Friday, May 25, 2012

The Speckled Trout - a beginner's guide (pt.1)

Recently, I was given the opportunity to share my knowledge and experiences with speckled trout during Appomattox River Company's Meet the Pro Staff monthly meeting.  The speckled trout or speck is regarded by many dedicated anglers as their favorite species of fish to target in the Chesapeake Bay fishery.  While the information I shared at the meeting was in no way copyrighted nor protected, it was not intended to be representative of all regions where anglers target specks.  Rather, it is a collection of ideas and concepts that I shared during the meeting and will freely share in this medium for those that perhaps misunderstood a topic discussion, were unable to attend due to logistics or scheduling conflicts or just geographically had location specific challenges.  Kick back, pull out a pad and a pen and take some notes or share it with others that love to fish.  I hope you find it useful, so let's get it rolling shall we?
Anglers from places as far away as Texas all the way up to through the mid-Atlantic coastal region into the state of Maryland have spent years on the water chasing specks.  The dedicated speck angler is typically one that is guarded and very secretive when it comes to specific locations and lures that they use.  While I will not use this forum as a means to disclose any information like this, I will try and convey some of the basics that every persistent and dedicated speck chaser should have in their knowledge base or mental angler's toolkit.  This discussion will be broken up into separate posts due to the voluminous amount of information that I feel is beneficial to remember in order to gain a better understanding on why the speckled trout is so cherished by anglers.

The information shared in this post and the succeeding one will focus on the following topic areas:
  • Species identification
  • Tackle
  • Lures
  • General location
  • When to fish
  • Keys to success
For this post, we will focus the discussion on the first three topic areas, so I encourage you to send me questions or comments if you need any clarification.  Keep in mind that this discussion is not intended to be the definitive resource, rather it is intended to help the novice salt water angler that is interested in learning the basics about speckled trout fishing and what some of the general tackle, lures and techniques are to have a chance at long term success when chasing this sometimes elusive species.

Species Identification:
The Speckled Trout, also commonly referred to as the Spotted Sea Trout, can be mistaken for another salt water species known as the Grey Trout or Weakfish.  To the casual observer, a quick glance at both species may not reveal many differences, but upon closer inspection, you will see that the two species are in fact distinctly different from one another.

Let's start with the Speckled Trout which has a dusky gray top fading into a silvery finish on its body.  There are numerous dark spots extending into their dorsal and tail fins which are a yellowish green color.  In the state of Virginia, the minimum size to keep or harvest is 14" but the limit varies by season.  From 12/1 through 3/31, an individual angler can harvest up to 5 per day, compared to 4/1 through 11/30 where the angler can harvest up to 10 fish per day.

Here is a comparison between an animated image and one I caught a couple weeks ago.
Now, let's look at the Grey Trout also commonly referred to as a Weakfish.  The grey trout differs from the speckled trout in that it has a greenish grey top that fades into a silvery side.  The body has small spots that form dotted lines and has pelvic and anal fins that are yellowish with the remaining fins very pale with a yellowish tinge to them.  The harvesting regulations here in Virginia are more stringent permitting the angler only one grey trout per day and a minimum size of 12".

Here is a comparison like above of the animated image versus one I recently caught.
While the differences are subtle, they are distinct.  Since most of my outings are late in the evening, the ability to tell the difference between the two species can sometimes be challenging due to low-visibility conditions.  One sure fire way to tell the difference is the feel of the scales between the two fish.  Before you attempt to do this, make sure you have coated your hands with some water to prevent any removal of the trout's protective slime.  When you are ready, on the speckled trout, the scales will feel smooth and not catch as you run your hand over them from the tail to the head, while the grey trout will feel very rough and will catch on your hand.  In the end, the risk of a fine or worse is not worth the risk of having too many weakfish in your possession even if by accident in my opinion.  I recommend releasing the fish when in doubt.  Better to be safe than sorry.  Now let's move on into some of the basic tackle you should have when you head out for your first trout adventure.

One of the keys to any successful outing is to have rod and reel combinations that are well-balanced right down to the selection of the main line and leader material utilized.  I recommend a high quality rod blank no less than an IM6 blank in a MEDIUM LIGHT to MEDIUM power with a FAST to EXTRA FAST action.  I currently use a variety of rods that are exceptional rods for the angling styles I currently employ, but the common characteristic in all of these rods is one thing - a lifetime warranty!!  You will at some point have an issue with your rod and will require replacement or service.  I have a couple of rods that I recently replaced, because they were 1,3 or 5 year warranty rods that had surpassed their warranty applicability and as luck would have it had an issue that warranted replacement.

The design of the rod is also a matter of personal preference.  Some like split handle grips while others prefer traditional cork.  Either will do fine, but sensitivity should be your bigger concern when selecting a rod.  That is where the high modulus of rods like the the IM6 and higher shine.  Some rod manufactures use a different coding for the their rod blanks,so check the sensitivity before you rush out and purchase a new rod.  You can test sensitivity by simply having someone place the rod tip on their voice box and ask them to say something in a normal tone.  If you can feel vibrations resonating through the rod blank in your fingers, then you have a fairly sensitive rod.  If you have to really have the person enunciate or speak very loudly before you feel anything, then the rod is most likely not sensitive enough in the long run.  Check out this awesome guide from Bass Resource of selecting a fishing rod.

