Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Kows Past

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is what many in this region refer to as a magical time for the striped bass angler.  The reason this time of the year is so special and coveted is that the temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay start to fall and approach the low 50 degree mark.  The striped bass have left their northern summering water holes and have started moving south, making their first appearances normally near Ocean City, MD and Delaware.  For the Chesapeake boat angler and countless charter boats, the search for that coveted citation is centered around the high-rise and 4th Island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  This area is not recommended for kayak anglers, due to the increased boat traffic and countless lines in the water being trolled and drifted.

As a kayak angler, we find refuge in the remains of the concrete ships located a few hundred yards off the beach at Kiptopeake State Park on the Eastern Shore.  These ships were partially sunk and placed here in 1948 to form a ferry breakwater; however, the ferry went out of business shortly thereafter but the ships remained and now are a natural habitat for many coastal birds and fish, including tautog, sheepshead and the coveted striped bass.
The last week found the winds to be unfavorable for fishing the ships at times reaching 25mph and higher.  For those new to the fishery and concrete ships at Kiptopeake, you can fish the ships in most calm conditions; however, any winds above 10-15 mph results in the kayak angler spending more time focusing on boat position than fishing.  I was watching the forecast and the real time winds for Kiptopeake and noticed a window of approximately 6-8 hours where the winds were going to be blowing out of the northeast between 3-8mph.  So, I called the wife and checked to see if would be okay, then I went home and loaded up and stopped off for some eels and began my first pilgrimage to the kayak angler's "Utopia".  I also called two of my kayak fishing friends (Rob Choi and Justin Mayer) and asked if they would be interested in joining me.  We must have all been on the same wavelength, because Rob was already loaded and heading that way, and Justin was gearing up as well.  As fate would have it, neither Rob or Justin were able to join me, but I was determined to get out there for my first time.

The desire to catch a Kiptopeake Kow as they are commonly referred to in this area was fueled even further by the recent report from the previous weekend where a kayak angler landed a 51" striper at the ships.  Needless to say, I was a tad on the anxious side. As I crossed the high rise, I noticed the winds had started to blow in earnest and coming straight out of the north.  Not the best conditions to fish in, but alas, I had already paid the toll and was 3 miles from the state park, and I had eels to get wet!!  I pulled in and started to unload and noticed my friend Kevin Whitley (aka Kayak Kevin) and his fishing buddy Lee Williams coming in.  They reported no action at all, as I had feared.  You see, the water temperatures had cooled slightly this past weekend, so I headed out with the hopes that the temps had stayed in that range.  Unfortunately, the temps had stabilized and were now reporting in at 54 degrees - too warm for a realistic chance at some big stripers.

Not to be dismayed or deterred, I finished setting up my rod using Kayak Kevin's tutorial and launched.  I started out on the northern ships, since many kayakers were already prowling the southern ones.  I figured I might as well get a feel for how to fish the ships in the hopes that I might make it back out this year before the bigger fish have moved on.  For those that have not fished for the bigger stripers in this area, once the water temperatures dip below 42 degrees and stay there, the big fish leave.  While we are on the topic of big fish, I feel compelled to educate the novice angler here and encourage you to practice CPR.  Not the medical version, the angling version which is Catch - Photo - Release.  The big stripers that are landed in this area are mostly females and are loaded with eggs.  When you harvest a big striper like that, you are literally killing 10,000 or more potential schoolie and citation striped bass for the Chesapeake Bay fishery.  Do the right thing, carry a digital camera and measuring device, measure the fish, take your "wall of fame" glory photo and properly revive and release the fish to live another day.

Anyway, the fishing was dull as was expected, but I still was diligent and spent 3 hours drifting amongst the alleyways and broadsides of the ships.  I even ventured around to the bay side of the ships into the deeper sloughs but the wave chop was getting a bit rough and several power boats were on that side.  I made the decision to call it a night and head to another fishery to at least catch something.  As I was peddling my way back to the launch in my new Hobie Revolution 13, I noticed a powerboat was making it's way as well but was on a collision path to broadside me.

Whenever I kayak at night, I always wear highly visible clothing, a PFD with reflective piping, and I have my YakAttack VisiCarbon Pro visibility light paired with a custom hi-visibility neon green flag with SOLAS tape.  I also outfit my kayak with reflective tape and decals to make it easier to be seen on the water when a light source of any kind is shone upon it, yet this boater was motoring along slow enough to not be on plane, yet bow riding high enough for him to not see me properly.  As he was approaching, I let out a nice "Yo!!!", and he immediately cut the throttle to allow his bow to lower in time to see me.  I was still a good 50 yards from him, but if he had continued on his path, he would have still had a good chance of hitting me.  I know we are all anxious to catch that "fish of a lifetime", but please pay attention to everyone that's on the water.  I try and do my part to make sure I can be seen, but I encourage you as a boater to do your part as well and be aware of your surroundings.

I made it back to the launch safely, and loaded up the kayak fairly quickly.  I didn't even bother taking off my cold weather gear, just the PFD.  I strapped the kayak down securely, made my way back across the bridge and headed for the HRBT.  I checked my phone before I left and noticed that Rob ventured out for some speckled trout action on the Elizabeth River instead.  If I was smart enough, I would have checked the water temp reports before crossing the bay bridge and paying the toll and would have spent my time in calmer waters.

I made it to the HRBT in time to catch the last hour or so of the falling tide.  I launched and headed out to the river side of the bridge and started patrolling for any signs of activity.  As I pedaled about, I noticed the current was really strong and made boat position tough even with my new Turbo Fins and Sailing Rudder.  It wasn't impossible, but it was challenging to say the least.  As I pedaled about, I watched the other power boaters and few kayakers I saw and noticed they weren't having any luck either.  I noticed that the water clarity was poor.  Apparently, the recent rains combined with the tides and currents created a very unfavorable set of conditions for targeting the schoolie/slot size stripers that frequent the HRBT.  Fishing for these fish at the tunnel and bridge is fun, since you are basically sight casting to the fish and tempting them to attack your lure.  This may seem a little akin to "shooting fish in a barrel", but these fish are finicky and can turn their nose up at almost every lure you toss at them on some nights.

I fished about for an hour or so and landed my first one of the night.  It measure in at a shade over 18" and was legal to keep.  In Virginia, you are permitted to keep 2 stripers measuring between 18"-28" with the exception of harvesting one fish 34" or greater.  While catching a fish over 34" is possible at the HRBT, it is a challenge to locate them and can be frustrating and result in several nights of no fish.  Back to the fishing.  The fish was landed successfully and measured.  As I was transitioning the fish from my Fish Grips to the stringer, the stringer clip did not push through fully and the striper gave one last thrash and escaped!!!  Oh the choice words that ran through my head and escaped out of my mouth.

No worries, the night was still young.  I pedaled back into position and started again - nothing.  Not a single bite for the next 3 hours.  Shortly around 2am, the rain started coming down and the wind picked up with strong gusting winds out of the northwest making positioning the Hobie a little difficult on a falling tide in full current.  I decided to peddle over to the bay side and target the few fish that were still actively feeding.  I was able to land another slot striper just as the current change for the incoming tide started.  I was using a Gulp 5" Jerk Shad in Chartreuse Pepper on a 1/4oz Marsh Works Bull Red Jig Head in copper.  He hit it hard and fast and put up a nice fight on my Shimano Sahara 4000/Teramar Inshore Southeast spinning rod combo.
This one was successfully attached to the stringer for consumption at a later date.  Earlier in this report, I mentioned kayak safety.  One of the items I carry is a VHF marine radio tuned to channel 16 for any inclement weather.  I use a Standard Horizon HX-280S (submersible) waterproof radio, but any VHF radio will suffice as long as it is waterproof.  Well, the reports coming in for the Hampton Roads area were not any cause for concern until 6am later that morning when they were calling for a small craft advisory.  Well, I think their forecast was a tad off, because I spent 2 hours fighting nasty chop, strong winds and bridge pilings in search of that last fish for my stringer.  I had 3 more hits but none were solid enough for a hook set.  I had a terrible time sight casting due to the murkiness of the water.  Normally the water here has a greenish tint to it from the glow of the lights overhead, but tonight it looked more like chocolate milk.

