Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Not So Big Finale

I am very grateful to have such awesome fishing buddies.  After hearing about my fiasco with the deer, I had several offers to help me get back on the water quickly.  Everything from giving me a ride, to spare kayaks, and even places to stay were generously made available for me.  I genuinely appreciated it and can not thank you all for the great support.  Timing was difficult none the less and it made for a tough end-of-the-year for me.

  Between a crazy work schedule, holiday trials and tribulations, and dealing with the whole car thing, I wasn't able to hit the water as many times as I would have liked.  By the way, waiting in line for 3 hours, listening to other babies crying and whining, in a mall filled with angry/rude holiday shoppers, so my 3 year old can sit on some random bearded guy's lap... really sucks.  But the promise of a happy daughter filled with magic and laughter is very compelling.

And it would have been worth it to see that smile... but guess what... by the time she was sitting in Santa's lap she was so tired, out-of-it, and weirded out that everyone was staring at her, that we couldn't get her to smile.  I leaned over to the girl behind the camera and told her to just pick one so I can get the hell out of there.

Anyway, back to fishing... Justin and I got on some more topwater trout action on the Elizabeth River.  We almost couldn't believe that we were getting topwater blow ups in December.  Justin had some nice ones up to 23.5".

Various soft plastics, including one of my favorites, the Marshworks 3" Bayou Thumper, on a 1/4 ounce jighead also worked well. When I stopped getting hits on that I switched over to a MirrOlure.

After that we switched gears in search of the big stripers.  In total, I went eelin' 4 times and didn't catch a single one.  Ash Bishop caught a nice 49"er one night, then a 42"er the next night.

Ash's 42" Striper

Justin also got in on the action with a ridiculously fat 34"er.

Work schedule and having been kicked in the nuts will prevent me from getting another chance before the end of the year.

I would have loved to end the year with a trophy striper, but I really can't complain. I've had a fantastic year and perhaps it'll be the first to get checked off next year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Togzilla vs. The Bastardly Buck

Yes.  This is the story about the one.  Finally.
But, there's a problem...

Over the past three years, I've learned a lot about the kayak tautog fishery in the lower Chesapeake Bay.  I've put in a good amount of time, and if I had to guess, I've probably caught nearly 200 togs during that time.  Though some were under 15" and not worth talking about, I've also had my fair share of near trophy togs and everything in between. Coming within less than an inch of citation twice this year made my desire to catch that 23"+ tog that much more insatiable.  My quest for Togzilla became an obsession.

The day started with my wife going to yoga.  By the time she got back, I was contemplating just staying at home since I wasn't going to have too much day light left by the time I got down to Virginia Beach.  Tautog are a daytime only species.  But the weather was so nice with the wind laying low, so I decided I had to give it one more try before switching gears for the big stripers.  My little girl wished me good luck and I made the long drive down.  After a tough time finding bait, I finally got on the water a little after 2pm.   

My trusty Werner paddle got me out to the spot by 3:00, leaving me about 2 hours of tog-able time left.  I had exactly one tog bite in those two hours.  But, it was just like the two other 22"+ togs from earlier in the year... a single solid thump, and I didn't hesitate. Setting the hook, I knew immediately it was a heavy fish.  After the first few cranks, the response came in the form of a violent jackhammering of the rod.  I loved it.  The bulldog of a beast put a nerve-racking bend in my rod that started from the handle and line started peeling off the super tight drag.  I really didn't want it getting back to it's hole, so I stayed confident that my tackle would withstand it, and I pumped the rod and cranked.  It fought hard the entire way up. When it got to the surface, before I could grab the leader, it slapped it's tail and went on another awe-inspiring run that had me praying that the hook stayed in.  It did and my second landing attempt went smoothly.  I grabbed the leader and as the head hit the gunwale, I used my leg to scoop it in.  I smiled but didn't let myself get too outwardly excited until I measured it.  Please, please, please be 23"...


The emotions came pouring out.  My screaming "Yeah!  Woohoo!  $#%^ yeah!" turned into maniacal laughter that echoed under the bridge.  The lack of wind made it seem even louder.  I was on cloud 9.

