Saturday, December 14, 2013

December Meet & Greet - Occoquan Crappie

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Today was the December Meet & Greet for the MKF forum.  When we met to organize the Meet & Greet schedule for 2013 back in January, I suggested that we have a Meet & Greet at the Occoquan for December...give the VA anglers a break from all the MD fishing locations that had been picked for the rest of the year.  The group thought that was a good idea, and further, they thought it'd be a good idea to have me host it too.  Doh!  Well, it wasn't that bad...all I was responsible for was picking a time, and picking a lunch spot.  We met at 8AM at the Occoquan Regional Park, and we were to have lunch at Dixie Bones BBQ at 1PM.

Leading up to today, the weather forecast was looking pretty grim...snow and ice were expected, but winds were supposed to be light, and the temperature wasn't going to be too bad.  But the chance of snow and ice was enough to keep most of the more careful anglers home.  Suddenly our attendance list of a dozen or so dropped to 4.  No matter!  I have fished in worse weather, and I wasn't going to back out as the host.

No snow! No rain! No wind!  Weather conditions couldn't have been better.

Luckily, the weather today was not bad, and I was pretty comfortable on the water until around when lunchtime came around, when I felt really cold.  I definitely have fished in worse conditions, and was glad to have been able to get out on the water today.  There were 5 of us from the forum that fished today, but I feel terrible as the host, as most people finished the day without a fish on the stringer.  I was the only one to go home with fish today.

The view from under the docks.

I started out fishing by the docks of the marina across the creek from the park.  The water level was pretty low today, which allowed me to paddle under the docks and navigate through the slips without risk of scratching up any of those nice boats.  I wasn't marking anything on my fishfinder and didn't get any hits on my chartreuse and red tube jig.  I gave up on the docks shortly after that, and went to the 95 bridge where I've caught most of my larger crappie at the Occoquan.

A technique I picked up from my friend Mike is to always have a line in the water.  He always catches fish on his fishing rod that's just sitting behind him with some kind of bait on it.  Today, I used some minnows that Ryan brought to share for today's fishing trip, and made sure to keep lively minnows in the water while I jigged with my lures.  This paid off once I figured out where the fish were.  When I was paddling around, I could see marks that looked like fish around 10 feet below the surface, so I used my fish finder to figure out how many cranks of the reel are required to get my minnow up from the bottom to 10 feet.  I would position the minnow at the right depth, and just sit it in my RAM rod holder.  I caught 4 of my 6 crappie of the day on the minnows.  The crappie weren't too aggressive with the minnows...every time I would only know I had a fish by observing the line moving away from me in the water.  The rod wasn't jumping or anything from the hits.

I had a lot of minnows, and I knew I wouldn't be needing minnows again for a while, so at one point I thought I'd try chumming the smaller minnows to try to draw the fish toward my line.  I think it might have worked...because I caught fish(twice) shortly after sending down the minnows.  By the end of the day, I had a stringer of pretty large crappie (for me), including a personal best size of 13 inches.  I think Ryan was the only other person to catch a fish, and I think he used the same technique that I used with the minnows.

Biggest bunch of crappie I've ever caught...

We all packed it up around 1PM and headed to Dixie Bones to eat some lunch and talk about fishing.  I love these Meet & Greets!  You fish, you eat, and you talk about fishing...  However, I hope not to host any Meet & Greets next year.  I'm a terrible host - the fishing was horrible today.  The fish played very hard to get, and the muddy <1' visibility water did not help.  On the bright side, I did have a cooler full of fish for tonight's dinner, and I think I'm starting to get better at interpreting the cryptic code that is displayed by my fish was my first time successfully using it to find and catch fish.

I'm also itching to get back to some saltwater....I would like to make a trip to the Norfolk area again soon.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Fishing

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Black Friday shopping is overrated...I'd rather be fishing.  My wife was kind enough to let me go out fishing the day after Thanksgiving this year.  My in-laws were in town once again, so I tried to keep the tradition going of catching dinner for the family.  Some places I had in mind this time included: the hot ditch on the Elizabeth River for some speckled trout, the Occoquan River for some crappie (and also for some recon fishing in preparation for the Maryland Kayak Fishing Meet & Greet I'm hosting in a couple weeks), the Wilson Bridge for some blue catfish, or the South River for some striped bass.  I would have liked to fish the Occoquan because I don't think I'll have time to fish it between now and the Meet & Greet, but with all the rain and winds that we had this week I knew the water would be muddy and low....not good for crappie fishing.  Well, my wife and kids liked blue catfish the last time I brought some home, so I figured the Wilson Bridge would probably be best since it's also the closest to home.

I met Ryan at Jones Point Park at 7:30AM and we quickly rigged our kayaks to launch on the free kayak launch that is there.  I took my camera out to take a picture of the launch area and was greeted with a "no battery charge" message on my screen.  Doh!  If you have no charge, how are you showing me that message???  Well, because of my dead camera, this post will not have any pictures.  Anyway, as soon as I started paddling around on the water, I could see tons of big marks on my fish finder.  The catfish must be everywhere around that bridge!

Well, I tucked behind the first wall from shore to hide from the current and got set up to do some bottom fishing with shrimp, spot and squid.  I have read that raw chicken breast works really well for blue catfish at the Wilson Bridge, but I wanted to get rid of some of these other baits that I had in the freezer from previous trips.  I assumed anything with a strong odor should work, as I always see Jeremy Wade on River Monsters using the smelliest, raunchiest baits for catfish.  Ryan had some more interesting offerings for the fish with chicken breast, and some other secret baits that were equally weird.