One important thing to remember when fishing for specks is that they are akin to a bass in that they will completely inhale or engulf a lure without so much as a nick or indication that they bit it.  When they spit it out, you'll think that it was a strike when in reality it was simply the speck losing interest.  A very frustrating occurrence, but it happens all the time.  If this is happening to you, pay attention to your positioning and line tension.  If there is any sag in your line, this may occur more frequently than you realize.  Pay attention to the wind, line slack, angle of your rod, current direction, current strength and kayak positioning.  All are factors to consider.

When it comes to reels, I use both casting and spinning setups, but your personal preference, comfort level and experience may lead you to one over the other.  When selecting a reel, I recommend sticking with higher quality reels at affordable prices.  That doesn't mean that the high end reels that eclipse the $150 mark can't be used.  It just means that there are several viable alternatives at more attractive price points.  If possible, opt for a reel with corrosion resistance and anti-rust bearings.  I have reels that range in pricing from $25-200 that I paid for them.  Is any one of them better than the other?  Absolutely, but only in the sense of how the reel is utilized but not necessarily in overall performance or reputation.

While we are talking about reels, I cannot convey enough the need to pay attention to drag ratings and drag materials in your reels you use.  I don't use any reel in salt water unless it has a minimum of 12-15lbs. of drag rating. This point cannot be exemplified enough.  In November 2010, I was fishing in Rudee Inlet chasing specks when I noticed an eerie white fish shape swimming in the water.  Not knowing what it was, I made a half-hearted cast towards it not expecting to actually hook up.  What ensued was a 45 minute sleigh ride as I was being dragged around the back of Rudee Inlet by a 40" black drum.  While I was only fishing with a 2500 series reel spooled with 20lb braid and paired to a medium fast rod, the reel had a 15lb. drag rating. When combined with the drag of the kayak, I effectively had a drag of approximately 20-25 lb.  I eventually got the fish unhooked, but if I had opted  for a rod and reel setup of lesser components and drag quality, I may not have even had the chance to fight this fish for those 45 minutes.

When it comes to selecting line, there are several schools of thought.  Some folks are monofilament users, others flourocarbon, and some who use strictly braid as their main line.  For me, I prefer braided main line with a flourocarbon leader.  While specks don't typically require anything more than 12lb. flourocarbon or 8-10lb braid, I always spool my main line in 20-30lb. braid in hi-visibility yellow when possible.  I then attach a full wingspan's length (a length equivalent from one outstretched hand to the other) of 15lb. flourocarbon as a leader.  While 8-10lb. main line is usually fine, there are plenty of other larger species in the Chesapeake Bay fishery that inhabit the same waters as specks do, especially some of the locations the veteran speck angler frequents.  On any given outing, you could find yourself hooked up with a citation flounder over 26", a 30" bluefish, a 40"+ bull red, big 30"+ striper, black drum, sheepshead, cobia, ray or shark.  If that happens, you will be thankful that you had the larger line.

You might wonder why I use such a long length of leader on my setups and here is the reason why. If you are an avid fisherman, you know that fish relate to and are around structure more times than not.  Structure in salt water means a variety of things.  It could be oyster beds, dock pilings, a collapsed sea wall or even a sunken ship or wreck.  That being the case, you are going to have to re-tie at some point due to nicks and cuts in your line.  Another reason is that in the event of a break off, when you re-tie, the length of your leader will decrease depending upon the knot you prefer to use.  If you use the standard 2-3' length of leader material, then one re-tie will leave you with very little leader to work with.  I know I don't speak for every angler out there, but my personal preference is to spend as little time on the water messing around with re-tying leaders as possible, hence the reason I use twice as much as some might prefer.  If you are fishing extremely clear water, then you can also step up your length even further.  I have used lengths up to 9-10' before when I knew I was heading into a clear water fishery area with loads of structure.

Also, the reason I use line material versus a true flourocarbon leader is that true flouro is difficult to tie certain knots with for me.  The line based flourocarbon is lighter than true flouro and is much easier to tie not only lures with but also the leader to main line connection.  On the subject of main line to leader connection, I use the modified Alberto knot, because it passes through smaller line guides easier than other knots.  This knot takes some practice and should be performed while on land when you are prepping for your outing.  You can do it while on the water, but as I stated earlier, I prefer to spend time fishing rather than re-tying leaders.
 While I primarily utilize 15lb. leaders, I do sometimes use 8-10lb. leaders when I know I will be working areas with depressions and grass only with little chance at getting snagged on oyster beds or bridge pilings.  The challenge with using the lower test leader is that you run the risk of getting broken off if you hook into a trophy sized fish.  Like I said before, specks are not the only toothy critters that swim in this area.

Lastly, I often am asked how many setups I carry with me.  I tend to subscribe to the belief of less is more.  I typically carry three rods in total, but I realistically only end up using two of them.  The third setup is usually my emergency rod for when my line is severed, and I do not want to stop my fishing.  Eventually, I'll re-tie my lure on that setup when I reach a lull or am moving from one spot to another.  The setups I take are typically the following: one setup with a jig head for use with a plastic of some form.  The second setup with have a suspending jerk bait of some form on it, while the third setup might be either top water or a popping cork.  More on that in the post below.