I released it in hope of keeping this kayakable fishery strong.  Especially since it's a big female.  Not too long after, the sun started touching the horizon which marked the end of my tog season.  I laughed out loud and had yelling fits of joy during the entire paddle back.  It was the greatest ending I could have asked for.  

I should have stopped there.  Before I left the house, my wife said "if you catch 'the one' today, you should just come home right then".  And I agreed.  The thing is, I bought eels before I got on the water, just in case I didn't catch "the one".  But now I couldn't let the eels go to waste, right?  Plus, Johnnie Caldwell sent me a message telling me he caught a 51" 47lber a few days earlier.  I had to try.  

I paid the hefty toll and went across the bay to the Eastern Shore.  Still giddy as my thoughts lingered on how I wanted to tell this story, I was oblivious to the fact that I was driving through a deer crossing gauntlet.  Having seen so many deer on that stretch of highway before, I should have known better.  I was cruising a little over 55mph when the first one popped out.  I slammed the brakes, miss it, but the one chasing it was just too close.  All my equipment slid up and hit the back of my seat.  The buck got clobbered then airborne.  I wasn't scared or panicky.  I was immediately pissed.  I try not to use much profanity on my blog, but FUCK THAT DEER.

I checked the car.  Lots of damage, but it seemed drivable.  I checked the bastardly buck.  Dead.  If I knew how to field dress a deer, it's ass end would have gone in the cooler.  My thoughts went back to fishing since I was very close to where I was headed, Kiptopeke State Park.  I figured I was already so close, I might as well dunk those eels.  The car got there ok and I spent about 5 hours on the water.  My buddy Ash Bishop came out to join me and he had two nice runs, but no hook ups.  With no bites for me, I called it a night around 2:30 am and packed it up.  I got a little past the toll booths coming back when my car started overheating.  Crap.  The radiator fluid was all gone.  Lucky for me, Ash wasn't too far behind and picked me up.  By the time he dropped me off at my parents' house in Virginia Beach it was 5am.  The car was towed across the bridge-tunnel a few hours later.  

Needless to say, my emotions are torn at the moment.  I'm still smiling when I think of my long awaited trophy, but cursing under my breathe and damning the entire deer specie.  But as time goes on, I'm sure Togzilla will prevail as the dominant memory and my insurance will make the mess go away. 

I just hope it doesn't take too long so I can get back out on the water for my next adventure...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tog-a-palooza and a Princess Rod Striper

Sometimes, my brother and I don't talk for a while.  But when we finally do, we pick up right where we left off... joking around, talking sports, and generally reaffirming how awesome it is to be a Choi :)
But, one thing we haven't been on the same page about is fishing.  So all year, I've been trying to get him out on the water.  It finally happened on Black Friday.  

He's paddled plenty before, so I took him to the CBBT and we made the long trip out to the first island.  The current ran stronger than usual and made the fishing very difficult, but I got Charlie to pop his tog cherry.

Lil' bro's 16.5"
I have to admit, it was pretty awesome watching him set the hook and do battle with his first tog.  I tried to explain what a tog fight is like over Thanksgiving dinner, but there's nothing like experiencing it first hand.  He caught two others and I had a few with the biggest going 18.5".  We also got into a fair number of these...

Baby Black Drum

But the show was stolen by someone who recently got the tog addiction pretty bad.  Jack Daughtry from Maryland understands why I love tautog fishing so much.  Along with his buddy Josh Williams, they made the long trip several times in the last week and a half... and it paid off.

Jack Daughtry with a really nice 22"er.

I also went out on the 19th as well and got into a decent number.  A lot of them were between 13 and 14" with a few going 19"+.  Billy Ragulsky had the hot rod of that day with several nice ones and the biggest going 21".

Did I mention that the boys from Maryland have the tog addiction?  Because they were out there on the 22nd also.  And did I mention that their time on the water paid off?  Because, holy crap, it really paid off.  Jack Daughtry pulled in the coveted citation tautog.

24.5" and 10lbs.

