Monday, December 31, 2012

An Almost Crappy Day

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What better way to spend the last day of 2012 than being on the water with some of your fishing buddies, right?  Well, Ryan and I were able to convince Mike to come out in the cold and join us for some crappie and possibly some catfish this New Year's Eve day.  The day before was super windy, so I thought "Whew!  We missed the bad weather, it should be a great day!"  But as I've seen on other occasions after windy days, the water was really low compared to the other times I had fished here in November.  It was so low that I was actually able to paddle under the docks at the marina across the river from the park.  I read a report from another angler on the Severn that the water was unusually low there too.  I'll have to keep that in mind next time I think about fishing after a windy day.

Low water level

It was cold, the water was low and muddy, and the fishing was slow.  However, all three of us were able to manage to catch at least one keeper crappie that day.  Ryan and Mike only had MD licenses, and the MD/VA reciprocity agreement starts at the route 95 bridge, so we started out by jigging the route 95 bridge pilings for some crappie, where we each caught our skunk saver fish.  However, none of us could manage to catch another after about an hour and a half of slowly moving around the pilings.  I tried the technique that worked for me last time, of dropping my jig down about 4 feet from the bottom and slowly paddling around the pilings.  I got a lot of hits this way, but only brought up one keeper crappie and a small one after that. 

Eventually, we moved on to try some of the other marinas that were out closer to the mouth of the river.  We all kind of split up and fished different areas.  Mike and I thoroughly fished different marina docks for a while, and Ryan tried soaking some minnows to wrestle up a monster flathead catfish.  Again, none of us had much success - except Mike did hook up with a 20 inch blue catfish on one of his gulp grubs.  We were split up, so I didn't get to grab a picture of him with the fish.  We then moved back to the bridge to see if things might have heated up, but I only managed one more keeper before we gave up.  Though the fishing was slow, and it was freezing, it was a great day on the water with my fishing buddies.

My unimpressive cooler of fish.  Thanks to Ryan and Mike for giving me their keepers!

Maybe I knew the day would be uneventful and needed something else to write about...or maybe the cold water did something to me...but while jigging the bridge I did something I thought that I would never do.  While starting my migration to the docks, I made some final attempts at jigging the bridge pilings in hopes of finally finding that huge school of slab crappies.  At some point I had a tangle at the end of my rod, so I tried to untangle it by shaking my rod to free the hook.  While shaking it over the side of my kayak, I just watched as my hand autonomously opened its grip on my rod and let it go...PLOP!  I let out a loud groan as I watched my less-than-a-year-old ultralight outfit go down into the depths of the river.

The last 2 times I fished the Occoquan I only brought my single ultralight rod with me to catch crappie.  By chance this trip, I brought a second rod with me to try for catfish if the crappie fishing was slow.  I didn't have a fishfinder with me, but I was familiar enough with the bridge area to know that I dropped it in the deeper part of the area.  It was going to be tough trying to somehow snag one of the guides of the rod or bail of my reel...but I had to try.  I was prepared to spend the rest of the day trying to snag it up - it was my favorite rod and reel combo!  I frantically dug through my tackle box to find the heaviest jig heads to use as a grapple to snag my rod.  I thought adding a treble hook to the ball of hooks might increase my chances of snagging my rod so I added an inline spinner to the end of my line.  I should have taken a picture of it, because it looked pretty ridiculous!

Jigging for my rod was proving to be difficult, and I was starting to lose hope.  Luckily, Ryan was nearby and offered to help find my rod.  He had some top-bottom rigs that he was using for catfish, and used a different technique to try to snag the rod.  He floated downstream a little, cast over the area where I made my stupid mistake, and reeled his rig in slowly to try to snag the rod.  After just a couple minutes, I saw him bring up a white and chartreuse grub - the same one I was using!  He had managed to snag my jighead and my rod along with it!  Wow, that was close!  Ryan saved my crappie day from being a crappy day....

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Occoquan River Crappie

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Earlier this week, AbuMasgouf from the MKF forum suggested we try to coordinate our schedules to fish the Occoquan for some crappie together.  Since my trip earlier this week was not too successful, my wife was gracious to let me go once again.  My in-laws are arriving today too, so if I do well we can have fish for dinner - they would love that.

I took the OK Prowler today.

I met AbuMasgouf at the launch at 9AM and we were on the water by 9:30.  This was his first time fishing at the Occoquan, and also his first time fishing for crappie.  I'm only 2 trips ahead of him, so I didn't really have much insight to offer.  However, with all the knowledge we gathered from my past experience, some tips from other boaters, and from forum posts we wanted to see how we might do. 

First crappie of the day

We paddled across the river to the first marina we could find and hit up the docks to see what we might jig up.  I had my fishfinder today, so I was able to use it to determine the depths and kind of see where the fish are.  Within the first 10 minutes I hooked up with the first crappie of the day, and it wasn't a bad one at 10 inches.  I could tell today would be much better than my previous trip.

One of the large bluegills that were around

We stuck around the area for maybe and hour and a half or two hours.  We both hooked up with a couple more crappie and some monster bluegills.  AbuMasgouf caught the biggest bluegill I've ever seen...I think it was around 11 inches.  I also caught one that was almost as big.  Earlier in the morning the crappie seemed to hit the jig going sideways (cast and reel it in).  And the bluegills I caught were hooked when jigging vertically slowly near the bottom (Those bluegills seemed to give a better fight than the crappie).  However, after a while they stopped hitting the grubs and the fishing slowed.

