Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tutorial: Chasing Gators in the Cold

29 1/4" Speckled Trout caught on a Paul Brown Fat Boy
 
Let me start this out by saying that I love Kayak Fishing.  Its in my blood, whether its fishing open water for monster fish, long paddles to wrecks and reefs, or working the flats for your inshore slam species.

For the past two years, I have been chasing a 30" Speckled Trout.  This number is stuck in my head because, in my mind a 30" Speck is considered a true trophy anywhere you can find them.  I have probibly had a few fish at that 10 lb mark, but not the "dirty thirty".  In this chase, two things have become apparent though.  First, I have become what my friends call the stereotypical Speck fisherman.  Come the fall, Gators consume all of my free time.  Second, I have become pretty damn good at finding, and getting the big girls to bite when most people can't.  With that out of the way, I will first start off with the areas I target.

Locations:
In the fall and winter, when these fish become lathargic, I fish where I can find any amount of baitfish.  This generally equates to warmer water which are typically shallower flats.  Now when most people think of a flat, they think of an area with a set depth.  This is not always the case.  On these flats, even a 3-6" depression is enough for these fish to feel comfortable and ambush their prey.  I also focus on grass lines, submerged structure, and choke points.  For you hunters or military folk, think of a place that you would set up an ambush. 

The next type of area I focus on is what I consider an intermedate area... Dropoffs.  These big specks dont want to expend a lot of energy chasing down their prey, so if the current is sweeping bait off a flat or over a ledge, you can bet that youll find a speck or two waiting for an easy meal.

The final area is the depths.  These areas are sanctuarys for fish in the winter because they can find the most consistant water temperatures here.  Mainly, these fish will be suspended, and tougher to target, unless you have the right tools.

Other considerations can be made given the time of day you are chasing these fish.  For example, at night I enjoy fishing dock lights and light lines.  These are areas where something as simple as light can create artifical structure that hold prediator and prey alike.

Baits and Gear:

Tactical Angler Clip
I am not freezing my behind off, fishing everywaking hour for some spikes.  I am looking for the gators, and with that being said, I prefer gear that I dont have to worry about loosing the big one.  The following is gear that works well for me.

Leader - I fish with 20-30 lb Seguar Red or Blue Label, prefering the 25 lb Blue Label over all.  I only downsize my leader if I am having an issue getting the presentation I desire. 

Connectors - This is a must for a quick lure change.  I tried in the past the snap section from a swivel, but have had some heartbreaking losses because of tackle failure.  Also, they are a pain to work when your hands are cold, which happens to be 80% of the time.  Because of this, I have switched over to the small Tactical Angler Clips.  These dont seem to bother the fish, and facilitate quick and easy lure changes, even on jigs and ewg's.  Finally, I have yet to break one, even on fish well above the advertised breaking strength.  Without these, I dont think I would be getting the numbers of big ifsh i am fortunate enough to find.


27" Speck Caught on a TA Crossover Stalker

Photo Credit - Joe Underwood

Topwater - Keep these handy, because you never know when you will get that magical topwater bite in some of the craziest conditions.  High pitched baits like the Mirrolure He-Dog work well for active fish, while your one knocker spooks work well for more timid fish.  Personally, I love fishing the Rapala Subwalks, and the new crossover series baits from Tactical Anglers.  The bait pictured below got me my PB topwater speck at 27" just last week.

Tactical Angler Crossover Stalker
Soft Plastics - These can become extremely versitle baits that can quickly and easily be worked at either the top, mid, or bottom of the water column.  Again, go with the mantra of "Bigger is Better"  For me this means throwing a 5" Power Team Lures Swinging Hammer.  I will throw this on a 1/16 or 1/8oz EWG when I am fishing the flats, or pair it up with a 1/4 to 3/4 oz jighead or bucktail when I am fishing structure in excess of 15 feet.  The Swinging Hammer has a very large paddle tail on a fairly small body profile, with an action that can be best described as thumping.

PTL Swinging Hammer on a Weighted EWG and Jig Head.

Another plastic that has found a place in my tool box is the PTL JP Hammer Shad.  I like fishing this bait around ledges and in the depths.  It mimmics a prevelant baitfish this time of year, the Guedgon.  I pair it with either a Scrounger jighead for a very tight but agressive wobble that brings the fish in, or simply on a jig head working the depths.  This bait on the Scrounger tends to trigger very agressive strikes, whereas a regular head tends to attract fish on the fall, simply picking up the bait and hilding on to it.
Another Gator caught on a PTL Swinging Hammer
PTL JP Hammer Shad on a Scrounger and Conventional head.