When you are setting up your rod and reel combos for your pursuit of speckled trout, I encourage you to limit not only the number of rods you take, but also limit the lure varieties you carry as well relative to the type of structure you are going to fishing in and around on that given day.  I prefer to carry one tackle tray stocked with my choices for the day that will vary upon the specific location but it general, it will have the following: 2-3 small profile suspending jerk baits; 2-3 top water choices; 2-3 varieties of soft plastics; a variety of jig heads to account for varying currents; and extra #2 black salt water grade snaps.  I also carry a small container of Gulp! formula where I place a variety of my soft plastics.

Every angler has their personal preference for the lures they use.  Sometimes, their usage is dictated by past experience, recommendations from fellow anglers, the physical composition of the targeted fishery, or maybe there is an affiliation with a specific vendor as a staff member.  Regardless of the reason, very rarely will you find a seasoned speck angler carry more than the bare minimum.  The reason this occurs is simple.....the seasoned speck angler has stocked their "mental tackle box" and their "mental fishing journal" with past trips with similar physical characteristics, water behavior and weather conditions.  I am not affiliated with any lure manufacturers at this point, but there are a few companies that I clearly support, as evidenced in my previous fishing reports.

Regardless of lure types and sizes that you choose, remember to keep this premise in your head as a general rule of thumb - the darker the sky or murkier the water, the darker the lure needs to be.  Also, less clarity in the water, more chop from wave and wind action or the darker the sky, the less realistic your presentation needs to be.  Compare those concepts to an area where the water is crystal clear and the sky is clear with no real noticeable chop or wave action, your presentation need to be more precise both in lure profile and the technique in which the lure is worked/retrieved. Keep these factors in mind when selecting your lure presentations for a given day.  Do some homework before you leave your house by using various weather sites, tide charts for your given area, current predictions, etc. and you will be well on your way to outfitting your tackle tray and setting up your gear to maximize your time on the water.

As far as lure types, the most common types are: 
  • Suspending/Jerk baits - Mirrolures, Rapalas, Bombers, Storm.
  • Soft Plastic brands - DOA, Gulp!, Powerbait, Kalins, Bass Assassin, Strike King, Marsh Works.
  • Soft Plastic profiles - curly tail grubs, pogies, paddle tails, shad tails, split tails, jerk shads, shrimp.
  • Popping corks - paired with any of the lure types above.
  • Top water - Mirrolure, Rapala, Bomber, Creek Chub, Storm, Zara Spooks.
  • Spoons - not as popular in the Chesapeake Bay fishery but they produce.
  • Live or Cut bait on a fish finder rig or under a popping cork.
I would be remiss if I didn't account for another technique that involves different equipment and presentation and that is fly fishing, and area in which I have limited experience with but have witnessed firsthand the success one can have when using the long rod or buggy whip as some call it to target specks.  I personally have a 4 piece 7wt. rod with two reels I am learning with - one is spooled with a floating line while the other is spooled with an intermediate sinking line.  The flies I have in my fly box are limited but are geared towards stripers and specks.  I have several clousers in white, white/gray, white/blue, white/pink, white/chartreuse and white/red.  All of these will work, but it might be beneficial to carry a secondary traditional rod and reel to help you locate the fish.  Once you locate them, then you can take the fly rod out of your arsenal and start chasing them.

Next week, we'll look into the specifics of locations to target specks, when you should fish and some key points to remember in Part 2 of this discussion.  I hope you found this information useful.  Feel free to send tell your friends.  As I stated earlier, none of this information is protected or copyrighted.  It is simply intended to be a culmination of some common tips and techniques that the beginning speck angler needs to take into account the next time they head out.

Until then, be safe, tight lines and let me know if any of these tips helped you in any way during your next outing.

Monday, May 21, 2012

In the company of heroes.......

The weekend began with kayak anglers descending upon a secluded field in nearby rural Rice, VA minutes from Farmville, VA.  To the everyday traveler or local resident, the driveway marked with orange barrier tape would have given little insight into the fellowship and brotherhood that would soon commence over the course of the forthcoming 48 hours.  A quick glance across the field soon revealed how important this event would be to kayak anglers both near and far.  We had representation from places as far away as Texas, Georgia and New Jersey.
By nightfall, it was clear how dedicated the kayak angling family is.  We had approximately 60 registered anglers by the time the Captain's Meeting started Friday evening, which did not include the late arrivals or others that registered the morning of the event the following day.  The popularity of this event is growing, and each year, the number of participants increases all in support of Heroes On the Water and the multitudes of service members returning from their service to our country.
The format of the tournament was fairly straightforward and familiar to most with the basic parameters of first line in the water at first light, an assigned identifier, catch-photo-release of all entered fish with the assigned identifier visible and an angler check-in no later than 4pm.  After the requisite rules overview and answers to some angler questions, we all were treated to a steak dinner with green beans, baked potatoes, bread and cake.  The rest of the evening was spent meeting new people, making new friends and placing faces with names previously known only via the numerous kayak angling web forums.

