Saturday, December 21, 2013


Focus is what helps an angler hone in on a specific target area, lure presentation or situational awareness of changing conditions during a tournament or day on the water.  Each of these represents a different type of focus required.  For the target area, do you look for a lay down or a submerged extended point alone?  Or, do you take into consideration the wind direction, the sun position and the angle of your cast?  Most of us would defer to the latter approach albeit unconsciously.

So why then do we sometimes set goals for ourselves without the same measure of precision?  Each year, we as anglers set a variety of goals for ourselves, but as each year wraps up, I find myself reminiscing on what was and could have been.  For 2013, I had set a number of goals, albeit many of them lofty and ambitious given the arrival of a newborn that was soon to be and the aggressive travel baseball schedule my son and I faced as a player and coach respectively.  By the time our daughter arrived in June, I realized that the year was half over and a number of my goals had not been fulfilled.

When I look back at a few of my goals, I am content in knowing I had made every effort to mentally check them off the list.  I spent a considerable amount of time ensuring our family and home were prepared for the arrival of our daughter.  I had spread the word about the lure and kayak companies I represent while also educating prospective new entrants into both markets on the products and their various methods of usage during expos, seminars and conversations through online and in person discussions.

I also spent a number of hours on the water with my son, while also nourishing his mind by helping him learn more about our fishery through a couple Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) classes on their sport fish tagging program and sharks of the Chesapeake Bay.  The proudest fishing related moments of the year were when my son caught his largest fish of the year during the annual Shad Shootout to benefit Multiple Sclerosis, a 19.5" American Shad and when he achieved the status of Virginia Junior Saltwater Angler by catching six different saltwater species in a calendar year.
While those achievements alone would be sufficient for some, I also realize now that trying to fulfill fishing related goals for both my son and myself was not the best idea.  I can count on one hand the number of times I went fishing by myself in an attempt to satisfy my goal of catching a freshwater and saltwater citation.  In April, I fell short of that goal in freshwater when my largemouth bass fell a 1/2" short at 21.5" and later losing a second chance at the side of the kayak during a charity tournament in September.
In November, after three trips in a row I thought I had my saltwater citation goal fulfilled when I hooked into a beastly speckled trout.   Alas, it wasn't to be.....she fell short by a minute 1/4" but still got my heart pumping in anticipation.
These events have helped me change my approach for 2014.  That is where the focus comes into play.  For 2014, I have changed my focus and have developed a more targeted approach in my goals.  I know these are adventurous and bold, but I am determined to challenge myself.

For 2014, I have the following focused angling goals.....

In January-February, I will focus on at least one citation speckled trout.....
In March-April, I will focus on at least one citation largemouth bass......
In May-June, I will focus on catching my first bull red......
In July-August, I will focus on a catching my first sheepshead......
In September-October, I will focus on a citation speckled trout of 30" or more.....
In November-December, I will focus on a catching my first citation striped bass.......

I also have specific goals for lure selection and usage as well......

In the saltwater, I will focus on improving my skills with MirrOlures......
In freshwater, I will focus on expanding my knowledge and skills with the PowerTeam Lures JP Hammershad, Swinging Hammer, Conviction Craw, and Diesel Craw......

What will you focus on in 2014?  Will you continue to have a shotgun approach and hope to hit your targets or will you use a mental "scope" and focus in on specific targets?

The choice is yours.....

Stay focused!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thinking Outside the Box.....

The time of the year has come when the temperatures drop and, for some people, the decision of whether to fish or not is often determined by the winds and how cold the day will be on the water.  I have to admit that on those cold and blustery days, it can be a difficult decision to convince yourself to make the trip.  For me, I don't alter my schedule for fishing save for a little bit more research on winds and water temperature trends for my target area.

As the air temperatures continue to drop, it is important to understand how your particular fishing spots are affected and how much they are impacted by the change of the seasons.  For those fortunate enough to live in milder climates, the seasonal effects might not be as noticeable as they are in other areas.  The technique and approach I employ might be one that for some is uncomfortable or different from their comfort zone.  For me, it forces me to change my normal techniques in ones I normally don't use.  It forces me to think outside the box.

Think of it from the beginning blues and rock guitar player's perspective.  You are taught to stay in the box, aka Blues box, when first learning blues riffs, runs and solos.  If the aspiring guitar player stays in that perverbial box, they will not grow as a player and will be stuck in an area of mediocrity.  Parlay that into your fishing styles and techniques.  If you are a shallow water angler or fish only spinnerbaits, you are limiting your growth as an angler as the seasons change.

For myself, the first step is one of presentation, which includes adjusting lure size and color to hone in on a precise pattern.  Fish are predators and need to consume prey to maintain their metabolism through winter.  For winter bass, the first part of thinking outside the box is my presentation and what the fish can see.  I use the same gear I have used all year long, but I switch out my leaders to one that is a little smaller, and I increase the length of the leader.  I switch from my normal 12 & 15lb flourocarbon to 8lb, and I increase the length from 3-4' to 6 or 8'.  Remember, for many waters this time of year equates to clearer water conditions, so the less visible your line is, the better.  If your area is affected by run offs creating muddy conditions, this may not be as critical but the waters I fish are normally very clear this time of year.

The next step of thinking outside the box is that of presentation speed - think less is more.  A good angling and fellow kayaker friend of mine (Jeff Little) calls this the flinch game.  Who flinched first, you or the fish?  If you moved your bait before a fish strike, you flinched and likely missed your chance at a fish.  If the fish flinches, he bites the lure and you have a chance at landing a nice fish.  While this technique is typically reserved for dead sticking, the concept is one that applies in concept.  This time of year, a fish' metabolism has slowed considerably compared to that of a couple months ago.  The fish is less likely to chase their prey a significant distance and more likely to exert minimal effort this time of year.

For moving presentations, how fast you roll or present your lure in front of the fish is critical to your success rate.  While I don't personally own any slower ratio reels, you can take the approach of using a cranking style reel with a slower 5.0:1 ratio to help you in slowing your lure presentation speed.  I force myself to just slow down my retrieve even to the point that I use only rod movements to move the lure.  You can even deploy a brush clip, a stake out pole or other anchoring technique to hold your position and just allow your lure to ride the current and hover over a target area.

