Thursday, October 30, 2014

Chasing Birds Aboard Thunder Road

I got an opportunity to join my fishing buddies Mike and Ryan on a private fishing trip with Shawn Kimbro aboard his center console, Thunder Road.  Mike had won the trip at a CCA event last year, and he finally was able to organize the trip with Shawn for some fall striper fishing.  The prize allowed for two fishing buddies to tag along, and Ryan and I were lucky to be asked to join Mike on this excursion.  Thanks Mike!

We weren't scheduled to meet with Shawn until 3PM, so I took advantage of my time in the area by shopping a little at Bass Pro in the morning, and also doing some shopping at Shore Tackle & Custom Rods.  I won a gift certificate to the shop during the CBKA tournament raffle, and the shop is located by the Kent Narrows, so I figured that I would stop in, say thanks for sponsoring the tournament, and get some gear.  I came out of the little shop with a new custom-built jigging rod that I hoped to use to catch some big stripers later in the day.

Working birds.  Photo credit: Shawn Kimbro.

We met up with Shawn Kimbro and launched out of Shipping Creek in no time.  Shawn was really knowledgeable of the area, which was evident by all the comments he made about various underwater structures we were passing as we rode out to the mouth of Eastern Bay.  Some of the areas might be accessible via a kayak, but they would require a good paddle to reach.  It was not long before we got to the mouth of Eastern Bay, and we immediately found a flock of birds picking up baitfish that the stripers were scaring up.  It was quite a sight!  I had known to look for working birds when fishing, and have often found small groups where a few birds might dive in for fish here and there.  But never have I seen a flock so thick that it looked like a black cloud from a distance.  We immediately started jigging and within a few minutes all of us had pulled up at least 1 or 2 small stripers.  I think for every 1 fish that Mike, Ryan and I caught, Shawn probably caught 2 fish.  His experience was already noticeable.  Here's some video footage of the chaos amid the birds:

Shawn has written in his book, and also told us that the bigger fish would be on the outskirts of the main school of breaking fish, and deeper below them.  However, I kept forgetting this throughout the day as I gave in to the temptation to just jig right in the middle of the school of fish.  It was just my instinct.  But I can tell you that I caught far fewer big fish than he did all day.

One of the fish that we caught in the first school of fish barfed up some of its food, and we could see that these fish were feeding on small bait.  We wanted to catch big fish, and the big fish should be feeding on big bunker.  Now that we had all shook off our skunks, Shawn made the call to go searching for some other schools of fish.  And that was the game that we were to play for the rest of the afternoon - find flocks of birds and catch the fish underneath.

Mike catching fish at sunset.

Chasing birds on a boat was such a different experience from what I'm used to in a kayak.  Shawn would pull out his binoculars to try to find signs of birds in the distance, and once he found a group, we'd go over to them and fish.  I asked him how he was able to find the birds from far away - even with binoculars.  He explained that you get a feel for what the water should look like as you scan around.  Once you find an area of the water where the pattern looks different, you can focus on that area and see glints from the birds' wings.

My new fast-action jigging rod worked great!  Photo credit: Shawn Kimbro.

It was interesting to see so many different flocks of birds on the water.  If we weren't happy with the size of fish under one flock, we'd leave them and search the horizon to find a different group of birds.  We didn't need to hunt for the fish, or look for structure on the maps.  We just needed to find the birds.  I remember that one flock of birds was located right at the point of a drop-off, which was exactly where one would expect to find fish.

As the sun was setting, we found one last flock of birds and jigged for some more fish.  I took this opportunity to do a little topwater fishing, and we all had a good laugh at all the stripers that were coming up and hitting it.  Jigging and topwater fishing are probably the most fun techniques for catching fish.  As the sun fell beneath the horizon, we called it quits and sped back to the ramp for Ryan to get home in time to tuck in his new baby boy to bed.  We didn't catch any of the huge fish we were looking for, but we caught lots of fish (and a few birds).  It was a great experience watching the Chesapeake Light Tackle master at work, and it was a great pleasure talking with him.

Photo credit: Shawn Kimbro.