While the social aspect of these tournaments is an added bonus, it further exemplifies how simplistic the concept truly is yet how profound the impact can be.  HOW tournaments and events are centered around pairing up experienced kayak anglers with service members who are interested in getting out on the water and empowering themselves with the strength and fortitude known only by a select few, such as our military personnel.  While these heroes may have their own respective limitations, it does not in any way reflect upon their inner strength to conquer the challenges they face on a daily basis.  I find no greater joy than seeing a wounded warrior overcome their initial trepidation upon first entry into the kayak and the accompanying sense of instability as they paddle away from the launch.  Those challenges and inner doubts are quickly overcome, and you find yourself put at ease as you see the calmness and inner strength shine through on their respective countenances as they paddle away with a new found confidence and determination.
The warmth and gratitude I feel each time I head out on the water with these heroes is unfortunately interrupted by the bellowing sound of the air horn that penetrates the air and sometimes the stiff winds signifying an end to my time on the water with the heroes.  Each time I volunteer at these events, I sorely long for the day to last just a little bit longer thus permitting more time on the water with my new found friend.  Alas, it is not to be this day.  We make our way back to the launch, where I assist my hero out of the water and thank him for the time spent together.  The sadness is further deepened for me personally, because my son was not able to participate at this event due to a previously scheduled commitment.  In the past, he has accompanied me to all of the events, and the hero I was paired with has come to expect my son to be there.  He too was noticeably saddened as well.  I promised him that I would have him at the next event, but my hero simply smiled and handed me a candy bar to pass on to my son until the next time they could be together.  Words cannot express the gratitude I felt from the simplicity of the gift and the graciousness this hero freely offered for my son whom he had only met a few times at previous events in 2011.

After returning to the launch, we all gathered for a quick box lunch provided by one of the local businesses and some more socialization and reflection upon the outing on the water we had all shared in.  Some of the heroes spoke of "the one that got away", while others reflected upon how much enjoyment they had.  The hero paired with me told me numerous times on the water how much of a relief it was just to get out and do something versus sitting in the same room each day.  Sometimes I think the monotony of these heroes' daily lives is a contributing symptom of their daily challenges.  Hopefully, the bi-weekly HOW events with the Central VA HOW Chapter will help fight off those maladies.

As the heroes were loaded into their vehicle, I found myself longing for the next outing and already mentally checking my calendar to see if my son would be free.  I hope he is, because days like this are ones that I hope he will be able to hold onto as he ages and matures.  These are the days that will mold and shape the child that will one day grow into a man.  Upon that day, he too will realize that it is truly an honor just to be in the company of heroes.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Part 2 - Lowrance Scupper Kit & DSI Install

I finally found time to complete the second portion of my Lowrance Scupper Kit install and decide where I wanted the power and transducer cables run in the Hobie Revolution 13.  Revo owners understand the challenges of routing wires inside the hull, since there are only two realistic access points - the front bow hatch and the center twist-n-seal hatch.  My biggest concern and what kept me from rushing into this installation was the decision on where to cut the hole for the power cable that runs to the back of the Lowrance Elite 5 DSI head unit.  On a Revolution, there are only so many locations due to how the rudder cables are run inside the hull.  A cut that is too close could result in a frayed or cut rudder cable.

I started off by gathering all the necessary parts and laying them out.  I had the Lowrance Kayak Scupper Installation Kit, the remaining pieces from the Elite 5 DSI package, a wire seal with water tight cap, the RAM mount with the YakAttak 1" Screwball for use with the GearTrac setup and two pieces of STS from Stewart Products.  The STS pieces are going to be used as additional gaskets to help keep water out of the hull.
Next, I gathered the necessary tools for the job.  I had my favorite sealant Lexel, some wire ties, a #2 phillips screw driver, a very small phillips head screw driver (slightly larger than a jewelers or eyeglass kit one) a 1" hole saw, en electric drill, a soldering gun and some solder.  Other items I needed were 6-7' lengths of wire for connecting the output leads from the DSI module to the rear battery.  I would later learn that I also needed a butterfly bit and some small drill bits.  It seems that in my haste to get the necessary tools a couple months ago, I selected a 1/2" chuck hole saw versus the traditional 3/8", so I used my butterfly bit and a Dremel tool with a grinding wheel to get the job done still.
First step was to install the scupper kit.  I quickly realized that the scupper kit is a universal kit and not designed for the smaller scupper holes on a Hobie.  I took a few moments and assessed the situation and decided to modify the lower bracket where the transducer attaches.  If I had opted to leave it as is, the transducer would have been located at least 3-4" below the hull and most certainly would have been damaged from structure on the water, launch/recovery or during loading/unloading from my vehicle.  Too many chances to risk in my opinion, so the modification starts a little sooner than planned.  After all, this is a DIY project right?

The key to this modification is having your kayak hull elevated, so that you can get physically underneath and see the sizing of the scupper hole relative to the bracket.  Make sure you wear appropriate eye protection during this process, since pieces of hot plastic will be flying around.  I started off by rounding the edges slowly until I achieved a snug fit.  After about 15 minutes of trimming and grinding the mounting bracket, I ended up removing the entire flange pieces and even tapering the portion of the bracket housing that fits inside the scupper hole.
Once I had the proper fit I wanted, I attached the DSI transducer.  This part can be a little tricky, because the  bracket is now so small that you have very little leverage to snap the transducer into place.  I didn't want to risk damaging the transducer casing or nicking the wire with the Dremel, so I left it off until I had finished grinding the excess away.  I later spoke with a member of the Southern Kayak Anglers group and learned that Lowrance is redesigning this piece for models with smaller scuppers.  The second modification to the bracket assembly was trimming the rubber gasket that sits just above the transducer in the scupper hole sandwiched between the closed cell foam insert and the transducer bracket.  I used a pair of scissors, but you could use a razor blade if you so choose.  I prefer scissors, since you have more control and less risk of cutting yourself.  In the end, I was able to install the modified bracket and associated foam scupper plug and rubber gasket and still get the transducer almost flush with the hull.

