Monday, July 20, 2015

My Top 5 Favorites from ICAST 2015

It is a great time to be a kayak angler. With ICAST occurring last week in Orlando, FL and Outdoor Retailer slated for the first week of August in Salt Lake City, many companies are pumping out great new products. As usual, ICAST introduced us to some really innovative new products...and some probable duds.  But, for better or worse, the kayak fishing industry is quickly pushing toward the forefront of the outdoor industry.  Here are my 5 favorites (and a couple honorable mentions) from ICAST 2015.

1.  All things Wildy Fishing

Wilderness Systems dropped their teaser video about a week early, but man do they have the kayak fishing world buzzing. Their new X-pod motor drive was released at ICAST, as was a new and improved Tarpon 130X and ultralite versions of multiple boats in RealTree camo. They have hinted at an X-pod pedal system coming at Outdoor Retailer (OR), as well as the possibility of new/modified models in the near future. Confluence also launched a new Perception Pescador Pro, which is a sharp looking boat in its own right. I suspect they will take the interchangeable X-pod concept and absolutely run with it, as it fits/will fit the ATAK, Thresher, Tarpon X, and more models down the road. Below is their teaser video and a photo of the new Tarpon 130X, which has yet to be formally released.

The time has come for the power of Wilderness Systems to be revealed.
Posted by Wilderness Systems Fishing Kayaks on Thursday, July 2, 2015

2.  Bending Branches Angler Optimus

This thing is the Swiss army knife of paddles, because it can do it all. It will combine with your current Bending Branches angler series paddle (excluding Plus ferrule options) to create a canoe paddle, stand up (paddleboard) paddle, 8 ft pushpole and 12 ft pushpole. The best thing is that it is as easy as the push of a button. All parts are made from super strong, lightweight fiberglass. Check it out over at Bending Branches for full info

3.  Abu Garcia Revo Spinning Reels

My affinity for Abu Garcia has been mentioned many times on this blog.  For years, I have been using their Orra S and SX spinning reels and love them.  They have been tanks, and for the money, they are hard to beat.  But the new Revo spinning line looks amazing and when my Orras die, I may upgrade a bit.  For some reason, I have always been a little reluctant to spring for a Revo S, because I think the upgrades you get when you splurge on an SX, STX, or better are just too hard to ignore.  However, I fully expect to have an SX or two in my arsenal within a few years.  Check out their intros here:

4.  Jackall Pompadour Junior

The Jackall Pompadour has been around for a year or so now and has been the cause of numerous topwater blow-ups since it launched.  It is a mutation of the old school Arbogast Jitterbug.  I just picked up a couple and love them.  They don't get a ton of bites, but the bites you get are big and ferocious.  Now, they come in a smaller version, which should be just as productive.  Check them out!

5.  Savage Gear 3D Shine Glide Bait

Glide baits have become super popular over the past few years.  That is because guys out west and in the swimbait world have been catching giants on them.  Savage Gear just released their new glide baits, which come in a couple different sizes and numerous colors.  I will admit that a lot of the custom and handmade swimbaits look better in the water, but this one looks pretty good, and costs a fraction of the price.  If you are looking for something new that catches big fish, this may be a good option for you.

Honorable Mentions:

A.  Jig Skinz

I saw Jig Skinz first pop up on my Facebook feed and was impressed.  Others clearly were too, as it continued to show up on my feed for a few days.  Although it isn't widely applicable, it is a really cool concept.  See their video, below.

Got some beat up jigs and plugs in your bag? Slap them some skin and make them look brand new again!! - EK
Posted by Hook Shots on Thursday, July 16, 2015

B.  Big Bite Baits Swimming Mama

The Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog has been my go-to flipping bait for the past year or two.  The Swimming Mama looks very similar, but with a little more action and slightly different profile.  I would like to see one in the water, but dang in looks appealing.  This is another bait that I will be fishing on an unpegged Texas rig.  I expect to have a few bags in my tackle box very soon!