I caught this guy at some point in the day
We decided to try some other areas, so we went off in search of more fish.  I paddled back and forth across the channel to try to find some fish on my fishfinder, but couldn't register any on the screen.  I later found out this was probably a bad way to find fish.  We paddled all the way to the last marina before the opening of the river, where I had had some success in the spring when I first tried for some crappie.  We still couldn't hook up with any there, and it was getting to be time for AbuMasgouf to head out so we went back to our original honey hole to give it one more shot before calling it quits.

On the way over, I met the boater that I had talked to on Monday, and asked how he was doing.  He was jigging by the bridge pilings, and he said he was doing awesome - he even just caught 8 decent sized crappie in the past 10 minutes.  What the heck were we doing wrong????  He held up his red and chartreuse grub and told us that the fish aren't hitting anything else.  Well, that stinks because I don't have any grubs in that color combination.  We thanked him for his advice and went back to the honey hole.  We jigged around for a good half hour before AbuMasgouf headed home.  I was determined to catch some more crappie, so I paddled back to the bridge to see if I could catch some more fish.

The largest of the day
While paddling to the bridge, I checked my phone to see if my wife had tried to contact me, and to check my e-mail.  I noticed that someone had responded to my thread on the MKF forum with some tips.  Basically, it said "The crappie are around every structure in the river.  The hard part is finding where the big ones are schooled up."  Every structure huh....I had mainly been concentrating on the open areas in the lanes between docks in the marinas.  I didn't fish too much directly next to the docks and piers.  I took this advice and the boater's tip and jigged my white-chartreuse grub right up against the pilings of the bridge.  On my first try I pulled up the nice 12 incher pictured above.  It's working!  For the next hour or so I slowly jigged my grub up and down next to the piling.  I also let the current drift me around to get the horizontal action in the grub.  Doing this got me hooking up with fish pretty regularly.  I ended up putting a few more keepers in my cooler by doing this.

Packed a little more than last time, but still pretty light

Around 3:00, I was getting tired from paddling around so I decided to head back in.  While packing up I met the boater again, and we talked about our day.  He mentioned that most of the day he was getting his hits by jigging up and down slowly near the bottom, and that he wasn't getting any hits by swimming his jigs.  That is pretty close to the experience I had today.  I'm glad that the pattern I used was also what another angler had used too.  He also gave me some tips about some locations where he said he consistently caught some 12-14 inchers...but I'll keep that to myself this time =).

Today's catch scaled and gutted
At home I cleaned the fish and wrapped them in foil to put some of them on the grill.  It turned out okay - I did it this way to avoid having to pull out the frying pan...but I wish I had pan fried them instead.  With the foil they came out more like steamed fish and I didn't season it well enough.  My parents-in-law still finished all of their portions though!

This guy's bigger than my son's head!

It was a fun day fishing for these panfish, and I met a new angler friend in AbuMasgouf.  I'm looking forward to getting back to the Occoquan to hopefully figure out the pattern earlier in the day to get into more fish.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Occoquan River

It's Thanksgiving week, and my sister-in-law is visiting.  Now that my wife has help with watching the boys, she suggested that I take a fishing trip.  Isn't she great?  I considered going back to Kiptopeke for some togs, but I don't want to make that drive again so soon after the last trip.  I also wanted a relatively short trip, so that I could still spend some time at home with my family.  So in the end I opted to try the Occoquan river for some crappie.

The kayak launch at Occoquan Regional Park
Don't forget to pay the launch fee.  I got a ticket last time because I put my deposit in the wrong box.

I took my time getting out of the house, so I arrived at the launch around 9:30AM and launched at 10.  The water was calm, but there was a slight breeze that made it chilly and hard to stay in place for most of the morning. 

I think this is the lightest I've ever packed on a kayak.

The focus today was strictly to catch crappie.  I wasn't going to even try to catch anything else, so I only took my ultralight fishing outfit with me with two tackle containers for grubs and jig heads.  Today was also my Tarpon 100's maiden voyage.  It's a fun little boat.  Very maneuverable, very stable, and it has decent speed.  At one point I caught my paddle in a crack on a floating dock which put me in a weird position that rocked me pretty hard in the boat.  Maybe its wide hull makes it super stable.  Oh, because it's a bit wider than my Prowler 13, I did have to adjust my grip on my paddle a bit to get good strokes. 

My go-to perch rig.  I figured it would work for crappie as well.

For the next 4 hours, I fished all sorts of fishy places hard.  Shorelines with submerged trees, floating docks, piers, and bridge pilings.  I used 1/16 and 1/32 oz jig heads with small grubs that I typically use for white perch.  I figured crappie in the Occoquan probably have similar habits as summertime perch in the Severn.  Many times I got small nibbles, which I suspect were smaller crappie or maybe bluegills.  I managed to catch one crappie at 5 or 6 inches, and a largemouth bass at 7 or 8 inches.  Not much pullage, but it was good to see that the fish were there.  I'm planning to go again later this week with another kayaker - hopefully we'll have better luck then.

The fish that saved me from a skunk.
All the various jigs that I tried today.  The darker ones seemed to get more nibbles than the lighter ones.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Kiptopeke, HRBT

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Pre-Trip Planning
Virginia Beach wasn't really on my fishing list for this year.  I thought it was too far, and planned to wait until next year to fish it.  But with all the reports I had seen lately from the area, I started thinking about how I could make it down this year.  I originally took a Friday off from work to go down to Rudee inlet to fish for those elusive speckled trout that I couldn't catch in my last outing. However, Hurricane Sandy came through and messed up that plan.  I didn't want to go down for a recreational fishing trip while the rest of the town was cleaning up and recovering from the storm.  And I could imagine a situation where I fell overboard and needed to call the coast guard away from their work to rescue me.  That would be horrible!

