Thursday, July 30, 2015

Carolina Bound



This has been a odd summer for me.  In the years past I have been hammering the fish inshore getting on good numbers of quality fish, of many different species.  This year, the inshore fishing in SE Virginia really hasn't materialized into much to talk about, so I have spent my time carp fishing instead.  Besides a few outings which produced a few Sheepshead to 25", Carp fishing with the fly rod has been my main pursuit.


Bowed up on the 6wt


A bit over 32" Common


My first Mirror (on the fly none the less)
Carp fishing has presented me with a number of challenges that have helped me step up my fishing game.  It teaches you patience, to make the right presentation on a fish, observe their moods and adjust to the fish, and fighting fish in close quarters.  All of these skills I worked on came into play the past month, when I went on a 3 week marathon to the great waters of the North Carolina coast.

These trips all occurred on days off, with the schedule looking something like this...

0600 - wake up for work
1600-2300 - go over gear, pack the car, and relax
2300-0430 - drive south
0530-1700 - fish hard!
Repeat for the following days off
last day 1600-2200 - drive north

This leads to very little sleep which requires good decision making and patience when your body just isn't willing to do what your mind tells it to do.  It also requires a good playlist to keep you going. 
Money Trees - Kendric Lamar
 
Woah! - Black Robb
 
Root Down - Beastie Boys
 
Woo Hah!! - Busta Rhymes

The music got me going, and it was time to get some fishes!  Week one presented muddy waters, low tides, and lots of wind.  With all of that being taken into account, there were still a good number of flounder being caught on the natural Ultra Shrimp.  These bad boys were sight casted along marsh edges.  Just look for sudden and violent explosion's, and there you have it!

Flounder on the Fly
 Day two was searching new water for reds.  Again, the conditions were challenging at best but we still got a few fish to hand.

The Wicked Pissah of the world famous Wicked Pissah Guide Service with a quality inshore Redfish
 
This greedy lil' guy fell for a Chatterbait with a PTL JP Hammershad
Following this trip, I had a 5 day hiatus in which I met up with Kevin and Lee for a fishing/fight podcast.
 
Late during the week, my boy Ted Crumb and I decided, "What the hell, lets do it again".  Another night of driving found us at the fishing spot in just enough time to get unloaded, rigged, and on the water at sunrise.  Sunrise services consisted of Topwater and Trout Tricks, resulting in a good number of aggressive, healthy Speckled Trout.
A feisty fatty fell for a Tactical Anglers Crossover
This weekend ended with some keeper founder coming off the flats, and a crap-ton of reds between 20-24" coming from a cut through an oyster field.

The third weekend was the weekend of the 2015 Hook, Line and Paddle TJM tournament out of Wilimington NC.  This is an event that I fish every year, and has become one of my favorites.  I would miss Christmas before I would miss this.  So, I had a 4 day weekend to get out and really hit it.  Friday morning was forecasted to be calm and clear.  Everything was supposed to be perfect, except it wasn't.  Winds were NE at 10-20, pushing the tides out, making things difficult.  The Trout Trick ended up being the skunk buster, bringing a few flounder to 17" and some spike specks to hand. 
Flounder on the Trout Trick
 After a less than encouraging pre-fish, Seth Goodrich and I decided to change things up, with the plan of being "Hero's or Zero's".  A paddle across the mouth of the Cape Fear resulted in some beautiful cuts with lots of oyster mounds, and clear, moving water.  When we first saw the area in person, our mouths dropped as it was one of the fishiest areas we had ever seen.  Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving, and this was not the case.  In looking for reds, Seth and I both saw a fish pushing 30" that would have made for a great day.  This fish didn't mind us being there and looked as if "I'm going to stay here and watch y'all make fools out of yourselves trying to catch me."  We saw other small reds, that just weren't in the eating mood.  I ended scratching an insignificant speck, but the fish of the day was the flounder.  Seth and I both lost flounder that would have put is in the top 3, with 4 of mine being 2nd and 1st place fish.  I was sickened, but at least we brought home a few for the frying pan and found some new water.  Youngblood Drew Camp really did some work with a 30 1/4" red that brought him home 1st place and an awfully large bag of donuts.  I'm super stoked and honored to be able to call him a teammate!