I started out by using some cooked shrimp that had worked for croaker in the summer, but as I waited for a nibble, Ryan managed to pull up 2 healthy blue catfish on his baits.  I had hope I could keep my hands and boat clean by using the shrimp, but it was apparent that I needed to get my hands dirty and switch tactics.  I pulled out my frozen spot and cut it up for bait.  Within the first few minutes I landed the first fish of the day - a healthy 22 incher!  Into the cooler he went, and I continued to fish for some more of his brothers and sisters.  The catching wasn't hot and steady, but I did manage to catch about 5 to take home for dinner, and a couple throwbacks that were too big for my liking.

At one point I tried checking out the other side of the bridge, because that was the side that the current was hitting.  Maybe the bite might be hotter there due to the stuff the current would carry toward the fish.  The wind and current were pretty strong, which made it hard to stay still and fish.  The next time I fish the Wilson Bridge, I'll have to remember to take something that I can use to attach to the holes in the walls to stay put.

Around noon Ryan and I decided to check out a warm water discharge in front of the DC water treatment plant to see if any striped bass were around.  We paddled against the wind toward the plant, and wandered around looking for the warm water discharge.  Having never fished there before (or any other warm water discharge) I had no idea what to look for.  However, during my paddle over, I saw what looked to be a fishing boat in the distance.  I just made a B-line to where they were and fought hard to ignore the bad stench in the air.  I eventually got there and found a pretty interesting site.  I could see the water churning a little differently from the rest of the river, and the water was crystal clear around the discharge area.  At one point I saw several schools of fish swimming under my boat - unfortunately the only ones I could make out were orange and goldfish-looking.  Not what we were looking for.

I called Ryan over, and he jigged around to see if he could catch anything, but nothing was biting.  Also, I didn't see any fish arches on my depth finder.  I don't know if it was because of the churning water or something, but my fish finder was acting up where it wasn't giving me accurate depth readings, and the temperature reading also went berserk.  I just paddled around looking for any signs of fish, but didn't see any after the school of goldfish that swam by.  I remember admiring how clear the water was around the warm water discharge, and could see the areas where the murky river water met the warmer water.  Perhaps next time we'll try jigging some lures starting in the muddy water and into the clear water to mimic baitfish being swept in from the river.

We eventually decided to head back to the launch area, which was difficult again because the wind blew us toward the ramp while the current pushed us back up river.  I was pooped (pun intended) by the end of the day!  By 2:30PM Ryan and I were packed up and went our separate ways.  As soon as I got home I cleaned the 5 catfish I kept and we had a fish fry for dinner.  I kind of messed up the fish because I added way too much salt (oops).  My mother-in-law made a separate batch of fish for my older son, who has a wheat and egg allergy....and that tasted pretty good.  However, I think I still prefer saltier water inhabitants for the dinner table.  I need to head back to Virginia Beach this winter...

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Pt Lookout Meet & Greet

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I've made a lot of trips to Pt. Lookout this year.  Even more than when I actually lived in Maryland!  Well, today was the monthly Meet & Greet with the kayak anglers from MKF, and it was held at Pt. Lookout State Park.  

Rise and shine!

The planned starting time for the event was 7AM, but I arrived a little earlier at 6AM to catch the sunrise and also to take a nap in order to rest from the 2.5 hour drive from home.  I snapped a couple pictures from the causeway, and headed to the launch area where I was surprised to see a few forum members already unloading their cars.  I greeted hello to them and proceeded to take my power nap in my car.  30 minutes later, I unloaded my kayak and headed out to the water.  This M&G was supposed to be pretty large, with up to 30 kayakers confirmed for the event - while on the water, it certainly seemed like it was close to could see at least one kayak in any direction you looked out on the water.

The Kayak launch site.

On my way out to the light house, I trolled a single Yozuri Crystal Minnow behind me hoping to catch something on the way.  I actually didn't have any other plan of attack...I intended to troll most of the day unless we found a school of fish that wanted to play with some jigs.  The winds were pretty light, the air was crisp but not too cold, and the sun was starting to peak above the lighthouse.  It was a most beautiful sight, so I took out my camera to try to get a nice shot of the lighthouse.  As soon as I stopped paddling and went to reach my camera I heard my rod bouncing behind me.  My first catch of the day came within the first 15 minutes of the trip!  Today was going to be another banner day!

First catch of the day!

The striper was 13 inches - 5 inches away from legal size - so I quickly snapped a picture, let him go, and proceeded to paddle toward the lighthouse.  There were already a few yak'ers right beyond the lighthouse pitching lures at the sand bar that extends far out from the lighthouse.  I joined in by trolling alongside the sandbar with my trusty Yozuri, but did not get any love from the fish.  After a while of trolling there, I moved on to trolling elsewhere, and then another place, and then another... I kept this up for the next 5 hours with nothing to show for it...  I did have a hit late in the day in about 17 feet of water, but I missed it and he never came back for seconds on my lure.

You know fishing was slow when I take more pictures of scenery than fish....

Unfortunately, most everyone else at the Meet & Greet had similar experiences.  I was actually lucky to have caught a single fish!  Today was not to be the banner day that I expected...but it was still nice to be out on the water, and it was good to see old buddies and meet new friends from the MKF forum.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Memorable Day at Kiptopeke & The Kindness of More Strangers

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I had been longing for this day for the past month.  I had a severe case of tog fever, which included symptoms of sleepless nights, vivid dreams of tog-tabulous days, and twitching muscles in my arm whenever I felt a tap-tap on my work desk.  I even pumped myself up during last week's heavy rain storms by watching videos and reading old fishing reports of tautog at Kiptopeke State Park.  I was ready to catch some tautog!