The winds and chop were so rough, I was caught in the proverbial "washing machine" that kayak anglers detest.  Basically, it is when the wind and waves are opposing each other and create a washer machine like environment and toss you about. I was using all my energy to focus on peddling and rudder control for position and not having much time for casting.  The conditions were so poor, that the rudder would immediately move out of position the second you let go of the rudder control, so I decided it was time to call it a night.

While it wasn't the best night, it wasn't a complete failure - I accomplished a few things.  One, I explored and familiarized myself with the area around the ships at Kiptopeake.  Two, I reinforced the need to always be aware of your surroundings when out on the water.  Three, a VHF marine radio is a necessity not a luxury or optional item when out in saltwater.  And finally, and perhaps the best lesson of the day, know your limits and don't hesitate to call it a day.  You can always come back another day to try again, but you first have to make it back in otherwise you won't be back.

Be safe and dress appropriately for the weather conditions both at launch and for while you are out on the water.  I encourage you to visit Kayak Kevin's Kitpo How-To page and re-read the section at the end on cold weather angling.

Tight lines folks.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Start of a new Revolution......

This past week marked the start of a new relationship for me........I am the proud owner of a 2012 Hobie Revolution 13.  I enjoyed my time on the water with my previous kayak (a 2010 Wilderness Systems Ride 135), but the time had come for me to switch to a kayak that was easier to maintain position in areas of high current and wind - the natural choice was a Hobie.  This past summer, I had the opportunity to use a Revolution 13 for the 4th of July weekend and immediately determined that this was the kayak for me.

I decided what better way to get the kayak wet than to venture out into the saltwater at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel and try for some stripers.  I launched at the end of a slack tide with very little current still flowing and set out to test out the new Revolution by maneuvering in and around the bridge pilings and position myself into the wind and tide.  I ran into Wayne Bradby on the way out as he was heading in.  I chatted a bit with him, and then I pedaled away to get more comfortable when I realized that the Mirage Drive position was too high, so I moved it from position 4 to position 6 and immediately noticed how much more comfortable this position was.

I had pedaled out into the darkness away from the bridge to pass the time and started to see random surface strikes but nothing too aggressive.  I passed the time by chatting with another kayaker by the name of Miles who was also in a Hobie, a 16' Adventure.  A short while later, I noticed the start of a the current change, so I pedaled back to the bridge and found a spot where I could park myself against the current and began the wait until the stripers would come out to play.

Around 1:00am, the activity really started to get fast paced.  I started out with a Mirrolure and landed 2 quick lower slot stripers at 18" - too skinny for me to take back home for dinner.  I kept working the Mirrolure but noticed the bite turned off, so I switched it up to the Marsh Works 3" Bayou Thumper in Pearl and quickly landed another lower slot striper at 19" - a little better but not the size I was looking for.  I wasn't getting much action on the pearl, so I switched colors to Voodoo Brew (a dark smoke color with dark flecks in it) and started getting more bites but nothing consistent.  I still landed the largest one for the night so far at 21.5".  So things were looking up.

When I didn't get any more action on the Voodoo Brew, I decided to switch colors again to Purple Thing and hit the jackpot - the next 30 minutes for me were hot and heavy with more solid strikes and thicker fish accounted for.  In total, 10 stripers were landed on the Purple Thing color and all were nice and thick with the two best ones coming in at 22.25" and 21.5" respectively, with the latter the thickest of the night.

All in all, it was a great first outing in the Hobie Revolution 13, and I look forward to many more opportunities to land more fish in this awesome fishing machine.  I can only hope that my passion for fishing out of this kayak will be adequately represented in this blog.  Tight lines and safe travels folks.  Until next time.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lights, Camera.....very little action.......

I ventured out again last night to the HRBT for another shot at some light line action.  Fellow TKAA and KBF member Rob Choi called me earlier in the day and said he was heading out and wanted to know if I could join him.  Why not?  Well, it was the last night before the start of the full moon cycle with winds that were light and calm and air temps in the low 50's - a very pleasant and comfortable set of conditions to fish in.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get out on the water early enough to catch the tide change.  As a result, I only caught the last 45 minutes or so before the tide went slack.  I started off the night on the right track though - I reversed my approach from the previous outing and worked the opposite side of bridge on the falling tide.  I didn't notice any surface activity, so I worked my sea shad in a slow rolling fashion with an occasional twitch.

On my third cast of the evening, I was greeted with a hard and firm hit by a hungry striper.  He hit the sea shad some 30 yards away from me, so getting him to the kayak was a bit of a chore until I got him turned in the right direction.  He then swam right to me thrashing side to side making the retrieve that much easier.  After 45 seconds, I had my first fish in the boat - a nice chunky 22 1/4" striper.
I continued that approach for another 20 minutes or so but had nothing to show for it.  I caught up with Rob and his friend Dan (journeyman from VKF) and found out that they had hooked into a few already, including a hefty 25 1/2" striper that made it's way home for some lucky person's plate.  I continued stalking the light line looking for any lingering schoolies but none were interested in chasing my sea shad.  I changed over to a mullet pattern and immediately started getting some action, but not what I was looking for - spike specks!!  I caught 2 back to back but then that bite turned off just a quickly.

I decided to catch back up to Rob and Dan for another shot closer to the tunnel and found some surface activity with several stripers busting the surface chasing bait.  I tried for over an hour and had nothing to show for it other than a couple of short strikes but no attempts at hook sets.  The fish had dropped the mullet as quickly as it had hit it.  It was just past midnight at this point, and I knew my time was getting short.  In the midst of a dead tide, I decided to head back to my trusty spot from the previous trip and search for some lingerers.  I moved out into the main bay side just outside the reach of the light line and cast parallel to it.

I worked the mullet in a similar slow rolling fashion but keeping it in the middle of the water column with subtle rises and falls and was quickly greeted once again with a nice solid strike and immediate pull.  A quick hook set and the fight was on once again.  This fish was rather perturbed at being hooked, and he was determined to not come anywhere near me while I made the retrieve.  A short fight and a quick snag with the fish grips and a solid 21" striper made it's way into the kayak.
I figured I might have found a small pod of lingering schoolies waiting to catch the tide change before the rest of the striper gang joined in the feeding frenzy.  I made a couple more casts knowing my night was at an end and that I was going to miss the tide change and the prime feeding window.  On one of my last retrieves, I felt an odd hit - almost like a speckled trout does when it tail slaps a bait fish to stun it before it attempts to eat it.  I paused the retrieve as it neared the kayak and saw the silver flash right beside the kayak.

I switched the direction of the retrieve subtly and felt another slap but still no take.  One more twitch and I felt some resistance but not the tell-tale pull of a solid hit.  I started a low retrieve and felt some resistance, so I gave a short snap hook set and was greeted with a firm pull that doubled my rod over.  Drag started screaming off of the reel, and I thought I had finally hooked into my first speckled trout citation.  I didn't want to risk losing potentially the last fish of the night (considered bad karma by some anglers), so I allowed the fish to tire itself a little more before attempting to bring a "green" fish into the kayak and have it thrash about risking a hook set into my leg. As the fish starts to tire, I notice it is not the citation speck I was longing for, rather another striper - this one at 21 1/2".  Not stellar by any means but still a good fight.
At this point, I know my night is just about done, so I make one last cast using the same retrieve pattern as before and was greeted with another solid hit.  Fish on again - long story short, another 21" striper.  This one had somehow nicked an artery or gut its gill and was bleeding everywhere. I thought that this would be the one time I was forced to carry a fish home, since I always practice CPR (Catch, Photo and Release).  I shone my head lamp down it's mouth only to see that my hook wasn't even set.  it was just laying against one of the gill plates.  I reached in with the pliers and out it popped with no effort at all or damage to the fish.  The fish is thrashing all over the place and covering me in blood, so I put him back in the water.  He tore off like a top fuel dragster no worse for wear.  As I was stowing away some of my gear, I get a call from Rob saying that he is almost back to the launch.  I later learned he had got into over a dozen stripers that night - a far cry better than myself, but then again I am still learning how to chase fish at the light line.