At least the tournament day view was plesant.
With two days remaining, I drove a bit further north, and fished with the Wicked Pissah himself.  We went out to two spots that produced fish for us the previous two weeks, but were fighting strong North winds and falling tides again.  The first day, we expanded our search area after only finding flounder in the oyster fields,  As we worked our way south with the wind, we started getting into flats filled with large mullet and some reds.  I ended up getting out on a grass island to find a better vantage point and could see 5lb mullet spooking mid 20" reds.  Our problem was that we were spooking mullet, which in turn spooked the reds.  In 10-20 mph winds, we gave it a good try, but only had a slot red and a few flounder to show for our efforts.  On our last day, we decided to go back into a spot along the ICW in which canals would lead us into ponds and lakes in search for reds.  This was a good choice!  On my 3rd cast I landed a red just shy of 29".  Hopes were high, and the fishing didn't disappoint!
1st fish of the day
 As we progressed we found more solid pumpkins.  It was also an opportunity to test out fish shots with the DSLR.  I still need some practice but all of these shots came from the camera on a tripod, and remote.
Notice the "selfie" setup back in the marsh.
 Had over a half dozen quality fish in the morning, with some shots that I am extremely happy with.


The trip ended as uneventful as it started, with a long drive back home.  As I write this, I cant help but wonder... When 1600 comes around on Friday afternoon, will I be Carolina Bound again?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Kayak Fishing - Top 10 Must-haves


I was inspired by Brian Vincent over at Appomattox River Company (www.paddleva.com) to compile a list of what I feel to be my "must have's" when Kayak Fishing. Of course this list may vary for many of you, but I feel that I owe much of the success I've had to what I list below.

1. Quality Kayak

This one should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately it isn't always that clear. Don’t get caught up in all the hype about the next best thing, because as of yet there isn't a fishing kayak that can be classified as the "hands down best all-around" fishing kayak. Kayaks have strengths and weaknesses just like fishing techniques. I used to think that one day a company will come up with the "one", but as kayak fishing evolves, I have come to the personal realization that it will never happen.

What can you do to find the best kayak for you? The answer to that question is threefold.

  1. Talk to pro-staffers, ambassadors, or factory reps. These people will tell you the pro's and con's about the kayaks they paddle. When I am asked about a specific kayak, I will ask the individual the type of water they paddle, when they paddle, how often they paddle, the duration of their trips, and their fishing style. This will help me build off of my experience and recommend what I believe to be the best kayak for them, even if it’s not a brand that I represent. I and many of my counterparts do not want to see you in the wrong kayak. If I put you in one of my kayak's knowing it’s going to be wrong for you, you will not be happy, and an unhappy customer is a vocal customer. If a rep is not of this mindset, then move along, because they do not have YOUR best interest in mind.
  2. Ask people that own, and have paddled the kayak you are looking for. A great place to do this is your local kayak fishing forum. You will get opinions from a broad experience level, and from people who have paid full price for their kayak. I generally trust the opinion of a person who will tell you they have paddled a number of different brands and models. Diversity is a great thing!
  3. Visit your local paddle sports retailer. As they are the front line oftentimes for purchases, returns, issues, and praise. These are the people that want to see you in the right boat, so they can bank on you being a return customer for all your paddle sport’s needs. They are well versed by some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry, and have the most overall knowledge. Paddle sports is a laid back community, so if you feel pressured by sales staff, speak to a manager, or move on!

For me, I paddle the Hurricane Kayaks Skimmer line because they are Fast, Lightweight, Durable, and perform amazingly in a number of different conditions I fish in. There are downsides though such as a lack of storage for surf launches, and the Skimmer's not being a typical sight casting platform. Overall, they work really well for me, and allow me certain options to mitigate their shortcomings. Their Pro's far outweigh their Con's in the vast majority of conditions I fish in. Not to mention, they are the lightest fishing kayaks on the Market!
 
Skimmer 128 rigged for fishing
2. Salt Rated Fishing Reels

Kayak fishermen are hard on gear. Saltwater fishermen are in environments that will destroy equipment in a flash. If you are looking to fish inshore or offshore from a kayak, plan on dropping dough on quality reels (or replacing them often). I treat my gear rough, so rough that people think that I’m made of money. There are only a handful of reels that I will purchase now because I have put them through their paces, and know they will work for me no matter what.

