Friday, November 23, 2012

A Trip to the ER isn't always bad....

.....especially when you are hunting for big speckled trout.  The ER in this case is the Elizabeth River, a tributary of the James River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.  The water temperatures in this river are warmer than the water downstream due to the water discharge of the local power plant.  Now, before you start planning your outing, you need to take a couple of things into consideration.  First, the area is not a secret, so you are going to have to be cognizant of the other watercraft (both powered and non-powered).  Second, the available launches are crowded and can fill up literally minutes after first light.  Remember, most of the launches open at first light and close at dusk, so plan your trip accordingly.

A common misconception about this area is that you have to sit in one of two spots - aka The Pond and the Hot Ditch - to catch some large speckled trout.  Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, my largest trout have come from other areas in the river all together.  Don't get me wrong, you can catch some seriously over sized specks in the locations aforementioned, but the bite can be off and provide you or even worse, your charter, no significant action during your scheduled outing.

I met my buddy Joe at the launch a little after 11:30 and set out in search of some toothy specks to chase our presentations for the day.  It wasn't long before I hooked into a decent 18" trout no more than 10 minutes after launching and on my third cast of the morning and it wasn't even noon yet.  The key for us on the day was moving.  Every time we would get into somewhat of a steady bite, the area would turn cold just as quickly.  The bite ran in 15-20 minute cycles on and off all day for us.

We fished several areas and caught fish all over in every place we stopped.  We caught fish both north and south of the high rise, both in and outside of the "hot ditch", and in both deep and shallow water.  The key was to keep moving.  We saw several other boats and kayakers on the day spend their time hovering over one spot and not catching nearly as many as we caught.

We used two primary lures - soft plastics in white and electric chicken, and a MirrOlure.  My largest specks on the day were 21.5" and 20.5".  I had a citation to the kayak and lost it when the speck turned his head the opposite way and threw the hook.  At least we know they are still there.  You just have to put in the time and be patient.  On the day, we caught over 45 trout an one striper, including Joe's 4th release citation of the week measuring at 26 that was caught as the sun was losing its battle with the onset of dusk.  Here's a quick video of our outing:

Still a great day on the water.  The weather cooperated for the most part, save for a few bouts with the wind at various times during the day.  We ended the day shortly after that and made our way back in the dark to our recovery spot contemplating the fish that were missed and the ones we caught.  A great way to spend a day in the ER.
Tight lines and be safe - remember to dress properly for the colder air and water temperatures.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Pond Around the Corner

On my normal Fridays off, I try and seek out a new challenge whenever possible.  Sometimes, that equates to a trip down to the peninsula to satisfy my longing for the saltwater.  Other times, as is the case recently, I try and stay more local and save some money on gas.  Such was the case this past Friday.  I decided to try my luck at a nearby pond that has produced several 20"+ largemouth bass in the last couple of years, including a couple of citations by another individual that bank fishes there frequently.

I knew the trip would be a short one, so I wasn't too anxious to venture out into the near freezing air temps at first light.  By 8:30am, the sun was over the horizon, and I had made my way to the pond to begin unloading my gear in spite of the temps hovering at 39 degrees.  I launched into a slight breeze and the echoes of red tailed hawks and blue herons squawking amongst the barren trees that encased this little body of water.  The water here is always a little on the murky side and is very shallow.  The deepest hole in the pond is barely over six feet, but there are numerous lay downs and overhanging trees to provide ambush points for the resident bass, as well as a few scattered rocks affording the bank anglers a place to sit and fish from.

I had pre-rigged three rods for the day: one casting rod with a double bladed spinnerbait, one casting rod with a square-billed crankbait, and a spinning rod setup for small profile soft plastics.  I could see some surface activity from small shad busting about, so my original thoughts on using a spinnerbait and crankbait could pan out.  The thought process was to troll the crankbait and spinnerbait back and forth across the pond to try and locate the fish, but when every cast was returned with fouled treble hooks from the leaves that now inhabit the subsurface of the pond, I knew that approach was futile.

I also abandoned the trolling/slow rolling spinnerbait approach when I noticed that the pond was actually down a couple feet leaving even the deepest hole only a couple feet deep.  I switched over to the finesse setup and rigged up a PowerTeam Lures Craw D'oeuvre in Deep Melon Pepper.  I rigged it on a 1/4oz. Confidence Baits Draggin' Head to try and eliminate the chances of the hook getting fouled up on the leaves lurking beneath the surface.

I pedaled about the outer edges of the shallow pond working every lay down, shoreline pocket and overhanging tree I could find.  The shoreline here is covered in various thickets and grassy outcroppings, but the drop off from the bank is a nice holding spot for fish.  Although it is only a couple feet deep, the subtle depth change holds fish and is very unpredictable from day to day.