Once you have it trimmed, you can thread the long threaded center mast into the scupper hole and flush with the top of the transducer mounted in the bracket.  The next step is tedious but could be simpler if you have a sharp set of large wire cutters.  The center mast is basically a long, threaded plastic bolt.  You secure the lower portion of the transducer setup by creating tension on the top of the scupper with the retaining plug.  The tension is applied when you thread the small plastic wing nut down the length of the long plastic bolt.  You could snip off a significant section of the bolt, but I didn't have a large enough pair of wire cutters and didn't want to risk compromising the threads on the bolt.  Once you have it threaded on and it starts to become snug, just snip off the excess threaded bolt flush with the top of the tension cap but don't over tighten it.  The weather cap that sits on top of the tension bracket relies upon two small plastic tabs to retain the protective weather cap.  If you over tighten it, the cap will be easily dislodged or may not engage the locking tabs at all.

Next, I provided wire cap from Lowrance has a 1" opening, so once you decide on where you want the wire cap to be located relative to your scupper kit, you will need to cutout a 1" hole to not only route your transducer wire, but also for the installation of the wire cap.  This is another step where the DIY customization was applied.  The provided rubber gasket that marries up to the 3 small screw holes in the wire seal does not provide any measure of waterproofing or keeping water out.  So this is where one of the small pieces of STS came in handy.
I made an "X" cut in the STS piece, removed the backing from the STS, and adhered it over the 1" hole I had made on the rear side of the hull cross member behind the seat.  Insert the wire cap seal and orient the cable notch toward the bottom to avoid any unnecessary kinks in the transducer wire.  Using the tiny phillips head screwdriver, insert each of the three screws and tightening them down until snug.  When you are finished, you should only have about 3" of transducer wire visible.
The next step is deciding where you want the transducer and power cables routed in your kayak.  I decided to route my cables so that they came through the hull inside the left hand storage pouch.  The reason I opted for this location is that it permitted me to store the cable when not in use or transport but still allow enough slack to connect to the head unit.  First step is to remove the side pocket and mark your location of where you want the hole.  Then cut a hole large enough to fit the cable end locking collar.  This is significantly larger than the cable itself and was slightly larger than the diameter of the wire seal I was planning on using.
This is the where the second piece of the STS material came in handy.  I made another "X" cut, removed the backing and adhered the STS to the opening.  I routed the cable through the wire seal locking nut and collar then the through the hole.  Next, I placed some Lexel on the back of the wire seal flange and on the locking collar before tightening down.  I oriented the wire seal at the 11 o'clock position to help with how I wanted the cable placed when attached to the head unit.
Before reattaching the side pocket, I placed a small dab of Lexel in each of the six mounting holes.  I then reattached the side pocket making sure to only hand tighten the screws using the #2 phillips screw driver.  The end result is a well-concealed cabling solution that is both stealth in appearance yet protected from excessive wear yet still retains the original functionality of the side pocket.
The final step in the process is attaching the DSI module and power cables.  This part of the install was a little troubling for me for two primary reasons.   One, the DSI module attaches via a very small 18 gauge male/female wire connectors - very frail in my opinion.  Two, there are no attachment points inside the hull of the Hobie Revolution.  All of the mounted options on the kayak where screws are utilized are inside of protected molded housings (not a bad thing mind you just inconvenient for what I need).  In the past, I have had a fish finder install fail on me over time due to corrosion on the terminal connections from being in the salt water so much.  So, I opted to seal my DSI module and the junctions of my power leads inside of a small dry pack I had lying around I wasn't using anymore.  I also added some dielectric grease to each of the connections before sealing the bag.  For now, the bag is resting inside the hull beneath my twist-n-seal hatch up front until I can come up with another solution.
The last step was connecting power.  I am possibly the world's worst soldering fool, so it is never pretty.  I don't know what it is, but I couldn't solder a connection cleanly if my future fishing success depended upon it!!  Anyway, I did what I could and placed some dielectric grease just as a precaution prior to using heat  shrink over the connections.  I left enough length on the cabling so that I could remove my rear gear bucket and still not worry about breaking or crimping the wires accidentally.
All that's left at this point is to get it on the water and test it out.  On my next outing, I will make every attempt to capture some imagery in varying light conditions for you folks to see.  I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.

Total install time - 3 hours (mostly due to my lack of having a true workspace)

Until next time, get out and get on some fish, tight lines, and always leave the water cleaner than when you arrived.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Casting for points not quantity......

In my travels and fishing trips, I have come across countless wonderful people in the fishing world.  I have had the fortune of being in the company of several renowned kayak anglers: Kayak Kevin Whitley, Drew Gregory, Chad Hoover, Jeff Little, Rob Choi, Justin Mayer, Forrest Short, Tim Morris, Frank Bandy, Marty Mood, Mark Lozier and Cory Routh.  When you get to spend time on the water with these folks, well that's just icing on the cake and a perfect way to wrap up your day.