A 26" Speck Caught on a PTL Swinging Hammer

Photo Credit - Rob Choi
Corkeys - These baits are my baits that I absolutely will not chase big specks without.  From top to bottom, the Devil produces a very erratic and faster fall rate when worked as a twitch bait.  This is great for those intermediate and deeper areas.  The Fat Boy is a great bait for flats and intermediate areas, with a very subtle action when worked.  The large profile screams "Easy Meal" for these larger fish.  It can be worked in deeper water as long as there is minimal current, otherwise it tends to stay near the top of the column.  Finally, you have the Soft Dine (and the Soft Dine XL).  These baits are producing well on the flats and intermediate areas as well, with the XL giving me a faster fall rate.  Both have an action that would fall between the Devil and the Fat Boy.


29" + Speck caught on a Fat Boy
Paul Brown "Corkeys" from top to bottom:
Devil
Fat Boy
Soft Dine
Hard Baits - As far as hard baits are concerned, I will fish these any time, any place.  Definately the most versitle baits for speckled trout in my aresnal.  I enjoy fishing the 17 and 18MR's, 52MR's, SSTR's, Catch 5's and Catch 2000's.  All of these give you different profiles, actions, sink rates, and depending on the series, colors.  I could go on and on about how to fish these baits, but either watching a tutorial or video would give you the best idea.  Going back to when I first started Speck fishing, I recall spending hundereds of dollars on baits, and not catching a fish on them.  Thankfully, once I learned how to use them I have a stockpile for years to come.  One thing to keep in mind is that you do not need to try to impose a crankbait or jerkbait type action.  Think twitch-twitch-pause, adjusting the cadience for your conditions.  Finally, I will lump the Egret Baits Vudu Mullet in this category because it has a much more agressive action and faster sink rate than the Corkeys.  With its articulated body, it is a great bait to cast and reel in deeper water, as well as cross current conditions.

52 MR's

Vudu Mullet and Heavy Dine.
Trolling vs. Casting

There is noting in the world like getting a gator speck to hit a twitch bait you casted to it.  The heavy thimp from the first second is adrennaling pumping.  However, there are times when the fish are scatered and you need to work larger areas to find them.  This is where the great trolling vs. casting debate comes into play.  I for one will utilize either technique on any given outting to help maximize my catching potential.  I will troll until I find fish in an area and/or a pattern, then start casting.  One thing to keep in mind is that you are still working and searching for the fish.  You have to get the right depth, color, presentation, and area to acomplish either.  Trolling also presents the challange of line management. which increases the complexity of this method.

Other Tangables

Current - current is one of the largest tangables that you will face.  The current helps give you an idea where the fish are going to stage, and it also moves bait into and out of areas.  The general rule is to work with the current, whether it be casting straight up current working down, or fan casting to 45* to find your fish.  If you are not catching fish working with the current, do not be afraid to go against common fishing conventions and work against the current.  This method is not a top producer, but going against the current has produced fish for me when going with the current has not.

Lure speed -  I have learned that the bigger fish tend to hit on slower, less agressive presentations.  With that being said, I will start off slow, and work my way towards faster presentations.  Many times, the smaller fish will hammer faster presentations out of instinct.  These reaction strikes are due largely to competition with other, larger fish.  If you're not catching the size specks you desire, slow down your presentation and hold on.

In closing, I hope that this gives you some insight into Gator Speckled Trout fishing.  Good Luck, go on out, and stick a pig!


28" Speckled Trout caught on a Fat Boy

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Redemption

From my last post I was tallying my fish totals and points from within the previous trips and determined that I had broke even.  Lots of cool catches, and other fun little mishaps were what memories were made of.  The following is a continuance of the the last post I made.


Trip 6 - This trip was one that was not planned, and just kind of snuck up on us.  On a random Friday night,  Jay Brooks and I were having a few drinks at a local watering hole and the wind was howling from the NE with gust up to 35 mph.  We both wanted to catch some fish, but we knew it wasn't going to happen...  That is until Jack Daughtry gave me a shout.  He was in the process of making the trip down from MD, and was trying his hardest to convince us that the next morning was going to be a go.  We drank a few more beers and decided to call it a night, and see if the weather gods would let us move forward.