  • Baitcasters - I prefer and highly recommend the Abu Garcia Revo line. I have a handful of STX's and SX's. These things have 20+ lbs. of drag, are lightweight, are saltwater rated, and feel like they are solid in their construction. Other reels I have liked are the Shimano E series Curado's and the Non-CI4 Calcutta's. The G series Curado's and the CI4 Cronarch's are probably amazing reels if you are going to keep them away from the salt and baby them, but that’s not my style.
Photo - Werner Paddles
Spinning - For the money, the Shimano Sedona is an amazing reel and has a price point around $70. I have not had any issue with the Sedona's I have owned. I also like the Stratic FJ's and drool over the Saragossa, Sustain, and Stella, but have not owned one myself. They do have a great reputation in the inshore community though. I also own a Quantum Inshore Smoke, and a Diawa Ballistic. Both reels have been in my quiver for a few years now, and have held up fairly well. For some bigger rods, the Penn Spinfisher V has been bombproof, but the durability comes with the cost of weight.
  • Conventional - This is where I have limited experience, but have still caught trophy fish on all three reels I cover. First is the Shamano Tyrnos. I enjoyed this reel, but didn’t use it as often as the others. The Issue I had is while it sat around, the grease pooled in one area of the reel, which required disassembly and re-greasing to make it operational. The next is the Diawa Saltist. I can’t say much more than "I love this reel". If I had the need I would own a fleet of these things. Smooth, great drag, light weight, and damn sexy. Finally, I have the Release Reels SG. My SG is a few years old and besides some minor servicing in its infancy, it has been super reliable. Unfortunately, not all SG's have the same reputation as mine. Wes and the Crew up in Reedville will take care of you and make things right if the unthinkable happens though. Keep that in mind when making your next purchase.

3. Amazing Paddles

In kayaking, the paddle is your outboard. You wouldn’t put a Daewoo outboard on a 27' Contender. Don’t skimp on your paddle. While you generally get similar performance form paddles in the same price range, I cannot in good conscious recommend any paddle other than a Werner Paddle. While kayaks are variable, the paddle really isn’t. I can’t badmouth any other brands, nor would I. When it comes to Werner, you get a paddle that is made in the USA, and doesn’t focus on gimmicks to sell. Werner lets the paddle speak for itself. I will be buried with my Kaliste when it is my day to meet my maker. Check them out at www.wernerpaddles.com.

With this purchase, no matter the brand, the more you spend the more performance you will see and the happier you will be. I have never thought to myself, I wish I would have bought the next line down. Each upgrade will increase your paddling enjoyment exponentially.

4. Top Notch Leader Material

My leader is non-negotiable. Never again will I buy the bargain fluorocarbon. Seguar Blue or Red label is the Jam. I have also had good luck with the Berkley Tournament grade. The fluorocarbon properties of decreased visibility by fish, abrasion resistance, quick sinking, low memory, and knot strength are better in Seguar than other brands I’ve used. Don’t skimp on this.

5. Comfortable and Functional PFD

A PFD, much like a kayak is something that you must be willing to trust your life to. God forbid, something happens on the water, a PFD may be your difference between life and death, no matter how strong your abilities are. Most brands like Astral, Kokatat, and NRS make products that will keep you alive.

Moving along, I need a PFD that I can wear all day long in 100 degree heat, and not feel the urge to take it off. The Astral Ronny, Ronny Fisher, and Veight have super breathable mesh inserts, vents, and plenty of storage for your gear. Vests like the Seawolf and Green Jacket have solid clamshell pockets and are tectonic in nature so they move with you while you paddle. The Seawolf and Ronny Fisher are my go to choices.
Astral Ronny Fisher
6. The Right Rods for the Right Situations

This one is simple. Don’t go after bull drum with a panfish rod. When you are chasing fish, you want a rod that is matched appropriately to your quarry; otherwise it is like taking a knife to a gunfight, or a hand grenade to a game of paper rock scissors. The right fishing rod ensures an appropriate fish which decreases the morbidity of released fish, but still allows you to enjoy the fight and get the fish to hand.

There are so many great rod makers out there, so to recommend one rod over another is ludacris. I like my Shamano Terez's and Crucial's, but that’s not to say that I don’t, or am unwilling to fish anything else.