One great way to expand your "mental angler rolodex" is to participate in Kayak Wars and have a team with other kayak anglers in your region.  For 2012, team LipRippers is comprised of two smallmouth gurus, two saltwater gurus and myself, an angler that fished both fresh and salt.  The team is very Hobie-centric with three of us having them.  One of the team members is Joe who I just met last year while fishing in the area.  I was heading out, and he was heading in.  We shared some passing pleasantries and went out separate ways.  Over the course of the next 6 months, we started to realize how much we fished the same areas, so we thought it made perfect sense to be on the same team this year.

Last night, I was able to coordinate my schedule finally to get on the water with Joe.  He having already fished earlier in the day and landed several keeper flounder was up to the task.  I launched just before sunset, and Joe arrived shortly thereafter.  The goal was to target stripers for some Kayak Wars points and avoid the bluefish if possible.  While waiting for Joe to arrive, I played around with the blues and landed several in the 12-15" range but none that were points eligible (17" minimum this year for blues), so back in the water they went without so much as a camera shot.  I also managed to land a feisty little croaker that thought he was bigger than he truly was but was not photo worthy.  Today was also the first time I was able to get a photo using my GoPro Hero, so I used the timer feature to capture this one.  Most times I am fishing at night and photos are a tad more challenging with low lighting.
Shortly after 8:30pm, the current picked up in earnest.  It was forecast to be at .5 with winds in the 5-10 knot range and seas at 2-3'.  We knew it was going to be a challenge, but we were still game.  I felt it was the perfect place for Joe to test out a 2010 Hobie Revolution 13 he was interested in.  After the night was done, I think he is convinced that the Revolution is a better fishing platform in the saltwater than the Outback he owns.  Joe and I set off on our quest for points and not quantity from that point on.

Now, this style of fishing can be both fulfilling and frustrating at the same time.  There is nothing more frustrating to me than searching for fish, seeing fish and telling yourself - "Don't cast there, that one's too small......".  If you had told me 5 years ago when I first started thinking about getting a fishing vessel of some sort that I would be refusing to cast to fish I could see, I would have walked away in disbelief after I picked myself up off the floor from my fit of hysterical laughter.

In total, I made less than 20 total casts from that point on for the next 3 hours.  You read that right - less than 20 total casts over the course of the next 3 hours!!!  That's how selective we were going to be, since only stripers over 20" count.  Joe and I split up to stagger ourselves in case one of us spooked any of the fish, the other would follow a few minutes later and try to target them.  After about 30 minutes of this, I had made my way back to Joe and find him hooked up with a monster striper.  He battled that thing for a good 5 minutes with the massive swells and heavy current.  The end result was a nice 34"+ striper........
I congratulated him after the quick "glory shot" and headed off on my own search.  We spot hopped for the next hour with only two cast-worthy fish sighted but no hookups.  We decided to try and locate some smaller calmer areas further out, and that is where we started to see a couple more but still no numbers.  While searching, I had one roll up right next to my Hobie Revolution 13, take one look at me, then swim away.  It seemed like he was just curious about the kayak to be honest.  While I watched him swim away, I saw a small swell about 20 feet in front of me.  I fired off a cast and immediately felt some resistance.  At first, I thought I had become snagged, but a couple head shakes later, I found myself battling a chunky striper - my first good sized one in 3 months.  A nice 24" chunk for more Kayak Wars points.
I was using a TFO G. Loomis Signature Series Saltwater spinning rod in MEDIUM power and FAST action paired to a Daiwa Regal 3000 spooled with 30lb. PowerPro hi-vis yellow braid and a 15 lb. PLine Flouroclear leader.  I had a pack of curly tail grubs I had purchased the other day, that I placed into a container of Gulp Alive a few hours prior to launch.  Not really sure it was necessary, since I basically dropped the grub on his head when I made the cast.

We saw a couple more but none were interested in our lures.  It was nearing midnight and by this time, the high tide was nearing its peak and the current was still ripping pretty good.  We decided to head on back to shore to call it a night and spot hop all the way back.  We saw one more cast worthy fish the rest of the way back in but neither could get him to strike.  After a meandering pedal back, we finally made it and called it a night.  I learned that Joe had also landed a 24" striper as well, so we had collectively landed 3 points eligible fish in conjunction with the several flounder from earlier.

We said our farewells until the next time we can get together and headed our separate ways.  By the time I managed to crawl into bed, it was 2:45am, and I was not looking forward to the 5:00am alarm clock.  I ended up snoozing until 6:00am to at least try and gain some manner of usefulness for the upcoming day.  We'll see how that pans out, but in the end it was worth it.  Being selective with your casts is a hard task to do, but it will help you become a more discerning angler whether you fish from shore, a boat or a kayak.

Until next time - be safe, help a veteran, take a kid fishing and get out and get bit!!  Tight lines everyone!!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Gone fishing on "Son-day"......

Since my last trip this past Thursday, my son has been after me to get him on the water.  Ever since he landed his first bluegill from my kayak at age 4, he has literally been "hooked".  He has even hinted that I should really divert funds his way, so he could have his own kayak.  Too funny!!  Little does he know that the plan has been in the works for some time now.  Anyway, this past weekend presented an opportunity to get him out on the water for the first time this year.  Up until now, the water temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay have been fluctuating in the low 60's combined with windy conditions.  Just recently, the water temperatures started steadily increasing into the lower 70's in certain areas of the bay, along with very warm air temperatures.  This presented an opportunity to get him on the water for the first time safely, so I loaded up the van the night before and awoke to find my son ready to go!!