Fast forward a short six hours.  I wake up to a phone call from Jay telling me that the weather was going to work in our favor.  After getting situated, we launch to find Jack and Matt already on the water.  After a nice paddle out, we meet up just in time to see Jack get the solid hook up and bend of our targeted quarry... Mr. Sheep.  The bad guy in me was saying "Really, Jack?  Give us a break dude!"  The other guy on my shoulder said "Good, the fish are chomping... Today is our day!"

We move on and make the paddle to the spot that I had been hooking up to nice Spadefish all summer.  The action started out slow, and Jay moved on to triggerfish.  I left my phone in the car, and wouldn't you know, once he got out of shouting range, the bite turned on BIG TIME.  I hooked up to a number of solid fish in the 14-16" range, like this one

16" Spadefish
Photo Credit - Jack Daughtry
 We hooked up to some really solid fish, and I stated my goal for the day... a 18"+ Spade.  We knew they were there and were chewing.  I ended up with some solid bites that never became catches, and some huge losses.  One of which was an 18" Spade.  We found this out the following day, when Jack caught the same fish I lost with the same hook, swivel, leader and blue powerpro I lost the fish on.  After I lost the fish, my focus started waning and I found myself engaged in combat fishing with three of my good friends.  As I was pushing and shoving my way back to the spot, I decided I was messing around too much, and not fishing enough, so I moved on and this is what I was rewarded with...

First Citation Sheepshead of 2014
Photo Credit - Jack Daughtry
On my first piling after leaving the spade honey hole, I hooked up with this beautiful 24" Sheepshead.  On my next piling, I managed to hook up with another solid 23" Sheepie.  At this point, we called it a day, and went our seperate ways!

Angler 1 - Fish Gods 0



Trip 7
After a few trips on the SUP chasing reds, and landing some beautiful upper slot fish, I found myself at the Tidewater Catching for Kids club challenge.  I have fished this event for the last five years, and each year we (TKAA) have placed very high with a top finish and tournament record point total and winning margin in 2013.  This year, there were some rule changes that were focused on the kayak anglers.  We did what yak anglers to best... Adapt and Overcome.

My team consisted of Seth Goodrich, Lee Williams, and Jay Brooks.  Jay covered the event well on his site.  Ill leave you with the clif notes.  We got to the spot where we had patterned fish the whole summer and almost immediately got on spades.  As I was prepping bait, the unthinkable happened, a cham shell had sliced my thumb open.  it was deep enough that I could see my heartbeat through the blood that gushed out of my thumb.  None of us had brought a first aid kit, so I had a few options.  First I could put pressure on the wound and hope the bleeding would stop enough to fish.  The second option (which I should have taken) was to paddle in and go to get sutures.  The final option was to wait for a boat to pass by, see if they could assist, and fish on.  As I waved at the first boat I saw, he kept moving on.  It wasn't until I raised my hand, which was covered in blood that I gained his attention.  Luckily, he found his first aid kit so I could tape my thumb and fish on.  The rest of the day I missed lots of fish due to a loss in dexterity, but managed some small spades, and what ended up being the 3rd place trigger.  Seth, Lee, and especially Jay got work done and put up a but load of points for the team, to include Jay's 1st place Citation Sheepie!

Brooks "Cheesin' it Up"
We knew with the work we did, and what the rest of the club had done, it would be close.  Just how close we were unsure.  In the end, we ended up with 17 points for second place, and missed out by a measly 2 points.  I know that I left points on the table that would have put us higher on the board, but fishing is fishing, and knowing what TKAA and all the other clubs did for Catchin for Kids was enough to make it all worthwhile.

The CBBT team... With Joe Underwood as my photo stand in.
Posing with the Club Challenge trophy until next year with my
Werner Paddles teammates Kris, Mark, and Drew 

Kayak Kevin Podcast with Lee, Jay, and Myself covering the tournament

With the days events into account, even though I lost scoring fish and sliced my thumb open, we still had a respectable showing, a great time, and I put up a scoring fish so ill call this...

Angler 1 Fish Gods 0

So the way I see it, over the last two posts, I came out ahead and finally got my REDEMPTION!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Paying the Fish Gods

Over the past few weeks my fishing has been sporadic at best.  From my last post I had been getting into a decent class of Triggerfish, and some real solid bridge Spadefish.  Between now and then I had to switch up my summer fishing style to inshore tourney mode.  This led to some issues...

