Thursday, May 24, 2012

Father & Son Fishin'

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"I think it's time,"  I said to my wife last week.  "Caleb is ready for his first fishing rod."  For a while now my son, Caleb, has been learning to use a reel and hold a rod.  I took an old reel that I don't use and gave it to Caleb to play with as a toy.  He's gotten pretty good at cranking that reel, but has had no clue what it's supposed to do.  I've also taken him numerous times to Bass Pro to the reel section, where he's tried out almost every reel - from the light spinning reels, to the baitcasters, to the saltwater conventionals.  The rod?  He just likes carrying big sticks and swinging them around - he'll be a natural bass fisherman.

My son's fishing rod.

So we took a family trip out to Bass Pro shops last Friday and bought him his first fishing rod - a 2 ft ice fishing rod and reel combo.  It is perfect for his little arms and hands.  He wanted to hold it in the car on the way home, and wanted to play with it before going to bed.  I couldn't wait to see how he would react with a fish on the other end of the line.

I have been fishing Lake Elkhorn lately with a co-worker during our lunch breaks, and on our last trip there, I could see that a bunch of sunfish were just hanging out by the docks.  I knew they would probably stick around, so I knew where I would take Caleb.

Saturday morning, we packed the car, Caleb's new rod, a bobber, some small hooks, and a pack of nightcrawlers I had leftover from my last trip.  I briefly thought about taking my ultralight rod with me to do some fishing myself, but resisted.  This trip was to be for the son, not for daddy.  So off we were, the family's first fishing trip.

When we got to the lake, Caleb immediately knew where to go.  It was as if he was instinctively drawn to the water.  We set up on the floating dock and I threw out the worm on the bobber for him.  He couldn't wait, and immediately wanted to reel it back in.  It took some time to teach him to wait for the bobber to go under...but I was glad to see that he was excited about it.  As a side note, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the 2 foot rod casted.  I was just using the line that came spooled on the reel, and it was decent.  I might have to get another one for myself. heh heh.

Caleb holding one of the fish we caught.
Well, after a few tries with the fish only stealing our night crawlers, mommy suggested we move to some place in the shade to stay cool.  So we relocated to the opposite side of the dock area and set up camp again.  This time I switched out the hook for a smaller one, and cast it out.  That turned out to be a good move, because within minutes Caleb had his first fish on!  It was a tiny 3" sunfish, and Caleb was happy to see it.  I tried to let him kiss it before releasing the fish, but my wife stopped us.  No love for that fish.

Caleb saying "bye" to the fish.

As we were fishing, another young boy came by and wanted to see the fish Caleb had caught.  He thought it was so cool, and wanted to stick around to see our next catch.  Well, within a couple minutes we had another fish on, but Caleb wasn't interested in reeling it in this time so I let the boy try reeling it in.  A 4" sunfish!  He had a blast, and was talking about how he would tell his dad about it when he got home.

We caught a few more sunfish, and each time Caleb would say in his gibberish "one more, one more". After a few more, we decided to head home.  My wife asked "Are you happy, Daddy?"  Yes I am!  My son's first fishing trip was a success, and he didn't get bored of it after just a couple minutes.  I can't wait for his next trip!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Occoquan River

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My sister-in-law is in town from St. Louis this week, and I thought it would be nice to have a fish fry this weekend.  I had plans to fish the lower potomac for some catfish and possibly some croakers, which people have been reporting.  When I found out that Ryan from the MKF forum was fishing for catfish this weekend too, I asked him if he wanted to meet up and fish together.  He had to be in Virginia today, so he was going to check out the Occoquan river.  Since I have not fished the Occoquan before, I was open to trying it out with him.

The area by the shore launch.

I got to the Occoquan Regional Park at 6:00AM, paid my $5 non-resident fee for launching, and started rigging up my kayak.  Ryan arrived shortly after, and we were in the water around 7.  We shared our plans for the day, and we were going to jig for some crappie by the docks of the marinas south of the 95 bridge, and then soak some bait to try for some catfish.

After passing the 95 bridge, we started casting along the shorelines on our way to the marina to see if we could hook up with a bass.  That was unfruitful for both of us, so we went to the docks and started jigging.  Within the first several minutes, I was getting nibbles on my shad dart rigged with a 2" gulp minnow.  I thought maybe the minnow might be too big, so I swapped it out with a 2" tube.  2 casts later, and I caught the first fish of the day.  A 15" largemouth bass.  I tried jigging some more in that row of docks, but I didn't get any more hits, so I moved on.

First fish of the day.

In the second row of docks, I went back to my gulp minnow and tried vertical jigging with it.  After several tries, I get a hit...and it turns out to be a big old channel catfish.  I was trying to catch crappie, not catfish!  Well, the catfish was a pretty good size, so I put it on my fish stringer and tried again.  Several minutes later, I get another hit...and it turns to be an even bigger channel catfish.  I never got to measure it, but I would say it was pushing 20 to 22 inches.  Again, it was not a crappie, but I did want to catch catfish today...on the stringer he went.  I was starting to think that my jigging technique was somehow only attractive to catfish and not crappie.  A few minutes later, and I hook up with another catfish!  Unbelievable!  Oh, and all this time, these fish were being caught on my ultralight rod with 5 lb test braid.  It was actually kind of fun catching these large fish on light tackle.  I really wanted to catch some crappie, so I decided to move on and try the next marina.

On the way to the next marina, I trolled a small rattletrap crankbait to see if anything would hit it.  I was doubtful that it would work because of my failure to catch anything on a crankbait at the flats earlier this week.  However, halfway to the marina, I had a fish on my crankbait.  It turned out to be a small striper.  I forgot to snap a pic, but it was 15 inches.

