Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Cobia Story

Maybe I should be embarrassed to say how many times I've sat, anchored up, chumming for hours on end or how many miles I've paddled around searching without success.  But perhaps that's also a testament to how difficult it can be to find, hook, and land a kayak cobia in our waters.  This is the sixth year I've been chasing Virginia cobia from a kayak and if I had to guess, there are over fifteen trips that I have not written about because there wasn't much to share.  The long drives back to Richmond let me reflect on what I learned each time, which I kept to myself.

From Buckroe and Grandview, Bluefish Rock, CBBT, to Sandbridge and The Humps, I've seen and chased, helped friends land theirs, and swallowed disappointment after disappointment.  I've tossed bucktails and lively eels in front of monsters only to be rejected.  The amount of money I've spent on chum makes my stomach churn.  Charter trips on boats were fun and helped me understand the fish, but that personal satisfaction of finding them on my own and going toe to toe my way has been a burning desire a long time. 

Last week, that desire was met with an enjoyable 38"er followed by a shit-eating grin.  But the thing is, that desire came back by the time I got to shore.  And it came back burning hotter than before.  By the time the next weekend came around, I made sure everything at home was in good order for me to go on another hunt for Mr. Brown.  

The wind was not in our favor but Jeff and I trekked out anyway.  I resisted the urge to bring sheepshead and spadefish gear knowing I would probably be tempted to cut into my cobia searching.  We kept our eyes peeled the entire time.  At one point, I looked back to see a little 2 footer following just a few feet behind my stern.  I tossed the RonZ but he disappeared.  A few minutes later he was back there again so I tossed a live eel but he disappeared again.  Not too long after that, I found what I was looking for.  Actually about 7 or 8 of what I was looking for.  Before I could react two of the bigger ones came right at me and tucked themselves under the kayak.  Four maybe five of the others were following close behind and one of them ate the eel.  As soon as it hit, it dove straight down then spun me around while peeling off a good bit of line. 

I was already in between piling sets and I tried to keep it that way while regaining as much line as I could.  As the fight went on, it ended up between the two bridges and I finally let out a smile.  The rest of the fight was a vertical tug of war with impressive run after run.  I pulled him up to the surface a couple of times only for it to explode, haul ass back down, and show that power I was hoping to feel.  

After about 13 minutes (I hit record about 10 seconds after the hookset) it was getting tired.  Shortly after, I grabbed the leader, saw that the hook was in a good spot and took the hammer to the dome... a lot.  

Once I got him on deck and saw the spikes on it's back twitching, I hammered some more for good measure. 

Last weeks 38"er made me ecstatic, but this 51"er was more of what I had in mind as the top part of my iceberg illusion.  All that time, sacrifice, disappointment, failure along with the persistence, hard work and dedication mentioned at the beginning is what nobody sees.  I guess only I will really understand the size of that struggle below the surface, but let me tell ya, it feels pretty damn good to show off the tip of this iceberg.  I know it's not a giant, but I couldn't be more happy.

The twisted part is... 
As soon as I started paddling back, I wanted more.  
There it was right in my lap... 
what I've been wanting for so long... 
and all I can think about is when can I get back out again for another.  

Study Of A Hall Pass

Found this on Moldy Chum and had to share.   I can relate to every single word.

The Study Of A Hall Pass from Dustin Miller on Vimeo.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Two Trophy Sheepshead, Spades, Togs, and a Keeper Cobia

A dim glow was slowly creeping across the eastern sky when my kayak set free from the beach.  The water was black and glassy and the glide was silky smooth.  I looked up at the stars, smiled, and whispered gratitude.  When I looked back down, my bow was cutting through thick bioluminescence creating Tron-like streaks on the water.  Each stroke of my Werner Kalliste sent clouds of electric blue swirling by and like the other times I've sat on an expansive touch-sensitive light-up body of water, I was reminded of what it feels like to be a child... giddy... full of wonder and amazement. 

The surreal Life-Of-Pi-esque scene, minus the gazillion jellyfish and jumping whale, faded as color spread and reflected on the mirror finish. 

I dropped my sheepshead rig in four or five spots before the sun was clear of the horizon.  Not too long afterwards, I got my first bite.  The strange yet familiar grinding with a sudden weight triggered that instinctual swing and urgent need to gain line.  Plunges of my rod tip preluded the high friction exiting of said line.  We exchanged possession of that length a few times while I kicked and pushed to get away from the big CBBT pilings.  When its rage wore off, I realized the hook was only holding on to a tiny sliver at the tip of it's lip.  I turned the fish so I could tuck my foot under it's pelvic fin, pinned it against the side of my kayak and pushed up as I pulled on the leader.  It measured right at 24".  

24" Release Citation Sheepshead
About 20 minutes later, I replayed the previous sequence much to my delight.  The 25"er had better hook placement on it though. 