These were the conditions we went out in.  Not bad at all!

It was 7:30AM Saturday morning when Ryan met Mike and me at the park's boat ramp to fish.  The winds were light, and the sky was overcast - it was nothing like what we were expecting based on the weather reports we had closely followed all week (thank goodness!).  Things couldn't be going any better for us, it was going to be a fabulous day of fishing!  We quickly rigged up our kayaks, split up the blue crabs and shrimp we brought, and got on the water.  Mike and I headed straight for the northern set of ships while Ryan made his way to the southern group.  Mike and I further split up with him fishing the bay-side of the ships and me fishing the shore-side.

Bait stealer!

He wouldn't puff up into a ball for me...

Our enthusiasm and excitement slowly faded away as we went from hole to hole without much action.  I had a bunch of bait stealers steal my bait, but never pulled up a tog.  Mike did slightly better than me on the other side of the ships, but his fish were still too short to keep.  I paddled down to see if Ryan was doing any better, and he reported that he only caught a handful of toadfish (blech!) and some short togs.  Well, at least the togs aren't entirely absent from the area...  I went on the shore-side of the southern set of ships and found a hole where I got at least a little bit of action - 2 black sea bass and a puffer fish.  Though they weren't what I was hoping for, it was still nice to catch something, and the puffer fish was a surprise because I had never caught one before.

Not sure what this is, but I caught it while trying to find some trout or drums.

It was around 11AM, and I was feeling a little less than optimistic about catching any keeper togs this day.  I joked with Mike and told him I wondered if maybe the speckled trout or red drum action might be better...I would go closer to shore to see if I might hook up with any.  I headed toward the beach area, casting some gulp mullet on a jig head along the way.  I saw several boats anchored up right up against the shore, so I headed toward them to see if they might be on to something...  By the time I reached them, they had moved on so I thought maybe it was nothing....but still I tried casting along the beach shoreline and jigging my gulp with nothing to show for it...

While jigging, I saw some movement on the looked like leaves blowing in the wind or something, but it also looked like a crab.  I couldn't tell from the water, and was interested in seeing them up close.  Maybe I could catch a crab and use it as tog bait?  I beached my kayak and chased after the funny looking crabs.  They are fast little buggars!  I never could catch one, but I did see glimpses of them inside the deep holes they dug in the sand.  As I was playing in the sand like a 4-year old, a family walked by with a bucket of spot.  They asked how I was doing and I told them that the fishing had been slow.  They told me they were going a little further down to try for some red drum with the spot that they had caught.  They invited me to join them, and offered to let me use some spot.  I politely declined the spot, but took their advice on where to fish.

This didn't look fishy to me at all...who would have thought?

I paddled over first and started jigging my gulp to no avail.  I stayed out a little further from shore to keep my distance from the shore anglers.  I then proceeded to watch the family on shore cast out their cut spot and then witnessed all 4 of them hook up with some nice-sized red drum almost immediately.  What in the world???  How did that happen?  I kept jigging in hopes that I might hook up with one too, but came up with nothing while the family on shore got into their 2nd set of fish.  What are they doing that I'm not doing?!?!  I overheard them asking each other for a measuring device to check the size of their fish.  No one in the group had one, so I paddled in and offered to let them use my hawg trough to measure their fish.  While they were busy measuring their fish I tried casting my gulp from shore and hooked up with my first red drum - a 20" keeper!  Then I caught another one, and another one.  In less than 10 minutes I had limited out on red drum.  I couldn't believe it!

Excuse my silly smile...I was too happy.

Mike paddled in from the ships out of curiosity because he saw that I had beached.  He soon saw all the action we were having on shore and tried casting some lures in our vicinity to see if he could join the action.  At first he wasn't getting much, so I invited him to beach next to me and pointed him in the general direction of where I was catching fish.  In no time he had a drag pulling fish on, and then another.  As we fought our separate fish, we just looked at each other and laughed like school girls because we couldn't believe how easy it was to catch these fish, and the fight they put up against our light gear was exhilarating.  After a while, we said to each other "you would be a lot of fun to catch these on our kayaks".  Oh yea!  I went back to the family and thanked them for letting me fish with them, and took back my hawg trough to get back on the water.

This one was on the larger end of the range of fish we were catching.  My largest was 26".

Mike and I got back in the water, and we put a little bit of distance between us and the shore fishermen so that we wouldn't interfere with their catching fun.  The family was really nice about us fishing near them, and another boat even came by and joined in on the fun.  Mike had also called Ryan up to tell him to come join us if he hadn't been catching anything.  So there we were...a family of 4 on shore, 3 kayakers, and a boat with 3 anglers.  All of us were fishing in an area about the size of a football field, and we all were hooking up with fish left and right.  These fish were also not the shorter-than-legal red drum that I was used to catching - every single one of them was in the legal slot range.  The fight that these fish put on was a lot of fun on our light tackle.  Almost every cast yielded a fish, and every fish gave up drag pulling runs that pulled our kayaks in all directions.

It's nice to fish close to other boats without bad attitudes or feelings.