Looking at the CBOFS readings (Chesapeake Bay Operational Forecast System) for the Thimble Shoal area one last time before leaving, it looked like the real-time wind readings and forecast for the rest of the day were not as favorable as I would have liked it to be, but a promise is a promise.  I opted to launch on the Hampton side of the HRBT in hopes of keeping the 15mph NNE winds in check as a precaution.  The weather updates on my marine radio also indicated that a small craft advisory was in place for later that day and for the remainder of the weekend, so that just further instilled upon me the need to keep a weather eye on the horizon as a precaution.

We pedaled out to the bridge complex and started drifting - for me, a Marsh Works Bayou Thumper in Pearl and for him a Haw River Sickle Tail grub in white with a pink tail in the hopes of locating some blues or croaker.  My son's rod went down a couple times without any successful hook sets, so we moved over to a somewhat wind protected cove.  I checked my son's lure and found the remains of a shredded Thumper from a voracious bluefish bite.  I changed it out for him and told him to cast over to the shoreline and slowly bounce the lure back across the sandy flat.  A few seconds later I hear the exuberant shout of my son screaming, "Daddy - I got one!".  I turn around to see my son reeling in a nice little speckled trout.
After a quick photo, the undersized trout was set free.  It measured in at 13 3/4", a 1/4" shy of making its way from the salty waters and into the broiler for dinner.  Oh well, let's try again.  He makes another cast to the same general area and starts telling me again, "Daddy, I got another one!".  Only this time, it is not a trout or croaker, it is a pesky little crab!!
After a quick photo, the crab lets go and drifts back to the salty depths of the flat.  We tried another little cove but had difficulty in keeping our lines from getting snagged on other obstacles like pilings and rocks due to the stronger winds, so we decided to head back out into the protected main bay and drift for some flounder or a cruising striper.

Along the way, my son tells me he is hungry, and after a quick glance at my watch, I can see was 12:30pm.  Any parent knows that when their child starts hinting at being hungry, any family activity will soon come to a screeching halt if that urge is not satisfied.  So we made our way back to the launch to pack up and get something to eat.  As we are nearing the launch, I notice some movement near the pier and see a juvenile blue heron wading the shallows looking for a meal.
While I packed up the gear, my son bounced around the launch area looking for shells to add to our ever growing collection at home.  We always take time on every saltwater trip to try and find some more shells to take home and show to mom.  Once I had everything loaded, we went and grabbed a quick lunch.  While we are eating, I asked my son if he still wanted to fish some more, and he chimed in immediately with a vibrant "Yes!".  So we finished up our food, and I headed further south to Rudee Inlet.  I knew the winds would not give us the opportunity to head to some of the prime flounder spots, so I figured we would pedal around until we located some fish.

After about an hour of searching, we weren't having that great of a day.  I knew from past experience that fishing Rudee the morning after a full moon would be challenging, but I was determined to try and get him on some of those feisty blues and croaker Rudee is known for.  We made our way around to some of the well-known spots, but could only manage some passing bluefish strikes with no good hook sets.  We drifted back past the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center and took in the sights from a different perspective having visited the Science Center and outer grounds just this past fall.  As we were drifting, I finally managed a firm strike and a hood hook set.  The result was one of the many cookie cutter blues that frequent the area - a 13" chomper.
On our way back up the tidal creek, my line became snagged near the shore.  So we drifter over, and I actually had to get out of the kayak and remove the snag in my line.  Turns out, someone had apparently been unable to loose their anchor from the oyster bed most likely during an ebb tide and risk running aground, so they apparently cut the anchor line.  I removed the snag and gathered the remnants of the line.  It was a great opportunity to demonstrate the importance of leaving the water cleaner than when you got there!!

On our way back out into the inlet, I ran into a couple of familiar faces - Joe (AgentVA) and Mark (landingcrew).  I have fished with both in the past in Rudee and knew both to be competent anglers for the area.  Joe indicated a slow day as I had previously figured it would be, and Mark was heading out in hopes of getting a later afternoon bite.  We chatted a bit with Mark and even spent a little while fishing with him.  My son managed to land a few more crabs but no fish.
We decided to drift back towards the launch and said our goodbyes to Mark. While drifting back towards the launch, I made a cast over to an area where finger mullet were busting the surface and quickly got a solid strike.  A good hook set and a quick 20 second fight lands me my second fish for the day, this one a 14 1/4" bluefish.
A quick check of the watch told me that it was time to call it a day.  Even though it was the weekend, school is still in session for my son, so I needed to get him back home in time to get cleaned up, fed and in the bed.  While we may not have had a numbers day, we still had a good time and shared a day on the water together for the first of many times this upcoming year.  A great way to spend my "Son-day" if you ask me...........

Friday, May 4, 2012

Pedaling the blues and croakin' at night......