Those of you who read this blog with any regularity know that I've been after that fish for a long time and put in a lot of time while searching for it.  Yes, I am insanely jealous.  Jack, I hate you.  Ok, I'm kidding.  No, actually, I'm not.  I hate you.  But seriously, congrats man.  That is one helluva tog, and I look forward to fishing with you again, you bastard.

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving.  Here's little video of a lightline striper caught on my daughter's Disney Princess Rod.  I'll have to work on the lighting for the next one.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Last Minute Trophy Trout

I wasn't planning on going, but I got invited to a screening of Kayak Kevin's new DVD which was on the way to the spot.  At the last minute, I figured that I might as well strap the kayak on the rack.  All my stuff was still in my car from the last trout trip, which made the decision even easier.

I left Kevin's party a little early and headed down to the southern branch of the Elizabeth.  I launched a little after 10pm to a breezy river with dramatically lower temps than last time.  The action wasn't quite as good as Tuesday night, but I still ended up with 4 fish.  Three on topwater and one on the jig.  I could of had 6 but I dropped 2 right at the boat.  18.5", 21.75", 19.5" and the release citation I was looking for at 24.5".

I was walking-the-dog in the light of the half moon when I saw it quietly suck the lure under.

Nice night, off the water at 1:30am.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Topwater Trout Action on the Elizabeth

Justin and I were tempted to try the infamous Hot Ditch area of the Elizabeth River.  But part of me was also interested in trying some of the other areas on the E.  Lucky for us, Matt Anderson was feeling generous and agreed to take us to one of his spots.  It's not often that a speckled trout fisherman is willing to share.

We launched into the Southern Branch around 9:30pm and I quickly picked up a 16.5" speck on a Marshworks 3" Bayou Thumper in "croakain" color on a 1/4oz jighead.  I love the hard thumping action on those lures.  We were working the flats and drop offs and it wasn't long before Justin got a nice one that went a little over 20" on a purple MirrOLure.  I stuck to working the bottom and hooked a pretty decent trout that got off right at the boat.  It was probably around 18-19".  After that the action died off.  It took a while, but Justin came up with the right idea.  Topwater.

Just over 20"

Justin preferred the Super Spook Jr. and I worked a Rapala Skitter Walk in "speckled trout" color.  Though, I think any walk-the-dog style lure would have worked. 

Matt joined in on the fun and we all had numerous blow ups.  Many of them missed the lure, but it still got the excitement level up.  Sometimes they would explode on the lure just as we were pulling it out of the water.  It's pretty startling when the dark calmness is suddenly shattered as the black water detonates way too close to you.

The action would come and go and we would change the retrieval cadence.  A lot of times we would get them to hit on the pause.  After a great night of great topwater trout action we called it a night around 2:30am.  Thanks again, Matt.


Monday, November 14, 2011

A Great Day for Menhaden Management

Thank you to everyone who sent a message to help the menhaden.  

My previous post outlined some of the issues and on November 9th, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission held their meeting in Boston.  By a vote of 14 to 3, the ASMFC approved a new addendum to cut the annual harvest limit on the Atlantic Menhaden by 37%.  It's a great first step and I'm sure the 91,949 comments they received (overwhelming majority for harvest reduction) helped make the difference.   It's actually a historic moment since it's the first time ever that the commission voted for the reduction in menhaden harvest.

I think we as a collective community of sport fishermen/women should be proud to finally make a change to this problem.  This is definitely not the end to this issue, but definitely big step in the right direction.

The commission now has to create and vote on a plan to implement the new rules which should become effective in May of 2013.

For more information check out the ASMFC page and/or the CCA news page.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Back to the River

I almost forgot what it was like to drive less than an hour to go fishing.  My attraction to the salt had been pretty intense lately.  But today, I decided to switch things up and stay close to home.  I also decided to switch things up even more by going after something a little unusual..... GAR!

I found out about a spot on the James river that's loaded with gar.  However, the nearest public launch area was over 8 miles away and I didn't have time to dedicate to that kind of distance.  Staying determined, I did a little research on google maps.  Then I worked a little charm on a nice old lady who let me drag my kayak through her property.  Next thing I knew I was only a 15 minute paddle from the spot. Ya gotta love being able to do that with a kayak.

