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.
|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 tide...so 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.