Well, I had a second chance when I got a message from Ryan and Mike inviting me to join them on their trip to Kiptopeke for some tautog this past weekend. I hadn't really planned on fishing for 'tog this year, but it sounded like fun - I've heard they fight hard and taste good.  Ryan suggested getting some rigging tips from Rob Choi's blog, which has some excellent diagrams on what to do.  I went to Dick's Sporting Goods in the middle of the week to pick up some hooks, and wasn't really sure if I should get the Gamakatsu bait-holder hooks, or the octopus hooks.  I usually just get eagle claw snelled hooks for baitfishing... They both seemed like they would work so I just got both in size 3/0 to try them out.

While checking out, the cashier asked me "so what are you fishing for?"
Me: "I'm going to Virginia beach for some tautog..."
Cashier: "Tautog! What the heck is that? Some kind of foreign fish or something? Tautog.  That's a funny name. Tautog! Hey! <Other older guy's name>, have you ever heard of a Tautog? Tautog!"
Me: "'s not a foreign fish.  I told you I'm going to Virginia Beach.  Here's a picture of one."
Cashier: "EWW!! Why the heck do you want to catch one of those???  Well, have fun on your trip..for some Tautog. Tautog! Hahaha..."

So I leave the store slightly annoyed by the guy, thinking to myself that this dang fish better live up to its reputation!  Anyway, I brought the hooks home to make some rigs for the trip.

Tautog Rigs.
I had enough patience and swivels to make 8 rigs for the trip - I hoped that was enough because I didn't want to make anymore!  I used Rob Choi's tip of wrapping the rigs around some cardboard and put them in ziplock bags for easy replacement on the water.  All set!

Saturday came around, and I left home at 3AM for the 4.5 hour drive to Kiptopeke state park.  That 5-hour energy stuff works pretty well!...or my excitement about the trip kept me wide awake.  This was my first time in the Virginia Beach area, so just going through the bridge tunnels was an interesting experience for me.  It's pretty wild driving over the water for 10 miles...

The sunrise while crossing the CBBT.
While driving over the CBBT, I saw how calm the water was, and I knew it was going to be a great day - regardless of whether I catch any fish.  I rolled into the launch area at about 7:30AM to find Mike , who was already rigging up his kayak.  I quickly scarfed down my McDonald's breakfast and set up my kayak also.  I usually fish with 4 or 5 rods on my boat, but I decided to take 2 rods for this trip since I would be brushing up against the concrete ships a lot, and since I was going to fish exclusively for tautog.  That turned out to be a good decision, because I was beat around pretty good later in the day when the winds picked up.

Tog Food.
During the week we had arranged for Mike to pick up some blue crabs, and for Ryan to bring some shrimp and squid for bait.  Mike and I picked out our crabs from the bunch and prepared them for bait!  We de-clawed them on land so that we wouldn't have to fight them on the water, where I probably would tip over from trying to avoid getting pinched.  We saved the claws to drop down for chumming - I'm not sure if it really worked...but it sounded like a good idea. While we were rigging several others arrived and fished with us - Grilled and OBX_Rat from the MKF forum, and also finally Ryan.

One of the holes in the concrete ships.
I had seen pictures of the concrete ships on the internet, but seeing them up close was pretty neat.  It's crazy to think that these things ever floated.  Concrete Kayak, maybe?  This was my first time here, so Mike gave me a quick lesson on togging.  Find a hole in the ships, drop your bait down, feel the tap-tap, set the hook.  If you catch one, stick around because there will be more. Sounds simple to me!  I looked for some holes on the shore-facing side while Mike tried the other side.  After checking out two holes, I felt the tap-tap!  I missed the hookset, and came up with an empty hook.  Sneaky little fish!  I tried again, and after a couple missed hooksets, I finally hooked up with a 15 incher - 1 inch short of a keeper.  I didn't care though, I caught my first tog, and it gave a nice fight!

My first tog.
I followed Mike's advice and sent down another quarter-piece of crab, and soonafter caught my second fish of the day.  A nice fat 18 incher!  This one gave an even stronger fight than the first one, and it took a little while to bring it up.  I think I would say it gave a fight comparable to the 17 inch red drum that I caught last month.  They are both some good-fighting fish.

First keeper tog!  That blood on my finger is mine...don't put your knife next to your stringer in the boat. 
I think they're rather cute...
2 fish out of the same hole!  Mike hadn't caught any by this time, so I invited him to give it a try, so we switched spots for a little while, and he soon pulled up his first of the day - a 16 inch keeper!  I thought I found my honey hole for the day, so I stayed there for a while.  However, things got slow, and I didn't catch anymore for a couple hours.  I tried hole after hole after hole, and the tog just didn't want to eat!  I even tried going inside some of the ships to check them out, and it was interesting.  You have to be careful paddling around the ships though, because there are rusty spikes everywhere.

Bayside view from inside a ship
After several hours of unsuccessful fishing on the northern set of ships, we moved to the southern set of ships to check things out there.  By this time the wind was also starting to pick up, and the water was getting a little choppier.  It didn't matter though, we needed to pick some more fights with these tough fish.  We eventually found a spot where the tog were somewhat active.  There were 5 of us there, and we were catching fish pretty frequently.