As I got closer to the spot, I could see the gar breaching the surface.  They were all over the place and some were definitely pushing 4 feet long.  I've used artificials/lures on them before but found it extremely frustrating since the hook up ratio on those skinny nosed gar was very low.  I decided to bring minnows this time, but it was still difficult to hook one.  The gar would grab it, then run, but wouldn't actually eat it for quite some time.  I would keep yanking it out of their teeth.

Speaking of teeth, I know some people have used frayed nylon rope as a lure and had pretty decent success with it.  The teeth would get tangled in the fine strands of rope and the angler could fight and land it.  I tried, but the fish didn't want anything to do with it, or any artificials I threw at them.

Eventually, I finally got one to eat a minnow, and with light tackle, it was a very enjoyable fight.  I got a little nervous when I pulled it close to the yak.  The prehistoric looking beast started tail dancing with it's mouth open... all 3 zillion pointy teeth flailing around in close proximity.

I think they're actually very pretty, except for their face.  My wife says they got "butterface".  I didn't see that one coming.  Anyway, my free lined minnows couldn't find the inside of another gar's mouth for the rest of the day.  But they did find several catfish, including this 42" citation blue cat...

I was a little surprised that this leviathan went after a 4" minnow.  

Just before I called it a day this pretty little James River striper came up to bid me adieu.

It was a nice day to change things up.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jackassery of the First Degree

I recently found out that a fellow kayak fisherman lives only a few minutes away from me.  So naturally, I convinced him to do a midweek run down to the Tidewater area with me.  We loaded his Redfish 14 onto my car and made the hour and fifteen minute trip down.

Dan Smullen and I launched a little after 9pm and made our way out to the HRBT.  The water was like glass, which brings out the crazy power boaters.  We quickly ran into several other striper chasing yakers and shortly afterwards found a few rockfish of our own.  We also met up with Chuck Wrenn, another Richmonder.

The first few fish were very skittish but as we made our way toward the island, the we found more that weren't shy in the least.  Not too far from the island, we found a school causing a ruckus and busting on baits pretty hard.  Unfortunately, just as we were starting to get into them a boat notices our success and proceeds to run their outboard right through the school.  We held our tongues, even though we both found them guilty of jackassery in the first degree.  Of course, the fish disappeared so we ventured off to find more.

It wasn't quite as productive as I would have liked, but we did end up with a decent number of fish.  Dan caught at least ten.

I ended the night with around 15 or so with the biggest going a little over 25 inches.

We called it a night around 1am as the current started going slack.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Took a Chance

Justin and I were looking for Kayak Wars points.  The York River is closer than the HRBT for both of us and we heard some good things recently.  So we took a chance and went for it.


The schoolie stripers didn't show in numbers.  Instead we got a few small hickory shad, a 10" flounder, tiny bluefish, and a gazillion spike trout.

I ended up with a measly two stripers that counted for Kayak Wars and Justin didn't get any.  The paddle back seemed longer as disappointment settled in.  But I guess, sometimes, that's just the way it goes.  The drive back up to Richmond sucked.  The end.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Got Toggin' on my Noggin

The forecast just looked too good.  I took the day off, crossed my fingers in hopes that the forecast stayed good and made the trek to Virginia Beach.  I paddled 3.5 miles along the CBBT and as I arrived at the 1st island, I was greeted by 7 other kayak fishermen who all had the same thing on their minds... beautiful Thursday morning... TOGS.  It felt like I had just made a pilgrimage to the promised land to be with my people.  It was awesome.  The weather was perfect with minimal winds and warm sunshine.

Kayak toggin' enthusiasts of the day included Kevin and Lee along with their friends Jimmy and Rob, Jay Brooks and Tripp Seed of, and Kyle (I forgot your last name)'s dad.   The action had slowed down since my last trip out to the island.  It wasn't super hot, but we all still got some decent pullage.

