Saturday, April 23, 2016

First Time at Rudee Inlet

It's been a busy month, and it's going to continue to be busy for me for a couple more months coming up.  It has also been killing me to see pictures of other anglers getting big migrating stripers earlier this month, and I wanted to get out and catch some big fish too.  So with the one weekend I have free this month, I originally made plans to go to Cape Henlopen State Park to try to see if the big bluefish would be back from last year.  However, thunderstorms and strong winds forecasted for the weekend put a damper on those plans.  Luckily, I had a plan B to check out Rudee Inlet in Virginia Beach.  After some back and forth of emails between some of my fishing buddies, Dao agreed to join me at Rudee Inlet on Saturday.

Although I have been wanting to try fishing Rudee Inlet for several years now, this was my first time going there.  I didn't have any idea of how large a body of water it was, or how to fish it, or anything.  I just had other fishing reports to rely on, most helpful of which was Comeonfish's youtube videos.  He had been to Rudee Inlet several times this month, and did pretty well in catching speckled trout, bluefish, and even a puppy red drum.  I've read reports of flounder being in the area too, so I also was looking forward to catching some flounder as well.  It's neat that you have so many options in one body of water.  With those options, I had the following lures packed and ready: soft plastics for red drum, mirrolures for speckled trout, x-raps and bucktails for bluefish, and gulp mullets for flounder.

Shellfish at low tide.
Launching out of the boat ramp, I was surprised at the scenery that I was presented with.  The place seemed kind of marshy with tall trees past the shoreline.  It reminded me a little of Mattawoman creek or something.  Anyway, I hoped to start out by catching some speckled trout or bluefish, so I put out some x-raps and immediately began to troll parallel to the shoreline to see what I could hook up with.  I noticed that the water by the shore would slowly slope down from 1 to 4 feet, and then drop quickly to around 8 feet and continue falling deeper to 30 feet or so.  I tried to follow the little ledge as I trolled along.  Not after too long I hooked up with a small bluefish that spit the hook before I could get him to the boat, but it was still good to see that there were fish in there!  Unfortunately, that was actually the only action I got for most of the morning.

I wanted to explore the rest of the inlet before committing to fishing any area, so I followed the shoreline all the way around lake Rudee, into lake Wesley, and then through the mouth of the inlet to check out the ocean.  I didn't hook into a single fish that whole area, and didn't see other boaters, kayakers or shore anglers catch anything either.  One cool thing that happened in the morning was kayaking next to a school of dolphins.  I was just pedaling through Lake Wesley, and all was quiet when I heard a big crash in the water behind me.  I thought something was thrown into the water, but I later realized it was the sound of the dolphin coming up and blowing air out of its blowhole.

The scenery at lake Rudee.

I jigged some gulp mullets by the inlet for a little while with no luck, after which I decided to head back toward the boat ramp to continue looking for the speckled trout, red drum or bluefish.  From watching Joe's videos, I could tell that he was catching fish by the marshy areas, and not in the busier, populated areas of the rest of the lake.  After returning to the launch area, I really felt like the shoreline would be the most likely place for the trout or red drum to be, so I proceeded to spend the next hour or so casting mirrolures and jigs to the shoreline.  I caught a couple dink striped bass, but that was all I had to show for my efforts.  All the while, Dao and Paul (another kayaker who joined us for the day) were trolling large soft plastics in the middle of the lake and catching bluefish pretty consistently.  I feel like these guys have got the kayak trolling technique down pretty good.  Wherever they are, they can always catch fish trolling.

30" bluefish.

I eventually gave up on trying to catch anything by jigging, and joined my trolling buddies.  I started out using a light jighead, and a shallow diving x-rap to troll through the middle of the lake.  Dao gave me a pointer that the fish were deeper, and that he was using some heavier jig heads than he typically would use.  So I switched things up to a yozuri crystal minnow that dove a little deeper, and also to a 3/8oz jighead for my 6" soft plastic paddle tail.  That switch seemed to make all the difference.  I finally started boating bluefish, including a nice big 30" bluefish that really gave a workout on the drag of my Penn Battle 3000.  The fight he gave was a lot like the fish we caught at Cape Henlopen last year.  I've gotten my big bluefish fix for the year.  Haha.

Beautiful day!  Dao's headed to stretch his legs on the beach.
After getting a few bluefish on our stringers, Dao and I decided to go back to the inlet to jig for flounder, so we pedaled back over to the inlet and jigged our gulp mullets by the bridge pilings and the channel through the inlet.  Unfortunately, flounder fishing was very slow for everyone as far as we could tell.  We gave it a go for about an hour before giving up and going back to the lake.  We proceeded to troll for bluefish a little while longer, as the wind picked up.  Dao hooked into his own chopper bluefish, which he unfortunately lost to a bad knot.  Let that be a lesson to all!  Don't skimp on the knot, even if you're tying it on the water.