Another way to slow down your presentation is by using your kayak, canoe or boat and slow-trolling or drifting instead of holding position.  In this technique, cast your lure out and simply let the wind or current provide the speed instead of you reeling the lure in.  If the wind or current is to brisk or strong, the speed will be too fast, so pay close attention to this.  You can deploy a drag chute or a drag anchor to slow your drift in this case to slow your presentation down.  I utilized this approach on a recent outing in 54 degree saltwater and was rewarded with a nice chunky striper.

Additionally, you can also employ the use of what is called the float-n-fly technique to ensure that your lure is presented at the same depth every time.  This technique is normally used for small hair jigs in the 1/16-1/32oz range, but the technique can be applied to any lure size presented in a suspending manner.  The technique is simplistic in nature in that you use a slip bobber, bobber stops and a lure to present a tasty morsel at a specific depth.  This is where the use of electronics comes in real handy.  You move around until you find a school of baitfish and take note of their depth.  Set your bobber stops for that depth and lower your lure down just on the outside of the baitfish school taking note of which way the current or wind is pushing it.  If you allow yourself to think outside the box, I'm certain you can see other ways to deploy this tactic.

Some might argue that lure size is the most important factor.  While it can be on really tough slow days, it has not been the case for me.  I catch bass this time of year on everything from small minnow fry soft plastics in the 2-3" range, 1/2 oz skirted jig tipped with a 3-4" creature bait or even a 3/4oz spinnerbait.  A recent tournament I fished in was very indicative of this approach.  All of the quality bass caught on the day were caught on presentations that were either painfully slow or even dead-sticking, not ones based on lure size.

The key with any lure you choose this time of year is presentation speed and not so much lure size.  This approach works in both fresh and saltwater, so try not to limit your fishing opportunities.  Apply the same logic and approach think outside the box and you too can land some quality fish while others are missing their chance!

Tight lines, stay safe and remember to dress accordingly for cold water angling this time of year.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Quick Trip - Stripers Love the Swinging Hammer!

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The bridge was hopping last night as it looked like a parking lot out there at times.  Save for a couple folks that were a little inconsiderate when they ran too close to the bridge under power and threw a massive wake to kayakers and anchored boaters alike.  We were in the lighted area just away from the bridge and very visible, but I guess stripers affect the brain in many anglers differently.  What made this a little more concerning and dangerous was I was in the process of landing a striper and was next to a set of bridge pilings.  It could have been a little sketchy if I hadn't heard them coming and turned my PA 14's hull into the oncoming wake.

Had a decent night with only 4 hours on the water total - landed 14 stripers. Most were 14-15"ers, but the three biggest went 17 3/4", 18 3/4" and the last of the evening a nice 20 1/2" - all were released to come back a little bigger another day. The 17 3/4" looked almost like a Hybrid Bass as fat as it was for the smallish body.

All smaller stripers were caught using the PowerTeam Lures 4.5" Curly Tailed Grub on a 1/4oz. jighead. The three largest were caught using a PowerTeam Lures 4.8" Swinging Hammer (soft-bodied swim shad w/ paddle tail). Great night on the water with my buddy Patrick.

If you might be interested in trying out any PowerTeam Lures products, drop me a line or click on the PTL link

Tight lines and stay alert - not everyone has the same measure of awareness and safety as you!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Missed It By That Much......

My quest for that elusive first saltwater citation almost came to fruition this past Monday.  Forecasts indicated yet another small craft advisory for the peninsula region and cooler air temps in the morning, only this time it was reserved for the Eastern Shore area and not so much for the inlets and bays in the Tidewater area.  Winds were supposed to lay down by midday and shift to out of the SE as the afternoon progressed.  So, having the day off, what better way to celebrate this past Veteran's Day as a veteran myself than to go fishing?

I was also equally anxious to get out and try my new custom spinning Spectrum Professional series inshore rods by Bull Bay Rods.  I ordered two of them - one in blue and one in red.  I paired the blue one with my Stradic 3000FJ and my Stradic CI4 to the red one.  I headed out to a nearby tidal flat known to many trout anglers in the region in search of a citation class speckled trout that has eluded me thus far this year.

I traditionally use only PTL plastics, but on this day, I promised myself that I would utilize the best trout catching lures on the market - the world famous MirrOlure (Series III and an XL) and of recent popularity, the Rapala Skitterwalk which was tied on already to my other custom Bull Bay casting rod.  I launched at 4:30am into a dead calm and a slack tide.  Flood had already maxed, so I knew I needed to pedal efficiently but with a purpose if I wanted to make the flats for the first couple hours of of the ebb tide.

I made my way to my target area, trolling the Skitterwalk along with a few subtle twitches every now and then on the off chance a hungry predator would blowup the surface walker.  Not even a swipe or halfhearted miss.  As I neared the creek mouth, I saw the ebb had already begun, so I knew my chances were right now.  I reached back and pulled the "blue arrow" from my rod quiver and fired off a rocket cast across the mouth of the creek.  Right away, I noticed how effortless it was to make a snap cast and have it travel a good 40 yards into a slight NNE breeze.

I was so pleased with my choice of rods that I didn't even feel the hit on the MirrOlure XL.  Once my haze of satisfaction wore off, I immediately felt the surge of a very large predator fish on the end of the line.  Drag started steadily leaving the bail but the fish gained no leverage on me.  The new Spectrum held it's own and just held the feisty creature at bay.  Even with strong surges to try and escape, the Spectrum loaded perfectly and turned the predator right back to me.  The fight was over almost as quickly as it had begun.  It felt like an eternity, but in actuality lasted a faint 45 seconds in total in real time.

