Monday, April 25, 2011

Fish Prints

Although I have been releasing a lot of my fish, I do enjoy occasionally keeping a few every now and then not only for my dinner plate, but also to appreciate their form as artwork.  My mom taught me the art of fish rubbings, Gyotaku, a few years ago and I fell in love with the effect that was created.   I'm not considering myself a professional by any means (there are people out there that make a living off this type of art), but I really do enjoy making them and I thought I'd share with my fellow fishermen.  I've donated many to local charity tournaments and hope to keep doing so.  I've also made some prints for friends who wanted one done of a memorable fish they caught.  Please contact me for inquiries.

Click for enlarged view.  Hope you like them.

Speckled Trout 25"x10"

Tautog 24"x12"

Sunfish 8"x5"

Striped Bass 27"x14"

Sheepshead 28"x20"

More will be added to the artwork page as they are created.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Putting in the Time

For some time now, I've been trying to join the small group of kayakers who can say they've caught a citation tautog.  They have to be either 9lbs killed or 23" released.  Some people just happen to be at the right place at the right time, having only caught a few togs in his/her life, and amazingly find their prize.  Others have caught countless togs, coming up just short of the magic 23" mark before their fateful day of holding their well deserved trophy.  I've put more hours into this pursuit than I care to admit, and I would love to say this story is about the one, but it's not.  Apparently, the fishing gods think I need to put in more time.

Hoping the gods would be swayed by my recent birthday to grant me luck, I ventured out to the first island of the CBBT in search of the elusive togzilla.  The paddle out was calm and I reached the ever promising, familiar, and favorite tog holding structures in record time.  With clam and blue crab as bait, I felt sure I was going to find a good bite.  And I did.  But unfortunately, like a slap in the face from the gods, they were all the size of my hand.  Frustration set in as hours went by without anything over 11".  It was then that I remembered my last weeks blog entry.  I needed to relax, smell the salt air that I love, enjoy the lack of wind, smile, and try another spot.  Eventually, I hooked into a nice fat 17.5" female.

Even though my parents (who were watching my daughter) hoped I would bring back some delicious tautog, I released her.  And as I watched her swim away I wished her the best in finding Mr. Big Tog to do her spring thing, get her groove on, you know... bump uglies and make lots of wee little togs.  And in the back of my mind, I hoped the act would put me in good standing with the fishing gods for them to favor me, if not on this trip, hopefully on the next one....   or at least bring me some good fishing karma.

Soon after, the wind started picking up and it was time to head back.  About three-quarters of the way back, it started getting pretty bad.  NOAA said it would, and this time, they were right.  I got back to shore with jello arms, wishing my yak and gear would pack themselves.  I looked back at the water, nodded and resigned myself to the fact that I needed to put in more time for that trophy.  One day, perhaps in the summer or fall, because for now, I believe it's time to shift gears and bust out the big stuff.  Catches of a few bull reds at the Eastern Shore have been confirmed.  

On another note, I've apparently put in enough time to gain the respect of my peers, along with some people I really look up to.  I've made so many great friends and have met so many new people through the love of this sport.  Thank you to all of those that have inspired me.  When I started this blog I simply wanted to share my stories with some friends.  But recently, based on various forms of feedback I've gotten, it seems as though I'm helping to inspire some of the new generation of kayak anglers.  And now, I find myself being asked to share my stories and experiences on a bigger scale.  YakAngler has asked me to be a prostaff member and contribute articles on their site, which I was happy to oblige.  I'm also honored to have my logo/link on Kayak Kevin's links page of reliable fishing reports.  In addition, recently, I was thrilled to get a phone call from another legend of the sport, a man with an almost unparalleled kayak fishing resume and crazy sense of humor, Chad Hoover.  He wanted to know if I'd be interested in some of the amazing things he's got coming up.  That man is always thinking and always busy.  I'm not going to spoil it yet, but it looks like I've put in enough time to get invited to some pretty cool things....

Monday, April 11, 2011

Good Mojo

So after washing off all the bad joojoo from Friday and Saturday, I spent a little quality time with the kids.  Trip to the playground, story time, and the ever so entertaining (and educational) Dora the Explorer were high on the agenda.  Halfway through family time, I get a message from Billy.  He's coming up to my neck of the woods to try his hand at shad fishing with Seth Goodwich.  My wife, being the greatest woman ever, gave me the OK when she got back from yoga class.

This trip was different from my last two.  I didn't really have any goals.  I just wanted to get out there and enjoy the good company.  It was a nice day to be out, paddling with some friends.  Especially since I'm always down where Billy's from, and this time he's paying Richmond a visit.