In the middle of our fishing fun, I saw an older angler on shore who could obviously see us catching fish, but was not catching anything himself.  I felt a bit of compassion for him, it must have been killing him to see us hook up every minute while he couldn't participate in the drum festival.  Since we had all limited out by this time, and were just catching and releasing, I took the opportunity to take the next fish I caught to offer it to the old man.  I paddled to shore and asked if he would like it, and he gladly accepted.  While I handed him the fish I gave him some pointers on what he could do differently, and also suggested he move down a bit closer to us, because it seemed like the drum were concentrated in a specific area.  I didn't stick around much after that so that I could get back to fishing.  After a while, another shore angler who saw our success moved in to join us.  I am glad he was able to join the fun, because he was kind enough to further assist the older angler.  I watched him convince the old man to move closer in toward us, and even cast out for him.  Eventually the old man got the hang of it and hooked up with a few nice red drum himself.  I couldn't help but smile as I watched that act of kindness from another angler, and also the old man hooking up with these strong fish.

Me boating my fish, Mike fighting a fish, and Ryan probably about to hook into a fish.
Caught this guy on a 6" BKD on a large bucktail.

In the meantime, Ryan, Mike and I proceeded to pull up fish after fish after fish.  That was great for Ryan, because he picked up over 300 points for his kayak wars tournament.  That's pretty awesome.  After a while we started changing things up to make things more interesting by trying different lures - ridiculous looking lures, lures that we love but have never caught anything on (you know you have some personal items you love, but have been useless to you...), ridiculously large lures, topwater lures....and the funny thing is that we caught fish on all of these (except when Mike tried fishing a whole blue crab on a hook).  We could not believe what we were experiencing... I think if it had been any other commonly schooling fish like bluefish or perch, it wouldn't have been such a big deal.  However, these were slot-sized, healthy, red drum...these fish fight harder than the average fish.  This was what any average middle bay angler would dream of!

My thumb at the end of the day from holding open the red drum mouths for unhooking.

After 2 hours and what was probably around 70-80 fish between the 3 of us, the bite stopped and the action was dead.  That was probably a good thing because my elbow was hurting from all the reeling, and I needed to head home soon to rest up for Sunday service the next morning.  We paddled back in to pack up and head home.  While packing up we continued to talk about what an amazing trip this turned out to be.  If we had played it safe and stayed home, we totally would have missed this unforgettable day of fishing.  The gamble I took the day before really paid off!  I caught my first light line striper and my first (30 or so) keeper red drum.  Oh, I did also catch my first speckled trout, but it was a dinky 12 incher that went back in the water to grow some more.

Those colors....beautiful.

The 4-hour ride home was a blur...I just daydreamed about and reflected on the past 2 days - the light line striper, the family that shared their fishing spot with me, the old man who I gave a fish to, the gentleman who helped the old man, the many drag-pulling redfish I caught, the two trusty guys who took the gamble with me and shared the reward, and my awesome wife who let me go out on an overnight fishing trip.  I am one lucky kayak angler.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The HRBT, The Gamble & The Kindness of Strangers

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About a month ago I got an invitation from some buddies on the MKF forum to go fishing in Virginia Beach this weekend.  I joked that he must have sent the advanced notice because I've had to decline the past several trips because my weekend had already been booked with family stuff.  It's tough getting out when you have a wife and two flounders...I mean kids.  Actually, we also have a third flounder on the'll come just in time for Spring Trophy season.  I have mixed feelings about that... haha.

Anyway, the plan was to fish for some tautog at Kiptopeke State Park, but since it is such a rarity for me to be down in Virginia Beach to fish, and since I was off work on Friday for some volunteer duties, I decided that I would head down Friday afternoon to try again for my first light line striper.  Leading up to Friday, things were not looking very good at all.  It had been raining with heavy winds all week at home, and the same was forecasted for Virginia Beach.  I have a coworker who's a meteorologist by training, and he also recommended staying home - suggesting there would be 25-30 mph winds.  That really bummed me out, because I was looking forward to this trip for a month!

I spent my evenings looking at the weather and wind forecasts for the weekend, and the forecasts kept going back and forth.  It looked manageable, then looked down right dangerous, and back to manageable.  Finally, early Friday afternoon I made my decision...I'm going.  Whenever I get scared away by wind, I miss out on great I'm going to tough this one out, and hopefully have an awesome trip.  It was a total gamble.  I texted my fishing pals, and told them I'm going down and that I would report the conditions to them.  That helped to finally push one of them, Mike, over the fence and join me.  We were to meet at HRBT that evening to fish the lightline.

Where is everyone?

Five hours later, I arrived at the HRBT.  I held my breath as I crossed the bridge, hoping to see calm waters...  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the waves weren't bad at all, and the wind was pretty light - maybe I made the right decision!  But then, I arrived at Willoughby public boat ramp to an empty parking lot.  I actually drove past it at first because I didn't recognize it without all the trucks and trailers!  I thought to myself "Where is everyone?  Do they know something that I don't know?  What am I doing here...?"  It's a good thing Mike was going to join me, because the empty parking lot would have sent me home if I were alone.  Mike joined me soon after with his awesome dog, Mojo.  We unpacked and at around 8PM we headed out in a slight breeze to the light line with high hopes for an epic night of fishing.

For this trip, I wanted to focus most of my efforts on catching a light line striper...which meant that I have to find these guys first.  Early in the evening, there was a bit of current, so it should have been prime time for hungry fish to be prowling the surface.  I paddled along the light line in the shadow of the bridge looking for dark shadows under the water.  It actually didn't take long to spot my first striper.  At first I thought I was just imagining it, but it actually wasn't very shy and I was able to get pretty close to it to see it clearly.  I tried pitching a mirrolure, some unweighted soft plastics, and some floating crankbaits...and while it did swim in the direction of the baits I tossed, it wasn't interested and eventually disappeared.  I thought light lining was supposed to be easy!  At least anyone who's successfully fished the light line makes it seem that way...