A slight re-direct of the beastly speck at the side of my Pro Angler, a quick wrap of the leader around my hand and a smooth hoist into the footwell.  I looked down and thought to myself wow while simultaneously letting out a triumphant "YES!  Booyah Baby!  That's more like it!"  I was anxious to get this monster trout on the measuring board to see if my quest had been fulfilled.  I lined the trout up properly with the nose to the zero line and laid the tail naturally.  My eyes panned the length of the body in awe of the shear girth and size of this beastly speck.  My eyes neared the point of no return as I scanned the black hash marks for the singular hash longer than the other 1/4" increments and felt a glimmer of hope creep into my soul as I gazed at the magical mark of 24", and...........a whopping 1/4" short!   You have got to be kidding me!  I checked and rechecked just to be sure, but I felt it was short and no way was I going to cheat myself or the VMRC Saltwater Tournament program by pinching the tail and making the fish a citation.  I snapped a couple photos and let the speck swim away to grow that last 1/4" to become citation class.  While I was disheartened a little, this was my largest speckled trout to date so far.
I made a few more casts to the same area but didn't get any more hits, so I moved to the other side of the creek mouth and worked the opposite direction - no luck.  After 30 minutes of working that area with no signs of additional life, I moved around the point of the flat, beached the Pro Angler and waded out nearly 50 yards from shore into two feet of water.  I started making some more casts across the flat with the "blue arrow" as it felt more balanced that the "red arrow".  I alternated casting periods between the Skitterwalk and the XL.

After about a half hour of doing this, another fish strike occurred, only this time the bite felt different.  The fish didn't put up much of a fight at all.  After a real short fight, the guilty culprit emerged from the watery flats - a less than healthy looking redfish.  I lipped him and waded back over to the Pro Angler to get a picture.  If was only then that I noticed that he had a portion of his dorsal fin torn away with the wound still showing signs of blood, and there were noticeable linear scars and bruises on his body - most likely the result of getting caught up in a net if I had to venture a guess.

Nevertheless, a fish is a fish, and this portly slot red measured in at a nice length of 23".  My largest redfish of the year, and he too was released to go and grow even bigger.  Both of these fish were caught on the ebb tide and prior to 9am.  I kept working the flats for a total of nine hours on the day with no more fish to show for my efforts.  While the citation class speckled trout eluded me on this day, I could leave knowing I had accomplished a few of my goals for the day.

First, I was able to test out my two new Spectrum rods from Bull Bay Rods.  Second, I was able to dedicate my fishing styles on the day to utilizing Skitterwalks and MirrOlures - two methods I could use the practice in.  Third, I fished my target area from every possible angle managing only two fish, but they were both the largest saltwater fish caught this year for me.  Fourth, I was able to put my new rods to the test not only in casting but also in under load and during the fight.  A detailed review is forthcoming later this year after I have had several outings under my belt.

Am I disappointed - sort of, then again I know I will come back once the water warms in the spring and target the flats yet again.  I can always chase the big trout in some nearby waters as old man winter rears his ugly head, but I will turn my attention most likely to the striped bass and tautog that are now on the loose in our neck of the woods.

Hope you found this tale both entertaining.  I know next year where to go and what to use.  It is only a matter of time......

Tight lines!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Still Searching.....

Had a chance to hit the water for a brief outing recently searching for that elusive citation Speckled Trout.  I launched at the start of the flood tide in the pre-dawn hours into a slight breeze of 8-10 knots (believe me, that's practically dead calm for my outings these days).  I had three target areas for the day planned, and I needed to make haste if I wanted to be able to hit all three in the short window I had afforded to me this day.

After a short pedal, I made my way to the first area, a long shallow point that normally holds fish.  I made a cast to the starboard side of the Pro Angler and slowed my pace to a slow roll the Hammershad.  Within a minute, it was hammered but there was little fight.  I knew it wasn't a speck or red for certain.  It had to be only one other species that I know in this area this time of year - a juvenile striper........measured in at 15".

After a quick photo, I made another cast with the Hammershad to continue the slow troll until I made it to my second target area.  After I crossed another hole that rose to a significant flat, the Hammershad was literally hammered and drag started ripping - had to be a redfish.  The challenge in getting this fish in was the incoming tide had picked up in earnest and the winds had shifted and gained in strength.  Now I was battling a strong incoming coupled with a wind that was riding the current as well.  It pushed me directly into the bank and I risked getting hung up on something and losing the fish.  Fortunately, I wrangled the feisty 19" red to the side of the hull right as I reached the shoreline and just lifted him in.  Nice fight but not what I was looking for.....

At my second target area, I deployed the trusty 8' YakAttack ParkNPole and waded out onto the flat trying to position myself for any predators schooling and chasing bait.  Nary a bite to be found.  I threw topwaters, suspending plugs, moving plastics.  Varied my retrieves from the normal to the unorthodox just to try and discern the presentation that they were looking for.  Nothing.

I repeated this procedure at my third target area and finally found some baitfish, but I knew it was all for naught.  I had reached the end of my allotted time on the water.  I know if I could have hung around for just another hour or two the bite would have turned on.  I would have been in perfect position to ambush the monster trout I know were staging offshore and waiting for the outgoing to begin.

No worries - I will be back and pursuing that citation.  I will persist, and it will happen.

The lure of the day, as mentioned before, was a Powerteam Lures 3.6" JP Hammershad with a small drop of Hog Tonic.  It is a very versatile bait and can be rigged in a number of ways.  On a standard jighead, as a trailer on a swimming jig or spinnerbait, as a drop shot - the choices are only limited by your imagination.  the beauty of these baits is that they are flat on the bottom.  This is helpful in two ways - one, it helps with skipping under the canopy of overhanging trees, docks and cutting through the wind.  And second, it is awesome as a suspending jerkbait.  Rig it on a 3/0 EWG or swimbait hook with a keeper pin.  The neutral buoyancy of the lure helps it float or levitate in the water and exhibits a slow sink.

Try them out - you won't be disappointed!

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Perseverance - noun \ˌpər-sə-ˈvir-ən(t)s\. : the quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult.

"The National Weather Service has issued a small craft advisory for Hampton Roads and surrounding waters until 5pm today.......".  By definition, the National Weather Service defines this as "sustained winds or frequent gusts ranging between 25 and 33 knots (except 20 to 25 knots, lower threshold area dependent, to 33 knots for harbors, bays, etc.) and/or seas or waves 5 to 7 feet and greater, area dependent" as part of their Coastal Warning Display Program for the Eastern sector of the United States.

