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.

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