Until next time - get out, get bit and tight lines!!

Friday, November 4, 2011

As Long As I Can See The Light......

Anglers on the east coast have long hailed the abundance and variety of the fish you can target in the Hampton Roads/Chesapeake Bay region.  From the citation flounder and speckled trout found all throughout the tidal creeks and rivers, to the sheepshead and tautog found near the CBBT and the bull reds on the Eastern Shore and off of the Sandbridge Pier - there is a little something for everyone.  One of the more popular species to target this time of year is the striped bass.  From the citations stripers off the coast of the Eastern Shore and York River to the schoolie action found near "light lines" in and around the region, they are a targeted species and one that puts up quite a fight on light tackle.  The most notable light line being that of the HRBT or Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

For me, finding time to make it out there during the week usually doesn't pair well with my work schedule and having to be up and ready to roll at 5am every weekday.  A lucky star must have been shining down on me this past week, because I was able to make time to get out one evening under mild conditions and have a night to remember.  The biggest challenge my fellow kayak anglers always caution newcomers about at the HRBT is the small craft traffic in and around the area.  When fishing at night, it is always best to make yourself as visible as possible to decrease the chance at getting run over.  Avoiding the small craft channel is a good option as well.  Of course, sporting any reflective gear on your person and on your kayak only makes you more visible.  Combine that approach with a high visibility hat and/or top paired with my trusty VISICarbon Pro kayak specific safety light and you have a winning formula for the start of a safe outing at night.

As for my evening on the water, it was a night to remember.  Air temps at launch were 51 degrees with a slight wind out of the south, and water temps were hovering right at the 55-57 degree mark depending upon your depth.  The night started off slow, which was to be expected due to a slack tide when I was finally able to launch at 9:15pm.  As I paddled out, some nearby bank fishermen were having some good luck on speckled trout by casting a jig head with a swimming grub alongside the bridge pilings and just retrieving it back.  I had brought only 2 rod combos to simplify my evening on the water.  I paddled out and started scanning the area for any activity and used my fish finder to help mark where the schools of bait fish were at. After 45 minutes on the water, I landed my first fish of the evening - a feisty 20" striper.  I landed him on a plastic sea shad rigged on a 1/4oz jig head.

I kept working the same area but found nothing.  I noticed my friend Simon from KBF was peddling around in his Hobie Revolution looking for fish as well.  He had only caught a few up to that point, but he and another KBF friend started earlier than I did.  By the time I landed my second fish of the evening, a 12" speckled trout, both Simon and Steve were calling it a night and heading back in.  I landed the trout using the new Marsh Works 3" Bayou Thumper in Voodoo Brew color using a slow crawling retrieve with an occasional short vertical twitch to create additional noise.

I wasn't able to use the Thumpers in earnest tonight, because the bluefish were stacked up in numbers and were chomping off the tails of them.  Color wasn't that big of a concern for some reason, as long as it had some measure of a dark outline.  I used a variety of colors from traditional sea shad, to a blue sea shad and even a greenish tinted sardine - all were hammered by the stripers.  I even tried my favorite color - a salt and pepper shad but they never moved or even showed any interest in them, so back to the other darker colors.

A short while later, the incoming tide started to move in earnest, and I noticed surface activity almost immediately.  So I paddled over to a spot and waited looking for the tell-tale "torpedo" shapes in the water chasing bait fish.  Sure enough, there they were - stacked up 3and 4 deep nailing anything that dare stray too close.  For the next hour and a half, I spent the majority of the time fighting the current and wind to maintain my kayak position.  I had switched back to the sea shad soft plastic, since all of my Thumpers had been chomped by the bluefish. I also ran into Forrest from TKAA, so I chatted with him for a bit before heading back to my spot and trying to land a few more.  In between paddling and maneuvering, I managed enough well-placed casts to land 14 more stripers, the largest measuring in at 23 1/4" and the smallest at 19 1/2".

Total catch for the evening was 17 fish with only 3 misses - a total catch length of 332" of striped bass and 12" of speckled trout.  As the morning wore on and the tide began to get a little stiff, I forced myself to leave and head in even though the bite was still going strong.  It was 3:30am when I finally managed to pull out of the parking lot and start to make my way back home.  The one downside to this whole trip was that my original day off on Friday was cancelled, so I was going to be one tired individual by the time I got home.  Well, I pulled into my driveway at 4:45am and set my alarm for 5:45am to try and get some semblance of a nap before having to get up and off to work shortly after 6am.  My body is paying for it now, but it was worth it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

It's a Colonial thing.....and two soldiers lost in battle

This past Friday and Saturday were spent in historic Colonial Williamsburg on Waller Mill Lake.  The lake is situated in a tranquil secluded section of Williamsburg and is quite a beautiful place to visit if you have the chance.  It is not free, but the cost to enter ($2) and launch your own kayak or canoe ($6) is minimal and well worth the cost if you plan on spending the day on the water.
Fall in the state of Virginia is a wonderful sight to see and well worth the experience if you can find places that have nature during the seasonal turnover for fall.  The scenery and the wildlife speak for themselves.

In the midst of all this scenery is a pretty awesome body of water.  Waller Mill has plenty of fishing opportunities for various angling aficionados. For me, I was there to target Largemouth Bass and possibly some Striped Bass over the course of the two-day outing.  The first day was focused on Mr. Green in hopes of improving my current fish for the KBF October Team Bass Duel.  The month of October and the fall transition have not been kind to me at all.  On Friday, I fished for 7 hours in the grueling winds and landed 3 greenies.

The first two fish were both 12 1/2" and caught on my new favorite soft plastic lure - a Confidence Baits Floating Bird mounted on a 1/4oz. Draggin' Head.  The first fish was caught tight against the bank snugged up against a submerged brush on the large Floating Bird in Dark Brown.  I had cast to the spot 5 separate times all near to the same spot but never quite perfect.  On the sixth cast, I placed snug against the brush and let it fall to the bottom.  I gave it one small twitch and let it sit like Jeff Little preaches during this time of year.  A few seconds later, the subtle tick tick of the feeding bass is felt and fish #1 is in the kayak.

A little later, I moved through the tunnel connecting the lower lake to the smaller and shallower upper lake.  I made my way into a channel in hopes of escaping the wind, but Mother Nature was not kind to me.  I made it all the way back to a sheltered section only to have the winds shift on me and start blowing in earnest right at me.  I was able to mark some fish on the paddle into the cove and found a prime spot with some submerged timber with some fish stacked up all around it.  These fish were snugged up tight to cover such that any presentation an inch or two to the left was surely to be ignored.

I spent some time working farther up the creek but made a mental note to try the spot once I returned.  I saw bait fish busting all around, so I pulled out the trusty Floating Bird again, only this time I switched it over to the new Blueberry color and worked it like a minnow darting and twitching near submerged brush piles and trees.  A few minutes of fast twitching was just enough to at least stir up some interest, so I figured it was time to work the twitch twitch pause technique deeper into the cover to try and tempt those finicky fish out and attempt a strike at my bait.  Patience paid off on the third cast parallel to a brush pile to the outermost bush.