7. Versatile Kayak Rigging Options

It pains me to list this at #7, but fact is, 1-6 are necessity, and this is a nicety. For rigging, I look no further than YakAttack. Luther, Dan, and the rest of the team are always on the cutting edge of the sport. They are a US Based Company that makes lights for fishing at night, tracks to mount fish finders, cameras and rod holders, and even storage options. There are other companies that have come after YakAttack, but while a few dollars difference may seem nice, the quality and customer support is not there. Furthermore, YakAttack gives so much back to kayak anglers in the form of tournament donations and financial support to HOW and PHW. If you want it, www.yakattack.us has it!

8. Rugged Footwear

Kick off those flip flops. They have no place on the water for a kayak fisherman. Hooks in the foot, broken tongues, and minimal security make them a poor, uninformed choice. Water shoes are where it is at. Brands like Columbia and Keen make great shoes, but only Astral makes shoes designed around the paddling experience. You need a shoe that you can walk on scorching hot sand, through mud fields, over oyster bars, in the parking lot, and kick off pilings with. You also need something that will drain, and dry quickly. My Brewers and Loyaks do just that.

Astral Loyak - Astral Buoyancy
For your PFD and footwear needs, I recommend www.astraldesigns.com

9. Durable Baits

There are few things worse than taking a pack of plastics out, and getting all the tails bit off by croaker or pinfish. This is not only costly, but it can prematurely end the day with a hot bite on a certain color, or for the minimalist. When fishing inshore, shrimp are often my favorite baits to use. The Egret Vudu Shrimp have a Kevlar weave tail which makes it damn near bomb-proof to those fish that commonly pick and peck at the tail of the bait. This lets you fish considerably longer with minimal loss. I also like to use the Egret Vudu Mullet and Wedgetials for these reasons. While the Wedgetails are not re-enforced, they are extremely durable and last longer than most anything else I’ve used.
JP hammershad on an Aqua Dream Inline Spinnerbait
 

For my larger baits, I love fishing with my Powerteam Lures 4.8" Swinging Hammer and the JP Hammershads. These baits are neutrally buoyant and can handle repeated catches of large, toothy speckled trout. Unlike a lot of other similar baits I’ve thrown, these don’t easily pull out of screw lock hooks which save me money!
Swinging Hammer with a Healthy VA Citation Speck

10. All Around Terminal Tackle

To close out this list, I chose something that I feel to be extremely important and would have expected to come out much higher on my list. Whether its hooks, jig heads, swivels or the like, this is one area I refuse to skimp on. If I am chasing sheepshead or other trophy fish, I will eat ramen and tuna for a week before I compromise on my terminal tackle.

Owner and Eagle Claw Trokar's are the only hooks I’ll use when I’m fishing bait. These hooks are strong, sharp, and reliable. I will fish Trokar's or VMC's when I need a swimbait hook or EWG for more of my inshore presentations for many of the same reasons above.

Swivels and connectors are another major part of my game. When tying Sheepshead, Spadefish, or Tautog rigs, I like the 50lb spro barrel swivels. These are small, yet mighty reliable to the point I've never had them fail on me. I will also add them to the split ring on my spoons to help avoid line twist. As far as connectors are concerned, I refuse to leave home without my Tactical Anglers Power Clips. I could write a whole post just on these bad boys. Quick lure changes, added action, and ease of use are just three of the many added benefits.
50 lb TA Power Clip
I have 2 main requirements for jigheads. They must have a strong, solid black nickel hook, and the hook shank must vary in length to correspond to the weight of the jighead. Egret, VMC, and Owner all make super high quality products, but for me, Jigheads are like shoes, and whenever I see something new on the market, I make it a point to pick up a pack or two.

________________________________________________________________________________

I hope this top 10 list will help you when making your next kayak fishing purchase. For me, this is what works well. Keep in mind that many of the products I have mentioned here are from companies that I am sponsored by. I use their products, because for my style, I feel that they are superior to many others on the market. In the end though, its all about helping you figure out what works best for you and will give you the most enjoyment from your time on the water!

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Tides of Spring

Winter... It is increasingly becoming a period of long, cold days here in the mid atlantic.  We dont have much to hope for other than those warming south east winds and longer days which thaw us out, bring in warmer water, and break us free from our winter doldrums.  While there is still some kayak fishing to be had, the tides of spring bring us the highly anticipated return of the Redfish.  Many of these first schools contain reds that often break the 40" mark.  These are the fish that we are after, and what we look forward to upon their departure in the fall.