When I met up with them, they had already been out on the water for some time.  They caught a few here and there so I lead them up river to a good spot and as soon as we get there, it was fish on.  I lost count of how many I caught, all on fly.  Seth was tearing them up on a gold spoon.  He had one nearly jump over his head.  It was amazing.  Billy initially had some trouble, but as soon as he got anchored right, he had fish on as well.  He was grinnin' ear to ear using his ultra-ultralight.  I didn't even know they made spinning reels so small (Sedona 500).  After a while, knowing he has an affection for the flyrod, I let him borrow mine.  And it didn't take long before he had the long rod bowed up.  It was really a great time had by all.

Just as the sun was starting hit the tree line, we made our way down river for a little bottom chunkin' with the hickory shad we just caught.  Once again, with little thought to any goals, I just set up over a good hole.  I was enjoying the sunset, shootin' the breeze with the fellas when my clicker goes off.  I engage the reel, line comes tight... fish on.  I get a good chuckle out of Seth when I yell out "This thing's got some ass on it!!!".  It pulled drag and I was smilin'.

39" Flathead Catfish.  Photo credit William Ragulsky
A little while later, I had another knock down, but came off soon after. A little after the sunset, my clicker goes off again.  I engage the reel, let the circle hook do it's thing, and I feel some big head shakes.  The addicting adrenaline starts pumping and soon after the massive tail is splashing at the surface.  It took a little while, but I finally grabbed him by the rough sandpaper mouth, and yanked him over the gunwale.

41" Citation Flathead Catfish

My new personal best Flathead

There's something to be said about setting a goal, making it happen and accomplishing it.  But sometimes, you just have to let it go and have fun.
"You can spend what seems like an eternity searching for the fish of a lifetime....but it seems that when you least expect it, and quite often when you are truly enjoying your time on the water, that fish will find you." - Cory Routh founder of TKAA and true pioneer of kayak fishing
Gotta keep that good mojo!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bad JooJoo

This weekend started off great.  I broke free of my my office chair shackles early Friday afternoon, picked up my giggle-box kiddos from daycare and hit the road to Virginia Beach.  My wife had plans with her friends, and I figured mom and pops would like to see their grandkids while giving me some time to do that thing I love to do.

I heard of some bigger stripers coming from the HRBT (Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel) up to 40".  So, I waited for the storm to die down, then launched around 9:15pm.  Justin was running a little late, and me being anxious to look for the bigguns, I launched without him.  The current was running good and I saw a few small stripers in the light line.  But the wind was 12kts with gusts to 15kts so things were challenging to say the least.  At one point, I was keeping position right at the light line when I notice a much bigger shape in the water.  A little farther back into the shadow and a little deeper, I knew it was a BIG striper.  I felt the excitement in my nerves, but I kept my cool and tried to position myself to get the right cast.  With the water being a little choppy it was hard to keep it in sight.  It was also one of those nights where if you stopped paddling for  5 seconds, you were quickly being pushed into the next set of pilings.

My first few casts went unnoticed.  My next cast landed too close and it disappeared.  I stayed a while longer and it came back up..... I stalked that fish for half an hour... I'd lose it in the glare of the waves, then it would pop back up a minute later.  I'd have to reposition again.... sometimes it was on the wrong side of the piling, and I knew if I hooked up I would not be able to fight the wind, current and fish while getting around the piling.  So it took a while to find the right angle with the perfect cast for the fish to notice but not get spooked.... and just as Justin was paddling up.... WHAM!  Fish on!  My little spinning reel was burnin' even with a tight drag.   My skinny bass rod bending from the handle had me yelling. "WOO HOO!" I was taken from the west bound bridge over to the east bound with a quickness.  I got him to the boat several times, but just when I thought he was done, he'd go on another run.  I was smiling the whole time, but still anxiously hoping the hook doesn't pull out.  I finally grabbed the leader... the fish does the perfect head shake... and I'm left with a paddle tail dangling in the wind.... expletives echoing under the bridge.  *^#&@!  Damn it!  *#$@*%!!!   It wasn't a full sized cow, but definitely in the upper 30's (inches) and fat.

Sulking in my defeat, I caught up with Justin, expletives still being grumbled under my breath.  We looked for more and about half an hour later, I found another one worth stalking.  After about 5-10 minutes, I got him hooked up.  He wasn't quite as big as the other one, but his attitude made up for it.  He fought hard.  He took me to the other bridge licketty split and out the other side.  By the time I got him to the side of the boat I was in the darkness away from the lights of the bridge.  I leadered him and.... would you believe it... he does the perfect head shake... and off he goes.  Un-freakin'-believable. He was probably in the lower 30"s and FAT.

