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.