It was my day off and my only remaining opportunity to get on the water for the next week or so, so it only makes sense that a small craft advisory would be in effect.  I was fishing inshore today, so the advisory was not as applicable compared to if I had targeted the bridge or open waters.  I launched pre-dawn into a steady wind and building rains out of the west, but I knew according to the forecast that it would get worse by the time I made my way to my target area for the day.

I was determined to make the best of it regardless.  Sight casting was not very realistic, so I had to rely on knowledge of tidal movements, ambush points near structure changes and any visual indicators - namely nervous water and active fish feeding.  My first stop was a nearby dock that had a good light footprint on the water.  I worked a few offerings and had a strong hit on the PTL Swinging Hammer, but it never came tight for a good hookset.

My next stop was on the backside of a wind blown point on a feeder creek just shy of peak high tide.  The strong winds made positioning a little difficult, but my trusty YakAttack ParkNPole solved that problem. I worked a topwater across the creek mouth and was rewarded with a few half-hearted swipes by what looked like a juvenile trout.  No worries, maybe topwater would be manageable even in strong winds with the proper positioning.

I made my way to an area with some flats and quickly found some cover and structure changes to target.  With the building winds, I decided to beach the Pro Angler and wade for a bit.  I tried the topwater again and was rewarded with an aggressive under slot red trying to inhale the plug.  Even though it didn't come tight, the adrenaline started flowing watching this smallish red swiping at it.  While that was fun, it still wasn't what I was longing for.  By this time, flood had maxed and it was the start of the ebb tide.  With a strong wind and an ebb tide, casting topwater was not doable any longer.  I decided I would work the various nooks and crannies that had feeder creeks with ebbing waters and wind blown grass points.  After a few hours of this, I needed to try something different.

I decided that the only way I was going to catch any fish on a day like this was to go find them.  I made my way out to a subtle drop off of in 3-4' of water and started scanning.  The water was crystal clear, but sighting fish was limited to a narrow window right below due to the wave chop.  I stood instead to get a better viewing angle which was a wise thing to do even in the strong winds.  If I hadn't done this,  I never would have seen the three different reds all hanging on the bottom I rolled over.  I decided to switch over to a weedless jig and slow roll it through the submerged grass - a wise decision.....

Working the fan cast technique, on my third cast the PTL JP Hammershad gets slammed hard.  I didn't even have to make a hookset.  I knew from the head shakes and runs that this was a Redfish and a nice one at that.   I fought the waves and winds and landed my first of the day - a 20.75" bruiser that put my light spinning gear to the test.
Not 15 minutes later, the line came tight again when this 21" red slammed the Hammershad again.
By this time, the winds and ebbing tide had pushed me to the end of my drift, I was a long ways from the launch.  I knew the ride back would be a painful one, but I was satisfied with my determination to get on fish, so it was worth it in my mind.  As the tide turned, one look at the clock and I knew my day was done.  I made the long and grueling trek back in gusting winds, stinging rain and crashing seas.  I left a line out on the chance I could troll up an aggressive fish, but I ended up only having a smallish one tear the tail off the Hammershad.

It took me an hour and half to make the five mile trek back in those nasty head winds, and I was truly thankful for the Mirage Drive on a day like today.  As I stood at the launch, I reminisced on the day having felt thoroughly tested and beaten down, but a smile came across my face at the small measure of success I was able to achieve in unfavorable conditions when many would opt to stay at home.  It was only when I got home and researched the actual weather events on the day that I fully realized how brutal the day was......
In summary.......

Wind gusting 30-34 mph and sustained winds of 19-25 mph.
Total trip length - 10 miles.
Fish count - two slot reds
Feeling a sense of accomplishment - priceless!


One thing that can be said about my outings this year so far.  I may not have had the same measure of success as some of my peers in the region, but I certainly have given it my best effort when time permitted.  For this outing, I have to acknowledge several folks that have helped me stay focused and determined this year even though the last several outings that have ended in frustration.  I am very thankful for the knowledge, encouragement and positive thinking that Forrest, Richie, Bill and Rob have given to me - thanks guys,  You are the reason I continue my search for quality fish. 

Tight lines, stay safe and know your limits.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wet but productive

The goal of the night was to get some time on the water after a long overdue hiatus.    Between Mother Nature, family obligations, travel baseball and work I have barely had time to sleep.  Well, I sacrificed sleep for a change recently and vowed to get out on the water regardless of weather conditions.  As luck would have it, it was raining, but I went anyway dang it!

So glad I did.  I met up with my fellow TKAA buddy Wayne, and we agreed to fish the Hampton side of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.  We launched shortly before 6pm into steady 15mph winds out of the NNW.  I located a whole mess of baitfish on my Lowrance Elite-4x DSI but couldn't locate any big fish.  We moved about all over and finally setup shop in a couple of drop offs and started working our Powerteam Lures Curly Tailed Grubs.

Neither of us had any luck, so I decided to try a different tactic of slow drifting the grub with a raising and lowering motion followed by a subtle twitch.  It was on the second set of movements and the final twitch that I had my first fish of the evening - a spunky 13.25" Grey Trout that was measured, photographed and released.  It hammered the Blue Hue PTL grub dipped in Hog Tonic.
This fish was significant, because it was also the first fish landed on my new custom Bull Bay Rod.  Kelly and Dustin Phillips are good people and have created arguably one of the best rods on the market.  Their SenZigrip technology is innovative and already in high demand, so get yours while you can!  I quickly setup for another drift but found no more takers.  I decided to hit the bridge and and work the light line.

I ended up fishing from piling to piling looking for any signs of activity.  After a few minutes of searching, I stumbled across something I had never seen before - a trout blitz on juvenile ribbonfish.  It was very cool to watch, but I was there to catch some fish.  I left that activity and honed in on some aggressive action a few pilings down and hooked up almost immediately with another fish.  As I was reeling it in, it spit the PTL grub only to have it inhaled by a zealous follower - a smallish 11" grey that lived to fight another day.
I saw many more fish, but few of quality size that invoked any action on my part.  That is until I saw a larger grey shadow hanging a bit lower than the others, so I made a short precision cast and dropped the grub practically right on its nose.  It slammed the grub and bent the rod over immediately.  While fighting this fish, I was getting slammed hard into the pilings from the NNW winds that had picked up to about 20 and started white capping.  I was positioned incorrectly on the windward side of the piling in order to target this fish as stealthy as possible, but it also placed me in a very unfavorable position for actually fighting and landing the fish.  It ended up costing as the beastly speckled trout came unbuttoned as I was reaching for it.  Easily 20"+ and would have been my largest trout this year.