I cast the Blueberry Bird a few feet past the outer bush but allowed it to fall first before giving it a subtle hop.  I was promptly greeted with the subtle tap-tap and set the hook.  Fish #2 in the kayak, but I knew it wasn't going to be the big fish of the bush but alas any fish is better than no fish I always say.  When the fish showed waning interest in this approach, I switched over to another favorite of mine - the suspending Mirrolure.  I chose one that closely resembled a shad and cast it out into the middle of the creek.  I noticed the shad busting all around, so I figured a fast erratic motion would do the trick - nope.  Okay, let's try the next retrieve pattern - twitch twitch pause........twitch twitch pause..........nothing.  Let's try a slow retrieve with a subtle twitch........I allowed it to fall a couple seconds before slowly retrieving it.  I reeled it back for a few seconds S-L-O-W-L-Y (which is painfully difficult to do with a 6.4:1 ratio Abu-Garcia Revo S) then one subtle twitch.......FISH ON!!!  This one was pulling a little better than the other two and putting a nice bend in my St. Croix Mojo Bass Slop-n-Frog rod, but I knew it wasn't the lunker I was searching for.  Still, it was the best one of the day measuring in at a shade under 14 3/4".
The shad stopped busting at that point, the bite turned off as well, so I called it a day and paddled back in to head home.

Day Two:
I had the opportunity to head back on Saturday only this time with my son anxious to get on the water with me, so I lept at the chance.  The day had the potential to come to a screeching halt before we even left the house.  The night before, I had spent some time rigging my Shimano Crucial Swimbait rod with a fish finder rig.
I also took the time to pre-rig my son's rod with a 1/4oz. jig head to be used with a Gulp! Pogy.  I figure, one rig to use with live shad and another to mimic a shad profile to catch the more aggressive fish.  I loaded the Crucial into the van Friday night, and set the other rod out to be loaded on Saturday after my son's baseball game.  As I was walking out the front door with his rod in hand, the rod tip got caught on the door frame somehow and was promptly severed clean when the front door shut on it.  Oh well, no big deal.  I have two other rods in the van already that can quickly be setup for my son once we get there.

I'll just put his clothes in the van on the passenger side rear seat and we'll be off.  As the van door begins to open, I hear the tell tale sound of splintering and cracking only to learn that somehow my Crucial rod (all 7'11" of it) had somehow become dislodged from its holder that morning and was wedged against the van door.  When it opened, the bend at the tip was too sharp of an angle to save it from breaking and it promptly snapped.  Two rods lost in a matter of 30 seconds of one another.  Not the way I planned on starting my fishing outing with my son.

We headed out anyway not letting this get us down.  We get on the water by 3:30pm in time to hopefully get the evening bite before we have to get off the water at 6pm since the park closes at 6:30pm.  We met up with a fellow kayak angler that lives nearby and start searching for the fish.  I landed the first fish of the day - another spunky 12 1/2" greenie in the same type of location as the day before.  Our friend Craig had the live shad he had cast netted a short while before.  He was was working two rigs at the same time - a float rig and a fish finder rig.  He found a school of catfish that gave him a brief workout for a period of about 30 minutes until he ran out of live shad, and one actively feeding largemouth that was the same size as the one I had just caught from the same general area.

Since we didn't have any live shad, we stuck with the Gulp! Pogy worked slowly along the bottom like a live shad.  A few minutes later and about a half-dozen missed strikes, my son gets his first fish of the day - a nice chunky 12 3/4" slab of Black Crappie.
Here's the only video I was able to get on the catch.  He reeled it in like a pro though and almost gave me a fish smack in the face.......

We headed in shortly thereafter having each landed a fish and having a fun day on the water.  As the sun began to set, I realized how wonderful the day was even though it had not started out that way.  Funny how time on the water and a couple of fish caught can chase away those bad vibes that threatened to cloud up the otherwise sunny day.

Tight lines!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

All in the name of fishing.......

This past weekend was a logistical nightmare for me.  The weekend was going to involve a lot of driving, a sore back and little sleep.  Friday started off fairly calm, but the winds started to blow in earnest by mid-morning.  Not to be deterred, I headed down to the peninsula for some fishing.  I made a stop over at Back River Outfitters to meet Kathy finally and to help out the local economy by adding to my Mirrolure collection.

I made sure I was through the tunnel before traffic started to get too bad.  The wind was pretty rough out of the west while the sun was still up, but it quickly tapered off once the sun set.  When I crossed the HRBT at 3pm, the wind was ripping straight down the river from the shipyard creating some massive swells with what looked like 4-5' rollers and whitecaps.

I got to the Owl Creek ramp and met up with a fellow TKAA and Pirates Of Lynnhaven member Joe (Agent VA) and chatted with him for a few minutes before launching.  I fished from 4:30pm until 8:45pm just shy of moonrise which is when I am guessing the bite turned on.  As I said earlier, this weekend was going to involve a lot of driving, so my time on the water was limited and precious.  I knew that I had to be on the road by 8 AM for a planned day with the in laws, my wife and son and her brother's family.  We were heading to Gross' Orchard for the fall festival and some apple picking.

Anyway, I hit the usual spots (the grass island, research/police docks, shallow cove, etc) and marked literally hundreds of fish stacked one on top of another from 1' - 5' below the surface in water 8-12' deep.  There was plenty of surface activity with either glass minnows or finger mullet being chased by juvenile specks and what looked to be either mullet or bluefish.

I ended the night with only 3 spikes all in the 10" class - nothing photo worthy, but I did lose a nice flounder under the science center.  Surprised me that he was there, but when I laid my vertical rods down and paddled under the science center's overhang to get a quick scan using the FF, I saw a ledge that dropped from 3' down to 7' where he was staged.  Not sure whether he will be there again, but it might be worth a shot next year when the flounder move back in for the summer.

I found a school of nice sized specks near the museum and chased them for the better part of 2 hours without a single bite.  I had several follow aggressively right up to the side of the kayak then turn away.  I used everything I had with me to entice them - Gulp Swimming Mullet, Badonkadonks, Marsh Works Bayou Thumpers, and MirroLures but to no avail.  Since the fishing was not speck-tacular, I decided to call it a night and head home.  Got home around 11pm in time to let the dogs out, give them a late snack and try to get 5-6 hours of sleep.

6am came way to early for me, but I dragged myself off the couch and started the painful task of unloading all of my gear from the previous night.  Most people would just leave everything in place, which I would typically do, but alas the family outing for the day involved my van being the primary form of transportation and needed to seat 5 adults and my son.  Once everything was unloaded and stored inside, I headed out on time.  The trip to her parents isn't long by any means, it is just tough after working the previous day, fishing that night and getting minimal sleep.  After the day was over, I drove home in time to let the dogs out once again and feed them.

The original plan was to meet up with fellow kayak angler and friend Rob Choi for some light line action, but neither of us were up for it.  He and I both had the family thing going on Saturday.  Sunday morning came, and I was determined to get out on the water again, only this time in the freshwater.  I went to a fairly quiet small lake in hopes of landing a nice bass, but I arrived at the lake to find it swollen from the massive rains recently to the point that the spillway was useless.  The water was gushing over it and had risen so high that the surrounding dam was overflowing with water careening over the top.  The wind was gusting yet again with sustained winds in excess of 15 mph and gusts of up to 25mph.  Holding position was nearly impossible, and the water clarity was almost non-existent and was stained like chocolate milk.  Visibility was 0-6" - no lie.

I fished all of the normal fishy spots but couldn't buy a bite - nary a swirl even.  I was using a variety of tactics with moving nosy presentations as well as flash (ie: black buzz frogs, chartreuse/black rattling crankbaits and a large colorado-blade gold spinnerbait - nothing.  I ventured back into a dense lily pad section of the pond that is nearly impenetrable during the peak bloom, but now I could manage to navigate through it with fall fast approaching.  After a 30 minute trek through the pads, I get my first strike but missed the fish.  I was lifting the frog out of the water by the kayak when it happened.  I could hear surface activity all around me - the telltale popping noises from bluegills nailing bugs and insects in the pads.  A sure fire indicator that bass should be in the area.  I would see and hear the occasional flush of a feeding bass but couldn't hook into one or even entice a bite.

I got a call from the wife saying she was leaving her parents house, so I knew my time on the water was about over.  I decided to start making my way back to the launch and fish some of the other prime spots, but Mother Nature was not having any of that.  Just about the time I would get the kayak positioned correctly and start to make my cast, the wind would start gusting from the wrong direction.  I finally just chalked it up to a bad day on the water and paddled in.  While I didn't catch anything on Sunday, I still had fun with two friends from KBF.