My kayak getting scratched up.  Ryan's on the other side.
At one point I put my rod down to take some pictures and I hooked up with a tog!  Unsatisfied with the picture I missed, I set my rod down again to get another picture, and I hooked up with another one!  This one was almost a keeper at 15.75 inches.  No matter how much I massaged its body and pulled its big old buck teeth forward, I couldn't get it to meet the 16 inch mark on my ruler.

Pretty fish when you look at them from behind.
By 3PM I was exhausted from fighting the fish and fighting the wind.  Everyone else around me were peddling hobies, while I had my rod down on the boat as I paddled in place to stay put.  By this time I had caught my second keeper at 16 inches, so I was content that I had some fish to take home to taste.  I headed in with everyone else coming in soon after.  In the end, most of us caught 2 keepers each, and Ryan had a 19 inch keeper red drum.

All the peddling hobies in front of me.
Before the launch, Ryan asked me "are you ready for your first togging experience?"  I replied with "I am! I just hope I catch some."  I caught about 9 or 10, with most being just under 16 inches.  They were a blast to catch, and fishing the concrete ships was a fun experience.  I don't think I can do the 9 hour round trip thing very often....but maybe once a year during tog or speck season might be good =).

By the time we all packed it up, it was around 4:00, and we stood around discussing what to do.  Ryan was going to check into his hotel and take a nap, because he had a late night flight home the night before and drove straight to the park without any sleep.  The rest of us tossed around the idea of fishing at HRBT for some stripers.  I drove 4.5 hours to fish the area, why not get the full experience, and do the light-line as well??

The sunset while crossing the CBBT.

After a quick stop at McDonald's for dinner, Mike and I went to the Willoughby Harbor Marina to fish the HRBT bridge.  It was only 6:00 or so, but since it's been getting dark sooner, we launched in the dark.  I had no idea what I was doing, and I couldn't see any shadows of fish in the light that I had read about.  I just tried techniques that have worked for me elsewhere, which included trolling an X-Rap parallel to the bridge, and jigging some Bass Assassins from under the bridge.  I did this aimlessly for about an hour and a half with nothing, and Mike hadn't caught anything either.  We decided to call it quits around 7:30, and paddled against a moderate south wind back to the launch area.

The light line.  Can you see Mike?
I think it might have just been bad timing...there was no current, and we couldn't stick around for it to pick up.  It was still a neat experience to see the HRBT, and it's always fun to get out in a kayak with a buddy (thanks, Mike!).  It was a little after 8 when I headed home, and I made it home just before midnight.  I was exhausted, but I managed to stay alert on the drive home.  Maybe that 5-hour energy stuff really works, because I gulped one down just before I left the parking lot.  Or maybe my mind was kept busy reflecting on the great day I just had, and planning when I can go back next.

Tog Taste Test
So how did it taste?  Delicious.  While at Kiptopeke, I asked Ryan "So how do you cook this?"  He replied "Any way you want.  It's delicious however you cook it."  I've heard of people deep frying it, eating it raw as sashimi, baking it, etc.  I decided to fillet one of the fish to fry with some breading for dinner Sunday evening, and clean the other one to steam next week when my in-laws come to visit (hey, my mother-in-law gets fish again!).

Tog with cornmeal
Tog with seafood batter
My 2 year old and 1 year old sons loved the fish fried with corn meal, while my wife and I enjoyed the fish fried with some flour-based seafood batter.  My wife's previous favorite fish was some blue catfish I had fried from my Mattawoman trip, but tog might have topped it.  She liked it so much she suggested I go back next week when her family comes to visit.  We'll see....

Saturday, October 13, 2012

St. Jerome's Creek

I've been feeling some withdrawal symptoms from being away from saltwater too long.  I needed to do some fishing, and I wanted to catch some big fish.  Actually, I wanted to catch fish - any fish.  With all of the pictures of speckled sea trout and their reputation for being a tasty fish, I decided to try for them for the first time.  I had probably 3 options:
  • Go to MD's eastern shore to the Tangier sound.  Lots of water to cover, and 3.5 hours away.
  • Go to the October MKF Meet & Greet in Virginia Beach.  Again, lots of water to cover, and 3.5 hours away.
  • Go to MD's southern western shore.  I have heard of some small creeks holding speckled trout, and it's 2.5 hours away. 
Well, that was an easy decision...I decided to check out southern Maryland's St. Jerome's Creek.  I got some launch and fishing tips from some of the members of MKF, and I set out for Buzz's Marina at 4:30AM.  I was going to try to fish the incoming tide from sunrise until the fishing slowed.  

The bay at sunrise
Before I pulled into the marina, I wanted to see if I could catch the sunrise from one of the small roads that ran along the shore near the marina.  I was surprised to find the bay to be rather windy with plenty of white caps in the waves.  Uh oh...I might have to change my plans if the creek is this bad too.  A little worried, I decided to go check out the creek.  I had heard about a free public launch on the creek at the end of Fresh Pond Neck Rd, but there is very little information about it on the internet.  Apparently it even has a name, "Fresh Pond Neck Landing".  I decided to check out the landing as I checked out the water before going to Buzz's.  I am not 100% sure that this is the landing - there wasn't a parking lot or signs or anything, it was just a part of the road that went into the water, and right next to it was a driveway to private property.  Anyway, this is what I found at the end of Fresh Pond Neck Rd.

