Saturday, April 28, 2012

Point Lookout State Park

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My father-in-law was in town from St. Louis, and I wanted to get a nice lunch with fish for him this weekend.  Up until the last minute, I wasn't really sure where I was going to go, or whether I'd fish from a kayak or shore.  After hearing about how strong the wind might be, I decided to keep the kayak in my garage, and I had 2 choices: Point Lookout for croakers, or the Choptank pier for perch and maybe croakers.  I am more familiar with the Choptank, and have caught at least something every time I've gone there.  However, it has been a couple years since I've gone down to Point Lookout, and I figured the long drive and the quiet environment there would be refreshing.  So, I had a quick dinner with my family and my father-in-law, and I made the 2 hour drive down to Point Lookout after work.

The menu for the evening (for the fish) included shrimp for croakers and nightcrawlers for perch.  I picked up some cooked shrimp from the grocery store, and the nightcrawlers were leftovers from the trip to Fletcher's a couple weeks ago.  During the drive I had visions of a cooler full of croakers and perch, and could taste the delicious fish lunch that I would have the next day. 

Unfortunately, things didn't work out the way that I had planned.  As I made my way through the park to the furthest point of the park, I asked everyone I saw how they were doing.  Nobody was catching fish....except for 1 person who was working the right-most end of the fishing pier.  It's pretty common-knowledge that the right side of the end of the pier is the most productive spot.  There were already several people at the end of the pier, and I didn't want to intrude, so I set up camp at the point facing the bay.

The wind started out kind of strong, but it was bearable through the night.  If you ever go to Point Lookout, and are not going to fish from the pier, take a lantern and a headlamp.  Without a full moon, you will need it to see anything.  Since I couldn't see my rods, I figured I'd try to use my sense of hearing to detect the fish.  I used fishfinder rigs with circle hooks, and loosened the drag all the way after I cast it out.  For a little while I tried casting out a small plastic worm and jigged it with little success.  The wind also was making it very difficult to feel anything, so I put my small jigging rod away, and stuck with my 2 surf rods.

There was a picnic table nearby, so I pulled it right next to my rods and took a nap with my head next to my reels.  I was hoping that I'd wake up to the sound of the drag on my reel screaming with a fish.  Well, the entire night there no buzzzzzzzzz came from my reels.  At one point, I reeled in one of my rods and found an eel at the end of my line.  It must have just stuck around after taking the shrimp, because it didn't pull any drag - it also didn't even fight me when I reeled it in.  I thought "Well, an eel counts as a fish.  I avoided a skunk!"

The eel that saved my night from a skunk.

The rest of the night I didn't catch a thing, and I was getting cold around 4AM, so I packed up and headed home.  I cleaned the eel in the morning, and we fried him up for lunch.  I keep hearing about how tasty eel can be, but I haven't yet found the right recipe for cooking them up.  This time, I sprinkled 2-3" pieces of the eel with flour, and marinated it in soy sauce, honey, and sesame oil.  It was okay, but I wouldn't really rave about it.  I get eels pretty often as by-catches, so I'll try something different next time.

I kind of wish I had gone to the Choptank, where I probably would have been able to fill at least half the cooler with perch or catfish.  However, I don't regret going to Point Lookout.  Being so far from any city lights, the night sky is pretty amazing out there.  A night fishing trip at Point Lookout is something that every angler in the Maryland/Virginia area should try at least once.

As a side, I got a Ford Focus hatchback last November, and on this trip I averaged 39 miles per gallon.  That's what the trip meter showed, but I might have gotten something slightly better...because I used only a quarter of a tank of gas on a 200 mile trip.  That was another awesome point from this outing.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Fletcher's Cove

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Today I fished the Potomac River by Washington, DC with several others from the Maryland Kayak Fishing forum.  We launched out of the free launching area at Fletcher’s Boat House.  I was hesitant to make the trip.  I like to keep the fish I catch for dinner, but the target species (shad) are illegal to keep, and the catfish out of these waters have a consumption advisory against them.  However, I figured that if I don’t go now with the forum members, I probably will never fish on the Potomac for shad.

Well, the day was perfect.  Low winds for most of the morning, a bit chilly at first, but went up to 70 or so degrees.  The water was around 58 degrees.  Sunny with very few clouds.

I got to the parking lot for Fletcher’s by 7:00AM.  I should have taken a picture of the entrance to the park, because it was so obscure and so dangerous.  I was able to catch it the first time I passed it, but the angle at which I had to turn was so sharp that I didn’t think I’d make it easily without upsetting the driver behind me.  I ended up taking a U-turn ahead and making a slight left into the parking lot.  Upon my arrival, I checked out the boathouse shop to get some shad darts and nightcrawlers.  I had read some reports that pink and green shad darts from the boat house were hot, so I picked up a pack of each, plus a pack of chartreuse darts.