25" Release Citation Sheepshead

It was 7:18 and I doubled up on my goal of getting a release citation sheepshead.  Since the bite was hot, I stuck around the area hoping for a third.  However, my patience ran out quickly thinking about the other goals I had for the day.  I had been wanting to make a print of a spadefish for a while, but haven't had a chance to bring one home.  After a quick paddle to different spot, the first drop down with clam brought on the rod-vibrating fight of a 10" spadefish.  Second drop down produced similar. Then, after 15 minutes of no action, I decided it was time to move on.  I checked off goal number two, as one of the spades went on ice destined to be inked.

The final goal of the day was to give it a good shot for cobia.  The sun was getting high enough to possibly see them.  Keeping a keen eye on the surface, I tried to cover as much water as possible in my Ultra 4.7.  However, when I got to one of my favorite spots, I had to drop a fiddler crab down just to see if anyone was home.

Anyone else remember Beetlejuice from Howard Stern?

After four togs up to about 15" I pulled myself away to resume the cobia hunt.  After a good long paddle, I saw what I was hoping for; silly brown clown circling a piling.  It wasn't very big, but I was definitely still going to take a shot.  It was swimming counter clockwise and I tossed a RonZ past the piling to the right side just as fish came around on the left.  I swam it near the surface and he charged as soon as he saw it.  He hit it but didn't eat.  I bounced it and he started chasing.  It was getting fairly close to the kayak and I was running out of line.  I dipped the rod down, thinking I was going to have to open the bail to let the lure drop, but then he grabbed it hard and I slammed it home.  Up until this point, I had only hooked up to cobia on friends' boats and charters.  I've seen plenty from a kayak, including some monsters, but for various reasons (sometimes beyond my control and sometimes my fault) I just never got a hook up.  So, I took my time and enjoyed this fight.  He immediately took some line, came up to the surface and thrashed, circled around and made a run back toward the pilings.  I was able to turn him and then he sounded.  For a smallish cobia, it definitely had some attitude; which I wanted all gone from him when it came time to bring it on the kayak.  I let him take as many runs as he wanted.  Eventually, he stayed relatively calm and I noticed the hook placement was good.  I grabbed the leader and slowly pulled him up.  

I quickly measured him at 38" and decided to keep it.  Knowing how strong they are and their destructive nature if it were to thrash in my lap, I took the hammer to the dome.  

I could have ended the trip at 7 in the morning and the 2hr drive home would have still been all smiles.  But with two release citation sheepies, spades, togs, and a keeper cobia under the hatch... you could say I was cheezin pretty hard. 

I made it back to shore by 2pm to get back home by 5pm as promised.  Cherry on top of it all was taking the kids to their first baseball game.  

That celebratory beer though...


Hopefully I'll be back out soon to upgrade that kayak cobia.

In the meantime, fish prints it is...

Video of the sheepies and cobia coming soon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Skinny Sweetwater Shenanigans

The 2pm kid-duty-switch-off agreement put the kibosh on 
hopes of returning to my salty big water conquests.  
Instead, little creeks became our stadium.  
And we came to play.

By the time the first rays of light pierced through the trees, Jeff Lockhart, Matt Anderson, and I were already well into our first creek.  A few small bass had been hooked and quickly released before finding what we were hoping for.  Snakehead.  

The 22"er struck Jeff's frog imitation in less than a foot of water.  Our expectations of a furiously savage fight as described by others encountering the invasive specie were muted by the fact that it quickly had a huge amount of vegetation around the line and covering it's face.  Regardless, we were ecstatic to confirm our hunch.  The area is not known to hold snakeheads but we thought it was worth a shot.  

As the day went on our search for more only yielded a few suspicious wakes.  However we were still all smiles with the abundance of other life in the area.  The little creeks were holding tons of baitfish and the largemouth bass were waiting around nearly every bend or dip to ambush them.  Weedless, weightless flukes and frogs yielded a little less than a dozen bass with most of them in the 18" range.  Topwater blow ups never get old and it was thoroughly enjoyable to watch bass take the fluke only a few feet from the kayak.  

Matt got into double digits of bass as well on various swimbaits and senkos.  In a larger part of the creek, Jeff landed the biggest bass of the day going a little over 21".  At one point, I kept getting short strikes on the fluke when I finally set the hook into something that surprised us all for this time of year.  The good sized yellow perch made me switch to the smaller set up with a little white grub.  The following 3 casts rendered 3 more perch with the biggest going a bit over 11".  Matt scored one just shy of citation at 11 3/4".  Not too long after that, I lucked out with a new specie checked off my bucket list; bowfin.  It tore up the baby bass fluke and provided a most satisfying fight on relatively light tackle.  Unfortunately, my GoPros turned themselves off due to the heat and the 23"er flopped out of my hands just before Jeff could click the shutter. 

For a relatively short trip, it was really a blast.  Jeff added one more specie for the day with a decent crappie from under a duck blind.  The call of the salt may be strong, but if weather and timing doesn't work out, we'll definitely be up for some more skinny sweetwater shenanigans. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Rare Bluewater Treat

3AM and I struggle to focus my eyes.  I sit on the throne.  Haze clears.  Forecast double check provides a smile.  I wipe.  I'm out the door.