It's kind of hard to get a good picture of the light line...

For the rest of the tide change, I patrolled the light line and saw some fish here and there, but didn't catch anything.  Then the slack tide came, and Mike and I just jigged the bottom to see what we might find.  Mike actually did pretty well by catching some flounder, grey trout, and a small speckled trout.  Me...I caught absolutely nothing.  The whole slack tide, I was skunked.

The current started up again around 1AM, and I went back to patrolling the light line to find my first keeper striper of the year (that's right, I haven't caught a keeper yet this year).  Though you could tell the current was there, it wasn't really ripping.  I had read that you want to find the stripers where the current is strong.  I paddled around to find some areas where the water ran stronger, but didn't travel far before I gave up.  It was getting late, and I wasn't seeing any more fish on the light line so I was about to give up when....another kayaker paddled by on his way back to the ramp and told Mike that he had caught some fish further out toward the bridge tunnel.  What?! Really??  I paddled off toward where he came from with renewed hope.  I came to catch my first light line striper...I must catch one!

As I got closer to the tunnel, I noticed that the current was much stronger.  I paddled a little toward the light line facing the current and was surprised to see the water churning so much.  Maybe this is what I should have been looking for all along.  So as not to spook any fish, I paddled in and out between the rows of pilings to inspect the light line for any signs of fish...and finally, I saw them.  There was a pair of stripers sitting by the edge of the shadow, waiting for some food.  I pitched a pink and yellow Mirrorlure toward them but overshot them to the left a good ways, and didn't get any interest.  I reeled it back in and tried again, and watched as the two fish swam toward my lure this time.  They disappeared under the water, but seconds later my rod bent over and my drag was singing.  Fish on!

My first HRBT striper!

This fish was strong and it did not want to come up.  It went around the pilings a couple of times which had me a little worried that my braid would rip as it rubbed against the pilings.  It was also kind of difficult to paddle in the current to follow the fish and unwrap the line.  However, I finally pulled the sucker away from the structure, and he pulled me over to the other span of the bridge where I finally got him to the surface.  I pulled the fish aboard, and happily had my first light line striper.  A healthy 24" fat beauty.  This fish was shorter than the 28" striper I caught earlier this year during C&R at the Susquehanna Flats, but it was much fatter and stronger.  That was a fun fight.

Look how high the tide was.

I tried for a little while longer to find some more stripers, but there was another boat nearby and I didn't want to encroach on his area.  It also was around 2AM by this point, and I was pretty tired, so Mike and I headed back to the ramp.  Back at the ramp, we were surprised to see that the water came up really high.  That was kind of interesting to see the piers next to the ramps submerged in water.  The water also came right up to the point where the ramp starts.

So Mike and I finished packing up and rested up for part 2 of our trip.  I only got one fish the entire night, but it was a doozy (enough of a doozy to write a whole blog post about a single fish)!  I have to thank the kind stranger who tipped us off about the stripers for my fish.  I would have felt so defeated if I had to paddle back with my second skunk at the HRBT...

So at the end of the night, I thought that my gamble of coming down to Virginia Beach had paid off.  The Kiptopeke trip will just be icing on the cake...but little did I know that the fishing at Kiptopeke the next day would be the highlight of the be detailed in the next post.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

CBKA Tournament 2013

The 2013 Chesapeake Bay Kayak Anglers tournament was held this weekend.  This is the only tournament that I planned to attend this year, and I didn't register because I'm a great angler and felt confident about being able to land a prize-winning fish - I hadn't even fished the bay bridge or any area near Kent Island at all this year.  I registered because it's a big kayak angling party with other like-minded people who gather to fish, have fun before fishing, share stories, and help two great organizations.
The Bay Bridge from Camp Wright

The event began for me Friday afternoon when I arrived at the camp around 4PM.  The captain's meeting wasn't until 7, but I decided to go early to beat traffic and to just hang out with whoever came early.  I arrived to find the CBKA staff busy finishing up preparations for the tournament with registrations and captain's bags.  There is a lot of work involved in coordinating a tournament, and I just got a small glimpse of it - those guys deserve a lot of thanks for the hard work they put into it.  There were also a handful of other familiar faces hanging out and talking about fishing, which I joined in on.  

As more people slowly trickled in, we continued to just lounge around and talk while some anglers set up their tents to stay the night.  I borrowed a 1-man tent from a coworker this year, which was kind of exciting because I haven't slept in a tent in years!
Rockfish and Speckled Trout Masgouf!

We finally had the captain's meeting around 7 where we went over the rules, and Shawn Kimbro also made an appearance to wish everyone luck and to share a quick fishing report from his experience.  After the meeting, we all just hung out and shared more stories and some people participated in a potluck dinner this year.  That was a pretty fun time...a bushel of crabs, shrimp skewers, a masgouf demonstration from Mustafa, and a bunch more food.  These guys know how to put together a potluck!  I hear the festivities went on through the night, but I retired around 10 to get some rest for the next morning.

I had been watching the weather forecast for the day of the tournament the entire week before the tournament, and I knew it was going to be pretty windy.  Not as bad as last year's winds, but still enough wind that would make fishing the bay bridge miserable for a paddle yak'er.  So I spent a couple nights studying the charts and decided to try Eastern Bay, figuring Kent Island should block the winds well enough to make it manageable.  So a little after 6AM, I launched out of Shipping Creek to try live-lining on some of the ledges in Eastern Bay.