Until next time, tight lines!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fireworks and Freak Temps - Early July Kayak Fishing

It has been a busy few weeks, so I was giddy when the clock hit 5 PM on July 2nd.  I was staring at a three day weekend, which included both Independence Day and my 32nd birthday.  Nothing could stop me from hitting the water.  I decided to hit a lake that I hadn't fished in a while.  But I knew the lake can get crowded, and even moreso on a holiday weekend.  So, I decided to get up at 4 AM, which would put me on the water at first light.  Just before bed, Mary May asked, "what does the weather look like"?  "Clear, I think", I responded.  So I opened my AccuWeather app.  Sure enough, it was supposed to be clear, but also a bit chilly - like 45 degrees chilly.  Isn't this July?  Suddenly I was beginning to re-think my plans, but I refused to let some cold weather stop me.

I slept poorly, but was somehow still startled awake by my alarm.  I stumbled out the door and was surprised to see how bright it already was.  The near full moon and clear skies were providing a ton of light.  I was hoping that was a piece of the puzzle I wouldn't need to worry about.  As I cruised west, I contemplated whether or not I should tweak my initial plan.  I was all set for fishing topwaters - with 3 surface baits and a "throwback" bait tied on.  I knew deep down that I should have probably went with Plan B, but I was determined to force feed the fish on top.  So, that is what I, stubbornly, did.

A chilly morning launch

I launched the ATAK around 5 AM and began throwing a mix of a Deps frog and River2Sea Whopper Plopper.  About 3 casts into the day, a 14" bass erupted on the Whopper Plopper.  "I guess the temps aren't going to affect the bite", I thought to myself.  I then went 40 minutes without a nibble.  I was concetrating on rock and dense vegetation, both of which retain heat, but nothing was producing - at least not on top.  As the sun rose over the trees, I paddled over to the sunny side of the lake.  That moved proved to make all the difference.  The exact same types of rocks and heavy weed patches seemed to be full of active fish, and that warm sun was the key.  I never did get a bite on the frog, but I landed a couple more on the Whopper Plopper before the Jerk Shad bite took over. 

My growing fondness for the Berkley Saltwater Jerk Shad has been well documented of late.  This day was no different.  I had to slow it down a bit more, but bass and chain pickerel were crushing it as I killed it on weed edges.  The bite between about 6:45-8:30 AM was red hot.  Then the weatherman flipped his switch and the bite died.  The sun, which had fueled my morning bite, was now the key to shutting it down.  The bluebird skies and lack of wind forced me to slow down - way down.  I began flipping weed mats with a lizard and a tossing a finess worm around the edges.  Still, I only managed a couple pickerel and a short bass.  I found myself wishing for wind - any wind.  After about 45 minutes, my wish was finally granted.  Within 15 minutes, the bite was on again.

One of the best fish of the day (the biggest flipped off my measuring board)

I caught fish flipping a lizard to wood and boulders, fishing the Jerk Shad on weed edges, and ripping a Premier League Lures spinnerbait in a perch color through sunken vegetation.  Although I had only planned to fish until about 10 AM, the bite just kept getting better.  By 1 PM, my best three largemouth combined to measure 58" and I had caught multiple chain pickerel at 26".  I had landed about 50 fish - 21 bass and 29 chain pickerels.  Unfortunatley, I knew I had to get home, so I started making my way back to the truck.  I made a few casts here and there, including one thrown along a point near some isolated vegetation.  As I brought my Jerk Shad across the patch of grass, the water erupted.  A giant chain pickerel engulfed the bait.  It was ripping drag and pulling me into the wind.  After a minute or two, I got the fish boatside and realized just how big it was.  I also noticed that the bait was entirely in its mouth.  I began to freak out.  I tried to contort the fish to try and land him without the line getting cut.  But it was all for naught.  The angle of the line, nearly straight down, was too severe, and the beasts teeth cut it like butter.  I was distraught.  I would estimate the fish around 30" and probably 7 lbs, easily besting my best from last year.  According to the Massachusetts Wildlife website, it would have been the biggest chain pickerel caught in the past few years.  Next time, I'm bringing a net!

It was a bittersweet drive home, but I was proud of my day.  It was a good lesson in summer conditions, and how and when to adjust.  If it gets too cold, hot, or sunny - slow down.  If cloudy, breezy, or comfortable - speed up.  Sometimes, you may need to switch techniques multiple times over the course of a day, even within one area.  If you know you are around fish, let them tell you what they want.  I almost always start fishing fast and slow down as needed.  In this particular case, I knew there were fish in isolated vegetation, it was just a matter of finding the right conditions.

