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!!!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Minimalist Approach - Eliminating Noise and Clutter In Your Kayak

Ask yourself this question - what are my favorite lures and combos to use when I fish?  I'm willing to bet that most of us could narrow down our tackle and rod selection pretty quickly if we took the time to make an honest assessment of our fishing styles and preferred techniques.  I would expect a good portion of anglers out there have several examples of tackle and gear that they have yet to use or rarely use.  Admittedly, I still have at least twenty different lures sitting in my house in their original packaging collecting dust.  So why do we feel compelled as anglers to carry so much gear while on the water?  The dreaded answer is almost always - what if?

Well, I am a minimalist by nature in my everyday life and prefer to keep things as simple as possible, and it is now the approach I use when preparing for an outing on the water.  When I first started kayak angling, the whole premise of this fishing style is based upon keeping it simple, yet we all know people, including ourselves sometimes, that carry more gear and combos than could ever realistically be utilized for a day of fishing.  So how do we go about whittling down our choices and only carrying the items needed?  In order to truly minimize your clutter or "noise footprint" while on the water, you need to understand the following three things: rod and reel selection, lure selection and the target area for the day.  The following information is geared more towards targeting largemouth bass, but it can be adapted to any species of fish and water type.  So let's get started.

Rods & Reels:
How often have you had your lines tangle or had a lure get caught up on another rod during a cast or while trying to land a fish?  It happens both in traditional boats and on kayaks as well.  In order to minimize clutter, it is critical that you reduce the number of opportunities to get hung up, such as during a back cast, while re-tying a leader or lure, while landing a fish and yes even when entering and exiting the kayak.  If you have to make some form of an athletic or contortionist maneuver to enter or exit your kayak, it might be time to take a step back and rethink your setup.  For me, I contend that on a given day that I can fish effectively with only three combos but understand that pattern development sometimes necessitates an extra combo or two.  Now, the brand of rod and reel you choose is your own personal preference, but for argument's sake let's focus on characteristics and performance of the combos.

When it comes to reels, I tend to look for reels that have a good feel in my hands when mounted to a given rod; are easy to adjust while on the water; and have reliable and smooth drags.  These attributes do not necessarily eliminate many brands from consideration, rather they serve only to inform you that brand names don't govern my decisions of what reels I carry on the water with me.  If it has a decent drag, balances well on the rods I own and are easy to use, then it works for me.
For me, the primary key to success with the first step of the minimalist approach is matching your rod ratings with the lures you would have at your disposal while on the water.  This one step alone will automatically eliminate certain combos right away, and inherently the associated lures and terminal tackle you would use.  I prefer to have rods that fall into the medium to medium heavy power ratings and have fast or extra fast actions.  The thought process behind this is that I can still handle larger fish in cover by using the kayak for additional drag without having to carry a dedicated heavy combo like a flipping stick or swim bait rod.  So, for me, my typical setups even on tournament days are: one medium heavy/fast casting setup, one medium/extra fast casting setup and a medium/extra fast spinning setup.  If I am going to be fishing a new body of water, I may opt for a fourth setup as a dedicated rod for heavy cover or another spinning rod for weightless soft plastics.  The key is having a plan for what each combo will be utilized for and sticking to the plan by leaving the other "what if" lures and tackle at home.

As far as the combos themselves, here is how I would use each combo for targeting bass on a freshwater lake.  The medium heavy/fast combo is spooled with 30lb. dark green braid and would be used for jig-n-craws, weighted large profile soft plastics and frogs.  The medium/extra fast combo is spooled with 12lb. fluorocarbon and would be used for moving and top water presentations like lip less and traditional shallow to medium diving crank baits, spinner baits, buzz baits, jerk baits, spoons and walk the dog top water baits.  In a pinch, it can also be used for finesse plastics like shakey heads and small profile jerk shads.  The medium/extra fast spinning combo is the workhorse of my setups.  It is spooled with 20lb. braid and a 10-15lb. fluorocarbon leader.  It is used for almost everything else in my arsenal: shakey heads, wacky rigs, drop shot, simple jig head and grubs or scrounger heads, soft plastic jerk shads, weightless soft plastics, and small profile suspending jerk baits.  I can also use it with in line spinners, small spinner baits and buzz baits or top waters.  It is the most versatile combo in my collection and one that is always with me in both fresh or salt water.