I didn't expect to bring home a fish that large...
By about 2:30, we headed in to pack it up and head home.  There was only a little bit of traffic on the HRBT, but traffic was light after that.  I got home by 7:00, unloaded my gear, and filleted the 4 fish that I brought home.  The kids had a kick out of playing with the big bluefish's tail before I cleaned it.  I grilled the big one the next evening with some salt, pepper, mayonnaise and old bay seasoning.  It was pretty good!  Actually, I think anything cooked on a charcoal grill tastes good...

She's almost as big as the fish
Reflecting back on the day, I have a couple thoughts.  THANK GOODNESS FOR A HOBIE!  I don't know if I would have had enough energy to last the entire day with my paddle kayak on my first salt-water trip of the year.  I especially don't think I would have ventured through the inlet and back to the lake twice.  Also, Monster drinks work pretty well to keep me awake, but the crash at the end is brutal.  I don't know how some of these older guys are able to do 1-day trips down to Virginia Beach.  Even though I didn't catch any speckled trout or flounder, I had fun catching bluefish with some friends.  I think I would go back to Rudee again if I were given the chance.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Early-Spring Fishing in NoVA

It has been a rough start to the year.  I think I've already suffered through a cold, 2 sinus infections, and am currently getting over the flu.  I really have not been able to get out fishing as much as I would have liked, but have still been able to take advantage of a couple early-spring fishing traditions.

Reston Kids' Trout Fishing Day
My friend Mustafa let me know about an annual free fishing event in Reston for kids.  They stock several pools in a stream with trout, and have kids fish for them.  I've heard mixed reviews about the event, the main criticism about it is that it's usually packed with hundreds of kids lining up on the shoreline making a ruckus and just being kids.  Still, I thought it would be fun to take my two boys to meet Mustafa and his boys, and also to catch some trout.  We used waxworms as our bait, and we did pretty well!  My boys ended up with 4 fish on our stringer.  The largest was caught by my oldest son, Caleb, entirely on his own.  I had turned around to help my younger son to re-bait his hook, when I heard Caleb yell that he caught a fish.  Everyone kind of gawked at him jealously, because it was one of the bigger ones in the pool.  Caleb just said he dropped the worm in front of the fish's face, and it ate it.  Needless to say, I was super proud of my boy!  We'll try to make this an annual tradition to go to this event.

Shad Fishing the Occoquan
At work, the Friday before Easter is always a company holiday, so a few coworkers and I made plans to fish the Occoquan to try for some shad.  I felt like it was still a bit early for the shad to be there, but if it was, at least we could fish for some bass or crappie.  We gave it a shot anyway, and while the shad were there, the catching was not really that hot.  We tried everything we had, from shad darts, to spoons, to small curly tail worms, to spinners... It seemed like the shad were very picky, and also very isolated in select areas.  We saw very few shore anglers doing pretty well, and also one father-son duo on a boat really killing them with gold spoons.  Eventually, we figured out that we could catch them in a deep hole just above the walking bridge, and were able to get the skunk off with some shad.

There is a saying that when the dogwoods bloom, is when the shad are running and you should go fishing for them.  Well, by Good Friday, the dogwood tree by my house had not bloomed yet.  So maybe the shad were starting to come in, but just not there in large numbers yet.

I went back to the Occoquan the Saturday after Easter, and by this time the dogwood tree was in full bloom.  I wanted to take my dad to experience shad fishing, because he can't understand how one could enjoy fishing when you can't even keep it!  It's also been a while since I've fished with him, so my wife graciously gave us the Saturday afternoon off to go fish together.  We took my 15'4" Gheenoe to Occoquan Regional Park, and slowly motored up toward the walking bridge.  We slowly made our way to the deep hole above the walking bridge, as we casted and reeled in our gold spoons.  I was the first to hook up with a shad, and my dad soon got the hang of it and was reeling in shad too.  I was using my ultralight rod, while my dad was using a medium heavy rod that I normally use for jigging for larger fish.  At one point I offered to trade rods with my dad, because I felt like the fight was much more fun on the ultralight.  Yup, shad fishing is so much more fun on ultralight tackle.  It was still fun catching them on the heavier rod, but it just didn't feel as exciting.  Anyway, it was a real joy to watch my dad's expression every time he hooked up with a fish.  Even though I got my love for fishing from him, he has always fished using live or cut bait, and never used lures before.  The way you connect with a fish from the rod and reel in your hands as you're reeling in a lure is so much more satisfying than setting the hook on a rod that was resting on a pier.  I think he understands the feeling now.