Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A First to Call My Own

I looked over just in time to see his kayak turn abruptly.  He started to spin and that's when I realized this was the first time he hooked a fish on the yak that was big enough to really move him around. The smile on his face said it all.

During the infancy of my fishing addiction, my dad took me out to the end of a rock jetty in Glen Cove, NY. on many occasions.  He used to sling big chunks of bunker out and wait while I learned to cast, have patience, and eventually catch all the taylor blues I ever wanted on spoons or popping corks.  Over 25 years later, I turned the table and put him on sizable bluefish he hadn't seen since those days.

My hunt for citation bluefish, which is now on it's 4th year, felt somewhat ok to leave on the back burner.  Sharing that time with the one who got me into fishing was special enough.  Plus, I had checked off a big personal milestone not long ago. 

There were five of us searching the flats of the Eastern Shore that day.  It was blowing steady at least 15 kts and the water was cloudy, but we were still super stoked for our first day out looking for the spring red drum.  The humminbird side scan unit came in handy with the bad water clarity.  It wasn't long before I had one or two blips that quickly turned into a screen full of big marks.  To say I was excited would definitely be lackluster.  But still keeping my cool, I calmly casted my 6" swimbait.

It's been three years since I achieved VA Saltwater Expert from the kayak and as I expected, my fishing time had decreased tremendously since then.  But none the less, I've been able to pick off trophies here and there.  I even managed to achieve Class 1 VA Freshwater Master Angler, which takes catching trophies of 5 different species (no time limit).  Over the years, I've caught blue catfish, flathead catfish, gar, yellow perch, and striped bass.  Recently, I added pickerel to the list so I have my eyes set on largemouth, smallmouth, and a few others for Class 2.  I've come within half an inch of both types of bass multiple times so it's really just a matter of pulling myself away from the salt long enough to put the time in.

Last year, I realized that as far as I know, no one has achieved both VA Freshwater and Saltwater Master all while fishing strictly from a kayak.  For Master Saltwater an angler has to earn 25 Citations in a minimum of 5 different species (a maximum of 1 Citation per species per year allowed) over an unlimited period of time (More info here).  At the start of this spring, I had only one more to go.  

So I casted, feeling like my lure should get crushed at any moment, but that didn't happen.  I looked back at the screen and they were definitely there.  The water was too dirty for me to see them, but I knew they were there.  Then I realized what I did wrong.  The strong wind was pushing my kayak too fast and my retrieve speed compounded the problem so the lure didn't get deep enough.  I slowed the retrieve on my next cast and sure enough, the sleigh ride ensued.  I quickly told Jeff who was following closely to cast to my left.  

Photo credit: William Ragulsky
I ended up with a very hard fighting 43", which was 3" short of citation, and Jeff ended up with one a little over 50".  Shortly after that, I found the school again, hooked up quickly and put Jeff and Willy Rags on fish as well.  

Rags with a nice 46"er 

Jeff with one about the same size. 
(Photo credit William Ragulsky)

Mission accomplished.

The one that gets me VA Saltwater Master Angler I...
... and my first Red Drum over 50"

Big thanks to my dad for starting this obsessive addiction and obviously so much more.  Also big thanks to Kayak Kevin for the additional motivation.  The citation and expert/master ratings game has been a blast.  I know many anglers, who I have great respect for, that don't play the citation or expert/master game and just for the record, I am not claiming to be a better fisherman than anyone.  Well maybe a few people.  Regardless, I'm just proud that I did play the game the best I could and am most likely the first to achieve VA Freshwater and Saltwater Master Angler (class 1) strictly as a kayak angler.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fresh On the Boat

I couldn't remember the last time I took someone completely new to kayak fishing out on the water.  My way of helping yak-fish-cherry-poppers is usually just through this site, answering questions in emails, forums, social media, and the occasional seminar.  And the little gestures of gratitude, usually through a computer screen, is all I hope for in return.  I enjoy helping people.  But my time on the water is almost always reserved for myself.  I made an exception this time and at the end of the trip, I was really glad I did; not only because I helped out a friend, but I was reminded first hand of what it was like for me when I first started. 