I quickly forgot about it and moved on.  For the next 30 minutes, I couldn't find any fish - not even any baitfish.  I kept looking and found some activity a little further down.  When I saw the surface strikes, I knew it was a striper.  I fired off a cast with a pearl PTL grub this time and was rewarded immediately with a strong surge in the rod as the grub was inhaled.  I leveraged the Bull Bay Rod and the striper just had no chance.  I easily maneuvered him away from the structure and guided him right to the side of my Pro Angler.  A quick lip grip and a nice 21" striper was on the board.
After a quick picture and measurement, I released the striper to live and fight another day.  I saw some activity in the same spot, so I fired off another cast to the same spot and landed my fourth fish of the evening - a nice 19" striper.
After that, I checked the time and knew I had to head in if I was going to get any semblance of sleep before our family's gathering to pick apples the next morning.  I made it home, unloaded all my gear, drove to the in laws house and shared some time with family.  I had to head home later in the day to take care of our dogs, but I managed to make it through the rest of the day and promptly fell asleep on the couch.  It was a long and grueling 48 hours, but it was well worth it.

Get out and satisfy that urge!  Tight lines and be safe!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Commitment and Obligations.....

Commitment by definition is the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause or activity, or an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action, where as an obligation is an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound.

For 2013, these terms hit close to home for me in many ways.  I committed myself to participate in a variety of kayak events this year - the KBF Open & Invitational in March; the MS Shad Shootout in April; the annual YakAttack Tournament in May; the Angler's Club Challenge in August; the Chesapeake Bay Kayak Anglers Tournament and the annual Tidewater Kayak Anglers Association tournament, both in September.

Additionally, as a Hobie Fishing Team member and the Central VA Local Pro, you are obligated to support the Hobie brand whenever possible.  For 2013, I was honored to assist and represent both Hobie and the good folks at Appomattox River Company during the annual Fishing Expo in January; and subsequently at their annual Demo Day and impromptu Rigging Party in June; Other events have included continuing to support the Central VA Heroes On the Water fund raiser events at Bass Pro Shops in February and an information booth at Applebees on Veterans Day; along with a clean up day in April and a couple outings to date in support of the the Tidewater Chapter of HOW.  My commitment to two different chapters for HOW is one I take very seriously and is known by many of my kayak friends.

Having personally served in the military was what inspired and motivated me to volunteer with HOW, plus it creates a sense of pride every time I help out.  I harken back to my time in the service often.....whether it was the time I spent deployed around the globe in support of various training exercises; supporting the ideology of democracy while fighting in a foreign war; manning a desert security checkpoint at night armed with two 30 round clips, an M-16 and a couple grenades; or surviving a SCUD missile attack that killed a number of our US Marines no less than a quarter mile from my outpost - all of these life experiences contribute to who I am as a person and are a grounding influence in how I prioritize my daily life.

Fast forward to this year.......

Outside of the kayak and fishing world, my life revolves around work, being a father and provider have taken center stage for me of late.  This year in particular has brought to the forefront a number of challenges, most notably the birth of our first daughter while my wife is out of work for the foreseeable future and coaching my son on his travel baseball team.  While these two do not necessarily go hand in hand, they are both very time intensive as you can imagine.  All of these commitments and obligations make the next chapter in this story all the more sweet and fulfilling.

You see, all the events that have happened to date this year and all the hard work I put in on the water with my son finally paid off in full a couple weeks ago.  Back in January, I had set a number of lofty goals for myself, most notably was to catch a citation in either fresh or salt water.  Another goal of mine was to take my son on the water with me as many times as possible.  Once the weather started to warm, I signed him up for the Shad Shootout where he promptly caught a number of shad, none less than 15", with his largest being an American Shad at 19.25".  I also took him on several saltwater outings once school let out to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel complex, Back River and Lynnhaven Inlet.

These outings in the saltwater are where the magic happened recently.  The Virginia Marine Resources Commission holds an annual saltwater fishing tournament where anglers compete to see who can catch citation class fish across multiple species.  If an angler is fortunate enough to catch six citations from the different recognized species during the calendar year of the tournament, they can earn the award of Expert Angler.  What many people don't realize is that there is also another tournament going on at the same time - the Junior Angler Award.

This program recognizes those anglers who have not turned fifteen years of age who have caught six different recognized saltwater species in Virginia waters.  Last year and the year before, my son missed the award by one species due to school and baseball commitments.  This year, I had a goal to give him every chance to earn that award before the summer was over.   Well, I am proud to say that my son received his official letter of recognition, award certificate, decal and hat from the VMRC on Saturday recognizing him as one of their 2013 Junior Angler Award recipients.
Now, not all the outings in the past two years were favorable, nor resulted in success for him.  Several of the trips resulted in missed hook sets, lost fish, unfavorable weather conditions, strong winds, strong current, a non-existent bite or outright boredom.  Most days ended with an all to familiar scene as we made our way back to the launch empty handed.......
However, he persevered like a trooper each outing and toughed it out.  The first trip to Hampton Roads was a bust, but the following week in Back River resulted in the first saltwater species of the year - a croaker.  The next outing was the epitome of pure fish catching by my son.  I armed him with a simple one hook bottom rig and some fish bites in a variety of flavors and colors and a second rod rigged for trolling.   Almost immediately, he started catching one fish after another.  In a period of four hours, he managed to catch the remaining five species he needed.

On the way out, we always troll a simple curly-tailed grub and jig combo.  This day was no different, and he started off with a chunky little speckled trout right in the main channel not five minutes into our trip.  We made our way to a secluded and protected spot and quickly found a good choke point for the incoming tide, and he quickly landed a spot, sea bass and baby redfish.  The last fish was a juvenile flounder from the same area a short while later.  Over the course of the last two years and during the whole time he was catching fish on this day, I never mentioned the program, nor the award he could earn.  Not even after I knew he had met the requirements for the award.  I wanted it to be a surprise.