Fresh Pond Neck Landing...maybe

While at the landing, I took a close look at the water, and it looked calmer than the bay, but the current seemed to be flowing pretty well.  I might have a difficult time paddling in the creek.  Ehh, I drove 2.5 hours to fish - I'm going to fish.  I headed to Buzz's marina, and met Mike the owner.  He was just out by the ramp drinking some coffee while talking with some other boaters. He was very friendly, very helpful, and was happy to give some tips and advice on where the fish have been biting in the creek.  He recommended fishing the area of the inlet that leads out to the bay, and we talked about some fishing techniques that have been working for him and others.  We noticed that it was pretty breezy while we were talking.  Apparently there was a small watercraft advisory in the bay, so we talked about possibly relocating to Point Lookout, and fishing Lake Conoy where it would be more protected from the winds.  The winds were supposed to die down later, so I could come back if I didn't have any luck over there.  I thought about it for a little while in my car, and concluded that I had a plan for fishing St. Jerome's Creek, and I am going to stick with the plan.  I gave Mike 5 bucks to cover the kayak launch fee, and rigged up.

St. Jerome's Creek

The wind and current in the creek actually wasn't bad.  I guess I made the right choice to stay with the plan.  I paddled toward the inlet, which was maybe a 20-30 minute paddle.  I trolled some X-Raps on my way over, and managed to pick up a small striper.  The skunk was off, now I can fish without any pressure - haha.

Nice place!

I made it to the inlet, and found the current to be flowing nice and strong.  Perfect!  I then spent the next 4 hours just trolling around with two X-Raps and jigging some Gulp swimming mullets, and some bass assassin shads (Comeonfish from some of the forums online has had some success using these).  Well, I caught fish - and some of them gave some great fights.  But I didn't catch any speckled trout.  I caught 5 stripers (1 keeper) on X-Raps and the Bass Assassins, 3 red drums on the Gulp! bait and an X-Rap, and a toad fish on the Bass Assassin. I also had another keeper striper that I lost while trying to boat it.  The leader knot failed, and the leader slipped off my mainline braid (doh...).  He also swam off with my X-Rap (DOH!).  Here are some pictures of the day:

First keeper striper this year
First ever red drum
The largest toad fish I have ever caught. They're such ugly fish...
Pretty fish...

These were the first red drums that I have ever caught, and they are some strong fish!  They look very similar to croakers, and the pullage that these fish provided were similar to the croakers I had caught at Point Lookout earlier this year.  The last drum I caught was about 17", and it gave a much stronger fight than that 19" rockfish that I caught.  I hear the drum were plentiful this year, and I look forward to catching them in the years to come as these guys grow larger.

The current eventually died down, and I wasn't catching any more fish.  Also, I had hoped to fish the Mattawoman in the afternoon if I could make it there by a reasonable time to catch some blue catfish for dinner.  Time to head in!  On my way in, I trolled my X-Rap just in case there were any fish that wanted to play.  Just a little past the inlet to the creek, I got a hit that was pulling some serious drag...however, it came off and all I got on the hooks were a couple scales.  I think it is possible that it was a speckled trout that came loose.  I've read that they have soft mouths that easily tear if you don't set your drag very loose.  I thought maybe I could get him to hit again, so I trolled around a little longer with no success.  I finally gave up on my hopes for some speckled trout, and headed back to the marina.

When I got back to the ramp, Mike was there to ask how I did.  I told him about my catches, and he was surprised that I didn't get into any bluefish.  Apparently several others have been doing well with the bluefish by the inlet.  That would have been a nice addition to my stringer...oh well.  Anyway, Mike has a tradition of taking pictures of people's catches and posting them on his website.  Here I am with my lone keeper striper:

Taken from Buzz's Marina site
It was around 2:30 by the time I pulled out of the marina in my car, and I didn't think I'd be able to fish the Mattawoman and make it back home at a reasonable time.  My wife was watching our two boys alone, so I decided to head straight home to cook up dinner for the family.  We had grilled rockfish for dinner.  It was good, but I'm not sure that I'd consider it one of my favorite fish to eat.  I might be letting more keeper stripers go in the future...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

CBKA Tournament 2012

The Chesapeake Bay Kayak Anglers tournament was last weekend.  It was my first time in a tournament, and I'm happy to say that it was a great experience.  The fishing was fun, the camaraderie was excellent, the stories told by fellow anglers were entertaining, I met a few new angling buddies and I had some neat experiences.  I look forward to attending next year's tournament, and also look forward to fishing again with some of the guys I met.

The story of the tournament really started several days before the tournament, where I was spending every evening after work studying NOAA maps of Kent island and preparing my tackle boxes and rigs.  I even read and re-read chapters of Chesapeake Light Tackle related to fishing the bay bridge.  I was going to jig up the biggest striper of my life!  Of course plans changed a few days before the tournament with the news that the weather was going to be less than ideal the day of the tournament.  With south winds blowing all over the bay, it looked like I would need to come up with a plan B. 

The wind forecast on tournament day
A few days before the tournament, I met Ernie from the pacemaker fishing forum, and I had a chance to ask him about any tips for fishing for the tournament.  He was very willing to share some of his experiences of fishing the bay, and generously offered some tips.  He gave me an idea to try to fish south of the launch point early in the morning, and to ride the south winds back up north to the put-in area when the wind picked up.  He pointed out that I should look for areas where current runs against points of land sticking out into the water.  I now had my plan B.

Friday rolled around, and I went to Camp Wright to attend the Captain's meeting where the tournament organizers went over the rules of the game.  I got there a little early, and was able to talk to some of the others about their plans.  It seemed like pretty much everyone was going to avoid the main stem of the bay due to the high winds.  I was still hopeful that the winds would stay low until at least mid-morning.  So maybe I could work plan B until mid-morning, and relocate to a more sheltered part of Kent island to finish the rest of the tournament.  