Last year, I met Mike randomly while out having a couple of beers with friends, shooting some pool.  One topic lead to another and before we knew it, our 8-ball friends got tired of listening to us rant about fishing.  He ended up buying Kayak Kevin's old Trident 13, had a baby, found it hard to get out, enjoyed daddy life stuff, got a spork crammed into his eye by his baby, you know... stuff... 
Fast forward to me agreeing to take him out on the water and I could feel his excitement while getting the kayaks down from the roof racks.  We skipped the weekly pool tournament and decided to try our luck on the James river for the shad run.  From simple things like paddle blade shape preference and kayak space/storage management to some not-so-easy things like anchoring in current, my answers came effortlessly.  Do's and don'ts, how and where's, all got explained at the beginning along with "yes you will wish you had your waders on especially when the sun goes down" and "watch your rod tips around that tree".

Everything went without a hitch and he expressed his gratitude several times during the trip. However, my real reward was getting to watch the pure elation on his face after landing two new-to-him species. They weren't the biggest fish, but to him, it was a big deal; which in turn was a big deal to me.  Every time he hooked up, I shared his excitement.  Helping him get to the spot, building his confidence on the water, and watching him accomplish what he wanted far exceeded the joy of catching my own fish that day.  He let out an enthusiastic "I LOVE THIS $%^*!" which he knows is usually my line. 

The ready-to-spawn male hickory shad dripped fish porn on our decks (sorry no pics) then became cut bait.  The white perch was an added surprise to him and served as live bait.  We were hoping for big catfish or stripers but like I told him it would, it got pretty cold later in the evening.  Plus, the lack of action from the bigger fish had me craving a drink back at the ol' watering hole.  After a couple of medium sized cats, we packed it up and swung by the bar to share our fishy smell with the pool junkies.  We toasted to a kickass time, and like that feeling of the first chug after a long hot day of working in the yard, that beer was really freakin' good.  The cherry on top is that an hour later, it was my birthday. 

Mike, thanks for a great time on the water and reminding me that this sport I love so much is not always about catching the fish.  Cheers, buddy.

P.S. for those of who might be wondering...
No, I don't plan on becoming a guide.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pickerel in the Mist

It had been nearly three months since my paddle pushed through the water.  The forced hiatus, which may have allowed me to focus on many "grown-up" things, still felt like an eternity.  

Jeff Lockhart and I met Drew Camp and his dad, Chip, in their neck of the woods in search of bass and pickerel.  Even though it was wet and chilly, a perma-grin remained plastered on my face as I felt my kayak glide.  And my cheeks didn't get any rest for awhile because my first fish of the day was a trophy pickerel.

Afterwards, we caught several more pickerel but the bass were tough to come by.  I had a few little ones but that was it.  My best luck came on a spinnerbait, husky jerk, and square bill.  

Bass Dorsal

Pickerel eye markings and gill plate
Being able to check a citation off the list with my first trophy pickerel felt pretty awesome especially while juggling daddy-life, office duties, and trying to get a house ready to put on the market.  

'Til next time, hope you all get on the water, and hopefully it won't be too long before I get out too.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

2015 Recap and Compilation Video

I know.  It's almost March and I'm just now getting to look back on the last year.  That proverbial struggle is very real.  Unfortunately for the fishing side of my life, the trend will continue in 2016.  It was the least I had fished in many years, but 2015 still had some great moments.

I continued to fish many of my favorite locales but also tried several new areas, including a couple new spots on the Eastern Shore, the upper James, as well as the beautiful New River.

Checking off a new specie always makes the highlight reel, except when the cameras aren't rolling and the fish flops out before a proper shot.  None the less, I was stoked for my first bowfin at 23".  I had 4 follows on my first musky trip as well, which I will count as a successful endeavor.  The notoriously difficult VA kayak cobia was also checked off the list, twice.

Although I never promote the awards, it is still rewarding that this site won the Kayak Anglers Choice Awards Blog of the Year.  I somehow managed to place 3rd for Angler of the year and last year's compilation, Nothing But Love, won 3rd place Online Video of the Year.   I was very tempted to put up a gif of Ron Burgundy saying "I'm kind of a big deal.  People know me", but I'll just say thank you to the people who really follow along.  I really do appreciate it.