With our northern lattitudes and the sucesses of the Sciaenops ocellatus as a species, I consider myself extremely lucky to have the oppritunity to target, chase, and land such an amazing species.  It is what I long for.  That first five minute fight and monstorus headshakes are my sign that spring is finally here, and my vacation bank is about to be sucked dry. 

What is even more allureing about this fishery is the speed in which our spring season comes upon us.  This was never more evident than in 2015.  I find myself partaking in a bass trip one evening after work when I get the call.  Jay Brooks is on the other end of the line when I hear "Our scouting trip turned in to much more".  For me, The only question running through my mind is "are we still on for tomorrow?"  The answer was "hell yeah we are!", and thus my season began.  Jay's better half Meghan stoked the fire with a great story of her first bull (and the first kayak caught bull of 2015 that we know about).  Trip one for me ended with a skunk, but sometimes you have to pay to play.

Not even a week later, Jay and I pull up to the ramp to find RMFC and Lockhart chillin in their car.  On this trip, Jay struck 1st with a 47" red, followed shortly by a 46" landed by Lockhart, and a 48" landed by RMFC.  I had a heartbreaking encounter with a red in that same class.  When i got the big ole mamma yak side, I noticed terrable hook placement which ultimately resulted in the fish sliding over my leg and through my hands.  My attitude was terrable and it was one of the only fish that I have lost that made me physically ill.  But in the words of Ike, NEVER GIVE UP kept ringing through my head, and for a second time in as many hours, RMFC found me a school, and put me on the fish!
Lockhart's First Bull

Photo Credit - Rob Choi
You can read more about that day over at Angling Addict.

A few days later Jay, Tex, and I go out on the back side of what was a stellar day for Kevin, Lee, and crew.  This day will forever be known as "Cloudfest 2015".  Not even a peek of sun through the clouds, with the occasional shower didnt stop us from conducting our search.  We paddled from here to there and back for hours on end with nothing to show for our efforts.  It appeared all the fish had just dissapeared.  That is until I hear Jay wisper "2 o'clock, 100 yards".  These fish were moving fast towards us.  We coordinate our efforts, get inot position, and bomb casts into the cloud of fish.  I was the first to hook up, but that didnt last long.  Paddle, cast, hook up, curse.  That was the name of the game for what seemed to be an eternity.  I got lucky and broke the streak and managed to stay hooked.  With my drag cinched down, I went right for a ride through the school, and they dispersed.  I was able to keep eyes on a smaller school, and sent Jay and Tex to them.  As I am landing my fish, Jay and Tex both hook up, but Tex broke off.  Much to our pleasure, we had found some dinosaurs without the help of an palentologist.  Jay and I both boated Stripers in the 41"-42" class. 
Releif!
Photo Credit - Jay Brooks

Landing a Dinosaur


Super Stoked!
Again, just a few days later I went out looking for fish on the fly.  My buddy for the day has hooked into a handful of bulls chucking bugs, but has yet to come tight.  We decided to maximize our efforts and add sidescan to our arsenal.  Thank god we had it because there was absolutely zero clarity.  We work a few areas, and I know I went over fish, not quite knowing what I was looking for.  About halfway into the day, I smell the smell I was looking for.  REDFISH FEEDING!  I pull out the fly rod and make some solid casts in the right areas, but never hooked up.  I began to get discouraged, grabbed a baitcaster, and got bumped.  I called my buddy over, he casted his switch rod to no avail, while I hooked up to a solid 47" red that we tagged and released.

 

Side Imaging scored me one more fish on the day that was around 42" that quickly came in for a quick photo opp, and went back to be caught another day.


Work, finances, and the like made my time chasing these beasts short this year.  I am always psyched to get out there and be given the oppritunity to have good fishing with great friends.  I will say that my success chasing bulls is not typical, I still find myself in awe of some of the greats in this fishery, and find myself watching them fight and land fish more than getting in on the action myself.