I love fishing from my kayak, but boat fishing was pretty fun too.  I can picture myself as captain of a center console some day...heh heh.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

CBKA Tournament 2014

This past weekend I participated in the Chesapeake Bay Kayak Anglers tournament for the 3rd year in a row.  Every year the tournament gets better and better - the captain's meeting the night before with all the evening festivities, the number of participants, the amount of money raised for CCA and Make-A-Wish...  I don't go so much for the competitiveness of the tournament.  I go because it is truly the ultimate kayak fishing meet & greet in the area.  I think the majority of the attendees can probably say the same thing. 
It was also a pleasure meeting Bryan Rusk this year.  His now 25 year-old son benefited from Make-A-Wish when he was 3 years old, and it was Bryan's idea to organize a tournament to donate to the Make-A-Wish foundation.  I hope he was encouraged by the turnout, and seeing the good that comes out of the tournament first-hand.

 Friday Morning Prefishing

This year, my weekend started on Friday morning as I went to Goodhands Creek to fish with several other members from the SnaggedLine forum.  I met up with Jeremy and Dao at Angler's sports shop in Annapolis, and we followed each other over the Bay Bridge to the ramp.  Ryan later joined us at the creek.  We originally wanted to pre-fish the Bay Bridge by launching out of Sandy Point State Park, but the wind forecast did not look promising.  I did not want to tire myself out from all the paddling the day before the tournament, so we agreed to fish out of Goodhands just for fun.  Mustafa was also going to try to do a masgouf demo before the captain's meeting that evening, so the goal was to catch some fish large enough to cook up for the potluck dinner.
The Goodhands Creek launch area was clean, secluded, and a peaceful place to launch from.  Jeremy, Dao and I took our time rigging up our boats while talking about our fishing experiences from the year, and finally paddled out to sunny skies and light winds in the creek.  Immediately, I saw some grassy shoreline that I thought would likely hold some perch, so I fished with a whilte/yellow feather jig with a spinner arm along the shoreline.  Not long after I started fishing, I caught the first fish of the day, a spunky little 9 inch perch.  I continued to float down along the shoreline and proceeded to catch several more within just the first 30 minutes of the day.  They were pretty fun to catch on my ultra-light St. Croix rod with my small Pfleuger spinning reel. 
First striper of the weekend!
While a handful of small perch might be tasty for a fish fry, they were not going to cut it for a masgouf demo!  I decided to head up toward the Kent Narrows to see if I could catch some stripers.  I threw out my trusty X-Rap to troll it as I paddled over.  While heading out of the creek, I remembered some tips that others on the SnaggedLine forum have shared, about trolling past some of the grassy points that stick out into the water.  Right outside of the creek, I saw 2 such grassy points that I thought might hold some fish.  So I trolled my X-Rap about 5 to 10 feet out away from the points, and on my second pass I caught a 14" striper.  Cool!  The pattern worked!  18" is the legal minimum size for stripers, so I quickly let him go and proceeded to go toward the Kent Narrows bridge.  The wind was actually a bit stronger out in this open area, and I was getting wet from all the splashing, so I turned around and headed back to the perchy shoreline by the boat ramp, where I continued my ultralight fun with the perch.
We will masgouf you!
A couple hours later, I noticed that the winds died down a bit, so I decided to head back over toward Kent Narrows again.  I put out my X-Rap once again and paddled up toward the bridge.  Near the area where I had caught the striper before, my rod got knocked down and I had a fish on!  This fish felt much stronger than the striper from earlier, and he gave several nice drag-pulling runs.  When I finally pulled him out of the water, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a bluefish!  It has been a long time since I've caught a bluefish, so this was actually a treat for me.  Mustafa was also hoping someone would provide a bluefish for the masgouf demo, so on the stringer he went!  Mustafa was so happy when he found out that we had a bluefish for dinner.  Haha. 
I continued on and made it to the Kent Narrows bridge, but there wasn't much action going on there.  The current was still as strong as I remembered it being from fishing there 2 years ago.  Not wanting to fight the current much, and since it was getting to be near lunch time, I headed back to the launch with the others.  I caught another smaller bluefish on the way back to the launch, which I also kept for the dinner, and made it back to the launch ramp.  The others arrived soon after, and we took our time loading up our kayaks before heading to Camp Wright for registration.