For 2016, I have one citation left to get Saltwater Master Angler and one citation left to get Freshwater Master Angler.  For saltwater, it has to be an accumulation of 25 trophies with only one specie per year counting toward the total.  For freshwater, it has to be 5 trophies of different species (flathead, bluecat, yellow perch, and gar so far).  Even though I have a lot on my plate this year as far as work, daddy life, and much more, I look forward to chasing these goals.  However, even more so, I can't wait to get back out on the water with my friends and family, perhaps make some new friends, and continue to keep the smiles coming...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

50" Striper and the Curse of the Slim Jim

We got off the exit and decided to grab a quick bite to eat along with some drinks for the upcoming paddle.  Along with the normal pregame snackage, Jeff opted to grab a Slim Jim as well.  During the short rest of the way to the launch I noticed that the wrapper was giving him a hard time; not allowing him to snap into that questionable jerky deliciousness.  He flipped it over to try the other end, but it still would not open.  The proverbial struggle was quite real.  So much so, he thought maybe the universe was telling him that it was not meant to be.  "Dude, it has to be a sign of bad juju".  We chuckled and discussed some of the other foods that created undesirable reactions on the water, included the infamous rumble-gut of 2010 where Justin had to paddle back to shore in a hurry and came back missing both sleeves.  Mid way into theories about good luck food and bad luck food, he finally got it open.  He shrugged his shoulders and it was down the hatch by the time we pulled up to the ramp. 

35"er from 10 days ago
10 days earlier I had fairly good luck with mid thirty inch stripers, but reports from earlier this week showed poor results at the same spot.  However, two nights of colder temps after an unusually warm spell had me thinking my luck could be different. 

I was right.  My eels found their way into striper mouths fairly quickly and at a good pace.  For rigging info, click here.  Both the eel on the free line as well as the one on bottom were getting hits from upper 20 inchers to mid 30 inchers.  They were entertaining and all, but when I hooked into one that had very wide headshakes and didn't come up so easily, I got ready for the imminent sleigh ride.  About 50 yards later, as I'm trying to grab the leader, my freeline rod that was in the flush-mount behind me gets a zip-zip then starts peeling line out.  With leader in hand and mid 40" beast next to my gunwale, thrashing and spraying water all over, I loosened the drag on the other reel.  I reached and tried to grab the lower lip 2 or 3 times but then the big striper dug it's head under the surface and followed up with a few strong kicks.  I should have let the leader go at that moment but my nerves and anxiety from the other fish still hooked up got the better of me.  I tried to force the big one to turn around and popped the 50lb flouro leader right at the hook.  I didn't turn into Hurricane Lee, but as you can imagine, there was a string of expletives before grabbing the other rod.  It came up pretty quick and measured around 32"-33" like many of the ones earlier.  And far, far smaller than the one I just lost.  

Good thing was, it was Saturday night, there was plenty of time, and I came to get down.  Continuing to find and mark fish on the Humminbird, my bottom rod tip would bounce shortly after my screen lit up.  I set the hook, smile, fight, measure, release, repeat.  As the current slowed down, my freeline rod with a fairly small eel started zipping out.  I slam set the hook and knew immediately, this was a good size fish.  While holding on for the impending ride, I reeled in the bottom rod with the other hand.  And the ride came.  And it was awesome.  I took my time, landed it without incident, and stretched it out on my deck.  Jeff helped measure it 3 or 4 times just to make sure it was accurate.  To my delight, the tip of the tail went a little passed the 50" mark.

Released.  Big photo credit thanks to Jeff Lockhart.

Afterwards, I got into a few more lower 30" fish before my feet couldn't stand the cold anymore.  By the time we got back, my car thermometer read 29 degrees.  I ended the night with 25-30 hits, landed 15 fish, had 2 doubles, and a new personal best striper.  Poor Jeff had to listen to my clicker all night and unfortunately only had a handful of hits without any hook ups.  

We were both in utter disbelief at the contrast in results since we used the same rigs and fished the same area.  

As silly as it seems, Slim Jims now keep the notorious banana company on our list of fish retardants.   

I hope you all have a great holiday.  
Stay safe.  
Wear your PFD.  
Layoff the Slim Jims.
And go catch some big ones!

Thursday, November 26, 2015