Trip one - My boy Tex and I went out to a spot to fish a real solid redfish pattern I had established this spring/early summer.  It ended up being one of those days where two extremely competent fishermen landed (1) small croaker and (1) small oystertoad between the two of us.

Angler 0 - Fish Gods 1

Trip two - Ben Hoover and I decided that with the slow bite the day before, we would try to change it up and hit the Eastern Shore of VA for some flatfish.  When we got out there we met the Kick-Kick MD crew (Jack Daughtry and Matt James) who had been catching some solid flounder to 20".  For us, it was oystertoad after oystertoad.  After hours of fishing, I managed to find (4) Flounder from 16.5" to 19.5"  A far cry from the work that had been done by others just days before.

Angler 0 - Fish Gods 0 (Draw)

19.5" Flounder
Trip 3 - A mid week excursion on the SUP yielded no fish, but plenty of views.  This trip wasn't all about fishing as much as it was about getting used to reading inshore waters.  I was able to regain focus and center my soul in preparation for the first tourney of the year, so in that aspect I was fine without catching.

Angler 0 - Fish Gods 1



Trips 4 & 5 - After being down to the fish gods 2-0, traveling 260 miles and no sleep, I finally made it down to Cape Fear for some tournament action.  This was the weirdest tournament weekend I have ever had. On the drive down I saw over 150 deer along the road (in downpouring rain), a running car in a ditch with 4' of water (nobody inside), and drank 4 Monster energy drinks, just to wait on early morning thunderstorms to pass.  While I was waiting, I made acquaintance with a crusty old Korean War era Marine (Semper Fi you old fart), and a swarm of fire ants.  I will just say this, don't think that you can drown fire ants to get them off of you, because you will lose.  I also learned that fire ants bite to ensure they have a solid hold on your skin, then they sting.

After a crazy energy drink fueled morning, I got on the water in search of my 3 target species (Specks, Reds, and Flounder).  I managed to find the specks about halfway to my target location, and left them be.  I then proceeded to soak mullet at my destination while finding a pattern on artificials.  While my mullet was on a flat swimming under a cork, I see a large wake making a b-line towards the bait.  It hits, and turns right for my yak.  I was thinking shark as it charged me, but when it hit the yak, I saw a solid 23-25" Jack.  Unfortunately, the cork got buried in the grass before I could get my line back, and the hook straight up bent.  Now my blood is pumping and I move around more looking for some solid Jacks (screw the tournament fish).  I didn't find any more jacks in the area, but saw reds around 30".  I established my pattern on some mid 20's reds, and while I was doing so, I had a storm bearing down on me.  Being 8 or so miles from the launch, I left and made a strong effort to get off the water.

This is where it gets really fun!  The tide was super low, and I didn't realize the wind was pushing the remaining water out until it was too late.  I made my way deep into a cut, and dealt with an impass.  At this point, I tried to turn around, but there was nothing to turn too.  So I had one choice, risk lightning strikes and wait for some water, or get out and drag.  I chose the latter and soon realized, I chose wrong.  The first 30 or so yards were fine with hard bottom, then the fun started.  At the beginning I was sinking to mid calf, then to my knees, and finally my nuts.  This is when I realized I had made the wrong choice.  When I was Balls Deep in fluf mud, my fears turned from lightning strikes to drowning. It gets better though, for about 500 yards i'm anywhere from balls to tits deep, dragging the yak.  Over an hour and a half later, I am covered in mud from head to toe, thinking i'm going to have a heart attack before I make it to hard bottom.  I will say this, one of my sponsors ASTRAL makes some of the greatest gear, in this case the BREWERS.  Solid water shoes that (1) didn't come off my feet when stuck in the mud, (2) kept my feet and ankles safe from submerged oysters, and (3) still remained comfortable to wear after all that.  From now on I will not flats fish without them! (No pictures, but I changed close before going to the HLP captains meeting, and everyone asked me why I was covered in mud)

To finish that day, on my way in I for the Captains meeting I see some amazing topwater action.  At first I throw a Skitterwalk and get smoked by a 15" Jack.  After another in the same class, I switch up to a chatterbait and landed 3 in a row.  Being so ubsurdly late, I decided that when I had an unproductive cast, I would leave.  I guess threes company, fours a crowd.

