinations, suspending jerkbaits, even a larger profile bucktail to try and entice a flounder or two.  All this amounted to was one small 12" speckled trout and a 4" pinfish between the both of us.  When the lunch time window arrived, we had to unfortunately head back to the launch empty handed.  Even as I apologized to him for not locating any fish, he simply smiled and said, "It's all good man!  That's fishing!"

Sometimes that message is a bitter pill to swallow, but it is what it is.  That's why it's called fishing and not catching as many have said over the years.  Even if it was a rainy day, the rain didn't dampen the spirit of the heroes and veterans that were able to participate in the event, nor did it extinguish the warmth that is felt by all who participate after sharing the day with these extraordinary men and women.

Tight lines and be safe on the water!  The weather is starting to turn colder, and it is time to pay closer attention to your apparel for each outing.