I hope to try again this weekend one last time for some bass before moving my approach to the late fall/early winter salt water chase.  See you on the water!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW - Leverage Landing Net (BC-1900 model)

First of all - thank you HOOK 1 and the KBF Christmas in July contest. I was fortunate enough to win a prize or two, most notably - the new Leverage Landing Net BC-1900 model.

Now for the scoop.

The good.........
An innovative design concept that is long overdue. The net itself is fairly easy to use and provides the proper leverage for hoisting a fish out of the water and into your kayak. It is lightweight relative to its overall size and with the long handle design affords the angler some additional length for netting a fish before it gets to the kayak and gets spooked further, possibly throwing the hook resulting in a lost fish.

Now for the less than optimal (note I didn't say bad :D :D ).........
Storing the net is fairly straight forward albeit not as seamless as I had hoped. There are some considerations alluded to below one must take into account before opting for this style of net.

Most notably, the design incorporates an extended handle for storing the net in a rod holder when not in use. This design assumes that the angler has a rod holder to use exclusively for the net. For me, this feature is a challenge on my current kayak. I do not have the traditional angled flush mount rod holders seen on many kayaks these days. I only have the tubes on my milk crate. Storing the net in one of those holders when the crate is stored in the traditional fore or aft position is not practical if you are carrying more than one rod, because the net will get foul hooked on any hooks nearby whether they are swinging freely or secured to the rod. To overcome this small inconvenience in the short term, I simply store the net in the rear tank well.

For the long term, I can solve the rod holder challenge using a two step process. First, I turn my milk crate so that the rod holders are all of the left side of the kayak. I normally use just the rod holders for my rods, but I can also use my two adjustable Scotty rod holders I have installed using the flush mount bases and lay my rods in a horizontal plane. This would facilitate placing the LLN in the rear rod holder farthest away from the rods and where the hooks of the lures are stored.

Second, the next item that is more of recommendation than actual complaint is when the net is folded for storage. You need to unhook the securing strap that keeps the net in an open state in order to take advantage of the compact storage design. Not a real deal breaker for me, but nevertheless, it is does require two hands the first few times until the firm rubber strap becomes pliable enough to slip over the securing post freely using one hand. Its difficult to wrangle a fish to the kayak with one hand while you are attempting to retrieve the net from the rear tank well and secure the initially rigid strap with your other hand.

By the end of a 3-day fishing weekend, the strap was starting to become easier to manage. Like I said, not a deal breaker, just an observation and potential area of improvement moving forward. Fortunately, the designers included an extra strap in the event the original one ever breaks or is lost.

My third concern is only applicable when the net is stored in its intended folded state. While folded, the net has a tendency to gather at the hinge point. When this happens, the ability to open the net and lock it into position is compromised, because the net gets snagged and prevents a full opening sequence. Here in lies the issue like noted before. When you are fighting a fish with one hand and having to fight with the net opening and then securing the strap with the other hand, it does make it kind of difficult and challenging.

I solved both situations by storing the net in the open position with the strap secured both the shaft was folded. I then simply laid the net in the rear tank well under the furthermost rear bungee. When I needed the net, I turned slightly and reached for the handle. I then slipped it out from under the bungee and deployed the basket of the net and locked the shaft into position.

On a side note, I found another excellent use for the net. While my son and I were at the launch preparing to load up and leave, a gentleman was hand lining for crabs using chicken legs. In order to catch these crabs, you need to be able to scoop them up as the line is lifted from the water. The challenge here is that the crab usually sees you first and lets go before you can scoop them up. Not a problem.

The Leverage Landing Net saved the day and helped the older gentleman net 12 or 13 nice crabs for dinner. With the LLN, I was able to place the net in the water first, lift the lines and place the net under the crab before ever getting them to the surface. Once the net was under the crabs, they simply dropped right into the net.

Herein also lies another feature that is a nice feature. The net material is very sturdy and can stand up to the rigors of different feisty water creatures. In the last couple of weeks, the net has been used on bass, crappie, chain pickerel, catfish, speckled trout, flounder, striped bass and now blue crabs!!

Overall impressions are that the Leverage Landing Net is an A+ product in my opinion - only a couple of minor concerns based upon an individual kayak anglers preferred rigging setup, not necessarily 100% attributable to the design of the net. Nevertheless, these items should be taken into account relative to your own kayak rigging options if you are considering purchasing one for yourself.

Again, thanks to the folks at Leverage Landing Net for catering one of its products to the kayak angler world. And to HOOK 1 and the KBF Christmas in July Prize giveaways. I am very pleased with my Leverage Landing Net and look forward to using it often!!

You should add one to your kayak arsenal of accessories as well.  You can find them at HOOK1.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Whiskers, Teeth and Claws oh my........

So, today was the Columbus Day holiday and what better way to spend a holiday than to take a day off from work and take my son fishing, since he had the day off.  We loaded up mid-morning, since there was a full moon last night, and headed out in search of some fish.  I originally planned on hitting up Lynnhaven or possibly Rudee, but I wanted to avoid any potential holiday traffic at the tunnel, so I stayed north of Hampton and ventured out onto a tributary of the York River.

Our original plan was to hit the creek mouths on the falling tide and search for some specks.  On the second cast, I hooked into a spike trout right at 8" that has some nice fangs but alas was a runt nonetheless.  Not a good sign........we paddled out anyway,  We spent some time bouncing jig heads along the bottom and quickly landed another salty creature - a blue crab.  Doh!!!  Not exactly what I was looking for.  Keeping an eye on the depth finder, I noticed that most of the fish were suspended about 4' below the surface but not tightly schooled up.  More like a random pod of fish with only 3-4 spread out in various spots all over the river.

I took a moment to switch out our lures to a Bass Assassin in Sea Shad color.  I threw mine out to bounce along slowly as I showed my son how to rig a plastic shad on a jig head.  As I was showing him how to make sure the back and body was straight on the hook, my rod tip does 2 quick bounces then a straight pull and started moving.  I grabbed the rod quickly and gave a sharp rod set - FISH ON!!!  The fight lasted for over 2 minutes with the fish pulling drag every chance it could.  This fish fought like a striper, which have been known to show up all over the York.  Something didn't feel right though - I got it to the kayak and it rolled.  Was it big Croaker?  It only looked a shade over 12", so it could be possible.  There are some horse Croaker in the York as well.

Not to be - alas, a dang catfish!!!  I used my new 1900 series Leverage Landing Net to coral this feisty whisker kitty and in the kayak she ended up.  After a couple minutes to get things organized, I managed a couple pics.

This sucker was chunky!!!  Look at the girth on this sucker.  I bet those would be some tasty filets, but I released him back to the water.  Not our target species for the day.  After that, nary a bite was to be found.  However, it doesn't mean the fun ended there by any means.

We kept paddling around and explored a couple more creeks at low tide.  I had the fun of showing my son Fiddler Crabs for the first time.  He kept an avid watch on the shoreline looking at the now exposed mud banks and the holes that the fiddlers call home.  Every time he would see one, I was greeted with a loud "Daddy look - there's another one!!  They are funny daddy!!"  The best part of the day was when we got to watch a bald eagle soar from his lofted perch right off the bow.  We watched in awe as he soared skyward and land gently and confidently a few hundred yards away.  Still visible, but concealed to the naked eye for those that did not see him land there.

We kept paddling about watching the herons chase mud minnows in the shallows for a bit.  We even saw a species of fish I am clueless about and can only describe.  The fish would literally poke its head up out of the water look around then disappear just as quickly.  The fish looked to be a muted grey with black blotches.   Strange but cool.  We reached the end of our initial drift/paddle and made the turn for home.  We passed by the eagle's last know perch.  Right as I opened my mouth and said to my son, "Oh shoot buddy, I think the eagle has flown away", he took flight from his hidden perch and soared yet once again in front of us to stare in awe and wonder.

I wonder if Christopher Columbus had the pleasure of experiencing a moment like this as he ventured into the New World so long ago............