Tournament day, I woke up late and called my tournament partners Seth and Kam it was a no-go, id get there as soon as I could.  After making it to the launch 30 minutes late, I paddled out and met up with them.  Kam had a 14" speck in the bag, so Seth and I sent her for Flounder while we netted some bait.  I took off my PFD and glasses, and got a few dozen mullet and spot.  When it was time to go, I put my PFD on and realize the splash next to me was my Maui Jims.  After 30 minutes of looking, I was able to find them and we were on our way.

Kam Goodrich Photography with this sick sunrise shot!
As we moved to the speck spot, I tell the team to start focusing on the area.  I managed a 19" red, but no specks.  We move on and I get the unmistakable hit of a speck.  I missed the fish and made another cast.  This time "Bam Bam Bam" and weight.  I knew it was a good tournament fish, but it never made it to the boat.  In hindsight, it was at least a 3rd place fish, if not a 2nd.  Damn!  We move again, and I make it to the spot that I patterned the reds the day before.  My first red was 25.5" and I gradually upgraded to a 26.5" to end the day.



Historically this would be a real competitive fish, so after a bit more fishing we head in.  Now keep in mind the low tide fiasco I had the day before.  I check Navionics and my track from the previous day and come up with a plan out, while staying in some water.  Kam is not psyched with our path, but after showing Seth the plan, we keep going.  At this point, every 5 minutes Kam says "I think were lost".  This is not what a Type A male wants to hear so I kept going, and going, and going.  On my last turn, I see a blessing and a curse.  A landmark that I knew without a doubt, but also I knew how far from the launch it really was.  At this time, we had about five miles to the launch and two hours to the weigh in. Kam later asked me "Did you know where you were going"?  My response, "Of course", to which she said, "Obviously not, because you got us F'n lost!"  Not my proudest moment.  Sorry Kam!

Fast forward one long paddle and now I have less than 10 minutes when I walk in.  the time is called, 3:55.  Five minutes but I feel good.  The Tournament Director Chris looks at my card and his eyes said everything.  BUMMER!

On a brighter note, my boy Bob aka Toba, killed it with a 33" red and a ginormous lam to bring home to yaks!  To boot, I got to chill with my fellow Teammate Drew Camp, and All Out Kayak Fishing Contributors Mike Eady and Seth Goodrich, not to mention the other great anglers and folks from Hook, Line, and Paddle and NCKFA.  For me, I am giving myself two points for a new species, and surviving the marsh with a quality fish!

Angler 2 - Fish Gods 0

So this evens it up.  Hopefully it pays off!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pulling the Trigger on some Spades

As the seasons come and go, so does our extremely diverse fisheries in the South East.  For me, the springtime allure of Specks, Reds, Flounder, and Bluefish fades to our harder fighting species as the mercury rises.   For me, the summer means one thing...  Its time for the CBBT!

As I spent early summer chasing Cobia as they entered the bay with my friends (see Richie Bekolay's Mr. Brown Clown), I couldn't help but feel like something was missing.  It wasn't until late June that I made my first trip after the glory species.  My first and second drops of the year boasted the bounty of the season to come!

The Convict Gets Captured
Sadly, after the first two drops I have been cursed with pulled hooks and poor sets in my pursuit of The Sheepshead.  The good thing is that there is plenty of time left in the season for these bay bruisers.

Another target of the CBBT is the Triggerfish.  Triggers are super aggressive, tenacious bait stealers that frustrate the most seasoned anglers.  For me, they are a tasty, willing fish that loves to grace my diner table.  I drop either a dropper loop or a carolina rig to bring these bad boys to the diner table!



Finally, the fish that completes my trips is the Spadefish.  Spades are pound for pound the toughest fighters of the three target species.  While the Sheepshead makes bulldogging runs and have fins like railroad spikes, the Spadefish is like hooking into the drum of a spinning washing machine.  While the smaller fish run in circles while shaking your rod to high heaven, the bigger spades take you on drag peeling runs, trying their damndest to take you into any structure they can find.  Oh, and I failed to mention, they too try to shake the rod out of your hands too!  In my last few trips with Rob Choi, Kayak Kevin, Seth and Kam Goodrich, and Ted Crumb, I have been extremely fortunate to find a very solid class of in (and near) shore spades!