Im extremely thankful that the tides of spring are here, bringing with it more opritunities to do what I love!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Finding the Right Kayak Fishing PFD - Astral Seawolf and Ronny Fisher


I have been fishing since before I can remember, and fishing from a canoe or kayak for a majority of that time.  Growing up in the 80’s, I wore your typical coast guard approved orange floatation device.  While it served its primary purpose, it lacked one thing… comfort.  If you are not comfortable on the water, you’ll either cut your trip short, or your PFD comes off.  For your typical fisherman, the PFD will leave your body before you leave the water.  This can lead to some very bad things.
 

As I got older, I started to realize that like many teenagers and 20 somethings, I was invincible.  I was very fit and lived a warrior’s lifestyle.  I never wore a PFD because they 1) were not functional for my style of paddling, and 2) I was in great shape.  If anything were to happen to me my physical abilities would have mitigated my need for a PFD.  Boy was I wrong! 
One day I paddled out for a surf session over a reef in the South China Sea, and experienced a commonality shared by many surf kayakers…  I flipped.  When I went over I got caught in the hydraulics of a breaking wave, while my body was tossed like a ragdoll over the coral below.  I couldn’t tell you how long I was pinned, but I can say that my paddling partner was surprised to see me surface under my own power, and not unconscious.  I got lucky, and this experience stayed in the front of my mind from that point on.


On that note, let me say that PFD not only stands for Personal Floatation Device.  It also stands for Personal Fu*%ing Decision for many folks.  While I understand both trains of thought within the kayak community, I do not want to start the debate on the use of PFD’s.  I have my personal feelings and experiences that drove me to the decision of wearing my PFD when I’m on the water.  Ill talk about what I have found to be my key factors when choosing the right PFD for my style.
NRS Chinook PFD
When I started kayak fishing a lot, I started off with an older Lotus Designs PFD, then NRS Chinook, as it was one of the best reviewed fishing PFD’s at the time.  I fished that PFD for a few years and liked a few things about it. 
Pros:
  1. It is a high back PFD, making it more comfortable with SOT kayak seats. 
  2. It has large zippers don’t tend to get off track when fouled with sand or mud. 
  3. It is fairly adjustable.
Cons:
  1. I was not a fan of the material it was made from.  While it was rip-stop, I found that it did rip easier than it should.
  2. It was not breathable at all.  There are no vents and I would find myself soaked with sweat to the point that I looked like I just went for a swim.
  3. The pockets are soft sided, and allow the contents to get wet way to easy.
  4. The Velcro on the front pockets loved to eat… eat my favorite fishing shirts.

The Chinook lasted me a few seasons, but I felt the need to upgrade.  So my next PFD was the Stohlquist Fisherman.  I again fished this PFD for a few years, loving some of its advantages over the NRS Chinook.  Coming in at a few dollars more, I was happy to spend the money for what I felt to be a superior jacket for my style.  The first thing I came to love was the fact that it was missing Velcro (which my shirts loved)!  Next it had hard sided pockets which afforded my gear greater protection on and off the water.  There were still some cons though, that made me continue to search for that perfect jacket.
The Stohlquist Fisherman
Pros:
  1. It is a high back PFD, making it more comfortable with SOT kayak seats. 
  2. Hard sided pockets
  3. Lack of Velcro
  4. Padded shoulder straps
  5. Unique gear attachment options
Cons:
  1. The zipper systems are dainty, and often I found myself conducting field repairs because the teeth were stuck or didn’t grab properly.
  2. Again, it was not breathable, and being soaking wet was a common theme
  3. Not as comfortable or easy to wear as the Chinook was when wearing lots of layers or waders.