Lure Selection:
While rod and reel selection is a personal preference and hallowed ground to many anglers, the area I see the greatest opportunity to reduce your "footprint" on the water in is the area of lure selection.  We all have our "confidence" or "go-to" baits, but if you are a "what if" type of angler, you're likely to carry extra noise or clutter with you.  With that said, trying to build your tackle box for a day on the water can be a little overwhelming if you are not preparing effectively.  You'll end up second guessing yourself and taking every color combination imaginable with you.  At the end of the day, you'll most likely find that you never even touched 80-90% of the lures you took.  Or worse, you spent so much time changing between lures that you never really fished or had time to identify what the fish were keying in on.  So, what can you do to minimize this from happening?

My approach is to think about what makes sense for the area you are targeting.  If you are fishing an area loaded with shad and other minnow-like forage, then perch and sunfish imitations or large profile creature baits could be left at home.  Now, I'm not saying get rid of those additional color patterns, because it is not uncommon to try something that is just a little different to turn the bite on.  I am only suggesting that you limit your "off-color" selection to 2-3 baits based on water clarity and avoid carrying an additional tackle tray for the "what if" scenario.

In my kayak, I carry no more than two tackle trays, and they are setup to cover the top, middle and lower areas of the water column.  My tackle trays are the 3600 series trays to facilitate storage in my Hobie Pro Angler's tackle management system, but they also fit in a standard milk crate.  For the target species mentioned earlier, the first tackle tray is setup like this: I load the top row with 6 jigs (two each in black/blue, green pumpkin and orange/brown).  The next row is split into two compartments: one has a couple of square bill cranks baits, while the other compartment has three or four lip less crank baits.  The third row has a couple of jerk baits and a couple of top water plugs, while the lower row has a couple of hollow-bodied frogs.  The right hand side of the tray has the separators removed to leave it open and that is where I keep three or four spinner baits and a couple of buzz baits.

The second tackle tray is the same size and is actually used for terminal tackle only.  It has all manner of hooks, jig heads and weights necessary for rigging up my various soft plastics.  The only other lures I take with me are soft plastics, including worms, grubs, jerk shads and frogs.  I prefer natural colors, but I will carry colors that I can switch to based upon water clarity.  These items are kept in their original bags and just placed either in the storage areas on my Hobie Pro Angler or in a milk crate in a single gallon sized freezer bag.  Other than that, the only other items I carry are a waterproof container for my personal items, some fish attractant and a leader spool.

Target Area:
So far, we have covered rod and lure selection using the minimalist approach.  The last step in this approach is the target area or areas on a given body of water.  For some of you, this is old hat and part of your normal approach, but it's not uncommon to see novice anglers heading out loaded for bear with no clear idea on what they will be doing or where they are going after they launch.  When you are planning an outing, you should already have a plan and head towards those specific areas first.  In some cases, you know the area well enough and avoid the non-productive spots based on past experience.  In other situations, the weather conditions and physical makeup of the body of water dictate the lure selection and most likely places to hold fish given the time of year.  So, why not take that approach every time you head out.  What I mean here is equivalent to fishing more intelligently and minimizing the chances of wasted time on the water.  By default, this means that we as anglers should be focusing our fishing tactics and gear towards specific areas or features on a given body of water and not on what we could potentially run into.

For example, a body of water I fish often is frequented by many kayak anglers and boaters alike, and it has a variety of structure and cover opportunities.  On any given day, you could fish deep channel ledges and shallow secondary points in one section, then move to another area with lily pads, standing timber and lay downs, and yet still move again and work over some shallow flats and drift the creek channels right up to the bridge pilings.  If you planned your outing to hit all of those locations, you would spend more time moving between spots and less time actually fishing.

Why not eliminate 75% of the fishable water for that given outing and just focus on an area that offers two to three different structure choices and cover variations?  By doing this, not only have you increased your fishing time, you have allotted yourself more time to establish a pattern through direct and focused observation of the conditions and environment around you.  Every time you head out, you are building a library of understanding for that body of water.