15" Spade
Photo Credit Rob "RMFC" Choi
16" Spadefish
15.5" Spade
Thankfully, the fight of the spades can help ease the pain of my Sheepshead Struggles!  Until the next adventure!



Ted with one of his first Kayak Spade at 15.75"
Kam with a solid 13" Spade
Ted with his first Black Drum
Seth closing it out with another solid spade

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

2013 - A Year in Review

2013 ended up being my most amazing year from the kayak I have ever had.  I got picked up for a third consecutive year on the Hurricane Kayaks Fishing Team, and added some other amazing sponsors to my quiver.  Werner Paddles, Astral Buoyancy, and Egret Baits brought me on board and for that I am extremely grateful.  On the fishing front, I was lucky to get into my personal best Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass, and in Salt, I just killed it.

Here is my journey in the salt:

Spring 2013...
Even though I got some amazing fishing for Flounder, Speckled Trout, Bull Reds, and Chomper Bluefish in, it was nothing compared to the rest of the year.  I came within an 1/8" of Citation on my Red and a 1/4" of Citation on my Bluefish so it wasn't all bad.  My tournament season started with a charity event for the victims of the Boston Marathon.  With the allure of Bull Reds, I decided to forgo the Captains meeting.  Wouldn't you know it, that day I Caught a bull and a scoring flounder which would have put me on top for both big fish and overall winner had I played.  Oh well!

Summer...
I started off with a solid 2nd place podium visit on the Outer Banks inaugural Finatic Kayak Fishing tournament.  There was one dink flounder caught, and I lost a solid 18" flattie boatside which would have placed 1st.  Still, a podium visit is a win!

My first citation came over halfway through the year with a Sheepie right under 25"
Photo Credit - Jay Brooks
Next came the Tidewater Club Challenge.   Of the 8+ boat clubs and our Kayak Club, we took home the top spot (and crazy ridiculous national bragging rights) with a win that was the highest total points in tournament history.  We beat 2nd place by almost double the total points.  Did I mention that we were the only club without motors?!?!

Back-to-Back-to-Back Sheepies (all over 25" and 10#)
L to R (William Ragulsky, Rob Choi, Jay Brooks)
Photo Credit - Joe Underwood

1st Place 2013 Tidewater Club Chalange
Werner Paddles Tidewater Team
L - R (Drew Camp, William Ragulsky, Rob Choi, Mark Lozier, Richie Bekolay)
Photo Credit - Mark Lozier

Fall...
The Fall was insane.  I got my personal best Cobia, topping that mark by over 25".  Thanks to Rob Choi for all he did and his amazing support.
61 1/4 lb Cobia
Photo Credit - Rob Choi
After the Cobe, I was able to spend some time right off the breakers chasing the fall run Bulls with Matt Anderson, Seth Goodrich, and Alex Britland.  The first day with Matt, I caught over 5 reds exceeding 40", with a 47" release citation.  The following day with Seth and Alex we had a tougher time finding the bulls, but Alex managed a 48", and I got my 2nd red citation and went 4-4 on Bull Red trips with a 50".
50" Personal Best Bull Red
I also started loading up with the citation Speckled Trout with fish up to 27".
During the 2013 Oak Island Classic, I decided to fish both inshore and offshore.  Day one offshore saw some amazing flounder, spanish, king, and red catches, while I only managed keeper black sea bass, and blacktip sharks up to 6'.  Day two I spent inshore catching 3 fish.  A Red in the 20's, a flounder near there, and a Speck at 15" for a second place slam finish putting me less than an inch from my NC tournament nemesis and friend Bob Danton.

2nd Place Slam, Oak Island Classic
Winter...
I spent all winter chasing my white rabbit (30" speck).  My desire to join the "Dirty Thirty" club found me on the water all hours of the night during both the workweek and weekend.  Everything else to include putting quality time for Tautog and Big Stripers took a back seat.  Even though I am not a member of the Dirty Thirty Club just yet, I managed to get my Personal Best at 29".
29" Speck
Photo Credit - Matt Greschak

With 2014 upon us, I am stoked for what the season will hold.  I know it will be an amazing year, thanks to the amazing people I got to fish with and get to know in 2013.  To quote "Crazy" Alberto Knie, I got to share the tides with Great Friends.  