Working the rocks over the tunnel

Fiddler crabs did the trick for me in the morning.  When I ran out, I switched to chunks of blue crab and they worked well too.  I ended the day with around 15 or so tautog, 9 of which count for Kayak Wars.  We had a few oystertoads and black sea bass too, which are par for the course.  One of the 17" togs was obviously a repeat offender...

I did it a favor and pulled out the extra hook before releasing it.  When I looked closer, I noticed it was the same size and style of hook I use (Owner cutting point 2/0 that have a specially designed tip which are easily recognizable).  It made me wonder if it was one of the few I hooked and lost two weeks ago at the same spot.

I stuck around until sunset and started the trip back. 

The wind picked up in the afternoon and seemed to get worse the later it got (of course) It made the return paddle a little tougher, but after the sun went down, using a 4" swimbait in natural bunker pattern, I had fun messing with the stripers.  I caught 9 stripers around the first small boat channel (red and green lights). 

I could have easily caught a bunch more, but I was beat and figured I should try to be somewhat coherent for my daughter's birthday the next day.  I took a few fish to my parents who were super excited and all in all, it was a great day!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tog Chowder

With the chill of autumn setting in and old man winter fast approaching, I thought I'd share one of my favorite feel-good soups, Tog Chowder. 

Here's what I use...

2-3 tablespoons of butter
2-3 cups of onions, chopped
About a dozen fresh mushrooms (I really like mushrooms.  Give or take to your preference)
2 stalks of celery
Small can of corn
4 cups of chicken stock
4-5 cups of potatoes, diced.
2 lbs of tautog, diced into 3/4" cubes.  Any firm white fish will do, such as striper/rockfish, cod, etc, but my favorite is tautog. 
1/4 teaspoon of ground thyme.  Some people like Old Bay, too.  Add to taste.
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 twelve ounce cans of evaporated milk
Finely chopped parsley

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Saute the onions, mushrooms, and celery just a little bit.  

Add the chicken stock, potatoes and corn;  simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add the fish and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Add milk, season to taste with thyme or Old Bay, salt and pepper.  Let simmer for another 5-7 minutes.  It should thicken up a bit.

Add parsley.  


I like those french fried onion things that go on greenbean casseroles, too.  Add a nice piece of crusty bread and it's a great meal after a cold day on the water.  Enjoy...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hawg Trough Improvement

After using the Hawg Trough for a couple of years now, I looked back through my Kayak Wars stats and realized that it's helped me measure and photograph well over 4 hundred fish (including the ones that were too small).  It makes documenting the catch quick and easy.  It's accurate and the numbers show up well in the photos.  It hardly weighs anything, which is great on a kayak, and it stores easily.

However, it does not float.  Last week, I had a fish thrash while it was on the board and normally I can keep control of it, but this time it went over.  It sank slowly, but I was not able to get to it in time and down to Davy Jones' locker it went.  After I caught the next fish, I forgot what it was like trying to measure a fish without it (besides the monster Red Drum and Kow Stripers).  I ordered a new one the next day and started thinking of ways to not lose it.  A friend of mine suggested a retractable cable, and although it's a good idea, I couldn't logistically find a place to attach it to without getting in the way and/or slowing me down.

When I got it in the mail, I saw on the back that there were two groove and the light bulb came on.  I got a roll of 1/2" x 3/8" strip foam insulation and some glue from the hardware store...

...and crammed it into the two grooves...

Ta Daa!
Bath tub tested!  Good to go!

The Hawg Trough is available at Hook1 Kayak Fishing Gear.

Monday, October 31, 2011

York River Toggin'

5:50am.  Hit snooze.  Baby's awake.  Ugghh...

As I rocked Miles back to sleep, I checked the wind forecast.  Over night, it went from just-maybe-borderline-doable to hell-no-you-dun-lost-yo-mind.  So I called Justin to call off the tautog trip to the CBBT first island and passed back out with a drooling baby on my chest.

As I made breakfast the brooding thoughts of big togs in the deep calmness crept into my mind, so I checked the wind again... with no reprieve.  I played with my little stinker-dinker kiddos and their laughter shut the door on fishing, and I was good with that.  My wife reiterated how I deserved to have some time to myself, and she was thinking about taking the kids to her mom's place anyway, so maybe I can do something else.  I said I would think about it (and reminded her how lucky I was).