An easy way to do this is to imagine the body of water as a tic-tac-toe grid.  Eliminate the non-productive areas based upon your knowledge and research before you leave the house.  Once you have selected your target areas, hone in on definitive spots and eliminate the lures and rod combos that will clutter or increase the "noise".  If you are targeting lay downs and ledge transitions in the 4-8' range, leave the deep diving crank baits and vertical jigging spoons at home and opt for a few square bills, spinner baits and some slow moving presentations.  Or, if you're targeting heavy standing timber and grass mats, leave the two or three extra rods with light line and lightweight lures at home.  These are "noise" factors and only make your day on the water less focused and even less productive.  After a few trips, you will have developed a workable approach that you can adapt to other areas of the lake almost automatically.

In the example above, I ended up choosing two areas or grids of the lake in close proximity to one another and selected three presentations for the day.  I pre-rigged them the night before and only left myself with one decision when I launched - which color was I going to start with based on water clarity.  The other factors of retrieval speed or lure action are determined on the water based upon the fish behavior.  When I had thoroughly worked an area, I moved on to the next spot and repeated the pattern.  The key here is to not allow yourself to sit and hope for a bite.  You need to identify the prime areas and make sure your time spent at each "spot within a spot" is more focused.  Because I had minimized the "noise" and honed in on a given approach for that outing, I was able to dial into a workable pattern in the morning, then as the day progressed, I was able to adapt to changing conditions due to less "noise" and still have a productive day.  I utilized this approach in two separate tournaments at different times of the year on the same body of water and won both of them.

Does this approach always equate to catching fish or winning a tournament?  Not necessarily, but it did afford me more time to actually fish rather than second guessing myself or changing lures every 10 minutes.  I hope you found this article useful and will consider employing some or all of these tactics the next time you head out on the water.

Tight lines!

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Little Square Dancing.....

Had a chance to hit the water for about six hours today on my day off for a change.  As many of you know here in VA, the last month or two has not been the best on Fridays for my fishing habit.  When the rain cleared early in the morning and the clouds started to roll away, I loaded the new Pro Angler 14 in short order and picked out four rods to use on the day.

On the way to my target location for the day, I stopped off at Appomattox River Company to pick up my 2013 Hobie Fishing Team Pro package.  Boy, Hobie really outdid themselves this year.  Last year, I was just happy to get accepted onto the team and was happy with my hat and shirt.  This year, they setup the team members with three different hats, three different shirts, some more stickers, a Hobie BUFF and some other Hobie logo accessories.

I figured what better way to break in the new swag than to hit the water and get some fishing in.  A short drive from the store, and I was on the water in no time.  In keeping with my goals for 2013, I grabbed my new crankbait rod and started slinging the good ole L7 Square bill for a little cranking action.  I also slipped in the new PTL Swinging Hammer, the PTL Sick Stick and a SWL Quick Strike Spinnerbait.  The winds were still blowing in earnest throughout the afternoon but nothing like the last month or so.

The day was tough going with nary a bite to be had on the first two ponds I targeted.  I fished every square inch of those ponds and didn't even get a single hit the entire time.  I knew my fishing window was coming to a close if I was going to make it back home in time for dinner with the family.  So, I made a tactical decision and decided to hit one more spot that usually has some hungry bass even if they aren't the largest.

A few minutes later and I was back at it slinging the blue chartreuse squarebill crankbait.  It wasn't long before I had two aggressive strikes but no hookup.  I slowed the retrieve a little more and paused it right over a laydown and BAM - fish on!!!  Nothing to brag about but a fish is a fish on a tough day like today.  This one was only 10" on a good day.  A follow up cast to the same spot with the same pause and another fish hits it.  This one was a little better measuring in at 14".
Still not the size I was looking for but at least I'm getting hits.  Another 30 minutes on the water and ended up landing seven bass in total in a little under 45 minutes at this spot.  The fish were so aggressive that I even had a couple of dinks that took a swipe at the squarebill and got themselves hooked in the process.  I think they had great expectations for later in life.  This one was all of 7" on a good day.....
Not the best day by far, but seven fish in under 45 minutes works for me.  I'll be hitting the James River next weekend for the annual Shad Shootout to benefit Multiple Sclerosis.  I'll be taking my son with me for that one, so he'll ride shotgun in the back of the Pro Angler.  Hopefully, he'll get into some shad on his ultralight.   What fun that should be!!!

Until next time - tight lines and be safe!