It was supposed to rain later but the lack of wind made it a good day to introduce my new Ultra 4.7 to the CBBT.  Looking to knock sheepshead off the yearly citation list as well as play with some spadefish, I picked up fiddlers and clams at Ocean's East.  When I arrived at the beach, I was more than a little disappointed.  The wind was sustained at 15kts at least from open water with gusts much higher.  I'm pretty sure I would have verbally abused if not shin kicked the crap out of the weather man if he were there.  Luckily, my good friend WillyRags, who was supposed to be there too, gave me the heads up about Ric and Lee about to head out on the boat.  

The trek out was needless to say, brutal.  It felt like we got airborne about 20 times but a smile crept on my face knowing that I rarely get to see that type of water; especially right out of Virginia Beach.  The little 20' Jones Brothers center console actually handled the rough water well... all 30 miles out.  And it got better as we went further out.  

Based on prior year catches on Ric's boat, the main target for this trip was mahi.  We put out a spread of 5 ballyhoo (2 outriggers, two short lines, one flatliner right behind the boat) and one big crankbait 10-15' down.  Within 5 minutes of trolling we were on them.  Then not too long after we lost them.  We put decided to mess around on some wrecks and I jigged up a thick 20" flounder.  Lee was working the Lucanus jig when all of a sudden he hooks a mahi and next thing we know had them all around the boat.  Ric hooks up on cut bait and keeps it in the water to keep the school around.  Unfortunately, they wised up quick and we only picked off a couple.  We go back to trolling and it was on.  The count for the day was 11 mahi with the biggest going 15lbs and the flounder.  

The rare bluewater treat was the farthest thing I could have imagined doing that day, but I'm so glad it happened.  I learned a little more about driving a boat, properly rigging ballyhoo for trolling, understanding outriggers, not to mention bringing home a bunch of excellent meat.  Big thanks to Ric and Lee for accommodating me as well as Rags for sending me their way.  Thanks guys.

Photo credits: Ric Burnley

Friday, June 5, 2015

Paperwork Shy Choppers

I seem to have a hard time getting away from that paper chasing game.  And again, the citation bluefish in Rudee have eluded me for another year.  I came up half an inch shy of the trophy 36" mark twice over the last few weeks.  The upper 20" and lower 30" fish were prevalent as usual.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Vernal Reds

For me, it is one of the most anticipated times of the year.  
 Roaming the flats of the Eastern Shore...
leaving slicks of oily remnants in their wake... 
It's just a matter of finding the time 
to find them.

So far, I've only crossed the CBBT twice this season.  Luckily, I was able to find them both times.  On the first day, the weatherman's magic 8-ball was wrong again.  The wind stuck around too long and the rain showed up hours ahead of schedule.  However the water clarity was good enough to still spot schools at times.  The side scanner unit came in really handy though for JBrooks, WillyRags, LuckyLockhart and yours truly.

I found the school 4 or 5 times that day.  A few times, I couldn't have seen them without the Hummingbird 698ci HD si, and a couple of times my eyes saw them before the unit.  The first encounter was early in the morning with the sun in our eyes and wind on our face.  We spread out to cover more water.  I noticed a long diagonal marking on my screen to the right and before I knew it I was paddling right over it.  Then all of a sudden the water erupts violently about 40 feet in front of me.  I spooked em and several large reds exploded on the surface.  The wind caught my 5" paddle tail before it could get to the target area twice but Jeff took the cue and paddled up until he could get a good cast.  He hooked up, but broke off.  Jay was paddling near where the top end of the diagonal marking would go and hooked up a minute later.

Jay Brooks 47"ish Red Drum

We lost the school after that, but we knew they couldn't have gone far.

With the wind being stronger than expected, the water wasn't exactly stand up friendly.  However the Predator 13 was still stable enough for me to get up and take a look around.  And even with the clouds moving in, the polarization on my Maui Jim's cut through and I was able to find the school a couple of times.  After I pulled up a 48"er, Jeff Lockhart got one at 46"ish.


As the rain showed up, I relied on the side imaging unit again.  After covering a good amount of water, the blank screen would suddenly get lit up with marks and I tried my best to choreograph which way my buddies should cast.  We all hooked up, lost fish, and hooked up again on the same school.  At one point we had 4 on at the same time.  I landed one more at 46", William Ragulsky got one at 48" and Jeff scored a 51"er. 

I ended up finding another small school and watched a big fish follow my lure to the boat, but ended up spooking.  All in all, it was a great first trip out for the big reds.

My second trip was a short one.  I had strict orders from the boss lady to be back at a certain time.  The sun was out and the wind wasn't too bad, but once I paddled out to the flat, I realized how dirty the water was.  Again, I was glad I brought the Humminbird side scan unit.  Normally it would have become a troll and hope kind of day, but I actually found a school using the imager and casted to them instead of trolling.  I only landed one though before I had to call it quits.


I'm hoping to go again, 
but you know how life goes...