The sun rising in front of me as I paddle toward Eastern Bay

I paddled out in search of some shallower water to try to fill up my bucket with some live spots.  I soon found them in about 4 feet of water, and quickly picked up about 6 or 7 on fish bites blood worms.  I even caught a tiny croaker in between the spots - it was too bad that there was not a "Smallest Fish" division this year!

I used the GPS on my Mark 4 fish finder to try to paddle out toward some water around 15' in depth that would fall down to 20'+.  While searching out these ledges, I trolled a deep diving Yo-Zuri Crystal minnow to try to pick up some fish between live lining.  I caught a striper and a perch in between fishing holes on the crystal minnow.  Neither fish was large enough to be competitive in the tournament, but I was glad to not be skunked!  Live lining did not prove to be any more productive...I didn't get any hits from any stripers that may have been in Eastern Bay.  The wind was also much stronger in the middle of the bay than it was in the channel, so it was hard staying in position to let the spot swim around freely.  I was even drifting at up to 1.5 mph from the wind.  

Rather than snapping pictures of fish, I was taking pictures of the scenery... look at that sky!

The highlight from live lining was probably when one of my spot got completely ripped apart, which was probably the result of some bluefish, but I didn't hook up with anything.  The 5 or 6 other spot were really lucky, as I let them go after several trips down to the bottom of the bay.  I gave up live-lining after the last spot and trolled some more to see what I could snag up.  I probably paddled about 8 miles in the wind, and finally gave up around 1PM.  I headed back to the launch ramp to weigh-in early and just rest.
Raffle Prizes!

The dinner and banquet started around 4 or 5, which is always a good time of raffling and eating good food.  I actually did well in the raffles this year and snagged a couple of cool items - there were a couple big ticket items, but the most exciting prizes for me were a pair of fish grips (I've always wanted one...) and several of Woody's feather jigs (he's closing shop)!  Some representatives from the two organizations (CCA and Make-a-wish) that the tournament benefits also gave some presentations.  A video was played about a recent make-a-wish grant for a boy who wanted to meet RG III - he got his wish and much more!  That was really cool... the evening went on until around 7:30 or so, after which we all went our separate ways.  I stuck around a little to avoid the madness of the rush out, and to thank the organizers for another great tournament.  This was a great event, and I will be marking the date on my calendar as soon as next year's tournament date is announced!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Jonas Green Perching

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I've been out of commission for the past month.  I hurt my back while picking up my younger son, and have been going to a chiropractor for the past 4 weeks.  The first day after the injury was the worst - I couldn't get out of bed and had to take off work.  The rest of the week, I had to walk hunched over and slowly like a 90 year old man.  One of the biggest worries on my mind after the injury was whether I'd be able to kayak again!  Almost every visit to the chiropractor I asked him when I'd be able to lift a kayak over my head again, and he finally gave the okay last week!  I was eager to get back on the water, especially since the CBKA tournament is only a few weeks away now - I haven't fished any water near the Bay Bridge at all this year, and I also haven't fished in over a month...I wasn't even sure how if I'd be able to paddle around well enough to fish after my injury.  Now that I've got the doctor's permission, I had to make a trip.

 A friend of mine has been fishing from shore and piers a lot this summer, and I offered to take him on one of my kayaks before the summer ended.  Summer's just about over now, so I invited him out to a trip to Jonas Green in Annapolis.  It's not quite as big water as the Bay Bridge, but fishing will probably be pretty similar to what I'll be doing for the CBKA tournament.  I also haven't kayak fished Jonas Green in a really long time.  Kind of like how my Ocean City trip was special, Jonas Green holds a special place in my heart because it is the first saltwater body of water that I've fished in from a kayak.  My first year of kayak fishing, I made several trips to Jonas Green because it was relatively calm, and also close to home.  I think this is my third year now, so I was eager to see how different it might feel....
First fish of the day!

 I met up with my friend, Seong, at 7AM  in the Jonas Green parking lot.  The parking lot was especially crowded, I guess because it was a holiday weekend.  I had to park in the upper lot, but that was no problem because I had my kayak cart with me.  I just had to make two trips up and down for both kayaks.  Seong and I hit the water around 7:45 or so, and immediately paddled to some of the piers next to Jonas Green.  We were hoping to get some perch today, but the fish were not really cooperating.  After checking out two sets of piers, I suggested that we cross the river to some rocky shoreline where I had caught some perch before.  Seong was up for the challenge of crossing the river, so we headed over.  The paddle across the river actually felt a lot easier than I remembered.  I remember being exhausted halfway through, and also being afraid of the boat traffic.  Boat traffic was pretty light today, so that wasn't a problem.  I also felt like the paddle across the river was a cinch.  What a big difference 2 years makes!

Seong's first fish in a kayak.

 Once over, Seong and I jigged in front of the rocky shoreline and hooked up with a couple small perch.  The fish were not as active as I had seen them, so that was a little disappointing.  We still avoided a skunk with at least one fish each.  After a little while, my friend wasn't feeling too good, so he had to head in and take a break.  Meanwhile, I decided to explore some areas that I had not fished before while trolling an X-Rap.  I hoped to hook up with some stripers, of which I caught 2 on the X-Rap.  They were both rather small, and I also wanted to practice some jigging with BKDs, so I headed back across the river to try jigging the bridge wrecks in front of the pier, and some hard shell bottoms that I knew about in front of the restaurant by Jonas Green.  Neither place produced any fish, and I was getting hungry, so I headed back to the launch area on the beach, and met up with my friend.  We packed it up and headed home.