A few hours later, Justin came up with a brilliant idea that I couldn't resist and since my car was already loaded, it wasn't long before I was on the road.  Justin had caught a tautog on the York River before, but always wanted to try again.  I wanted an alternative place to go when it was blowing at the first island.

We got on the water and the NW wind was not a factor in that area.  When we got to the structure, it didn't take me long to get a hook up...

19.5" Tog.  Photo credit Justin Mayer

However, the action was not "hot" by any means.  In fact we went long stretches with no hits.  Eventually, just before we were about to move to another area, Justin hooks up to a nice one that jackhammers his rod into the water.  He kept the beast from getting into the pilings and when it finally came up, it was a doozie.

Justin's new personal best 22" Tautog

The rest of the afternoon all the way until sunset was very uneventful.  We each had a couple of missed hits as we explored the new area and that was it.  When it got dark we caught a bunch of stripers up to 23" under the lights then called it a day.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fall Bite in Full Effect

Fishing in the VA tidewater area is really heating up.  Reports of speckled trout are pouring in from all over with various MirrOlures and jighead n soft plastics getting the job done.  I wasn't able to get in on the trout action, but I did find a few other species.

I got out to the HRBT around 1am on Sunday morning and met Justin Mayer and Ash Bishop.  The water had just started moving with the incoming tide and the stripers were lined up thick.  As the current picked up so did their appetite.  My preference for the night was a 3" swimshad in natural bunker pattern, but almost anything would have done the trick.  I lost count after 20 or so with the biggest going 24".  Justin and Ash both had ridiculous numbers as well with their biggest going around 26"ish.  I got off the water around 4:15am and drove over to Oceans East 2 tackle shop.

After blinking my eyes a couple times, I got out of the car around 6am as Kevin was getting into work and he hooked me up with a nice mess of fiddler crabs.  I launched at the base of the CBBT to a sunrise that filled me with optimism.  However, the paddle to the first island kicked my butt as the cross currents pushed hard and the head wind gusted over 15kts... but it was worth it.  Just like the recent speck bite, the tog bite was on fire.  There were times where I couldn't even get my reel engaged before my fiddler was getting destroyed.  Most of them were in the 15"-17" range.
 Over all I must of caught over 30 or so togs.  No that's not an exaggeration.  I admit, some of those were under 15", but several were over 17" with the biggest going about 20".  Each additional inch brings a whole 'nother level of fun (insert "that's what she said" joke).  One of them ended up thrashing so hard as I was measuring it that I lost my hawg trough (the normal measuring device I use to take photos).

I had an occasional oyster toad or baby black sea bass, but the majority of the bites were definitely from togs.  A few other boats were having good luck using cut blue crab as well.  If you've been wanting to try for togs, or if you're just bored of messing with spike trout, and you're willing to deal with the paddle out, now is a great time.  A 16" tog will put up a surprisingly good fight for it's size and a 19-20" will definitely test your tackle.  I had two break me off around a piling and one pull me into bottom structure, but I ended up getting it out, minus my sinker.

As my fiddler supply dwindled, I decided to try a different spot along the bridge that I never tried before.  I wasn't expecting much and since I was already exhausted, I was thinking of leaving soon.  But I felt a hard thump and when I set the hook I immediately knew it was a much heavier fish than I've had all day.  It was an intense fight and I couldn't help but hope it was the citation (23") tog I've been after.  But I wasn't upset when it turned out to be...

Release citation Sheepshead
The last thing left in my bait container was a big fiddler claw that had broken off, and I figured why not.  I tried one piling over from where I caught the sheepshead and within a minute, I had another tough fighter on the line.  This one fought harder than the last and each nerve punishing drag run had me praying that it stayed hooked... and my imagination kept making the potential tog bigger and bigger.  But once again, I can't be upset...

Another release citation Sheepshead
I know it looks a lot like the other one, but I swear they're different.
Mean looking thing
Long, but great day

And remember to send ASMFC the prewritten email about the menhaden issue before November 2nd!