No Briery beasts yesterday for me......

Sorry for the delayed report - it was a slow day as I figured it would be. I managed some bites early on due to a lingering fog that had moved in overnight and lasted through 9AM.

Nothing of any significant size to report unfortunately for my partner AJ in the KBF OTBD Challenge, but it was still great getting out on Briery for the first time this year.

One of these days, I will hook into one of the famous Briery beasts, but alas it was not to be yesterday. Maybe next time. Spoke to a few others that were fishing there the last few days, and they also confirmed the bite was off.  Most folks were catching the fish by drowning large minnows in 9-15' of water on a slip bobber.

Sorry, but I am not a fan of watching a bobber for 8 hours, so I spent most of my time paddling around checking out shoreline structure and shallow coves. Water temps peaked at 74 by mid-day and were in the high 60's at launch even with air temps in the high 40's.

All bites and landed fish were caught on my favorite lure - the Stanley Ribbit, by working pockets in the pads, edges of the pad line and between the nooks and crannies of visible structure of the tree tops.  Both fish were caught in 3.5' of water early in the morning before the fog wore off. I went against my normal mode of minimalist, because I wanted to avoid changing up presentations on each rod. I carried 5 rods - 1 frog, 1 jig-n-craw, 1 SWL Clacker Spinnerbait, 1 Castalia Bombshell Turtle and 1 Shakey Head that also served as a fluke rod.

Could not establish any pattern other than the fish were holding in 5-9 feet of water and not active. The bass were schooled up with the crappie and holding tight to cover. Even dancing a fluke or dead sticking had no reaction at all. Near mid-day, the bite appeared to turn on somewhat again, because I was seeing surface strikes all around the wind-blown shallow coves, and I was getting consistent hits on the frog but they were all misses.

Still fun to get out and spend some quality time on Briery doing some recon for a potential spring time outing.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Beautiful Day but nothing overly Speck-tacular

Today was a day dedicated to chasing Speckled Trout.  I was joined today by fellow KBFer Simon (aka SimonSays) to hit the Back River. Prior to the outing, I passed along the tips and pointers that had been passed on to me from past outings with other members both from TKAA and KBF.  I launched at 5:15am from a launch off of Poquouson Ave. and Simon joined me at 7am from Messick. We met up and started our search. Finger Mullet were busting the surface all around us, but we had no luck early on. A closer look revealed that Ribbonfish and juvenile Striped Bass were primarily chasing the Finger Mullet with an occasional speck thrown in for good measure.

I was throwing everything I had at them today and not getting so much as a single serious bite.  I mean, I started with a top water mullet impersonation - not even a sniff or short strike.  I switched rods and started working a crab impersonation plastic - nothing.  Switched rods again and started casting a Mirrolure suspending twitch bait.  Still nothing.  Switched rods and tied on a Gulp! Swimming Mullet.  I even stood up at the mouth of the coves and attempted to see what was going on in the relatively clear water for any signs of activity - nothing.

Time for Plan B, I told Simon to position himself outside of any main creek mouth and cast his soft plastic back into the creek.  I did the same and quickly landed the first speck - a 10" spike. A few minutes later after a few subtle hops, Simon lands his first trout - a spike at 12". Alas, he had to go back and get a little bigger.

We floated along with the current but not much else happened. As Simon was about to leave, he started trolling and ended up with a juvenile striper in the 13-15" range. It was getting close to our cutoff time, so we parted company and headed back to our respective launches. As I am trolling along slowly, my rod takes a sudden bend and starts shaking - fish on! Another spike trout.

I start my slow drift again, and a firmer strike happens. This one felt a little better. A short fight lands me the first keeper size trout of the day - a nice 15 3/4"" speck. I call Simon on the phone in hopes of catching him before he left for home. Just in time! I ask him to meet me at my take out if he wants it. As I am making the turn for my take out, the rod bends for a third time on the drift back. This time, it is a juvenile 15" striper.

All in all not too bad of a day, but the better trout eluded us today. Here are a couple of the best photos from the day.....

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fishing the Ditch (February 2011) ............

In an effort to make my trip reports simpler, I am consolidating my other blog dedicated to salt water into this one, so pardon the dated posts that are about to follow..........

Happy belated Valentine's Day to all of you.  Hope you had a safe holiday.  I traditionally head out every week to wet a line, whether it is from the banks of my local horse pond or from the comfort of my kayak on some body of water.  My planned trip for this past Friday was canceled due to a sudden temperature drop and a splitting headache, so I decided to take Monday off instead.  The 60-70 degree temperature wasn't too bad of an incentive either.

On Monday, I ventured over to the pond on the river and fished with a buddy of mine.  The weather forecast was not promising for the entire day with forecast estimating afternoon winds at 30 mph+ with gusts of 40+.  We got on the water around 9am and found the pond to be relatively quiet with no significant traffic.  This time of year can find the pond area with boats of various shapes and sizes stacked almost on top of one another.  The myriad of live lines and anchor lines turns this area into a minefield when trying to position yourself.

We started working a new spot we had not tried before and learned that the fishing was going to be slow today.  We spent the better part of 2 hours working the spot over with a variety of presentations and lures to no avail.  The winds made boat positioning near impossible.  I think I spent just as much time paddling and positioning as I did fishing.  As the day wore on, the action and bite continued to be slow.  Others in the pond area were experiencing the same challenge.  We witnessed only a handful of fish being caught.

Around the lunchtime hour, I got my first fish on a sea shad impersonation, a short one around 14".  Shortly thereafter, my buddy landed a good 20+ inch trout that was released for another day.  Then what little action there was slowed again, and no one was getting any bites.  Almost all of the big boats left, leaving just three kayakers and two boats.  Around 1:30pm, the wind was getting pretty stout, so we both beached the kayaks for a stretch and decided to wade fish for a bit before calling it a day.  After 15 minutes of casting, I ended up hooking into something that put a nice bow in my spinning rod.

For those new to the pond area, the tannins from the nearby swamp and all of the dead wood, stain the water to the point that visibility is limited to about 4-6 inches.  Whenever you hook into a fish, you never really know what you have until you get it into the boat.  After about a 30-45 second fight, my fish surfaces and is much bigger than I had thought.  I was able to get the fish over to my kayak just as the 10lb. flourocarbon leader broke.  I was able to get the Fish Grips on and positioned the fish on the measuring board - 20" on the nose or tail as it were.

Shortly after that, the winds started to pick up even more, and we decided to call it a day.  We landed three fish between us, had several more tease the baits with short strikes and nibbles.  All in all, a good day on the water, albeit windy.  The wind was so strong at times that the PFDs and paddles acted as sails and pushed us all over.  Next time, I am bringing a sturdy anchor to at least give myself a chance at holding a position for more than 5 seconds.

A Father's Day weekend to remember (June 2011)

In honor of the pending Father's Day this weekend, I promised my son a day on the water in my kayak.  The goals for the day were:

1. Have fun.
2. Fish if possible.
3. See Mother Nature in her splendor and natural beauty.
4. Make time to play on the sandbar.
5. Teach my son the importance of leaving the water cleaner than when you got there.

I decided to let him sleep in a bit and head down mid-morning.  By the time we had arrived and launched, it was around 10:30 and the high tide transition was just about ending.  We launched from Crab Creek and at the mouth of the creek we turned right, and Jacob cast out his jig head rigged with a Smelt Gulp!. I paddled slowly letting it bounce along the bottom slowly - 5 minutes later.....
His first Speckled Trout - a nice little 12" spike. The photo lends itself to how little interest he had in holding this fish for a glory photo. This little runt was flopping all over the place. He had apparently been caught before by someone who knew little of how soft the mouths are on specks. You can see in the photo how much of the Fish Grips jaws was able to fit clean through without touching any of the lip.

We paddled back into Pleasure House Cove and saw plenty of mullet busting the surface making some nervous water, but we got no takers. We saw a huge flock of White Herons working the shallows. We also saw countless turtles in the water but could not manage any photos due to their spookiness.