Happy 4th of July!

A few days later, I got a chance to take an afternoon birthday fishing trip with Mary May.  We decided to hit a local lake that gets a ton of traffic.  In fact, when we were there, we saw about a dozen swimmers and probably 15-20 other boaters.  But that didn't seem to phase the fish.  What did affect the fishing was the drastic weather we've had this year.  The typical weed growth pattern for this lake is weeks behind, which I assume is related to the brutally cold winter and summer temps that have been cooler than average.  So, instead of large patches of lily pads, we found very sparse, skinny weeds.  The fish were extremely scattered and seemed hesitant to commit to anything fished fast.  Of course, that doesn't mean we didn't catch them.

We launched around 4:30 PM and Mary May got on the board quickly with a pickerel on a Jerk Shad.  But for the next 30 minutes or so, it was more about weeding out what wasn't working, which was nearly everything.  Eventually, I caught a solid 17.75" largemouth on a finesse worm in about 2 feet of water.  The fish was situated near a boulder - one of many in this particular lake.  We decided to focus only on wood, boulders, ledges, and extremely heavy vegetation.

A solid bass to start the afternoon

Shortly after, we decided to go for a dip.  We pulled the kayaks up on a small island, shed some layers, and took the plunge.  The water was chilly, but felt great in the hot, humid conditions.

Swimming selfie with the beautiful wife

After our swim, the bite was fairly steady, although never outstanding.  I caught bass on two baits - a green pumpkin finesse worm and junebug lizard.  I rigged the finesse worm weightless on a 2/0 hook.  The lizard I Texas-rigged on a 4/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook and a 1/4 oz tungsten weight.  I fished each very slow, often popping them off the bottom or out of grass.  I ended the day with about a dozen bass, including another solid fish at 17.5".  I also had a couple of blow-ups on a white frog in heavy grass, but never actually committed to it.

A fine western Mass. bass
By 7 PM, we were ready to call it a day.  I forgot just how little quality water there is in the lake, as I had expected to fish until dusk and take advantage of the evening topwater bite.  However, it worked out pretty well, since we were wet after the swim and starting to catch a chill.  The day was another good lesson in breaking down conditions and listening to the fish.  Rather than fishing fast and struggling, we slowed down and caught 'em.  Slowing down can also be a great option on bodies of water that are heavily pressured.  It isn't always fun, but is almost always effective, especially in clear water.
The Ride 115X Max is quickly becoming Mary May's favorite boat

These trips capped an incredible 31st year and got 32 off on the right foot as well.  A few nights later, I got to break in my birthday gift.  Despite making it clear I wanted nothing, Mary May and Johanna (my mother in-law) showed up with a Big Green Egg in the trunk.  After assembly, I decided to smoke a 4 lb brisket from the farm.  I smoked it for about 5 hours at 235 over a mix of oak and hickory.  I used a dry rub, which I set with yellow mustard.  It turned out delicious!

Nothing like home raised grass fed beef - get your forks ready!

Until next time, tight lines!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

5 Essentials for a River Float Trip

Recently I was contacted by Salt City Optics (who specialize in prescription sunglasses for various activities), who is putting together the "Dress for the River Project".  The magic question is, what items are an absolute must for a river trip?  I decided to come up with a top 5, which excludes a kayak, paddle, and fishing gear, which are no-brainers.  Without further adieu... 

1.  Life Jacket - By far the most important item I take paddling, I never hit the water without wearing one.  In/on my life jacket, I always carry a whistle and knife.

2. Sunglasses - Nothing bugs me more than having to squint all day. And a nice pair with polarized lenses can be a key to catching more fish. I rock my Smith Optics Backdrop Evolve glasses everywhere.

3.  Water - Dehydration is no joke, especially on long, hot summer days.  I prefer water, although Gatorade, Vitamin Water, etc. would also fit the bill.  My love of the Hydro Flask has been published many times on this blog. It keeps my water cool all day with no ice, no matter how hot it gets. 

4.  Chapstick - I hate chapped lips and chapping can happen very fast out on the water.  I always carry a chapstick with SPF 15 or higher.

