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

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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.