We ended the night around 1am.  Justin only had one 23"er and I managed 3, with the biggest going 23.5".  All fish caught tonight were fat.

I know I should of been happy with those 3 fish, but to see, fight, and have the big ones at fingers distance before losing them was disappointing to say the least.  I immediately looked forward to the next day.  I planned to go toggin' and heard that Lee Williams caught a release citation Tautog the day before.  CONGRATS LEE!  I've been wanting one of those for some time now.

The next morning, I woke up to my 2 year old laughing and wanting to play, so I stayed around the house with my parents, entertaining the children... then changed the oil in my car and helped my dad install some new storm doors.  I got a call from Billy Ragulsky and we got a game plan going for the 1st island trip.  We met and launched around 1:40 into a pretty strong headwind.  The occasional 4 foot wave came rolling through but we still made decent time.  We got to the promised land that is the 1st island of the CBBT (Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel) in a little over an hour.  With the plan to communicate via VHF radio, we split up to cover more area.  Hopes were high.  We were going to catch some tog.

Wrong.  Hours went by without a bite.  It sucked.  I eventually found a piling with some activity.  I set the hook, started cranking, expecting that hard pull back, but it was only a 9"er.  I found 4 others, up to a whopping 11"s.  Poop.

Once again, I should be happy that I caught something.  Especially since Billy got the skunk.  But I can't help but feel the bad joojoo.  Perhaps it was all that talk about Lee's citation that really got my hopes up, and all that time paddling to the island that builds the expectation.  Some average size fish would have been nice.

At least Billy had a tagging kit and he tagged three of my five fish.  It'll be really interesting to see if he gets any returns and what we can learn from the info he gets back.

I got back to Richmond, pulled my lucky hat off my head and threw it in the washer.  I hadn't washed it in quite some time since, like most fishermen, I'm superstitious. All that luck would get washed off.

Well I figured I must have got some pretty bad joojoo on it at some point.  Call me stupid.  It's getting washed and tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

2011 Reel Paddling Film Festival

Having been a kayak angler for some time now, I've found a brotherhood of others who share my affection for the sport.  Predictably so.  What I didn't expect is to also find a kinship with other non-fishing kayakers.  Whether it be touring, whitewater, or fishing, whenever I see another kayak in transit, I scope out the ride and nod or wave, kinda like people on motorcycles.  I like to think it's the love of the paddle that carries through the different genres.

So when Wayne Brady reminded me that the 2011 Reel Paddling Film Festival was in Richmond last night, I used up a precious kitchen pass, and had to check it out.  It was at the new Blue Ridge Mountain Sports store which I've been wanting to visit anyway.  I got there a few minutes late, but was told I didn't miss much.  It was fascinating to watch and listen to a whole other world of kayaking.  They have their own insiders language like how us kayak anglers have ours.  My wife likes to roll her eyes and asks me to speak like a normal person when get excited and start using acronyms and other yak fishing terms.  It gets pretty bad if I mix in the local terms too.  "RVA to HRBT, to the CBBT, in my OK trident, stopped at OE2, fiddlers, tried over the tubes, damn toads, need that paper togzilla... got mullet?"  Word up, my homies.

Anyway, I would say my favorite was Kayak Kevin's award winning "Kayak Fishing the Chesapeake Bay", which I make a quick appearance in (had to throw that in there), but having seen it several times already, I wanted to note a few others.

-Book of Legends-

-The Halo Effect-

At one point during the show, Wayne turns to me and says...  "and people think we're crazy!"
Hats off to our brothers of the whitewater.  You all are freakin' nuts.

Check out all the other winners of the 2011 Reel Paddling Film Festival.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tautog Rig

The Tautog may not be as well sought after as some of the more popular species like founder, striper, trout and reds, but I believe they are catching on.  Their reputation for putting up intense fights are well deserved, so if you decide to give it a shot at these bulldogs of the rocks, here are some of my personal preferences when fishing for them from a kayak.

I like to use a stout yet sensitive 6.5' - 7' rod paired with a quality baitcasting reel with tight but smooth drag.  Shimano Calcutta 200 Series and Daiwa Luna are top notch but others will do as well.  For bait I use either cut blue crab or live whole fiddler crabs.  Green crabs, hermit crabs, clams and other crustaceans also work.

Since togs are structure dwelling, you have to put the bait IN the structure.  There's a saying with tog anglers... if your rig is not getting hung up on structure often, then you're not fishing the right place.  The nastier, the better.  Rocks, wrecks, reefs, and bridge structures are the hot spots.  Since the potential for breaking off rigs is high, I tie several in advance.  I wrap them around a piece of cardboard and put them in a leader wallet so they are quickly accessible.  Instead of wasting time on the water, especially if the bite is on, it's better to be prepared.