Ryan and I got to the next marina, and we tried jigging again for crappie.  Ryan was actually pretty successful - he was catching a lot of crappie on his small gulp minnows.  I asked about his technique, and it sounded like he was doing exactly what I was doing back at the previous marina where I was catching the catfish.  I thought maybe it was the location that turned me into a catfish magnet, so I tried the vertical jigging again....and...I caught another catfish.  Several catfish, actually.  I was getting a little frustrated at this point, because I wanted to catch crappie!  At one point, I hooked up with a BIG fish.  It wouldn't surface, and it actually dragged me out of the bay I was fishing in and into the next one before showing itself.  It was a huge blue catfish.  I was excited about catching such a large fish, so I went to stick my lip gripper in its mouth, and I guess his small teeth rubbed the line the wrong way, because the line broke.

I originally had a 6lb test mono leader on my 5lb braid main line.  I had snapped it somehow while landing one of the earlier catfish, and lazily just tied my jig head directly onto the braid.  I am pretty sure that abrasion from the rough surface on the blue catfish's mouth was what caused my line to fail.  Never again will I make that mistake.  He was huge...

Since it was time to retie, I thought of something else to try.  Last year, when I was perch fishing, I had some success using soft plastic grubs on a spinner arm.  I tried adding the spinner arm to the gulp minnow, and voila!  I was starting to catch me some crappie.  I went through several more of these docks to try to catch some crappie worth eating.  There were a couple white perch in the mix of fish that I caught too, which was a pleasant surprise.  Eventually (inevitably) I hooked into another catfish, and that was when I decided I was done fishing here.  Catfish are fun to catch on ultralight tackle, but it's also frustrating when you're not targeting them.

Ryan and I moved around, casting our lures to the shoreline to see if we could catch some more bass.  We both ended up catching a couple bass, but none that were impressive in size.  I caught mine on the gulp minnow, and on the rattle trap crankbait.  The gulp minnow is so'll catch anything!

At this point, we slowly started making our way back to the launch and stopped by the 95 bridge to see if we could catch any catfish.  I didn't have any success there, so after a little while I parted with Ryan and I went back to the launch.  I was packed up and on my way home by 1.

My kayak and gear at the end of the day.

Fishing the Occoquan was interesting - it was a lot more fun that I thought it might be.  I also caught 6 species of fish today, which is pretty cool when you consider that they were all caught in the same body of water.  I brought home a few of the catfish, crappie, and white perch and cleaned them for tomorrow's fish fry!

Tomorrow's Dinner.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Susquehanna Flats

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All the reports on the hot fishing up in the Susquehanna flats had me wanting to try it out.  I have never fished the flats before, and I have never targeted stripers from my kayak before.  I had to give it a shot!  May 3 was the last day before the Catch & Release season ends for stripers in the Susquehanna, so I took the day off work and went to the Flats.

I arrived at Tydings Memorial Park in Havre de Grace, MD around 3:00PM, where I bumped into Cliff from the MKF forum.  He was just coming in from fishing for the day, and he had also been fishing the flats everyday for the past week or so.  He had some pointers to share, so I was all ears.  Use a long crankbait with silver and blue on it.  He was sharing how he caught several fish around 30", and lost his lure on a fish that almost spooled him.  After losing his crankbait - the only one he had of that color combo and style - he didn't get another hit the rest of his time out  there.  Well, I didn't have any crankbaits with blue on them, but I did have a long crankbait that I rigged up on one of my rods last night. It was silver and black, but close enough, I thought.

The marina by the boat ramp.

When I launched, I tried going straight out into the flats from the boat ramp, but quickly found myself in very shallow water (< 1') that I almost got stuck in.  I reversed outta there, and saw that the bigger boats were going through the marina out the entrance to enter the flats.  I followed them out, and when I got a look at the flats,  I thought to myself "so much water, where do I start?"  I could see that there were about 15-20 boats in an area south of where I was, so that was where I headed.  It was kind of unnerving paddling out into the open water for the first time.  But the other boaters were courteous the entire day, and I never felt unsafe in my kayak.

All the boaters...I need a better camera.

When I got near the other boats, I saw that there were a lot of people hooking up around me.  Every couple seconds you would hear someone's drag letting out line because of a fish.  I quickly brought in my crankbait that I had trolled the whole way out, and cast it out to retrieve it manually.  Within the first couple of minutes I hooked up with a nice 20" rockfish. He flopped out of my boat before I could snap a picture, so I don't have proof of that catch... A couple casts later, I hooked into another one that was a little bigger than the first one, but he spit the hook next to the boat.  Rats!

Lots of fish!

The first 30-40 minutes was probably the most exciting...the fishing slowed down a lot after that. I could tell that the fish were around, because they were surfacing everywhere and I could see them on my fish finder.  They just were not taking any of my lures - crankbaits, BKDs, bass assasins, etc.  Well, that's not entirely true, I was biased toward the crankbait because of what Cliff told me, and I caught a couple small stripers here and there on it.

One of the smaller stripers.

Around 7:00PM, my line snapped on a cast and I lost my lucky crankbait. I didn't have any more crankbaits in that style, and the sun was starting to set, so I headed in.  By the end of the night, I caught maybe 4 or 5 stipers, and lost about 8.  The treble hooks on my crankbait were mashed down, so I think I was having a hard time keeping the fish on the hooks.

Fishing the Susquehanna flats was a neat experience.  It was fun fishing among all the gas boats out there, and keeping up with them (most of them - there were a few anglers who were doing really well compared to the rest of us).  It was also neat to see the various techniques that people were using to catch the striped bass - cranking crankbaits, trolling crankbaits, soft plastics, fly fishing from a boat... I have already marked my calendar for fishing the "Susky Flats" again next spring, the last week of April.

I love kayak fishing...