After an hour of working the pond over, the air temps had crept into the high 40's and actually became comfortable to fish in given that I was layered up fairly well for the cold, but I knew only the tug of a bid ole' bass on the end of the line would be the only real cure to chase the cold away and warm me up.  On my second circuit of the pond, I switched up my casting approach from "dock shooting" or sling shot casts under the overhanging brush, to casting ahead and working parallel to the brush.  That was the ticket, because within 15 minutes, I had landed the best fish on the day - a fat 19.75" largemouth!!
After I calmed down from the massive adrenaline rush of that lunker, I focused on the next set of overhangs ahead of me.   After not feeling another bite for 30 minutes, I was beginning to wonder if any other fish were awake.  My concerns were quickly sated and yet extinguished in a matter of 3 seconds when an even larger bass engulfed my Craw D'oeuvre and started ripping drag instantly but came unbuttoned almost as fast.  Both stunned and torqued at the same time, I knew when the fish hit it that it was going to come unbuttoned.  She had hit the lure directly underneath of me on the port side as I was lifting the bait out of the water and took off to the starboard side of the Hobie catching my line on the bow handle.  Oh well, at least I know she's lurking in the shallow depths and right where I had seen a similar fish caught just a year ago.

The rest of the morning was uneventful save for a brief shoreline stint socializing with a couple of dogs that wanted to check out the Hobie.  Without a bite to be found, I spent several minutes doing some cleanup of various bottles, abandoned corks and bobbers and countless yards of line hung up in the overhanging brush and trees.  At one point, I found a tree that had line strewn throughout with no less than three different soft plastics (a lizard, a twin-tailed grub and a chigger craw) hung up.  I was only able to get to one of the three, but to my surprise I found one strand of line hung up near the shoreline and was quite surprised to find a brand new Blue Fox Vibrax spinner still attached.

It amazes me how inconsiderate folks can be of their surroundings sometimes.  It makes me wonder what their households look like or what other things they simply abandon without care in their daily lives.  The next time you are out in nature, please take a moment to look around and see if you can leave the area a little cleaner than when you arrived.

Here's a quick video of the day's highlights.

Until next time, tight lines and dress appropriately for the cold air and water temps.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Throw the Kitchen Sink at 'em......

This past weekend was Veteran's Day weekend and is always a little bitter sweet for me, having served in the armed forces; fought in a war on foreign soil; and then being RIFed without so much as an option to stay in.  A day doesn't pass that I don't think about my time in the service, eight years to be precise, and where I would be today had I had an opportunity to stay in.  That thought quickly fades when I realize that there is always a plan for your life.  Had it not been for the actions of the RIF initiative almost 15 years ago now, I would have not met my loving wife nor had the pleasure of raising my son.

Fast forward to this past weekend.  You may recall that my Friday was spent with my buddy Darren chasing anything that would bite when we went a did a little November Creekin'.  Saturday was a day reserved for the family, so we spent a good portion of the day in Ashland at the annual Train Day.  When Sunday rolled around, I had committed the better portion of my day to the Central Virginia Heroes On the Water chapter.  We had a table and display setup at Applebee's and spread the good word about HOW on Veteran's Day.

When Monday rolled around, the company I work for observes Veteran's Day on Monday, since it fell on a Sunday this year.  That means, I had the day off, and what better way to spend your day off than on the water!  So I loaded up my gear and set off for Bear Creek Lake with the intention of using some of the new soft plastics I had just received from the good folks at PowerTeam Lures.  I had three rods rigged - one with a Finicky Tickler 5" finesse worm rigged on a Confidence Baits Draggin' Head; another rigged with a Deep Melon Pepper colored Craw D'oeuvre on a shakey head and the same colored Craw D'oeuvre rigged as a trailer on a silicone skirted football jig.

I launched in what many would call ideal conditions - a slight breeze with a slightly falling barometer as a storm front approached, that is until I made my first cast.  That was when Mother Nature woke up and realized I was on the water.  She must have thought I was going to be down on the peninsula chasing Tautog at the bridge tunnel or speckled trout in the river, because she was a little late this morning.  As soon as my first cast hit the water, I could see the approaching wind as it churned the water surface down lake.  I didn't have to wait long before the brunt of the wind slammed me pretty good making any long, perpendicular cast towards the bank basically useless.

I spent the better part of the morning hugging the banks and targeting lay downs and submerged brush piles while fighting the wind to establish good casting angles.  But every time I would fire off a good cast, the wind direction would swirl and change on me rendering my kayak position and cast pretty useless.  Even if I had a strike, I would have missed it with the slack in the line the wind was creating.  I changed tactics and sought out coves with deeper cuts and troughs to hopefully negate some of the wind effect on my casting angles.  When the winds consistently played havoc with my casts, I switched the finesse worm out for a Kitchen Sink colored Craw D'oeuvre on the Draggin' Head. The first cove was too exposed and shallow, but the next one surrendered the first fish of the day, a chunky and feisty little 14.25" largemouth that hit the Craw D'oeuvre as I worked it past the base of a large lay down.