The first picture had to be of me with the tournament ruler.
The next morning came around, and I went to the Matapeake ramp a little early to check out the water.  By 5:45AM the wind was already strong, and the water was hitting against the pier pretty hard.  I thought, "I....don't think I'll be launching from here."  I decided to launch at Kent Narrows instead with Chexone.  I got there, unloaded and rigged my kayak with Chexone, and we were in the water by 6:30AM, just in time for the start of the tournament. 

As soon as we got in the water, we saw small stripers feeding on the surface so we had a little fun right by the ramp with some small micro-stripers.  They ranged from 6 to 9 inches in length.  Nothing that would get us a place in the striped bass division...but who knows? Maybe everyone else will get skunked.  I hadn't really planned on fishing at Kent Narrows, so  I had no idea what to expect and didn't really have a plan of attack.  

My unimpressive perch
 Chexone suggested that we head to the south side of the bridge, and try the concrete wall that's there.  When we got there, the conditions were just like what I had seen at Matapeake - windy with choppy water.  Still, we tried jigging around the wall for whatever might be there.  I thought maybe the far side of the concrete wall might be productive, since the wind and current is pushing the water against it.  I trolled a small rattle trap as I paddled over, and caught an 8" white perch - however, nothing wanted any of my lures at the end of the wall.  I stuck around for a bit, and after a while of getting nothing wondered how bad the water might be on the other side of the wall.  I paddled around the corner, and was surprised at how strong the water was.  It kind of felt like I was sitting on a boogie board riding waves at the beach.  I rode the waves in until the water got a little more manageable behind some other structure that was sticking out of the water.  Chexone and I then proceeded to explore the shoreline to see if we could get any large perch for the perch division of the tournament.  We both caught a few fish, but they weren't impressive at all.  Also, I was getting tired of fighting with the wind and current, so I left Chexone to go back toward the narrows where it was a bit more sheltered from the wind and waves.

My largest striper of the day.
When I got back to the narrows, I wondered if the pilings of the drawbridge there were similar to the bay bridge.  I had planned on jigging some BKDs at the bay bridge...why not try it at the Kent Narrows bridge?  I tucked in behind one of the huge pilings of the bridge, where I didn't have to fight the strong current funneling through the narrows, and practiced my vertical jigging using a 6" alewive BKD.  I didn't have much luck doing this - I don't know if I just don't have the technique down, or if there were no fish...but I never jigged up that monster striper that I had been hoping for.  However, I did catch a 12" striper (my largest of the day) by the pilings before I moved on to do some perching along the shorelines.

Double micro-stripers
On my way out away from the bridge, I saw that there was a surface feeding frenzy going on just north of the bridge.  I quickly grabbed my bucktail rig with a teaser, and caught a few of the fish that were feeding there.  They were all small though - these small rockfish are everywhere!  They were aggressive though...they were hitting on pretty much anything.  I got a double at one point, and also I had some hit a gotcha plug that was dangling off the kayak at the surface of the water.  After seeing small stripers everywhere, I remembered Shawn Kimbro's book where he said that if you see a bunch of small stripers, you might find some bigger ones underneath I tried jigging some larger lures under the surface, but that proved to be unproductive.  Because this area was right by the bridge, the current was rather strong - every time I caught a small striper, I would drift way downstream while I unhooked him, and had to paddle back up against the wind and current to get back to the school of hungry fish.  This, too, got tiring after a while, so I left the school of frenzied juvenile stripers and proceeded to look for some areas sheltered from the wind.

I tucked in to the yacht marina just north of the ramp, and did some ultralight jigging along some fishy looking shoreline.  I was getting a lot of nibbles, but the fish just weren't hooking up.  I tried switching out my jig with small ones, long ones, different colors...nothing worked.  I did find that one of the small baitfish that the stripers were feeding on had gotten into my boat somehow, and was swimming by my feet.  I picked him up and baited him on my hook and down he went.  This time I was able to hook up with a fish - another 8" perch.  I thought "I don't think I'll be winning any largest fish divisions...maybe I should start trying to catch small fish to win the shortest fish prize."  

The award-winning fish! (I need a better camera...)
I switched up my tactics and rigged up the smallest jig I could find and put on a small plastic grub.  I worked some more shoreline, and finally caught what I thought had a chance at the shortest fish - a 4" sunfish!  That was unexpected...I didn't think I'd catch any sunfish around the Kent narrows bridge.  I continued trying for something smaller, and I think they were there,  because I kept getting small nibbles...but I just couldn't hook up with them.  It was around noon by this time, and I was tired of catching small fish, so Chexone and I thought we'd try the bridge again to see if the current has died down any.  The little stripers were still feeding on the surface when we arrived...Chexone and I had some fun catching a couple more of those, and decided to head back to camp to weigh in our fish.

We got back to camp around 1:00, and the weigh-in deadline was 3:30, so after I checked in my fish we had a lot of time to kill.  We grabbed some lunch from the Crab Deck, and sat around at the camp and talked to some other anglers about how we did that day.   As it got closer to the beginning of the awards ceremony, we got treated to some interesting weather.  The storm system that had given us all the wind that day had finally come by and it was pretty impressive...check out this video shot by one of the attendees. 

The storm's coming!  What are those crazy boaters thinking?!
After the storm blew through, we had the awards ceremony/raffle prizes.  This was a pretty fun time, as I watched others get all the cool prizes and I got a t-shirt.  I also ended up winning the shortest fish prize, which was a micro-lite fishing rod from bass pro, donated by one of the MKF forum members. Cool!  The raffle culminated with the coolest prize ever, a 2012 Hobie Revolution 11.  I didn't win it, but the nice thing is that the person who did win it didn't even own a kayak.  He had borrowed a friend's kayak for the tournament.  Pretty neat how that worked out.

