Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Occoquan River Crappie

View Larger Map

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

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

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....