The next hour was fairly uneventful save for the clean up I was doing rescuing abandoned bobbers and hooks left snagged on various exposed tree limbs.  Fighting the wind in open water is a bit frustrating, and can make you question why you are even out on the water to begin with.  I found a large sheltered cove and worked it over pretty good for the next hour hitting every nook and cranny I spotted, then worked the deeper holes back towards the shallows until I found my next two fish of the day - another  spunky 12.5" runt largemouth and of all things a 20.5" channel cat.  When the cat hit the craw and took off, I knew it wasn't a largemouth.  The tell tale "catfish death roll" was all I needed to feel to confirm my original thoughts.  It was a decent fight but not what I was targeting to say the least.

A quick drift to the other side of the lake found me positioned parallel to a sheltered bank that had produced on several occasions in the past, so started working the lay downs with no success.  My last cast in the area was made parallel to the bank about 30' in front of me.  A couple of subtle hops and the "double-tap" bite was the feedback I had been searching for all morning.  A quick reel down to gather up the little bit of slack followed by a sharp vertical hook set and the fight was on.  Finally - a fish worth wrestling with.  A short 30 second fight and the best largemouth of the day was boated - a chunky 17.25" largemouth.
I worked a couple more lay downs but the winds picked back up again rendering even the shortest of casts fairly worthless yet again, so I moved back into a real shallow cove knowing that the only fish in there might be either carp or non-preferred size bass (ie: under 15").  I felt a subtle hit in the deepest part of the cove, but no take.  A second cast to same area was met with better success and a spirited 12" largemouth was landed as a Blue Heron voiced his displeasure as he flew past.

While the day wasn't a total loss, it failed to produce quality fish in the numbers I had hoped for given the conditions I was fishing.  Of the three combos I had taken on the water, the only one that was usable given the windy conditions was the spinning combo.  My other two casting combos were useless with the winds that were up and blowing.  Switching out the finesse worm for the Kitchen Sink colored Craw D'oeuvre was the smarted move of the day.  It added just enough weight to the presentation to facilitate longer and more accurate casts while not compromising the action of the lure.

I must have made over 300 casts on the day, because my arms were tired!!  The Craw D'oeuvre was a success in my opinion, and I can truly say that I literally threw the Kitchen Sink at them for a change!

Until next time, tight lines and dress appropriately for the colder air and water temperatures!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

November Creekin' and some good news

The last couple of weekends have been mild to say the least with air temps creeping into the upper 60's at various times.  Last week I had a chance to join fellow WKFA members Darren, Walter, Rick and Jim at a local creek and chase some fish.  While the bite was slow going, there were plenty of fish caught amongst all the anglers.  Walter started us off with a nice little bluegill, then Darren chimed in with a couple of largemouth, including a nice 16".

I was taking my time and lagging back, because I only had a couple hours to fish and didn't want to get too far away from the launch, especially since the creek was tidal and was falling fast.  After everyone but Rick had passed by this one lone tree sticking out into the creek turn, I worked it over for about 15 minutes and was rewarded with two fish, a spunky 14" largemouth and what would turn out to be the big fish on the day, a nice 17.75" largemouth.

After that one, there wasn't much more happening, so I asked Jim and Rick to tell the others I had to leave and headed back in.  During the course of the week, I received some good news.  I had inquired recently about joining a pro staff for a product I had used and liked.  After some preliminary questions from the owners about my fishing, I was afforded the opportunity to join the PowerTeam Lures Pro Staff!!  They are a local VA business and produce some quality soft plastics.  Check them out if you get a chance.
Needless to say, I was more than just a little excited and anxious to get on the water.  When the opportunity to hit the creek again with Darren presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity.  We launched into a slight cool fall breeze and made our way back to a some good spots.  We started off targeting bass, but could only manage a few short strikes and no hook ups.  We decided to switch over to our ultralights and do some dock-shooting.

On the way back to the docks, I managed to snag to fish - a surprise 18.5" chain pickerel and a smallish 6" yellow perch.  Right after that, we get to the docks, and Darren hooks up immediately with the largest crappie on the day - right at 13".  From then on, we worked the docks and landed several crappie between us and even a bluegill at one point by Darren - all on small curly tail grubs and stump jumpers.  I even landed what I will call a "Crass" or a "Bassie", because this bass had the body outline of a crappie but the markings and head of a largemouth.   Sort of a 'frankenbass" looking fish.  Pretty strange.

All in all a great day on the water even though we didn't get into the big largemouth we had hoped for.  Here's a little video from today's day on the creek.  Last week's video was too short and wasn't the best, so it was omitted.

Enjoy this warming trend while you can!  The colder days are fast upon us!

Tight lines and dress correctly for cold water angling!