Thanks Tommy Dewitt, Rob Choi, Seth and Kamaron Goodrich, Alex Britland, Lee Williams, Joe Underwood, Kayak Kevin Whitley, Richie Bekolay, Mark Lozier, Matt Tate, Matt Greschak, Bob Danton, Jonathan Grady, James Short, Dan Smullen, Drew Camp, and others that really made 2013 a year to remember!




Monday, March 3, 2014

Breaking the Doldrums of Winter

2014 has brought upon a number of changes.  This year, the goal is to spend more time behind the lens, while still getting a chance to be in front of it.  This past weekend was my first test, and I was pleasantly rewarded.  Here is a story six years in the making.

Spring brings upon us subtle little changes that break the doldrums of winter.  Whether it be an increase in wildlife, or buds starting to form and open on the trees, or the yellow perch spawn.  With this winter being a particularly rough one on the east coast, things are a bit behind.  Historically, the perch spawn in SE Virginia around the end of February, and the spawn is usually over by the first major lunar cycle in March.  With all of this being said, I ended up getting a late start in my kayak fishing this winter and feared that I missed the run.  Rest assured though, the fish are in prespawn so that gives you another few weeks to get on them.



For the past six years, my goal has been to catch a release citation yellow perch.  Ive felt the feeling of failure when Ive seen others attain this achievement, while Ive been just short.  This year started the same.  I got a call a week ago from my buddy Tommy saying that he got his paper perch.  I was extremely happy, but it brought upon feelings that I was so accustomed to.  I was going to change that the following weekend, I brought Jim Short and Tommy Dewitt along with me, and we did some work.  It all started with a Pickerel coming in at 20"...


Then a bonus Largemouth...


And finally...


My Citation Perch.

Tommy and Jim also got in on the action with perch approaching 12".  It was nice having two good friends on the water with me to celebrate this long awaited milestone!




Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sheepshead – Dissected

For the longest time, looking at people like Kayak Kevin Whitley, Rob Choi, and Lee Williams catch monster Sheepshead (let alone any Sheepshead) haunted me.  Seeing footage of these extremely violent fights in close quarters with amazing fish were all I focused on for almost two seasons.  Fortunately, my first two monster fish both came in over 11 lbs and both came on the same day, in conditions that I had no right fishing in.  From that day on, I have refined my skills, and am confident sharing what I have learned.  I will break it down from bait and rigs, to techniques and conditions in which I post consistent catches.

Bait Selection:
Although Sheepshead can be caught on a large variety of baits, they have mouths designed for feeding on crustaceans.  My favorite baits are as follows in order or seasonal precedence.

            Mole Crabs (Sand Fleas) 


    • For me, the availability of these baits in the surf is what kicks my sheepie fishing into overdrive.  I prefer freshly caught and live baits, but have had success on dead and frozen baits.  To catch them, I look at the surf zone, and if I see little bubbles in the sand as the water recedes, I focus my attention there.  I look for baits between the tide line and the small little shelf that generally occurs a few feet into the breakers.  I will dig through the sand with my hands until I feel them, at which point, I use either a clam rake, or a half a aluminum minnow trap to scoop and shift through the sand to sort out the baits.  I store them in containers with easy drainage so the ammonia in their urine doesn’t kill them.  If possible, I will catch them at night when they are all throughout the surf, keeping them cool until im ready to fish.  I will fish them on either dropper loop rigs, or Carolina rigged, depending on the conditions.                                                                                                                                                     


            Fiddler Crabs 

21 Dozen Fiddlers in a Yeti Tundra 35

    • Im sure that in many of your favorite marshes you see these little critters scurrying around the banks on a low tide.  I start to use these baits with the mole crabs and have found over the past few years that as the summer moves on, I have better catches on crabs.  In Virginia, you can spend upwards of $4 a dozen at tackle shops, consistently wondering if there will be any in stock when you want them, or you can catch them yourself.  I focus on low tide cycles in areas I have seen them in the past, and can easily move along the shore after them.  If they are concentrated in open sections, I will throw a cast net at them and quickly collect them from under the net.  I will also walk through marsh grass, grabbing them as I spot them.  If there is sea grass in the areas you are looking that collects in clumps along the shore, they will generally hide underneath.  To keep them alive, keep them cool, moist and provide them a place to hide.  This summer I kept 22 dozen alive in a Yeti Tundra 35 for over 24 hours adding moist sea grass an crumpled up cardboard.  The cardboard, or better yet cardboard egg crate gives them a place to hide so they don’t kill one another.  Keeping them cool in conditions like this will let you keep them for a few weeks.  As they die, remove the dead ones and place a slice or two of bread for food.  I like to fish these on dropper loop rigs.


