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!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Adventure Fishing World Championship (AFWC) #3 - Delacroix, LA


"It’s all about what you know in good ole Delacroix"

This quote became unbelievably apparent when 53 teams of two got the go ahead to open up their maps, and plan their day at the 3rd annual AFWC in Delacroix LA. The AFWC is a tournament that I have tried to fish for the past two years, but have not been able to find the right teammate... until now. Its format is extremely unique in the fact that it test your ability to navigate, paddle and portage, fish, and reading water. You have to be a complete kayak angler in order to even qualify in this event. The next few paragraphs will outline the experiences of Team All Out Kayak Fishing, and bring more insight as to what goes into this event.

First, let’s talk a bit about Delacroix. It sits 3 ft above sea level, with a labyrinth of canals and levees that make you really understand how susceptible to the elements you really are. While driving into town, you drive through what we coined to be the "Wall of Death", which is a super long cement wall on an a elevated levy designed to minimize the flooding during storms. The levy that we went through failed in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, and left the "island" submerged in over 30 foot of water. Driving through the wall at midnight seemed like it belonged in the series the Walking Dead.

This wall went on for miles

Kayak Kevin standing next to the wall for reference.  This thing was DOMINATING!

Once we made it through the wall, we really got into the terrain that we would have to navigate. Seeing it at night was the wrong time to see it for the first time. It was dark, muggy, and a complete departure from our expectations. Once we got unloaded, our excitement overtook our nerves, and instead of sleeping, we took a walk to acclimatize ourselves to the island. It was really cool to see gar feeding on shrimp in the dock lights, and see just how much damage Katrina caused.

Day two started with chilling with the Virginia collation of anglers that came down to compete, seeing old friends from throughout the south east, and pumping ourselves up for the unexpected. My partner Joe and I finished loading our gear and were off. The first thing that we noticed was how skinny the water truly was. Most of the areas we pre-fished were less than two feet, and to add even more complexity, these areas were full of sea grass and hydrilla. For the angler, Delacroix is a Top water and Sight casting paradise. We started the day with some bass in the grass, and casting to reds that didn’t want our offerings. As we progressed, we found areas that held a higher concentration of reds, and some clearer water than what we had been fishing. The first red of the trip came on an in-line buzz bait that it absolutely demolished.

A Dinnerbell JP Hmmershad fooled this red!

As we paddled further down this one flat, we saw reds cruising and tailing, but got no interest in our baits until we switched to darker colors. The darker the baits, the more interest they generated, and subsequently, our hookups increased.

A fat lil Delacroix pumpkin
Our only day of prefishing yielded Bass and Reds on the same baits, and in the same areas.  It also gave us a good reference for the conditions we would be fishing in, and more importantly, patterns that we felt would be successful the following day.

Team Adventure on the Water (Kayak Kevin and Jean McElroy) on their way in to end the first day.

Tournament Morning

After loading all of our gear in the staging area and ensuring that we had what we needed for the following day, our team was called up at 0630 to get our map, measuring device, and scorecard.  The tension mounted until 0700, at which time we were able to open our map, and plan our fish.

Photo - AFWC

Checkpoint 5

Once we opened up our map, we found which the double length checkpoints were and decided to fish CP5, CP2, CP3, CP4, and CP1 in a loop. After we hit all but CP 3 we realized the flaw in our plan. This course was designed to be fished in a circle, with deep water entry points starting from 4, going to 3, 2, 5, and 1. Nonetheless, we proceeded to paddle to CP5 first and hit the water at 0715. We breezed past the field, aided by a stout north wind that was 20-30 mph. As we hit CP5, we were one of the first teams to reach our area, and fished our way through, catching our first red about an hour into the CP and scoring 50.5 points for the area. As we paddled back to the east across the flat we just left, I noticed there was still some water left on the flat and we had a straight shot to reach CP 2. We scored our fish, turned in our token, and paddled east. Unfortunately, as we approached our cut through, the water drained out and we participated in the great mud run of Delacroix for the better part of an hour and a half. Dragging through 3+ feet of mud against a strong headwind took the life out of both of us. It got to the point that I though our day had ended. Thankfully, we got some air back in our lungs and wind beneath our sails... On to CP2.