When I saw the package waiting for me when I got home this past Saturday, I too was a little anxious, but I wanted to let this award stand on its own and not take a back seat to the other family activities we had planned for the rest of the weekend.  So I waited until tonight after baseball practice and dinner to present it to him.  To say that he was ecstatic when I showed him what he earned is an understatement.  The picture says it all I think......
So, to all my friends who have wondered what I have been doing this year, the lack of reports or questioning my dedication to the sport of kayak angling, I hope you might think of me in a different light now that you understand what I was working towards.  My family is my primary commitment and obligation and one that I will not sacrifice for the sake of just getting out on the water by myself.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chasing Mr. Brown........

I entered in the inaugural Little Creek Cobia Open hosted by the Norfolk Angerls Club to benefit the local Children's Hospital this past weekend.  While I had never targeted cobia before, I had done a lot of research over the past couple of years.  I knew that sight casting was the preferred method in this area, but you needed clear and calm water conditions to have the best chance out of a kayak.  You typically rig up two casting presentations - one live eel and one bucktail jig, and at least one or two fish finder rigs with live spot or croaker on the bottom.  You also typically drop a chum bag for a nice slick to draw them in and encourage an increase in their appetite.

I also had read that cobia are like other predatory fish in that they love areas where the bait is funneled to them, so I talked it over with a fellow kayaker (Chris of TKAA - atthebay2) and we decided to target Blue Fish Rock off of Grandview in Hampton, VA.  Recent reports including the days leading up to the event had several nice catches of cobia in that area, so our chances were good I felt.  The forecast for the day was calling for an early morning shower with a chance of an afternoon storm around 3pm which was our scheduled time to weigh-in our catch anyway.

We launched a little after the sun crested the horizon and made our way out of Wallace's Marina and headed out to the mouth of the channel.  It was slow going, because we were hitting the incoming current and had to make our way about 3-4 miles offshore.

After a bit, we found the spot and set up our chum lines.  We anchored off and started the waiting game.  While we waited for the chum slick to get good and spread out, we dropped a couple of bottom rigs and spent some time catching live bait for our fish finder rigs.  We got into a good mess of bait-sized croaker with a few spot, and a new species for me, the roundhead.  They look like a skinny croaker at first but change colors into a brown camo pattern literally in your hands.  It was cool to watch.

Chris' reel started clicking after a couple hours and resulted in a nice five minute fight with an aggressice sand shark that even gave us a couple aerial jumps for good measure.  He ended up being about 3 1/2 - 4 feet in length.  Chris got a real close view of the razor sharp teeth while he tried to unhook him, but the shark was not cooperative at all, so Chris gave him a courtesy release and snipped the line close to the circle hook.  Sorry for the hazy picture but the lens fogged up on me.

Shortly after that, the weather alerts started rolling in on my radio.  The first storm (and strongest one of the day) passed due east of us and hit the Eastern Shore pretty hard.  Right after that one, a second one flared up west of us and headed right towards us but ended up just dousing us inrain for about 30 minutes.  After we were soaked to the core, the skies cleared and sun shone through to help dry us off.
While we were recovering, I noticed a long line of clouds forming ominously to our west again only this time it spread far enough north that I knew that we would get hit if it ever developed.  Fishing in the Chesapeake Bay region is always a roll of the dice when storms are in the area.  I knew from past experience that they can form almost on top of you with little to no warning.

Sure enough, I was right.  The storm has a huge footprint and literally covered the entire region north and south of the Hampton Roads peninsula.  In the photo above, you can see the shore west of us close to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel/Ft. Monroe/Phoebus area.  The tunnel was completely engulfed by the wall of rain heading our way.  We knew we were going to get a little wet, but we tried to take a sharper angle to shore and not worry so much about getting back to the launch which was way too far.  We even both dumped our chum bags to offload the additional weight slowing our progress back to safety, but it didn't matter in the end.

We never made it.  The winds increased in velocity to a reported excess of 30mph.  That may not seem to strong, but when you are on the water, it can get a little dicey with the churned up waves and rain hammering you.  The other issue you face besides avoiding capsizing is trying to keep a point of reference on land so that you can maintain some semblence of a straight track.  As you can see, our visibility became increasingly impaired as the storm approached......
We obviously made it back safely.  The Harbor Patrol was kind enough to come out and monitor our progress and keep a watch on us in case it the storm took a turn for the worse.  Fortunately, no hail or lightning was around, but we were completely exposed with no protection from the wind and rain.  Shortly thereafter, the storm passed us by and we were content to drift and catch our breath.  Since the skies cleared almost as quickly as they had turned ugly, we both looked at each other and agreed to drop the lines and try for a little while longer.  No such luck.  Only managed more croaker, although the size of the croaker did increase.  I'm sure our chum slick probably helped turn the bite on a little more for the smaller opportunistic feeders in the water.

In the end, we both had a good time on the water together even though Mr. Brown apparently didn't get the memo and was a no-show.  I still managed to catch over 40 croaker, a couple undersized spot and several roundheads, a new species for me.  I learned a few things on the day and decided that I will most certainly try this again.

Here's a video homage to our trials and tribulations on the day.

Until next time - tight lines and be safe out there.  Expect the best, but prepare for the worse.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Finally.....A 7lb. 12 oz whopper!!!!!

The preparation for this day was long and stressful at times.  I had thought of everything in my mind.......

1. Proper technique.........practice practice practice - CHECK.

2. Proper equipment........action, power and sensitivity - CHECK.

3. Weather conditions......check the radar, no storms - CHECK.

4. Timing........always a consideration - CHECK.

5. Patience and persistence......more critical than you can ever imagine - CHECK.

6. Tidal influence..........slack is not preferred for this method - CHECK.

7. Presentation..........can't be forced - CHECK.

With preparation complete, now it came down to when.  Countless hours spent coordinating schedules, re-arranging appointments, checking, double-checking and ensuring everything was ready.  The scheduled window was fast approaching.  The anticipation was overwhelming and almost numbing at times.

Mentally reviewing the preparation I had done - checking, re-checking, doubting, questioning..............the seeds of doubt firmly taking root in the soil of my mind.  Did I do everything I could?  Only time will tell.