Mid-week outings are fairly limited for me due to work and home commitments, but when the stars align and my schedule works in my favor, I try and take advantage of it.  Such was the case this past week.  I had originally planned to target stripers at the HRBT with recent reports of multiple 30" plus specimens being seen and caught in the bay.  I had been forewarned though by a good friend that I needed to be mindful of the bluefish.  For those that have never tried fishing amongst bluefish, the challenge is two-fold.  First, you need to get the lure past the feisty blues that sit at the surface and attack anything that comes near to them.  Second, you need to select a presentation that will entice the big stripers to hit, since the larger ones are more discerning on what they will strike.

I launched at 9pm at the start of the maximum outgoing current and searched the entire length of the Norfolk-side of the HRBT tunnel complex.  I didn't see a single striper but landed several bluefish in the first hour on the water.  No matter how heavy a presentation I was casting, the bluefish were so thick that I barely had time to engage the reel allowing the lure to fall before the lure was hit by the voracious blues.  I started out with a 1/4oz. jig head paired with a Marsh Works Bayou Thumper in Pearl.  When that didn't fall fast enough, I stepped up to the 3/8oz and still kept getting nailed by blues.  When my largest jig head at 1/2oz was still getting nailed by blues, I knew that I would have a very difficult time getting to any of the stripers that I could see lurking below.  All of the Thumpers I was using were soaked in some leftover Gulp Alive formula I had laying around from an older Gulp container.  Gulp products are very effective but are easily shredded by saltwater species, so I typically steer clear of them but love the fish attractant formula.

I made my way over to the island and the outer rocks to see if the stripers had moved away from the bridge pilings for a possible reprieve from the ravenous blues but didn't find any.  I did find some slower moving current near there and figured the jig head approach might have a better chance of getting lower in the water column, so I made a few casts.  I was getting subtle hits that felt different from the aggressive bluefish hits.  After a couple casts, I got a good hook set and knew right away that this was no blue.  This fish pulled a bit harder.  Ended up with a nice Hickory Shad measuring in at a shade under 17".
A few minutes later is when the bluefish blitz was on for a solid 2 hours.  The surface was busting with cruising blues that had corralled hundreds of glass minnows into several pods all along the light line.  I knew exactly when and where the glass minnow bait balls had moved, because the sea gulls and other birds would start sounding off to their other winged friends.  Just about that time, I would see the tell tale sign of surface strikes and aerial launches as bluefish would crowd the glass minnows to the surface and attack.  I simply pedaled my Hobie Revolution 13 within a few yards of the activity and make a cast.  This would last for 15-20 minutes before the bait ball would dissipate and move along the bridge span until they were located again by the bluefish onslaught.  The bluefish landed were almost identical in size consistently between 12-14" with an occasional 15-16" landed sparingly.
When the outgoing current began to decrease in intensity, it became easier to position myself near the eddies behind the bridge pilings.  This also meant that it was easier to get my presentations lower in the water column.  When I began targeting the eddies, the bite changed from an aggressive one to a familiar machine gun bite, the tell-tale bite of the ever popular croaker.  For their size, they are not only very tasty, but they are also fun to catch on light tackle.  Croaker can reach sizes up to and above 19-21".  Tonight I only landed 7 or 8 of the smaller ones ranging from 7-12" nut the fight was fun nonetheless.  Here are some examples of the few that I landed:

When targeting croaker, it is critical to use smaller hooks but not too small.  They will attack anything that comes near them.  They are also notorious bait stealers, because they will attack a soft plastic or live bait with a machine gun like attack until the bait falls free or into smaller pieces.  To combat this, I targeted bluefish first, but when the soft plastic had become too shredded into smaller unusable pieces, I simply threaded the remaining piece back onto the jig head and cast it right into the dead water right against the bridge piling.  This is where the Marsh Works Bayou Thumper came in handy.  Thumpers are made of a very resilient material that will hold up to several bluefish strikes until they finally sever the tail.  When that happened, I would target the bridge pilings.  This technique produced the few croaker I landed for the evening.  This technique also resulted in the only flounder bite of the evening - a nice little juvenitle flounder at 12" that was released to go back and grow bigger.

When the jig head and scrap plastic of the Bayou Thumper made it away from the eddy, anew species of fish joined in on the party - the weakfish (aka grey trout).  The grey trout is different from the speckled trout in that they have a different color to them.  They are typically more greenish in tint that fades into a silvery belly.  The markings are also not spots like the speckled trout, they resemble dashes more than spots.  While the minimum keeper size is 12" in the state of Virginia, the maximum daily creel limit is only one per angler.  Since the grey trout population has not been as plentiful as the speckled trout, I never keep any.  So, the largest grey trout landed was a nice little chunk at 14" that was release to go and grow bigger.
  When the slack tide hit shortly after 12:36am, the bluefish bite continued albeit somewhat slower for the next hour.  I was still catching blues and the occasional croaker or weakfish, but I knew my night of fishing was coming to an end.  When I saw a lightning strike about 10 miles away on the far side of Newport News, I knew it was time to make a hasty exit, so I stowed my rods and kicked the Mirage Drive and Turbo fins into high gear and make short work of the nearly mile and a quarter journey back to the launch.  While Mother Nature cut the evening short, the night was still a success.  I landed over 60 fish in a little over 4 1/2 hours, five different species of fish and learned a new pattern for those nights when the striper bite is not in full force.

Until next safe, be aware of the environment and take a kid or service member fishing.