Shawn Kimbro made an appearance during the awards ceremony, which was really neat.  He's a lot taller and thinner than I thought he would be.  I wish I could have sat by him to hear some tips about fishing.  Someone from make-a-wish was also there to thank the tournament attendees for the donation that the proceeds would be used for.  He shared a story about a local girl who had her wish granted to visit New York City and just go on a site-seeing, shopping spree.  The competition and prize aspects of the tournament were fun and nice, but it was also satisfying knowing that we were helping to grant a wish for a child out there.

So that was the CBKA tournament.  It was a fun experience, and I will definitely be doing it again next year.  A big thanks to those who coordinated the tournament, and also all the sponsors who donated all the cool prizes.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bay Bridge & Bellevue

View Larger Map
View Larger Map

Sorry there are no pictures with this report...I did take some pictures, but the white balance was way off on my camera, and it would just hurt your eyes to see them.  I'm going to have to fix that before the tournament next weekend...

I had two goals for this trip - catch some fish for the dinner table, and get at least a little bit of experience fishing by the Bay Bridge before the CBKA tournament next weekend.  My mother-in-law is coming to town again, and she likes it when we cook her up some fresh fish from the bay.  It was mainly for that reason that my wife allowed me to take a day to go fishing, when I'm going to be spending another whole day fishing the following weekend (it's very rare for me to get 2 kayak fishing trips in a month).

The day started at 4:30AM when I met Chexone from the MKF forum at the Bay Bridge Marina for launch.  We were planning to meet a couple others from the forum at 5, but we were still the only ones there by the time we finished rigging up so we headed out.  I had fished in the dark just once before at Point Lookout State park, so it was still a bit daunting to be paddling out before dawn.  Luckily the full moon provided enough light to see where we were going.  Still, what made me even more nervous was the large waves that were chopping up the waters in the bay outside of the marina.  As I was paddling out into the bay, I thought to myself "I'm crazy...I'm going to least Chexone's here to call for help if that happens."  I honestly think I would have turned around if Chexone had not been there with me.  I know others have paddled through much worse, and I'm just being a sissy because it was my first time in those conditions.

As we were paddling to the bridge, I put out a silver Rat-L-Trap crankbait to see if I could get a striper to bite on the way out.  I also tried casting it near the pilings when we got near to them.  I didn't get a single hit on it, so I switched gears to try jigging with a BKD.  I've read Shawn Kimbro's book, I've watched videos, I've done it with smaller jigs for other fish...but I just couldn't figure it out at the bay bridge.  I would position myself to face the bridge against the current, cast next to a piling, let it drop, and bounce it back toward me, paddle back up-current, and repeat.  I went piling-to-piling, and after a while got tired of trying to fight the current.  I kind of wished at that point that I had a Hobie kayak.  Chexone had gone ahead of me further toward the middle of the bridge, so I decided to catch up to see if he'd had any luck.  He hadn't caught anything, but he suggested that we try further down the bridge where there's a deep drop-off.

We went over to the drop-off, and I tried jigging again, again to no avail.  I ended up snagging my jig twice, and decided to give up on jigging for a while.  At that point I noticed a flock of birds some distance away.  I decided to check them out to see if they were on any fish.  Unfortunately, it seemed like as I paddled closer to them, they'd fly away from me, and it didn't look like they were I gave up on that.

At this point, I wanted to give up on trying to catch the monster striper, and fish for some perch in the shallower water.  With perfect timing, Shadyfisher85 from the MKF forum showed up and asked how we were doing.  We told him that neither of us had caught anything, so he suggested that we try for some perch in shallower water.  Catching perch is more familiar to me, so I happily joined him.  We all jigged the pilings in shallower water, and caught a handful of perch, small stripers, and Shadyfisher caught a nice red drum.  When that slowed down, we headed closer to shore to try  some other shallow areas for perch.

On the way in, I saw some breaking fish and a flock of birds picking up baitfish from the water.  This time there had to be fish around!  So I cast my jig around the splashing fish, and caught my first bluefish of the year.  After that, I caught several feisty juvenile stripers.  It was fun actually catching fish, but it also soon got exhausting trying to chase them around.  They were moving all over the place, against the current and wind too.  I didn't want to venture too far from the others, so I gave up after a little while.  I paddled back to the shore where Chexone and Shadyfisher were, and we jigged for some perch for a little while before heading in to call it a day.  On the way in, I let the current push me through the inlet as I tried to jig up some more perch.  I hooked up with the biggest fish of the day - a 15 inch rockfish.  Unfortunately he flopped off of my hawg trough before I could snap the picture.

We all went back to the marina and were off the water by around 10:30.  Shadyfisher was going to go home, but Chexone was going to try another place for some perch.  By this time I had about 5 fish on the stringer and thought it would be nice to catch a few more to impress my wife, so I asked to join him for his next trip.  So we were off to the Bellevue ferry...

