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.