Checkpoint 2

We reached Checkpoint 2 around 1100. The only thoughts in my mind were to 1) get away from all the teams and find an unmolested location, and 2) catch a fish FAST! As we paddle to the SE corner of the lake on CP2, I find a small little lake that has reds in it and has one tiny, shallow entrance. I call my partner over and proceed to get stuck at the entrance. I have no way to get to these fish, and after our mud run, I am unwilling to get to them. As I struggle to get back out, joe alerts me to the presence of fish right behind me. I make a cast, and get love taps on my spoon. Finally, as I get tapped I decide to stop my retrieve completely. As I watch my line continue to move across the bow of my yak, I slam the hook home. FISH ON!!! We land, measure and score a solid 23.5" red and make our way back to the CP. We score the fish and it is 1205. Our total points are now 74 with one remaining point to qualify. With the plan to move onto CP3 nixed due to unknown conditions, we went from trying to hit all 5 to just qualifying.

Checkpoint 1

We paddle to CP1 via the canal that took us north east. We are stoked for an easy paddle, fairly restricted by the wind, and only a mile and a half. What can go wrong? Well, shortly after we leave 2, we see a large rock wall. As we get closer, we realize that a portage is a must in order to move on this route. We portage Joe's Tarpon first, he beaches it, and we move on to the Skimmer. As Joe is in the water helping me with my yak, we notice a nice sized gator looking at my partner. All I heard was "Don’t leave me Wild Bill". I love wildlife, so I take out my camera and start shooting away, while my partner is slamming against the rocks and my boat, scared shitless cause the gator has hungry eyes for him.

Hungry Eyed Gator looking towards good ole Delacroix Joe

Checkpoint 4

Joe convinces me to hit CP4, even with another pending portage and the unknown, we wanted the double points. We pull up the ramp at Sweetwater Marina, and get our wheels out for a long portage. As we go through our stuff, we notice that a piece for a set of wheels was missing. Now things just got reel. We had a couple hundred yard drag to the next piece of water. We timed it out and from start to reaching CP4, it took us 30 minutes. Great, this will give us an hour and fifteen minutes to fish prior to check in. As we paddle down a canal to the CP, Joe spots some nice reds. There is no point in casting since we did not have an identifier, so we moved on. We got our identifier, and had a decision to make. Do we leave reds we know are here? or Do we fish the unknown on the other side of the berm? Well the unknown was so damn sexy, we proceed to move on. We are hearing guys sporadically hook up and come undone. If CP4 was good for one thing, it was a bunch of expletives. We move our way, and Joe hooks up on the buzzbait. I hear an explosion, see him set the hook twice and bring a stud red to the surface. This bad boy was over 25 without a doubt. Unfortunately he gets off and nothing comes to hand. Joe tells me that "I just lost the winning fish". I tell him to shrug it off, and we still had time. Unfortunately, time ran out on us with nothing left to show for. The paddle back to the start was somber at first, then we remembered that we had 99.5" and minimum checkpoints. This was our day!


First off, I must say that I am super proud of all the teams that competed. This was by far the toughest kayak fishing event I have participated in. Just to participate makes you a winner.

At weigh in, the scuttlebutt was anything over 95" would put you in the top 10. Knowing we had a fish at the end come off that would have given us at least 50 points really started to set in. We were however able to get over that knowing that we went all out and gave it 100% on the day.

On to the results... All Virginia teams qualified and broke the top 30. Angler Management (Amy and Andy) came in 29th, Double L (Mark and Kris Lozier) came in 18th, All Out Kayak Fishing (Joe and Myself) came in 16th, and Adventure on the Water (Kevin and Jean) came in 8th. In the end 1st and 16th were separated by less than 50 points.

Photo - AFWC

 In the end, would I do it all over again, Hell Yes!  My partner was amazing, we had a great time, and felt accomplished at ending the day with 3 beautiful fish and paddling and portaging over 17.5 miles.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fly Fishing Inshore Waters with William Ragulsky

I thought I would share for those who are unable to attend tonights talk, and all of you not in the Hampton Roads VA area.  Thank you Kayak Kevin for use of your lightline pic.

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.

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:
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