Captain's Meeting and Evening Festivities

This was my second year camping at the tournament location, and just like last year it was a blast.  We had a quick captain's meeting, and then our annual potluck.  The highlights of the potluck were probably the steamed crabs, the raw oysters on a half-shell, and the most delicious thing I've ever tasted - bacon wrapped jalapenos filled with cream cheese...smoked right there at the camp.  After tasting that, I have decided I'm going to have to learn to smoke meats.  I really wish I had taken some pictures of those things...
During and after the potluck, we all just kind of spread out around the camp - hanging out with other people and talking about fishing trips, tips and techniques.  I climbed into my tent kind of early this year...around 10PM.  I was exhausted from the morning fishing trip, and had to rest up for the next day.

Tournament Day

Rigged up and ready to go!
Tournament day started at 5:40AM.  My alarm was set at 5:45, but I woke up to the sound of other excited anglers bustling around, getting their kayaks ready for launch.  I went in the camp headquarters to get some coffee and breakfast to try to wake up and load up on some carbs for the paddle ahead.  I quickly downed 2 cups of coffee, scarfed down 2 pastries, and rolled my kayak down to the beach launch area at the far end of the campsite.  Mustafa and Dao joined me, and we launched together a little after 6:30AM.
The Skunk Remover.
As soon as I paddled out on the water, I noticed that there was some rocky shoreline next to the beach launch.  I wondered if it might hold some perch, so I cast my feather jig in front of the rocks and soon caught the first fish of the day - a 10.5" white perch!  It probably won't win me any prizes, but I caught my first fish in the first 15 minutes!  
I stayed close to the launch area for another half hour or so, loading up on some perch to try to live-line at the bay bridge.  I caught 4, and left them in a small pool of water by my feet inside the kayak.  I figured they'd stay alive during the paddle to the bridge, which they did, but they were not lively at all.  I later just freed all of them because they weren't spunky enough to excite any predator fish.  I need to look into making a livewell....
Trolling X-Raps always works.
My plan for the day was to troll two X-Raps on my way to the bridge, and then to live-line for a bit until I ran out of live bait (which I mentioned didn't work out too well).  After that, I was going to jig the pilings and try one of the rockpiles of the bridge.  One other option I considered was trolling by the sewer pipe just north of the bay bridge, but I really did not want to spend my day paddling aimlessly around the Chesapeake Bay.  It also feels more like fishing when you catch a fish jigging than when you catch it trolling (don't tell Alan I said that).
The bay bridge rockpile on the east side.
So I made my way to the bridge, catching 1 or 2 small stripers along the way.  And after finding my perch to be nearly dead, I decided to find the rockpiles to see if I can jig up some stripers.  I couldn't really see the rockpile from the east side of the bridge where I started...but I knew that they were somewhere in the middle of the bridge, so I started paddling over.  That bridge seems a lot longer when you're paddling under it than when you're driving over it!  I finally made it to the rockpile with Dao, and we started fishing.  Dao was bottom fishing with bloodworms and hooking up with perch and nasty toadfish.  I was casting my X-Rap by the rocks to see if I could get some stripers.  I actually did end up with 2 or 3 small stripers by doing this.  Nothing big enough to compete in the striper division though...
It is pretty neat under the bridge.
I have heard many times that when jigging, it's important to find an area with strong current, and the tournament was to be held between the high tide and the low tide of the day.  I figured somewhere between, the current should pick up and I should find the motherload of rockfish by the rockpile.  So, my new plan was to wait patiently at the rockpile for the current to pick up, so that I can jig up my prize-winning striper.  It was 10AM by this time, and I was prepared to stick around for a couple hours for the fish to get hungry. 
My smallest catch ever.
While I waited for the current, I did try jigging the bottom to see if I could catch anything that might bite.  The rockpile has a really steep slope that goes from 1 foot by the rocks down to  50+ feet deep.  So I got to practice jigging some deeper water than I'm used to.  I wasn't really seriously fishing this whole time, since I didn't think the big fish would bite during slack I practiced reading my fish finder.  I figured out how to watch for my jig in the water column on the display, and practiced vertical jigging the bottom.  I also figured out that about 1-2 feet of the bottom was covered with some kind of seaweed - that was the reason the bottom was showing kind of spotty on the fish finder. That's good to know for some other time when I'm fishing an unfamiliar area.  At one point during my jigging practice, I hooked a small crab in the middle of its bottom.  Can I claim that I caught a small crab on a BKD?  Haha.  Well, that was pretty much the only excitement I got the rest of the morning and early afternoon.
I caught a Chesapeake Slam!  Just not a grand one...
I waited and waited and waited patiently for the current to pick up, and by 1PM, the rain was starting to fall, and I had no confidence that the tide would change in time to get back for check-in.  So, I packed up my jigging rods, put my X-Raps back in the water and made the hour-long paddle back to shore.   I did pick up a 10.5" bluefish on the way to complete a slam. but the total length was nowhere close to being competitive.  Ah well. 
It was around 2PM by the time I got back to the launch, and I wanted to get some more pullage, so I went back to fishing for perch along the rocky shoreline.  I pulled in a few, and finally called it quits.  I rolled my kayak back to my tent and packed things up to get ready for the awards ceremony.  I didn't do quite as well in the raffle this year as I did last year....but the prizes were really great.  The tournament staff did a great job pulling together sponsors to donate some nice items.  They also improved the duration of the ceremony this year, and we were all wrapped up by 6PM.  Another great tournament held by the CBKA staff!
The drive home was about an hour and a half, and it went by quickly.  I had a good time just reminiscing on everything that happened during the weekend.  The fun fishing, the beautiful weather, the fun conversations, the delicious food, and the friends I got to see again.  It was a long-awaited weekend that was enough to recharge my sanity from work and home life.  I love my wife and kids, and I am blessed to have a good job...but I'm lucky to be able to take a break from both to do something else I love - fish in a kayak.  I kept some of the perch I caught on Friday and Saturday to take home for my family, and my boys devoured them after we fried them up on Sunday.  I hope the tournament will still be around by the time they are old enough to join me.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