I made it home after work a couple Wednesdays ago and settled in for the evening when I learned that the water conditions had changed for the better and my plans were suddenly rushed into almost a state of hyper slow motion.  I had missed my chance a few times inthe past few years, but I was not going to miss this one.  I forced myself to breathe and stay calm.  Now was not the time to forget anything or rush and mess something up.

I made my way to the prime location and waited..........the hours passed by ever so slowly.........

....midnight and the first signs of activity
....1 am comes and I find myself in prime position.
....a short while later and the moment finally arrives.  A subtle sweep of the arms to the right then a little to the left.  No time for slack now.......a steady pull and BAM!!!!

A 7lb. 12 oz WHOPPER and she's a beauty.  She was citation quality and definitely keeper material in my opinion!!!!!!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Four for Four ......

The last month has been a less than stellar time for me with regards to quality fish.  I have had the chance to fish four times and two of which were in the rain.  The first outing was my least productive of all the trips.  It was during the annual YakAttack tournament to benefit Heroes On the Water and Project Healing Waters.  I fished Bear Creek Lake for a change of pace and landed several fish, but none worth a photo.  I landed more 14-15" bass than are needed unless you are going for a five bass limit in a tournament.  My best of the day was only a 17.5" bass on my favorite rig - a Draggin' Head and 7" Finicky Tickler.

The next day was no better and the rain was worse.  I tried to fish with Vic of Appomattox River Company but the weather had other plans.  So after only an hour or two on the water, I packed it in and made my way home.  Although the fishing wasn't the greatest, it was still a blast meeting new friends and faces that had traveled from far away.

The next outing was actually a video on how I use the Pro Angler and other common FAQs I and others have responded to in the past.  While rolling the tape, I landed five fish including this feisty 20" Chain Pickerel that fell victim to my favorite yet again, the 7" Finicky Tickler!

My latest outing was a double header where I spot hopped between two lakes.  At the first lake, I only managed two bass, both on the 15" small side of the measuring tape.  At least the first one was on a crankbait, a technique I promised myself I would work at diligently this year.  The second came on my least favorite technique of all time - the wacky rig.  I know it produces and is a favorite technique of many anglers just not this one.

When that lake didn't produce as I had hoped, I loaded up and moved to another location.  I started with both the crankbait and the wacky rig and quickly had an aggressive strike on the Sic Stik again.  Only this fish put up no fight as I reeled it in.  And for good reason!  It was a freaking Pumpkinseed!!  An 8.5" fat Pumpkinseed slammed the Sic Stik!

I kept working the wacky and crank combo but landed every fish on the wacky rig.  And these hits were ultra aggressive and solid strikes.  The first of many 15" bass were landed over the next few hours on the Sic Stik, but none on the crank for some reason.

I worked a shady bank with some huge laydowns and pockets to cast to and was rewarded with three more fish - two more 15" bass and of all things a spunky channel cat!

As the sun crept further towards it's zenith, the temperatures started to climb and the surface temps of the water did the same reaching 87 degrees at one point.  I kept working the shaded areas and found a nice spot with an extended submerged point, so I fired a cast towards the shore and slowly worked the Sic Stik back towards me.  On an extended pause where I took a water break, the line twitched a little and started to move.  I went to set the hook, but I didn't feel any movement.  Thinking a fish had hit the lure and hung me up in some submerged brush or something, I applied a little leverage to see if it would come undone.  That's when the laydown turned into a hooked bass that was not too pleased!  A short 30 second fight later and the best one in a month was finally landed.  A fat 18.75" hoss of a bass!

It won't win me any awards for certain, but the feeling is still rewarding when you tough it out and stick to a technique.  When I look back on the month, maybe catching four measurable fish for Kayak Wars on four separate outings isn't bad after all......

Tight lines!

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Windy Friday.......

So my most recent Friday off was yet again hampered by mother nature.  It seems that for some odd reason, the weather can be perfectly serene all week long, and then on my day off the winds and temps take a turn for the worse.  Combine that with rain and you have the trifecta and core reason why my reports have been few and far between this year.  When the forecast opened up a window of about six hours late on Thursday night, I made up my mind to go regardless of the conditions and at least get some time on some bigger water for a change.

I sorted through the mound of tackle, picked out my techniques for the next day, re-tied my leaders and pre-rigged four rods this time, unconsciously knowing that I would never make it past rod #2 or 3.  I rigged up a casting rod with a frog, a spinning rod with a shakey head, a casting rod with spinner bait, and a spinning rod with a drop shot.  I carried a variety of PowerTeam Lures soft plastics with me, a few lip less and shallow crank baits, a few frogs and some terminal gear and made my way to the water.

After a nice peaceful drive, I arrived at the lake to an empty parking lot.  I unloaded fairly quickly, because I knew the weather would take a turn for the worse within six hours and I wanted to get on some fish and quickly.  After a few minutes on the water, the winds kicked up in earnest dislodging my anchor several times and made positioning a little sketchy at times.  I spent some time moving about and getting wind blasted and splashed from the wave chop.  On this lake, the weather can turn nasty on you real quickly, so you have to keep a weather eye on the horizon and the tree line often.  A seemingly calm lake can turn into a white-capped washer machine in minutes if you aren't careful.

I started off working some structure drop offs in the the 8-10' range looking for some staging fish, but quickly switched over to the frog when I saw several boils and aggressive surface strikes.  No takers on the frog, but maybe next time I'll make a mental note to bring a slash or walk-the-dog style surface bait.  So, I switched over to the spinner bait and made a few half-hearted casts, but decided to switch over to the shakey head and work some cover.  I worked over every structure change and cover I could find for the better part of six hours before mother nature decided I had outlasted my welcome.

I was beginning to question my decision to fish on a day like this where the conditions were not so favorable, but I kept the faith and kept working my presentations.  After what seemed like an eternity, I felt a hit but no take.  I casted again to the same area in hopes of enticing a strike but again nothing.  A third cast was made only this time something felt different.  The lure felt weightless for a second, so I knew there might be fish on the end of the line.  I reeled in some of the slack and just felt the line get real heavy, so I tightened the line and gave a subtle side hook set and the fight was on.  My line surged from the reel in large quantities as the bass had realized it was hooked.

