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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dinner Time

A temporary leave from the office chair shackles was granted for a rare Tuesday and the boss lady kindly approved my plan for stripers and togs.  Monday night dinner time with the kiddos was quickly followed by a hasty packing of appropriate gear and a forecast-double-check.

First stop was at a spot I used to fish all the time.  I was all smiles even though the schoolie stripers weren't there in numbers like they used to be.  Over a couple of hours, I plucked 6 off the light line and kept two at 23" and 22".  

Phase one, complete.

The next morning, in search of tautog, I launched at the CBBT before the sun was over the horizon.  Tex had the same idea and met me out on the water.  With the full moon being a day away, the current was brutal.  We started off with a bunch in the 15"-16" range but eventually we got what we were after. 

Tex's two biggest went 20" each.

Chunks of blue crab got it done for us but I'm sure it'll be hard to find them soon.

My craving for that hard thumping signature tog fight got a momentary fix.  I ended the day with about a dozen togs with the two biggest at 22" and 19".

Phase two, complete.

Keeping my promise, I made the drive back to Richmond in time to pick up the kids and get back on dinner time duties.

For those of you that were interested, I'll have striper prints ready in time for the holidays.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

5 Trophy Gar and Chunky Cat

It was what I was hoping for.  
They were everywhere.  

I took Jeff to a spot down on the James River below Hopewell and got into them quickly.  Minnows on the bottom as well as under bobbers didn't last long.  We lost count of the mid to upper 30" gar.  The hard part was letting them run after they picked up the bait.  If it was too earlier, we could feel them drop and the minnow would come back missing scales.  When we timed it right, we were treated to fast streaks and tail walking mayhem.  Anytime you have a 40 plus inch fish jump clear out of the water multiple times then thrash right next to your kayak with mouth wide open and full of please don't get in the kayak yet, adrenaline will flow.

Over the span of a few hours I tallied 5 citations up to a little over 44".  Jeff got the timing right as well and landed a citation also right at 40". 

After running out of minnows, I found a nice channel with a sharp drop off.  We dropped chunks of gizzard shad on 8/0 circle carolina rigs and I quickly had a strong take down.  The heavy catfish swung my kayak around in a hurry but somehow the circle hook came out.  Not too long after, this 41"er gave me a chance for redemption.

I wish I had brought my scale because it had been eating very, very well.
The trophy blue catfish was a most welcome cherry on top of a an already awesome day.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Short River Trip

Hit a creek off the James River well below Richmond.  Main target was gar.  Caught 7-8 up to 35".  A few stripers to 20".   Too many little catfish to lower 30".  Lost one decent catfish in the mid 40" range at the boat.  Most on minnows.  Couple hits on silver buddies.  Hoping to go back for that 40+" gar.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Surf, Exploration, and a Lack of Albies

"Go forth
and Catch Fish."

Long story short, we went looking for false albacore down near Harkers Island, NC and found a slew of other species.  Willy Rags led the charge with Tex, Luther Cifers and three others from the YakAttack crew hoping to experience the drag scorching fight of an albie on light tackle.  We were fully aware that they can be caught closer to where we live but historically there are much denser concentrations of them down near Harkers Island.  This was also a chance to explore new water and enjoy what my wife likes to roll her eyes at and call "a boys' weekend away".

Some of the YakAttack crew had little to no saltwater experience, not to mention surf launching.  Turned out to be a trip of many firsts for them.

Nick Kellogg's first of 4 sharks

We also found bluefish, grey trout, black sea bass, lizard fish, needlefish, grouper, sea robins, baby jacks, and I'm probably forgetting a few others.  Most were caught bouncing a diamond jig on the bottom. 

Willy Rags messing with sharks on a bass rod.


Needlefish grill

Needlefish dorsal

Rags and I got lackadaisical during one of the surf landings and paid the price.  We should have timed the waves better but at least we didn't lose anything but a pair of cheap scissors.  Cory Routh was kind enough to document my "oh $%^" moment :)
Photo credit: Cory Routh

Just before it was time to leave, John Hipsher lucked into what we were after while trolling a 6" RonZ.

Good times were had and memories were made.  Laughs, brews, fishing stories were shared and Luther cooked up an awesome batch of fresh grey trout tacos.  I didn't catch what I was after, but I definitely can't say the trip was unsuccessful.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Recent Critters

I haven't been able to get on the water with Kayak Kevin since last November so I hit him up and the plan was to team up on the fall red drum madness.  If you haven't seen what he's been up to, click here.  It's ridiculous.  Disgusting even.  His moniker, "Drum Jesus", is more than fitting.

The time comes to get together and of course mother nature spews chunks all over our party.  So there we were... the only two kayak anglers in the area who have achieved "saltwater expert angler" hoping to chase monster drum...
but instead
settle for.... 


Opting for the tiniest rods in our possession, we put on bottom rigs with fish bites and blood worms.  Our thoughts switched from fighting big game fish to grocery fishing for tasty morsels.  Unfortunately we got the attention of a wide array of itty bitties but no spot.  Plus, the current was on turbo mode in the creek we were in.  

At least I got some fun photos and hung out with one of my mentors.  
Black Sea Bass 2nd dorsal fin

Pigfish scales

Stabby little Pinfish

Sea Robin dorsal fin

Sea Robin
Sea Robin 2nd dorsal
Sea Robin

Included in the mix was a baby tautog that ate bloodworm and a 15" croaker which came home along with nine 8"-9" pigfish (aka grunt).  It was my first time trying pigfish, especially since I never catch them over 5"-6".  They are very similar to spot and quite delicious.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Froggin' and Making Little Green Friends

The decision was determined by the forecast.  Open water pursuits for big saltwater species were put on hold for small creeks protected from the wind.  The game became ripping frog imitations across the surface and Jeff and I had a good time with it.  

 Jeff ended up with the two biggest of the day at 18" and 20.25"

The highlight of the day was discovering not one but five little frogs on my kayak.  I'm assuming that one of the patches of lily pads I paddled through produced the hitch hikers.  

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.