He was ambitious!
Must be an older brother...

A croaker on a feather jig??

Well, neither of us got skunked, and my back wasn't in pain at the end of the trip, so I would call it a success!  Though my back didn't hurt, it was very sore by the time I got home and packed everything back up.  I really hope I can strengthen my back enough before the tournament. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ocean City Meet & Greet

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Saturday was the July Meet & Greet for the MKF forum members.  It was held in Ocean City, MD and the target species was flounder!  This fishing trip was special for me, because my first saltwater trip was here, as well as my first fishing trip with the forum members 2 years ago.  I was very much looking forward to the trip, because I don't get many opportunities to fish in real saltwater, and also because I hadn't fished with my buddies from the forum in a while either.  An added bonus to the day would be if I could bring home some flatties for dinner!

Paddling out into the inlet area.

We all met up bright and early at 6:30AM at the Lucky Angler Bait & Tackle store, a block away from the Sunset marina that we were going to launch from.  The shop owner was really helpful with giving us tips and her daughter took care of me with some huge live minnows that I was going to use as back-up in case the gulp + bucktails didn't work out for me.  We chatted a little in the parking lot about technique and tactics, and headed to the marina to start our day.

First fish of the day!

A few of us headed out first, and slowly paddled out as we waited for the others to rig up and join us.  When we got to the opening to the inlet, we slowly dabbled with our jigs around the piers and rocks to see if we could get anything early in the morning.  I had some good luck vertical jigging gulp by bridge and pier pilings last time, so I tried that around some of the pilings by the opening.  I managed to pick up a tiny black sea bass in about 10 feet of water on my gulp mullet.  It wasn't huge, but I was still happy to see a live fish! 

Now that my jigging hand has gotten warmed up with a fish, I started venturing out into the inlet.  It was still early enough that there were no boaters in sight, and the fog still hadn't lifted from the water yet.  The water in the inlet was also very calm, which allowed me to check out some deep areas by the inlet where I thought there might be some flounder.  I had heard from others that deep drop-offs and holes are good places to jig for flounder.  As I paddled out toward the inlet, I was surprised to find a drop-off that went very quickly from 8-9 feet down to 30 feet.  Perfect!  I quickly sent down my 1.5 oz white bucktail with a 4" chartreuse gulp mullet.  It was kind of hard to maintain my position, and I could read from my new-to-me fishfinder that I was drifting at about .5 mile to 1 mile per hour.  Still, I had a couple hits on the gulp, and lost a good fish near the boat within the first 30 minutes.  I kept at it for a while, but ended up losing several rigs due to snags as I drifted out of the hole and toward the rocks.  I really wished I had a hobie...

My first keeper flounder!

I eventually snagged all of my bucktails that were heavy enough to hit bottom, which was no problem because I had my bucket of minnows!  I brought along a bunch of tog rigs that I had left from my Kiptopeke trip, which I thought would probably work for flounder.  I baited up the largest minnow I could get a hold of and sent him on down.  Within a few minutes I had a fish on!  I was hopeful that it would be a keeper flounder, and sure enough it was an 18" flounder.  My first keeper flounder ever!  I stuck around the inlet area for a while longer, but didn't have any luck.  All the big flounder boats were also coming out to play, and it was actually getting a bit crowded, so I decided to head over to the route 50 bridge.

Ocean City from the water

The bridge area was not anybetter, and the water was actually very murky.  There had been some very strong storms in the area the day before, and I guess it really muddied up the water behind the inlet.  Several other kayakers were by the bridge as well, and no one really had much success, probably because of the low visibility.  I moved on to head back toward the inlet, while fishing along the docks on the ocean city side.  The water was actually much cleaner here than by the bridge.  With an incoming tide the entire morning, I guess the cleaner ocean water was making its way in.  I hoped that I could pick up some more fish in this cleaner water, but for the next several hours I didn't catch another thing.  The current had really started to pick up too, and I was drifting at 1-2 miles per hour.  That got kind of tiring after a while so I headed back towards the marina a bit away from the inlet.

Couple other kayakers by the jetty in the inlet.

I decided to take it easy, and just drifted around in the bay area while casually eating some snacks.  I was surprised to be getting some hits on my minnow as I left my rod to rest over the side of my kayak.  Maybe there are some fish here too?  I quickly finished up my snack and picked up my rod to try a little harder to catch something.  After a few drifts I finally hooked up with another flounder.  This one gave a bit of a stronger fight than my first one, and it turned out to be another 18" fish.  My second keeper!  Now I was happy with the day's catch and would be content with going home with 2 flounder.  Not much later, the others in the group were chatting on the VHF about getting hungry, so we all headed in and packed up to head to Pizza Tugo's for lunch.  We had a good time sharing stories and enjoyed some food... These Meet & Greets are great not only because of the fishing, but also the relationships that we build from the lunches afterwards. 

Dinner for 4

I considered going back out to fish some more after lunch, but my wife texted me saying she was having a rough day with the boys, so I decided to head on home.  That was okay, because I caught more keepers than I had hoped for, and it also left time in the evening to prepare one of the fish for dinner.  I haven't really been too fond of frozen flounder from the store, but fresh flounder is actually really tasty!  I baked one for dinner Saturday night, which was enough to feed my family of 4, and I filleted the other one to have with my in-laws who were coming in a few days to visit.  We ended up having sashimi with that one, which was also very good.