Anyway, the tide started to shift into a falling tide, so I turned the yak a bit and let the tide do the work for us. Jacob started fishing again and so did I. I felt a "machine gun" of taps on my bait with some serious pullage. I thought that it didn't feel right, so I just created tension and kept reeling slowly - end result a fat blue crab had a gorilla grip on my jig. He let go as I was about to net him for a photo. He was huge with beautiful with bright blue coloration along his legs.

We drifted over towards Keeling Drain cutting through some of the creeks in the grass. The future redfish population looks promising if the number of fingerlings I saw make it to maturity - thousands of them today. By this point the water starting getting shallow, so I promised him we would stake out on the sandbar and let him play a bit before calling it a day.

While he was playing in the mud/sand building castles and such, I hooked into a runt 10" flounder that decided laying on the HOOK 1 Hawg Trough was too much to ask, so he flipped sideways and bailed out of the boat back into the water. About 3 casts later, I get more "machine gun" nips, only this time it was a smallish croaker.

We pulled up stake and walked down the sandbar to the end and setup shop again. He wanted to look for shells and play on the sand, so I let him. I made a cast up into the outgoing tidal flow and allowed the Gulp! Smelt to work slowly along. The rod almost lept out of my hands as I hook into something that has a bit more size to it. Not knowing how much of the pullage was tidal flow versus fish, I just maintain leverage and continue to reel smoothly. At first, the fish was coming at me right side up giving the appearance of a clear-nosed skate, but then it flinched and turned sideways. Flounder on!!!

As I got the flounder to the sandbar, he went ballistic and started flopping and flinching all about making it very difficult to get the Fish Grips on him. I eventually got the mouth open - end result? My first nice flounder landed this year at 17.5" (Kayak Wars points baby - finally: Go Team LipRippers!!!)
 Notice the G2 bottle - this was just a sample of the trash we collected - one that he spotted!!!  We ended up with a flip flop, a couple bottles, some random trash and some line in the garbage bag I threw away back at the launch.

Shortly after catching this one, the tide went slack, and I knew the day was done. Lynnhaven can shut off like a light switch some days. So, we passed the time by letting him get some swimming accomplished in preparation for his refresher swimming lessons starting next week.
We also managed a couple photos of the Lynnhaven scenery during a falling tide.....

All in all a great day of fishing with my son - 1 speckled trout, 1 croaker, 1 blue crab, 2 flounder and memories hopefully he will not too soon forget.

Holiday weekend fishing.....

From the July 4th weekend this year.........

As we wrap up a weekend of celebrating our nation's independence, I take pause to reflect on how fortunate I am.  As a former service member, I know all too well the sacrifices that our military personnel make for the safety and comforts people like me are afforded.  This past week was no different.  I was fortunate enough to fish 3 times, albeit with limited success.  My first outing was a perilous event braving the huge swells, brutal winds and hail from a sudden storm at the Hampton Roads Bridge tunnel on Tuesday night with 3 other kayak friends (Eric, Justin and Rob).  We all caught fish, but the weather changed our plans of fishing to staying out of harm's way until the storm passed.  A variety of species were pulled in by our group - an Oyster Toad, several Croaker, some Flounder, a Speckled Trout and some Striped Bass

On Saturday night, I pedaled around Rudee Inlet checking out the random parties and lights of the locals celebrating the holiday weekend.  I had a few more Croaker and missed what felt like a nice Flounder.  With the action dying off, I made my way from the ocean front inlet all the way back to the Owl Creek launch and headed home fighting sleep all the way.

On Monday, I spent the day with a fellow kayaking friend (yakndave from KBF) in search of Flounder and Croaker on the York River.  We launched out of Wormley Creek shortly after 8:30am and headed out.  We were greeted and wished along our merry way by an Osprey at the mouth of the creek.

Shortly after we pass the creek mouth, we started pounding the grass line for anything that would take our offerings.  I spotted a nice little cove with some nervous water, so I peddle over to find a couple fish chasing glass minnows all around but showed no interest.  So we pedal back out into the main river and work our way down.  We setup in 10-12 feet of water and tossed Gulp! Swimming Mullets and bait on a dropper rig.

Dave lands a smallish flounder pretty quickly, and I ended up with a small Croaker before the bite turned off for about an hour.  We contemplated calling it a day but decided to tough it out for an hour or so more.  We each landed 6 or more Croaker with the largest measuring in right at 11".  Croaker are feisty little fish and pull very hard for their size.  This one below put up a fight much like a Smallmouth and fought for over 30 seconds.

By now, we started to get a little tired from the heat, so we headed back in stopping along the way to take in some of the scenery........

All in all - a good day and a bad case of sunburn to round out a terrific holiday weekend.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sundays are a Drag.....

Well, the weather was too iffy to chance taking a yak out, so the family opted for a little bank fishing with me at the trusty pond.  We pulled up and were greeted by a body of water that was at least 4' below normal - Uh oh, this could be a short trip.

Trusting my instincts, I had pre-rigged all 3 rods with the new Confidence Baits Draggin' Heads and small plastics.  The wife had a Floating Bird in dark brown, my son a 3" stick bait in green pumpkin and myself with a small craw in green pumpkin.  The wife hooked into one after her second cast.  I landed one shortly thereafter, and our son hooked into one as well.
At least we had the right presentation, and color was not a determining factor.  We continued to fish one side with some manner of success, but we decided to move over to the opposite side anyway. All three of us continued to see action with persistent hits and a few more fish landed.

The new Draggin' Head is a perfect hook for the novice or school age young angler.  It requires almost no action by the angler to get a decent hook set, and even fish barely hooked stay on due to the small diameter of the hook.  As the action slowed a bit, I switched over to the Floating Bird in Lemon Pepper, and promptly feel something with a little more shoulders to it.  I set the hook and am greeted promptly by a nice bend in the rod.  A 30 second fight ends with my first Largemouth Bass of significant size on the new Floating Bird.

We ended up catching 5-6 fish each and missed a few as well.  Today was more about getting out of the house and avoiding a sedentary position even with the threat of bad weather.  If you are an angler like myself who is looking for innovative products to make your fishing experience more enjoyable, I encourage you to try the new line of products by Confidence Baits - they are a top notch outfit and make quality products.  As the founders will tell you, these baits are not just for Smallmouth Bass.  They can be used on any species that targets living creatures that creep along the bottom of any body of water.  My next outing will be in the salt water, so I plan on testing out the hooks and soft plastics and see how they fair.  Until next time, tight lines and positive thoughts!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Feeling the pressure.......

This past Saturday marked a first for me - a kayak only tournament sponsored by River Bassin'.  The proceeds from the tournament went to fight ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's Disease).  I entered the tournament in the Kayak Bass Fishing sponsored lake division, since I had fished Smith Mountain Lake on 3 previous occasions.  My plan for the day was to hit the docks and any shaded banks with submerged structure.

The plan was a good one until I learned a few days prior that the lake was now at 3-4' below normal levels.  That meant that my planned target areas from past visits were now in 6-12" of water in most spots.  It also exposed a number of targeted structure areas that no longer held fish, since they were now exposed and no longer below water.

The day started off later than planned, because I had my son with me for the adventure and couldn't bring myself to wake him up at 4am after falling asleep only 7 hours earlier.  I went ahead and got the van loaded with all of our hotel items and got myself ready for the day.  He woke up on his own at 5:30am, and we hit the road by 6am with a quick stop for gas and some light breakfast fare.  We make it to my planned launch to find the top water bite rather aggressive with a few stripers chasing baitfish in the shallows, including one massive blow up that my son spotted and resulted in a look of shock and awe.

I unloaded all of our gear and parked the van.  As we paddled out past the shallow launch, I noticed the onset of a headwind at the mouth of the cove.  I decided to avoid this windy situation and moved in between some boathouses for some targeted top water with the Pop-R and some shakey head fishing along the pilings.  After a few casts, my son wanted to fish a little knowing that any fish he caught would be ineligible for the tournament, since he wasn't entered this time.  After a few minutes, he makes an errant cast that lands in the back of someone's boat and promptly gets snagged on the inflatable tube sitting in the cabin area.  It's situations like these that make me pat myself on the back for preparation.