I would have probably stayed with my Stohlquist had it not been for a series of unfortunate events in which my jacket and I parted ways (and states) for a few months.  So, instead of traveling out of state, I decided I would upgrade and that is when I went over to Astral.  If you remember I started out with a Lotus Designs PFD.  For the life of me, I cannot remember which model it was but I appreciated its comfort and simplicity. 
In searching for that jacket that model I had on the internet, I learned of a company called Astral Buoyancy, which had in all reality replaced Lotus designs in the PFD market place.  I found a company with some bomber jackets, amazing style, and based somewhat locally (in Asheville - the mountains of North Carolina).  They had just launched the Seawolf, and there was some buzz about how amazing this jacket was in the whitewater and touring community.  I looked at it and immediately knew this was a jacket I wanted to try.
Photo Credit: Werner Paddles
Upon trying it on I found some amazingly awesome features that I never thought about in a fishing jacket before. 
Pros:
  1. The PFD is based to tectonics.  The waist is your anchor point, and the rest of the jacket moves based on your movement.  When paddling hard, fighting that big fish, or even reaching back to grab your gear, the tectonic body is super convenient (and comfortable).  There is also an added benefit of a fleece hand warmer at the torso.  Not a must have as much as a nice to have feature.
  2. There is no Velcro (again, my high dollar technical fishing shirts are thankful)!
  3. The clam shell pocket offers plenty of hard sided storage, without getting in the way of your paddle stroke.
  4. It is light weight, and more breathable than the NRS Chinook or the Stohlquist Fisherman.
  5. It is easy to wear over bulky clothing.
  6. The Denier material is super durable.  With a simple wash, you would be hard pressed to tell that it has been a primary PFD for 3 seasons.
  7. Side buckle closures lets you don the jacket quickly, and makes for easy adjustment depending on the clothing you are wearing.
  8. Super comfortable shoulder padding.
Photo Credit: Rob Choi
Cons:
  1. The back has padding throughout, which is contradictory to what the market tells you for a SOT.  While not initially as comfortable as a high back PFD, I find that the movement the PFD has, coupled with a proper paddling posture and quality seat alleviates this concern for me.
http://www.astraldesigns.com/products/Seawolf.php
This is by far my favorite PFD for 95% of my trips.  For those of you that wear your PFD, and paddle hard, this jacket should not be overlooked.
The Ronny Fisher and a 49" Redfish
I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the Astral fishing team in late 2013, at which time I was sent a Ronny Fisher to test out.  Being a hard headed individual, I resist change when I find a product I love.  Initially, I didn’t want to wear the Ronny Fisher because I loved my Seawolf so much.  As I took it out of the box, I gave it the once over and though, “this is kinda cool”, then it sat in the corner overnight.  When I woke up the next morning I found it staring at me, sucking me in with its intrigue.  That morning I found myself late for work because I was going through all of its features.  It is the SUV of fishing PFD’s that can go anywhere and do anything you ask it to do. 

Photo Credit: Rob Choi

Although it is not my go to PFD for my style of paddling, it has many features that are designed especially for the kayak angler.  For starters, it has an integrated hood.  At first, I was not a big fan of this feature, but one day I got caught in a pop up rain cell.  Putting the hood on helped keep my glasses relatively spot free, and while everything I would have used to clean my glasses was unusable, I was ok.  Its this type of thinking that makes me honestly believe that the Ronny Fisher is quite possibly the best fishing PFD for most kayak anglers out there today.
Photo Credit: Rob Choi
Pros:
  1. It features and integrated hood that while it won’t replace your rain jacket, it will keep your head dry.
  2. 2 fold down hard sided zipper pockets that provide ample storage for tackle boxes, phones, and other amenities.  Both flaps fold down plat to provide you a solid surface to work off of if needed.
  3. A can/bottle holder that zips back into the jacket.  While I do find it cumbersome to paddle with a can of Monster in the holder, I do find it extremely useful for a VHF radio or even a camera on a retractor.
  4. A tool area that has elastic loops for your tools, and is secured with a Velcro strap that is out of the way.  The Velcro is located so it doesn’t eat up my fishing shirts like other PFD’s.
  5. 2 elastic loops on both sides of the jacket that allow for easy gear attachment.
  6. Solid zippers that seem impervious to sand and grit.
  7. A thin, vented back that helps cool you, while making the jacket extremely comfortable to wear on a SOT.
  8. Thick webbing on the shoulder straps that doesn’t dig in like thinner, flimsy webbing.
http://www.astraldesigns.com/products/RonnyFisher.php
 
Cons:
  1. It almost has too much storage, and I can quickly find myself bogged down by all I can put in the Jacket.
  2. I enjoy the side buckle closure that is found on the Seawolf more than the front zipper on the Ronny Fisher.
Photo Credit: Jack Daughtry
While I admit that I am on the Astral fishing team, and may have a little bias, that bias comes from wearing what I am comfortable putting my name and reputation on.  A company that has high standards of quality, listens to the paddler, and actually solicits input from the community when designing new products.  While brands like NRS, Stohlquist, and Kokatat make some amazing products, my search for the ultimate paddling and fishing specific PFD’s has ended with Astral.
Do yourself a favor and go to your local paddle sports shop.  Ask about the Seawolf, Ronny Fisher, or any other jacket in the Astral line.  Try them on, move around in them, and ask the sales reps for feedback they have received.  If you still have any questions, drop me or any of your local Astral fishing team members a line.  We are dedicated to helping you find the best product for your style!
Ronny Fisher - 29" Speckled Trout