Chomp Chomp

This was another successful fishing trip.  Everyone caught fish, with maybe half of us going home with keepers.  No one turtled this time.  And I didn't get any bad sun burns.  I need to live closer to the ocean...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Point Lookout Family Picnic

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 My fondest childhood memories are of days when my family and I would go on long drives to go fishing on the bay.  My dad taught me how to bait hooks, cast top & bottom rigs, unhook fish, and many more.  I remember fishing with my dad, but I don't remember the last time I fished with him - it has to have been over 7 years ago... Well, my parents are in town for a few weeks, and I took the opportunity to share my joy of kayak fishing with my dad.  I took the day off on Monday to take the family to Point Lookout for a picnic, some fishing, and hopefully a fish dinner at the park.  

Caleb looking for bugs, while the adults prepare lunch.

We got to the park around 10:30AM and started out by spending some time on the beach and preparing for lunch.  The picnic/beach area was pretty vacant, so we were lucky to get the picnic table right next to the beach. Dad and I got the grill going while Mom and my wife prepared the table, and the two boys played in the sand.  It was fun watching the boys play in the sand and get their feet wet in the water.  My older son, Caleb, loves bugs...he spent most of his time foraging for crawling things in the sand.  And we learned today that my younger son is a neat-freak - he does not like to get his hands and feet dirty.  

After our steak and salad picnic we packed up and drove over to the bay side of the park.  The water looked a little choppy on the Potomac side, but the bay side was smooth as glass.  That's the nice thing about Point Lookout - if the wind is in a east-west or west-east direction, you can always fish on the side that's blocked by the trees and land.  My dad and I unloaded the kayaks and carried them down to the south-side pet beach for launch.  My oldest son begged to go, so I thought we'd bring him along - grandpa would love to spend more time with him, after all.  Based on my experience with the stability of the Tarpon 100, I thought my dad could handle paddling it with Caleb in front of him.  The plan was just to paddle and fish for a little bit with Caleb and to bring him back for his nap shortly after.

Wake up!  Note that we all had our PFD's on...Safety first!

Well, my dad and Caleb did great!  My dad looked pretty comfortable, and Caleb was definitely comfortable because he fell asleep on the water!  When we got to water about 10 feet deep, we rigged our top & bottom rigs with cooked salad shrimp and started fishing.  I tried to help my dad by rigging for him, and at one point I forgot that I took his tackle box.  Everything was going perfectly until that my dad reached over for the tackle box, he leaned over a little too far and PLOP!  He and Caleb turtled right in front of my eyes.  It felt like it all happened in slow motion.  The surprised look in my dad's eyes as the boat slowly rolled over will never escape my memory... 

Luckily everyone had their PFDs on, and no one got hurt.  My dad quickly got Caleb into my boat, and I talked him through the process of how to right the kayak and how to get back in.  I have never experienced a turtle myself, so I had to actually go off of what I had heard people share on MKF.  If it wasn't for the experience shared by the great guys on the forum, I don't think I would have known how to help my dad.  The only casualty from that fiasco was a lost rod and reel with an X-rap on it.  That's okay, because the most precious cargo was safe and sitting in front of me.  We then proceeded to get all the floating tackle boxes out of the water, and luckily one of the rods I gave my dad to use was leashed to the holder, so he was still able to fish.  As he reeled the line back in, he actually had a croaker on it - he caught the first fish of the day!

My wet dad with the first fish of the day.

After letting Caleb play with the fish a little, I asked my dad if he was okay, and if he felt comfortable being on the water alone.  He said that he's not afraid of a little water, so I paddled Caleb back to shore for his nap.  He actually fell back asleep on the way in, and woke up just as we pulled up to shore.  My mom and wife had watched the whole turtling scene, but were surprisingly calm about it. Thank goodness!

The norm for the day.

I paddled back to my dad and asked if he had caught anything.  He said he caught 3 small ones that he let go, which was disappointing to hear...but then he pulled the stringer out of the water with 4 or 5 croakers.  He caught enough for dinner before I even caught one!  I quickly dropped my rig down, and started a fun day of pretty consistent croaker action.  The largest one I caught was 13 inches, while the majority of the fish were in the 8 to 10 inch range.  There were a lot of throwbacks.  I've said it before, but I think croaker are pretty strong fighters for their size.  Many atimes I hooked up with a fish, and was hopeful for a 13 to 14 incher, but was greeted on the surface by a puny 8 incher.  

Dad hooked up with a skate. "Woah! I got a huge one!"

Around 5PM the wind picked up on the bay side, and we wanted to grill some fish for dinner at the park before heading home, so we decided to head back in.  We quickly packed up the van, and went to the fish cleaning area by the boat ramp.  I loved the fact that they had a place to clean fish on site!  My dad and I scaled and cut the fish while my mom washed them out with water.  The job went pretty quickly with the three of us working together.  I wanted to try a style of preparing fish that Mustafa from MKF shared, which is to cut a fish in half like a butterfly from the top to the bottom.  It was actually easier than I thought, and resulted in a clean cut fish.

Everyone's excited about the catch!

I want my kitchen to be like this.

We finished cleaning the fish and the fish-cleaning area, and headed to the picnic area where we had an hour left to grill and eat our dinner.  We ate our dinner, the boys played on the playground a bit, and then we packed up to start our trip back home.  Today was a most memorable day that I am sure I will never forget.  A delicious picnic on the beach with my family, a turtle experience with my dad and son, a banner day of catching fish with my dad, and a delicious grilled fish dinner as the sun prepared to set over the beach.  I look forward to having many more days like today in the future.