With my ammo for the day, I unloaded my kayak from my car and started rigging it up.  During this time, Ictalurus, Chexone and BigFluke45 arrived.  We all launched together at the free launching area.  It was a shore launch area, at the far corner of the park.  While preparing for launch, I met a guy in a canoe from West Virginia who shared about his experience fishing for shad.  He mentioned that the pattern is to look for an area with current.  He suggested going upstream where the river is narrower and the water flows quicker. 

The launch was interesting.  There were Fletcher’s row boats everywhere.  The area right by the launch area was filled with fishermen anchored in their row boats.  When I went to pick up my bait at 7:00AM, I overheard the worker say that there were no more available rental boats.  No kidding!  Well, we paddled (and peddled) upstream past the crowd, to an area where you could see the Chain bridge.  A few of us stopped once on the way to try to see if we could pull up a shad, but Ictalurus kept going...and since Ictalurus had been shad fishing once before, I didn’t stick around long and followed Ictalurus. 
Paddling to our destination

When we got to the area we were fishing, I hadn’t really paid much attention to the depth until someone from shore asked me for the depth.  35 feet.  Which went up to 15 feet a little further up.  “So you’re telling me there’s a deep hole there” said the shore fisherman.  I guess that was one part of the puzzle in catching shad...because these shore fishermen were absolutely slaying the shad.  Every time I looked over, they were pulling in a shad (sometimes two at once).  After 10 or 15 minutes of trying out a tandem-rigged shad darts and not catching anything, I swallowed my pride and paddled over to the shore fishermen and asked them for some tips.
  1. The green and pink colors I had were good.
  2. Cast into the river and let the darts sink to the bottom.  They said this was key.  They also expressed concern that the shad darts I had were too small/light to reach the bottom of the 35-foot hole.
  3. Reel in the darts steadily and jerk it periodically.

The area we fished at.  Those are the shore fishermen who kicked my butt.

Sounds simple enough!  Well, for the next several hours, I could only catch 6 shad.  And this was while the shore fishermen next to me were catching one every other cast.  I think it had to do with where I was casting my shad darts, and the fact that I probably wasn’t able to reach the bottom with my shad darts.  I was fishing upstream from the shore fishermen (beyond the deep hole) so that I wouldn’t cross their lines.  All of the shad I caught were from the deep hole that the shore fishermen were fishing in.  I cast into it while they were re-rigging.  They really must have been fishing the bottom because they lost several rigs throughout the morning.  Conversely, I must not have been on the bottom, because I didn’t lose a single shad dart rig.
First shad of the day

The first shad I caught was exciting.  Mainly because it was my first one ever. It was kind of caught by accident, because I had casted my lure out and was drifting into other people’s lines.  As I was paddling away, I saw my rod tip shake – fish on!  The shad seem to always jump when they get caught.  The first fish I caught jumped 2 or 3 feet in the air right next to me and Chexone.  I can see why people enjoy fishing for them.  They are so energetic when you catch them!
Another Shad

At one point, I wanted to see if I really wasn’t getting down to the fish, so I rigged up a half-ounce jig head with a 2” curly tail grub.  I didn’t rig it tandem – just a single curly tail.  I think I got more frequent hits with this rig than with the shad darts.  I missed a few, and caught 2 shad with the grub in about 30 minutes.  Compare that to my 4 shad in the earlier 2 or 3 hours.  I wished I had thought of this earlier in the morning!
Chexone's first catfish that got away.

During all this time that I was fishing for shad, I saw that Chexone and Shadyfisher85 had pulled up some nice-sized catfish.  Having never caught a catfish on my kayak before, I decided to put a line out with the nightcrawlers I had.  It was a top-bottom rig with a 1oz sinker.  Since I knew where the deeper water was in this section of the river, I tried to cast into that area. 
21" Blue Cat
~18" Channel Cat
24" Blue Cat

The nightcrawlers were a hit with the catfish.  I caught 2 blue cats (21” and 24”) and a channel cat (around 18” – I didn’t measure him because he wasn’t that impressive).  The larger blue cat was a blast!  He had his way for the first 30 seconds or so...ripping out drag and bending my rod.  That was a good fight, and got some congrats from the shore fishermen who were kicking my butt in the shad count.
My anchor

I had read that Fletcher’s uses large flat rocks as anchors in their row boats, because of all the boulders on the bottom of the river to snag on.  I didn’t want to risk losing my anchor to the bottom of the river, so I found a good rock that was kind of in the river, and tied off to it.  It worked very well.  I stayed in one position the entire time.  If my rig got snagged, I was able to untie quickly and unsnag my line and return to my rock. 

Around noon, the wind started picking up, so I went around and said bye to the guys before starting my paddle back to the launch area.  Looked like everyone caught fish today.  That was fun!