When fishing bridge pilings, kayak anglers have an advantage because we can literally grind up next to the structure.  During the slow parts of the tide (top of the incoming and bottom of outgoing) as well as slack tide, we don't even have to anchor up usually.  Just maintain position with one arm paddling and drop your rig right next to the piling.  Usually if there's a little current, you can put your bait in the eddy directly behind the piling (on the back side of the current).  Move the the rig every now and then if you're not getting any bites.  Just a few feet away can make a difference.  As you lift and drop your rig, it will find other holes that the togs may be in.  Same goes for fishing the wrecks and rocks, especially over the tubes of a tunnel.

If current picks up you will need to anchor to keep position.  For local kayak anglers, wreck anchors for kayaks are available at Ocean's East 2 (Virginia Beach).  Kayak Kevin works there so give him a shout and ask about the "piling hugger's" special set up.
For more information about my anchor set ups visit this link.

Finally, togs are a structure dwelling specie that are known to stay in the same area for long periods of time.  I caught a tog last year that was tagged two weeks before, in almost the exact same location.  It's my understanding that they remain on the same piece of structure and since the number of areas that kayaks can fish for tautog are limited, I believe tautog fishing grounds can be fished out.  And once a kayakable area is fished out, it will be a while before it gets re-populated.  And like I mentioned in the beginning, more and more people will be wanting to appreciate the fight these brutes have to offer.  So, I always release all the females as well as any fish over 20".  These are just my personal preferences so take it or leave it as you will.  I do know they are absolutely delicious, but I'd like to be able to fish for them in my kayak for many, many years to come.   I hope you do too.

Male Tautog
Lighter gray coloring on top with white on bottom.  Face is usually blunt, sometimes having more of a "chin".
Female Tautog
Darker color all over, sometimes with a pattern.  Nose/face usually comes to a point.
They really are a blast to catch, so get out there, be safe,  
and feel the fight!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Anchor Setups

The kind of bottom surface you're fishing over will determine what kind of anchor you want to use.  The depth of the water will also play a role in your decision as well.  The following are some personal preferences that I have acquired for the different places I fish. 

If anchoring in sandy or soft bottom then I use a 5.5lb grapple style anchor.  I secure the main anchor rope to the bottom of the anchor and tie 20lb monofilament to the top, holding the rope in place.  That way, if the anchor gets lodge under something, I can lift up on the rope, break the monofilament and bring the anchor up by the bottom.  Otherwise it would be impossible to dislodge the anchor.

I also cut the rope and tied on a heavy duty swivel so I can detach the rope easily if I want to switch out anchors.  Also, the swivel helps reduce rope twists since the anchor likes to spin when pulling it up through the water.

My main is 100 feet since there are times I anchor fairly deep (30'-50').   I attached a heavy duty off-shore swivel/clip to easily attach the right anchor for the situation.

There are other styles of anchors that work well (ie: bruce anchors), but I have not tried them yet since the grapple style has worked well for me.

I also have a small grapple style anchor that I use more to drag.  It helps slow down my drift if current and/or wind are pushing my kayak too fast through the target area.

If I'm on a flat where it's less than 4 feet deep, I'll bring my stake-out pole instead of an anchor.  I won one made by Hobie in last year's TKAA tourney.  It's easier to handle.  No rope.  Just put it through your anchor trolley and stick it in the ground.  Done deal.
If anchoring in rocks or an area with a lot of structure, I use a mini wreck anchor.  Instead of rebar, like on the large wreck anchor for big boats, these have thin flexible stainless steel rods.  For those that are in the Tidewater, VA area, they are available at Ocean's East 2.  The guy that introduced me to these awesome anchors works there.  Ask Kayak Kevin about the "piling huggers" special set up.

They may look small and perhaps too thin to hold in fast current, but I was very surprised to find that they held well and they were very easy to recover also.

I like to have my rope coiled under my leg so it's easy to disperse.  I used to keep it wrapped around something but it took up room, became cumbersome, and this was just easier.  When I recover the anchor, the rope ends up in a coil there anyway.

I always send my anchor rope to one end of the kayak or the other.  I rarely anchor up to the side.  It can quickly become disastrous in fast current.  Also I like to attach a buoy (piece of a fat pool noodle) outside the anchor trolley clip, so just in case I need to release my anchor line because of emergency or to chase an epic fish, it's quick and easy.  For more information about how I rigged my anchor trolley and cleats visit this link.

I hope this helps.

Tight lines and be safe!