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Adapt and Overcome

I would like to believe that I am a good fisherman, with well-rounded skills in both fresh and salt waters.  I also view myself as a minimalist in the aspect that I paddle a lightweight kayak that does not suit itself well to having all the bells and whistles that larger kayaks have.  I don't take 10 rods on the water with me or enough tackle to open up my own shop.  I have to ensure that I have the gear I need to effectively target what I may encounter and nothing more.  Here I will outline some of the lessons that I have learned, or ones that I have re-learned over the past few months, with the hope that it may help others out along the way.  Here we go!


  1. Know the water you are fishing, and the gear you are using - This may seem like a no brainer, but if you follow these rules your trips will be much more enjoyable and you will be nicely rewarded.  On a recent trip to one of my favorite bass spots, my buddy Ted and I were fishing an area right before, during, and after a cold front.  Prior to the front, we knew the areas that the bass were feeding on and what baits best mimicked the forage of the lake.  We were able to bust out some quality fish in the morning and the day was a success.  As the front passed, the fishing grinded to a halt.  This is where we decided to go fish some deeper water with the hope of finding fish stacked up.  We changed up our presentations to take advantage of the conditions and we were pleasantly rewarded.  Point being, be versatile and understand that just because a pattern worked during one part of the day, it will not always continue to produce throughout the remainder of the day.
  2. A nice pre-spawn bass caught using a Chatterbait in deeper water right after a strong cold front passed through

    
    Ted Crumb with a beastly sow after observing and establishing a pattern for post frontal fish.
     
  3. Don't be afraid to depart from the norm in order to catch fish - On another day when Square Bills and Jerkbaits would be the normal presentation for the given conditions, mix things up. We decided that with the jerkbait bite in deeper water being nonexistent, we would fish trees and vegetation with spinnerbaits. We knew our tactics were a departure from what we had established but decided to go with them anyways. This paid off with some quality Bass and a would be VA weight citation Bowfin.  When I asked the science behind spinnerbait fishing in these conditions, we could not come up with any other answer than "it has worked in the past". 
    Tommy establishing a spinnerbait pattern on a jerkbait day
    An angry Bowfin that slammed a Spinnerbait
     
  4. Realize that in order to catch fish, you may need to adjust your target, and techniques - There will be days when the conditions, the fish, or both will not allow you to chase after your target species, or you might not be able to get the exact presentation needed conventionally, and may need to switch to other methods. This occurred on more than one occasion where I wanted to chase bass, but knowing where they were located, the conditions would not allow me to get there. This is when I changed my target, and focused on catching citation pickerel. Another time, I wanted to chase pickerel, but the conditions were brutally cold and I realized that a very slow presentation was the best way to fool them into biting, so instead of fishing with gear, I decided to take the fly rod out and I was pleasantly rewarded. As long as there is open water, there will be something waiting to be caught. Tunnel vision can be the worst enemy an angler who just wants to get out and fish.
    Crappy conditions for a Crappie Day

    
    A Pickerel on the fly to pop the cherry on the 2015 kayak fishing season
     

    
    A VA release citation Chain Pickerel caught when the bass were unaccessable
     
  5. Be ready for what the conditions may throw at you - Sometimes you are just stuck fishing certain conditions. This may be low, dirty, grassy water, or quite the opposite. Have enough gear to tackle multiple presentations for your conditions, but still keep some that may be just the opposite. Recently, I encountered low and dirty water conditions. While I like to throw pinks and yellows in these conditions, I could visibly watch fish turn away and pay my baits no mind. It wasn’t until I switched up to the darkest colors that I had that I found the fish on the end of my line. Sometimes rules are just meant to be broken.
A nice redfish caught after switching color schemes

The most important thing to remember though is to go out and ENJOY yourself.  Take advantage to the vestle you are on and look around.  Enjoy the sights, and sounds.  Emerse yourself in not just the fishing, but also your environment!