I always carry with me a small pair of heavy duty bolt cutters (a tip learned from Jim Sammons).  The bolt cutters are an easy way to quickly remove a hook that buries itself past the barb, whether it is in a fish's eye, gullet, your life preserver, your fishing pants, your arm or leg or in this case, an inflatable wave riding tube.  A quick beaching of the kayak on the rocks and a quick trot into the boat house along the dock walk, and the barb was snipped off and lure/rod combo retrieved.  Only damage done resulted in a lost jig head on his beetle spin which was quickly replaced.

We re-launched and headed over to the eastern banks to fish the rocks and submerged trees, since the water was still slightly warm and the fish appeared to be somewhat active.  I had four presentations rigged and quickly learned I had left the most critical one at my house - the lipless crankbait rod I had purposely tied on two nights prior to the trip.  Oh well - lesson learned.  I still had a rod rigged with the trusty spinnerbait that I could use.  I started tossing that towards shore but couldn't buy a bite.

I switched over to my favorite technique for locating bass holding tight to cover - a shakey head with a small profile soft plastic in a natural color like a green or brown.  The lure of choice for this was a Confidence Baits Floating Bird in Dark Brown rigged on a 1/4oz. Draggin' Head pioneered by Jeff Little of smallmouth bass fame.

I was throwing this little beauty using my trusty 6'8" St. Croix Mojo Bass spinning rod (Wackey Style model) and my Shimano Sienna spinning reel.  I was spooled up with 30lb. Power Pro hi-vis yello braid and a 15lb. P-Line flourocarbon leader.  I was getting several bites but no serious takers.  I retrieved it slow at first by dragging it across the submerged tree limbs and branches.  When that resulted in no takers, I also hopped it subtly, vertical jigged it and at times fished it a like a fluke with short, quick twitches - nothing serious just a couple short strikes.

Still getting bites but no serious takers, I figured I was at least was in the right ball park as far as lure selection and presentation.  I also had another presentation I started to use just in case - a jig-n-craw setup in 3/16oz. size with a small 3' craw trailer.  I chose the pumpkin brown color, since that is the color that appeared the most natural when bounced along the bottom in the clear water.  I had no takers at all, so I switched back over to the Floating Bird.  We approached one boat house that had a huge opening between the pilings and looked like a prime ambush spot - lots of shade and positioned at the mouth of the cove on a submerged point.

I used a slingshot cast to propel the lure underneath the boathouse almost to the other side and allowed the bait to fall naturally - like skipping a rock when you were a kid.  I gave it a couple small hops and felt a solid bite.  I reeled down and set the hook and immediately knew I had a good one on.  I saw the fish turn and run for the pilings but was able to steer him clear.  I thought for sure this one had a chance at getting me the big fish of the tournament if I could get it to the kayak.  As I maneuver the fish clear of the boathouse, I feel the tell tale signs of the fish spinning and I know what the fish is - a dang catfish!!  Not the hawg I was expecting to be sitting in that ambush spot.

The catfish put up a nice fight and certainly scared off anything else in the immediate area, so we moved on towards the mouth of the main cove and were promptly greeted by a stiff headwind.  We moved left of the cove towards my next target area - a wind blown main point with visible structure still below the recently receded water line.  I opted to switch over to the spinnerbait first to see if there were any active feeders.  I targeted the end of the main submerged tree by bouncing it off the tree branches on the retrieve but no takers.  I move my casts further in towards the bank and cast the lure into a pocket that had visible submerged main branches creating a pocket that looked "fishy".

A pretty good cast and couple twitches of the rod to get the willow blades moving, and I was promptly greeted with the tell-tale double chomp of a largemouth bass.  I set the hook and immediately feel the kayak surge towards the fish.  Big fish on for certain.  A couple quick jumps confirm what I thought - a hoss or as Mark Zona says all the time on ESPN - a biggun!!  I had him halfway back to the boat when he makes a tarponesque leap and twitch, and I can see I have him hooked dead in the roof of the mouth.  I had good leverage on him and lowered the rod to prevent him from tossing the lure from his mouth.  Almost got him......and SNAP!!!  Line break - say what?  How in the world did he snap a 15lb. flouro leader?  The momentum of the fight combined with the wind at my back pushed me over to where he snapped the line.  I look down and see the reason for the lost fish - a recently downed tree that had fresh sharp edges and contributed to me losing a quality fish.

Such is life - not the first fish I have lost, nor will it be the last I am sure.  You always hear the fishing adage and words of wisdom that if you are not getting your lure snagged or hung up, then you aren't fishing in the right spot!!  Well, I confirmed that one right there.  I kept working the cove nevertheless with nary a bite to be found.  What made the lost fish more painful is that he spent the next 15-20 minutes jumping out of the water left and right trying to get the spinnerbait out of his mouth.  Dang fish - grrrrrrrr!!!  Oh well, I told my son to always keep your head up and just keep trying.  Persistence pays off, right?

I was getting pretty worn out fighting the wind and the lack of any action as the sun rose high above our heads, so I beached the kayak in a small shallow spot at the back of the cove and pulled out our lunch.  My son waded around in the shallow water stirring up the muck while munching on his sandwich.  I ate mine as well, and I decided to change a few of my setups around.  I tied on my favorite small spinnerbait, and I re-rigged the wackey style rod with a heavier round shakey head and just a brown/orange colored soft plastic craw.  Once I was done with my sandwich and the retying of the lures, we made our way back towards the launch to fish the shaded side of the rock covered banks with overhanging trees.  I knew we needed to be off the water by 2pm in order to not be rushed and to have enough time to load up the gear and kayak and make the drive back to the check in by 4pm.

I found a target rich area that had several submerged trees in deeper water away from the banks.  I tossed the craw away from the banks first to try an target the fish at the end of the structure.  Nothing.  I worked the craw closer to the banks but still nothing.  I then cast the craw up onto the bank, then started a short hop retrieve mimicking the action of a crawdad fleeing from prey with sharp twitches of its tail.  I let the craw fall and felt a subtle tap.  I waited a brief moment to avoid losing another fish to a short strike.  I love the hi-vis braid, because even subtle hits are magnified when the fish swims away with your bait.  I saw the line begin to swim away and set the hook - fish on.  Nothing big, but still a keeper per the rules of this tournament of an 8" minimum.  A few short runs and the first fish of the day that counts is in the boat.  I put him on the Fish Grip that I have tied to the kayak to let him swim freely while I got the measuring board and identifier out to take a photo.  End result - a spunky little 11 1/4" bass to put on the board - nothing to write home about but at least no skunk.  Here is the photo my official cameraman (aka my son) snapped for me.
If you look over my left shoulder (right side of the photo), you can see how much shade the trees were providing on the shallow banks even at high noon, making it a prime target area in the crystal clear water for the day.  I kept working that area knowing that the submerged trees had to hold more than one fish.  I found another taker and hooked him but he was able to get off by swimming into the tree and managing to get the lure hung up.  I knew I was onto some form of a pattern of fish tight to cover but still aggressive.  I continued to get bit with several instances of the fish biting hard and ripping the claws off of the soft plastic crawdad but no more were landed.

2pm came all to quickly, and I was forced to resign with only one fish to record.  We make it back to the tournament check in with 6 minutes to spare, albeit after getting caught behind every pokey person in the state and caught at every red light!!!  I know that if I could have landed those two fish that got away, I would have had a chance to win the individual angler and big fish awards.  I ended up placing 6th out of 10 individuals in the lake division.  The winning total I believe was only 33" for the two fish he landed with a three fish maximum.  Oh well, it was fun to say the least.  My son had fun taking photos, we caught a couple fish (albeit one not able to be entered), we won a couple raffle items, met some new faces like Jeff Little and Drew Gregory, we spent time together on the road in a hotel for the first time, and we got to fish - not too bad of a weekend if you ask me.