July Meet & Greet - Lowe's Wharf

It has been a long and busy first-half of the year.  Baby Ruth arrived in March, and we moved into our new-to-us home in May.  Even if I wanted to go fishing, I felt guilty about it with all that was going on.  Things are settling down now, and I've gone fishing here and there during the past month, but haven't had time to write about them...I may get to them later, or maybe report on all of them at once in a single report.  Anyway, one of my friends insisted that I start reporting on my trips again, so I hope I can keep this up again!

This trip was a Meet & Greet with the MKF gang at Poplar's Island, launching out of Lowe's Wharf.  I think this has been the largest gathering outside of the CBKA tournaments that I've seen.  It was fun meeting old buddies, and meeting new people.  Another special part of this trip was that I got to spend time with my dad.  His first exposure to kayak fishing was at Pt. Lookout last year, and I've been wanting to take him fishing again.  I also wanted him to meet some of the other folks from the forum, so that he knows the kind of people that I'm fishing with (My parents think I'm nuts for meeting up with random people from the internet to fish).

My dad with the sun rising over the marina behind him.

My dad and I left the house around 4AM, and arrived at the Lowe's Wharf ramp a little after 6AM.  There were already a handful of kayakers unloading their cars by the time we got there.  There were more to come later, and in total I think there were over 30 kayakers at this meet up.  I chatted with a few familiar faces, and was out on the water with my dad probably a little after 6:30AM.  I gave the Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 to my dad to paddle today, while I paddled in my Tarpon 100.  I was slightly nervous about how difficult it would be to paddle a shorter, wider kayak...but it tracked fine and I did a lot of paddling.

My dad and me trying to catch spot. (Photo Credit: Mark)

I had never fished at Poplar Island before, and didn't have much time to do research before the the simple plan I had was to use fish bites to catch some spot, and to use spot later for bluefish or striped bass.  I also brought some raw shrimp to try to catch some croakers.  So the first item of the day was to catch some silly spot!  I remembered how easy it was to catch some during last year's CBKA tournament, where I quickly found them in 4 feet of water.  However, I had the most difficult time catching them this time.  I tried water at 4 ft, then 6 ft, 8 ft, 10 ft....eventually, I heard someone on the radio (Frogsauce from the MKF forum) mention that he was catching spot left and right.  What the heck?  I asked for his location, and he shared that he was smack in the middle of the channel in 15+ feet of water.  Alright!  Time to change location.