Bellevue was a beautiful place.  The shoreline is not very developed, and it was just a quiet place.  It reminded me of the Severn a little...just not as busy.  We crossed the river from the ramp, and entered a creek on the Oxford side where Chexone had some good luck on a previous trip.  It was low tide when we started, and we could see that the water was pretty the fishing was pretty slow at this time.  We both still managed to catch a couple perch here and there, and I caught an occasional small striper.  When we were about to call it quits, Chexone suggested we try a spot on the way back that he had caught several fish earlier.  After a little while, we were both catching fish - the fishing seemed to be turning on.  We kind of forgot about heading back in, as we were catching perch non-stop.  As the sun rose higher, I remembered that I told my wife I'd try to be home for dinner, so I had to head in.  Chexone was going to stay out a little longer, so I paddled in before him.  Chexone had a good time after I left, as the fishing got even better.  It had been a long day, and it was a long paddle back in...and an even longer drive back home.  It was great to be on the water again, and even greater to have caught some fish.  I added 5 more perch to the stringer at Bellevue, and my son was happy to see them when I arrived home.

I accomplished both of my objectives for the day.  I'm  not confident about the tournament next weekend, but at least I have some idea of what the fishing should be like by the bay bridge.  I also scaled and cleaned the fish when I got home, and look forward to having some fish with my family and mother-in-law.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wye Mills

Last weekend I went crabbing with some friends from church.  I had tried to get some of them to try kayaking,  but they have been apprehensive about getting on a small boat in big water.  They were more willing to get on the water in a skiff that you didn't have to propel with your arms.  We wanted to try something new this time, so the agenda for this trip was to catch some crabs!  Enough to try to have a crab party.  We were joking that if our plan didn't work out we could just pick up a bushel on the way home, so we weren't too pressured to have to catch much.  Luckily, things did work out!

A 7 incher!  Look at those colors...
I got a recommendation from a friend to try crabbing at Wye Mills from a boat that you can rent at a boat house called Schnaitman's.  I looked it up, and got some helpful tips from the friendly guys at the MKF forum about the place.  We arrived early - a little before 6AM - to rent our boat.  We were surprised to see that there were already several people ahead of us unloading and getting in the boats.  I wasn't really sure what to do, so I asked a guy there, and he said that you just pick a boat, sit in it and wait for the owners to arrive to pay them to go out.  So we unloaded our fishing rods, crabbing gear, and ice boxes and picked a boat until 6AM.

The owners arrived at 6AM on the dot, and I got in line to pay for the boat and also to rent a dip net to scoop up the crabs in.  This was my first time operating a motor boat, and I am embarrassed to say that I screwed things up pretty badly.  I didn't know there was an anchor out in the water, and I kind of got the motor going, but then it stalled.  I tried to re-start it, and it kept getting hung up.  I thought that it might have gotten caught on some rope underwater, but I didn't see the anchor line so I shrugged it off and kept yanking the cord.  Of course after a while I yanked the handle off the rope and we were dead in the water.  Luckily the owner was watching, and had us paddle over so that he could fix it.  I could tell he wasn't happy, but he was real polite about it.  I was just glad this happened while he was nearby, and not while we were way out on the water.  I would have had no idea of what to do.

After the gentleman kindly got us started, we were off!  Since this was my first time, I wasn't really sure where to go or what to do, so my plan was to just look for "fishy" places to anchor by and just try fishing and crabbing.  For bait we had a pack of bloodworms and cooked shrimp for the fish, and chicken wings for the crabs.  It would have been cheaper to get chicken necks, but I couldn't find any at the grocery store the night before.  I also didn't realize that they sold chicken necks at the boathouse.  Anyway, we got to our first location at the mouth of the creek that the boathouse was on.  We anchored off and the guys put out their lines as I got the crabbing gear together.  

Double perch.
Double, Double perch!
The guys were immediately hooking up with some fish - albeit small fish...but they were getting pullage!  They were hooking up with perch, small croakers, and spot.  While they were busy with the fish, I got the handlines baited with chicken, and used one of the perch for the crab traps.  Within just a few minutes I brought up a crab on the handline - it was too small, but now we knew what to do. We each took a handline, and for the next hour or so we were fishing and catching crabs at the mouth of the creek.  We periodically checked the traps all day, but neither of them produced any crabs the entire time.  

One of the throwbacks.
The minimum size for crabs right now is 5 1/4", and we caught a lot of crabs that were probably around 5".  That's always how it goes, huh?  We still were able to catch a few and put them in the cooler.  I didn't realize this until after the trip, but we should have either kept the cooler lid open, or put the crabs in an open container and kept them moist.  When it was time to cook them later, they weren't really moving...or breathing.  Luckily we steamed them several hours later - but next time I will remember to keep them lively.

No other boats around.
The fishing was pretty steady the entire time.  When we started running out of shrimp and bloodworms, I put on some "squirmin' squirts" tube jigs on my bottom rigged bait hooks.  I should have done this sooner!  I was getting double perch almost every cast.  I think the fishing and crabbing here is probably similar to the fishing and crabbing on the Severn, where I first started kayak fishing last year.  Lots of perch, and lots of crabs.  However, the water at Wye Mills is less congested with boats (maybe it was because the weather wasn't that great this day), and the shorelines are less developed.  I would consider kayak crabbing here sometime.

The 7 inch crab again.
Anyway, we moved around maybe 3 or 4 more times during the trip and ended up with 12 crabs and 41 white perch.  All of our anchoring spots were also within a mile of the boathouse - we didn't have to go far.  Crabbing by handline was pretty fun, and I think next time I might take my wife and son - I'm sure they would have a good time.

That evening we steamed up the crabs, steamed some fish, and fried up the rest of the fish.  Everyone loved the food.  The wives joined us for dinner, and we had enough crabs to just get a taste of it - 3 per couple.  There were plenty of fish sticks from the dink perch that we brought home to fill the rest of our appetites.

Fish Chips
Steamed Crabs
Steamed Fish