            Clams and Shrimp – 
    • Although this is not a bait I use to target sheepies due to the large by catch from species like spot, croaker, pinfish, grouper, I have had great luck when targeting Spadefish and Triggers.  Generally, My sheepies using this bait comes on lighter rods dedicated for spades, and the fight is amazing.  The go to rig for clams is a Carolina rig.


            Blue Crabs – 
    • I use Blue Crabs in 1” chunks when I am unable to get Fiddlers.  I fish them the same way I fish with Fiddlers.


            Sea Urchins and Barnacles – 
    • I have never fished with either bait, but I know they are more popular the further south you travel.  On all the sheepies I have kept, both have been the majority of the stomach content.


The next thing to look at is the rods and rigs to use.

Rods and Reels
I prefer using a MH or H power rod that is stiff enough to set the hook through a mouthful of molar like teeth.  Another consideration is the combos ability to pull them away from the structure quickly.  I use a few combos:
1.     MH Shamano Travala S paired with a Release Reels SG spooled with 85lb test braid.  The reel has an insane line retrieval ratio along with a super smooth drag.  The rod has enough backbone to cross their eyes and pull them off the structure, and the braid gives me sense of mind when fishing alongside razor sharp barnacles.
2.     H power Diawa Procyon paired with a Shamano Calcutta 200 and 35 lb braid.  The power of the rod and smooth drag on the reel makes this a great all around bait fishing/dropping combo.
3.     MH Shamano Crucial paired with a Shamano Cronarch 200 and 35 lb braid.  Again a super strong combo, with a added bonus (super light weight).  This rig is used when Im fishing with lightweight and/or doing a lot of one handed paddling along structure.
Rigs
1.     Dropper Rig.  I use either 1 or 2 hook configurations and weight from ½ to 5 oz.  I tie mine with super high quality components.  My hooks are Owner SSW J hooks from size 2 to size 2/0 (depending on the bait size).  For line I like 20-35 lb Seaguar Red or Blue label fluorocarbon line.  The Blue label is expensive, but has amazing abrasion resistance and knot strength (I recently landed a 62 lb cobia using this line).  I like a high quality barrel swivel to connect to the main line, and at least 18” to the first hook.  If Im fishing a double hook rig, I like the bottom hook 6-8” above the weight, and the top another 14-18” above that (think about working the water column.  A single rig, I like the hook 12” above the weight. On the bottom swivel, I go with a strong but inexpensive Eagle Claw Barrel Swivel with clip for quick weight changes.  With this rig, I focus on fishing near the bottom of pilings or in rocky areas.

See a dropper loop tied here.

2.     Carolina Rig – I use 16-24” of 20 lb Seaguar Red label with a high quality barrel swivel and the same Owner hooks paired to bait size.  I use a Snell or Palomar from the line to the hook, and a Palomar or Uni to the swivel.  This rig is used when I am working the entire water column.  Ill drop to the bottom and work my way up 12-18” at a time, fishing each spot for a few minutes at a time.  If I have to go over 1 ½ ounces of weight on my egg sinker, I am using too much and switch to a dropper rig.

I have had equal success with both rigs, but tend to lose more around vertical structure with the Carolina rig (must because i'm not from Carolina!).

The bite and fight:

You will either feel weight on the line or light tap-tap.  If you feel the tap-tap and miss the hookset, don’t fret.  Keep your bait down for a few seconds and wait.  The sheepies tend to hit and crush the bait before they go back and pick up the pieces.  When in doubt (as Kayak Kevin would say) “Set the Hook”.  You will loose weights and rigs, but can also be rewarded with some amazing catches.  Also, if you keep getting stolen without feeling bites, or keep missing bites, stick with it in the same areas. You may go through a lot of bait, but if you are fishing for a sheep that you know is there and feeding, don’t move on until you catch him or he stops.  Finally, when you set the hook, cross his eyes to get a positive hookset.  He’s not a speck, and your not going to rip it out of his mouth.  Once you get the hookset, hang on for the fight of your life.

Photo Credit - Jay Brooks

Good luck out there!