Her first run was parallel to me, and I caught a quick glimpse of her as she stared with her cold black eyes into mine as if to say....."You're in for a heck of a fight mister, hang on!"  The line surged again as she dove straight down searching for any cover that she could find and potentially sever the tie that bound her to me.  With no cover in sight, she surged again only this time under the Pro Angler in the hopes of catching me off guard and snapping the line using her leverage.  But it was not to be on this day.  The rod I was using had a 7'2" length and was a medium/extra fast series spinning rod.  It had plenty of backbone but also enough give to allow for runs and surges like this with no fear of breakage.

I worked her for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was closer to 45 seconds at best.  I gathered line in methodically in the hopes that she would tire soon.  As I maneuvered her closer, she made one last surge to try and elude capture, but it was not to be on this day.  As she came closer, visions of a citation danced in my head, but I calmed myself and focused on the task at hand of landing her first.  I turned her as she came near and lipped her on the first try.  Immediately, the weight registered in my mind that this was clearly the heaviest bass I had caught to date.  As I was lipping her, she flailed in one last ditch effort to try and escape, but she only managed to land inside the foot well of my Pro Angler unharmed and conceding defeat in this battle.

I'm glad she did, because as she flopped about, the hook shank actually broke!  If that had happened near the side, I could have potentially lost the best fish of the day and my best of the year.  A little good fortune is always welcome on days like this, so I just breathed a sigh of relief and laughed it off knowing I just escaped a catastrophe.  I finally got her settled down for a couple quick photos and was both pleased and disappointed at what I saw.  She was a big girl with signs of a recent stint on the bed showing on her tail.  She was every bit of 7lbs. plus but alas, she only measured in at 21.50", a bit shy of a VA citation.

I was still pleased at having landed my biggest bass of the year.   I ended up landing four more bass on the day, but all of them would have been considered dinner or a light snack for this big girl.  I did manage to find a fat little bluegill as well that was over an inch thick and 9" in length but that would be the last fish of the day before the weather turned real nasty on me.  I tried seeking out shelter in a couple of small coves to get a break from the wind, but no more fish were interested.  I figured my window of opportunity had officially closed, so I loaded up shortly there after having travelled only three miles on the day moving about, but always battling the winds that I later learned were gusting to 25mph on the day while I was on the water.  You can see some of the weather challenges I faced and the big bass I landed in the video summary below.

Although the weather temperature was mild in the low 60's on this cloudy and pre-frontal day, the water temps held constant in the 71-73 degree range.  The spring time weather is turning for the better, albeit with more spring showers on the way.  If you take the time and have the patience like I did today, you too can catch quality fish, even on a windy Friday.

Tight lines!!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Shotgunning for Shad

This past weekend, my son and I participated in the annual Shad Shootout to benefit Multiple Sclerosis here in Richmond, VA.  This event would also be the first time my son had ever been in the new Pro Angler 14, so he was more than a little excited to say the least.  I made a run to Green Top and picked up a handful of shad darts in various colors and a few tandem rigs with flutter spoons to use for the event.

I had never fished for shad before, but I had caught a few while fishing at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel in the past while chasing light line stripers.  I knew how much fun the fight was with these fish, so I wanted my son to experience the thrill and excitement of catching a "poor man's tarpon".  We launched from Ancarrow's Landing on the James River with my son riding shotgun in the rear of the Pro Angler.  We made our way up river to a couple spots that my friend Rob Choi had suggested during the previous night's captain's meeting and how-to seminar.  When we failed to get any action, we moved upriver further just below the 14th Street bridge area and anchored off into a promising looking spot.

It wasn't long before my son was hooked into his first shad.  He was using his own rod and reel and slinging one of the tandem rigs with a dart and flutter spoon combo.  A short fight and his first ever shad made it's way into the Pro Angler.  It was a 15" Hickory Shad and my son was amped up for another one.  Before I could even take the picture of it, he had already recast and was hooked up again.  Such was the story for the next two hours as my son ended up landing 15 shad in total and a couple smallish white perch.
After a while, he took a break, so I picked up my rod and started fishing for a bit.  I was armed only with a shad dart, but I managed a few 15" Hickory Shad myself, and a few more white perch as well.  The single shad dart was not as effective on this day compared to the flutter spoon.  One of the challenges in fishing rivers is underwater structure changes and moving cover.  These areas will snag your lures quickly and can result in the loss of some tackle.  On this day, it was no different.  My son snagged and lost three of our four tandem rigs and wasn't too happy about it.  When I tied on the last tandem rig I had, I let him know that if this one was lost that we would have to use just the darts from that point on.

He didn't seem phased as he slung the last tandem rig out into the flowing James River.  A few seconds later, I hear him eschew out sounds of amazement as he screamed , "WHOA!!!!  Dad I think this is a bigger one!"  I just reeled in my line and let him fight the fish on his own.  I didn't even have to tell him to ease the fish towards us.  He fought the fish beautifully and played him out right next to me, so that I could land him.  He was right.  It was much bigger - 19 1/4" to be exact and an American Shad at that!
After he landed that one, he put the rod down, took a seat and started shaking his hands telling me, "Man daddy, that fish hurt my hands he pulled so hard!"  Love it love it love it!!!!  I can't wait to see what happens the first time I get him on a big flounder, redfish or striped bass.  That boy's going to be pumped full of adrenaline when he gets to feel that sensation and fight.

After he sat down, I fished for a bit and managed six more perch including the best one of the day for us - an 11 1/2" chunky little fighter.
It was a great day on the water for a good cause.  Total monies raised on the day were $1000!  It's an awesome event that my son has already clearly stated that we must do this again next year.  He quickly added that he would like to go shad fishing again this year though and not have to wait until next year.  That's my boy!!!  All fish were release unharmed and ready to fight again another day.

Here's a quick video I made for some of his fish catches.  His reactions are priceless and really show how much fun he had.  Enjoy!

The shad bite is still on, so if you have an ultralight rod and reel and some shad darts and flutter spoons, head on down to the James River and try to get in on some of the action.  It's a blast!!

Until next time - tight lines and be safe!!!