I wouldn't say the spot fishing was fast and easy at the new location, but it certainly was better.  Soon enough I caught 6 spot on fish bites blood worms, and also on some live bloodworm that I got from a forum member I met, Dao.  Most of the spot were on the large side for live-lining, and I also got a surprise croaker in the mix on some shrimp that I tried out.  No matter, though...big bait = big fish, right?  Also, the bigger spot actually felt larger than they really are.  They won't pull much drag, but they do give up a feisty little fight.  My dad fished with me here too, and I think he actually had fun catching spot.  He ended up catching a bunch more spot than I did, which we took home for dinner.

So many boats....

I was under the impression that the fleet of boats to the north of us were live-lining for stripers, so I planned with my dad to split up for a bit while I checked out the rocky shoreline of Poplar Island, and then to meet him towards the boats to try for some striped bass.  I later found out that those boats were actually catching spot to use as bait for live-lining elsewhere.  Anyway, I started my long paddle toward the island, trolling an X-Rap behind me the entire way.  I didn't get any hits the entire paddle, but I was hopeful, because I saw several large pods of baitfish that were swimming along the surface.  I tried fishing my X-Rap through the schools of fish, but to no avail...

The tide going out on the rocks of Poplar Island.

I finally made it to the rocks, and was surprised by how shallow the water was around there.  It was 3-4 feet deep, and there were submerged boulders scattered around away from the wall of rocks.  It is nice to have a paddle kayak where you don't have to worry about submerged rocks!  Anyway, I worked my way along the rock wall, casting my X-Rap close to shore (maybe within a foot or two of the rocks), and swimming it back toward me.

So close...

After a few minutes of this, I actually had a strike!  I pulled it in, and I estimate it was about 15 inches...I didn't take a picture of it, but it was a little smaller than another fish I caught along the rocks later.  I did get a picture of that one, and measured him at 17 inches.  It was so disappointing to see the fish on my ruler, coming juuuust short of the legal limit.  I really wanted to take a rockfish home for dinner, so it was very hard to let him go.  By this time, it was around 10:30AM, and I wanted to meet up with my dad to try to do some live-lining for rockfish before we headed in for lunch.

Well, I turned around to paddle towards the boats and all I could see was the picture I posted above.  How am I supposed to find my dad????  He didn't have a cell phone, he didn't have a radio, my radio was just about out of battery, and I didn't see a single kayak in the midst of those boats.  There was a boat within a short paddle distance from me, so I went over and politely asked the people fishing on it to help me look for my dad.  Luckily someone on the boat had a pair of binoculars, and while he couldn't make out distinct features, he could see a yellow kayak out on the other side of the channel, not really near the armada of boats.  I am really grateful for those boaters, because I did not even notice the kayak until they pointed it out to me.  I thanked the people for their help and paddled to the yellow kayak.  Thank goodness, as I got closer, I could see a dark figure on the kayak with a wide brim hat, which my dad was wearing.  I was glad he was okay, and told him about how I had a difficult time finding him.  He thought I was overreacting because he said that he could see me the entire time.  Well!  Next time I take someone fishing, I'm not splitting from him.  The funny thing is, that when I left him, my dad was preparing a rod for live-lining for rock.  When I found him, he was fishing for spot again.  haha!


By this time, all the spot in my bucket were dead, because I pulled it out of the water to reduce drag as I was paddling to and from the island.  I had been paying attention to the radio the whole day to see if anyone else caught any rockfish, and no one I gave up on catching a keeper rockfish, and just rigged up my rods with top-bottom rigs, and fished for spot with my dad. We ended up with a cooler full of spot, and started the long paddle in.

Before we started heading in, I switched paddles with my dad so that he wouldn't get fatigued as much.  I took the heavier paddle, and gave him my Werner Camano.  With a longer kayak, and lighter paddle, I thought we'd be able to paddle at the same pace.  However, no matter how slow a pace I tried to keep, I was steadily paddling faster than my dad.  I'm really surprised by the speed of the Tarpon, and also by the difference that paddle technique makes!  I tried to convince my dad to paddle with his waist and core, but I could see him paddling with his arms.

Dinner is served...

We got back to the ramp, loaded the kayaks, had lunch at the marina with the gang, and went home.  When we got home, I let my boys hold the fish and play with them for a while, and then I cleaned and filleted some of them for dinner.  I told my boys to thank grandpa for all the fish he brought home today, and they even asked for seconds during dinner.