5.  Sun protection gear - For me, this includes a long sleeve Columbia PFG shirt, hat, sun screen, and often a buff to cover my neck and face.  Cancer is no joke.

Of course, there are numerous other items I could add to the list, including food/snacks, a first aid kit, a survival kit, proper wading shoes (I prefer the Columbia Drainkmakers), and rain gear. 

Stay safe and have fun this summer.  Tight lines!

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Textbook Post Spawn Beatdown

It was mid-morning and I found myself with a few hours of free time, a rarity these days.  It was a no brainer - I loaded up and headed for the water.  But in the back of my mind, I knew that this time of year can be tricky in New England.  Early to mid-June is the post spawn period in bass fishing.  It represents the phase after bass have finished mating and spend their time relaxing and recovering.  Coincidentally, at the start of the month I published a couple articles that talk about catching post spawn bass.  And trust me, I practice what I preach, fishing topwaters, jerkbaits, and finesse plastics around points, drops, edges, and isolated cover.  If all else failed, the lake I was fishing also has an abundance of chain pickerel, and I was hoping that they would keep my line tight if the bass wouldn't cooperate.  It was one of those days with a lot of variables, and experience made all the difference - eventually resulting in a pile of nice fish.

I launched amidst blue bird skies and perfectly calm water.  When I say calm, I mean zero wind, which is a rarity here in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.  I knew the conditions would hurt the bite, but I was eager to test my skills.  I started by throwing a variety of 4 baits - a soft plastic jerkbait (fluke), finesse worm, topwater frog, spinnerbait, and bladed swim jig.  I eventually rotated in a paddle tail swimbait, lipless crankbait, and wake bait as well.  However, there was only one thing that was working early - a combo of the fluke and finesse worm.  The bass were hunkered down in deep weeds and reluctant to come out.  However, many would slowly follow the fluke and reveal themselves.  At times, I would see them come out and nibble the bait, literally just mouthing at it.  But that was all I needed to see.  I would reel it in and cast back with a finesse worm, then patiently wait.  They just couldn't resist the lazy, gyrating fall of the worm.  The first half dozen bass I caught were between 2 and 3 lbs - not giants, but not babies either.  I knew if the wind would turn on, it was going to get even better.

My biggest chain pickerel of the day

On the other hand, the chain pickerel seemed to care less about the weather conditions.  They were regularly eating the fluke fished slowly along weed lines and around emerging vegetation.  After a few fish in the 18"-22" range, I lost a giant that looked to be in the high-20s.  Then, my wish came true.  The wind picked up.  And the rest of the trip got insane.

I barely put down the fluke the rest of the day.  Instead of lackadaisically hitting it, bass were crushing it.  Pickerel were erupting on it at the surface.  There were times where I would catch fish on 5+ consecutive casts, and often a mix of the two species.  The key was to make the fish aggressive by playing to their instincts.  The wind is your friend when bass fishing, no matter how much kayak anglers (including myself at times) complain about it.  This is even more true during the post spawn.  You don't want fish to be able to see your bait perfectly, especially in the super clear water of New England.  You want them to simply react.  That is why a fluke is such a perfect post spawn bait.  You can fish it fast and get the fish amped up, causing them to react, or simply kill it, and make it look like an irresistible dying minnow. 

The 2nd biggest bass of the day - caught on a Berkley Jerk Shad

I would find patches of isolated vegetation and throw the bait 4-5 feet past the far side of the patch.  These patches ranged from roughly 20 feet across to as small as 3-4 feet, and were a mix of dollar sized Lily pads (watershields) and emerging grass.  I would start by working the fluke slowly on the far edge of the patch.  But as soon as I got near the vegetation, I would begin to work it as quickly and erratically as possible, keeping the bait at or just below the surface.  If nothing bit by the time the bait reached the near side of the vegetation, I would kill it on the weed edge and let it fall toward the bottom.  Fish were hitting during all stages of the retrieve, with most coming a few seconds after I changed speeds. 

Chain pickerel are rapidly earning a special place in my heart

It was one of those days where you just shake your head and smile.  Blow-up after blow-up would be followed by witnessing fish rush out of the weeds and inhale the fluke on the fall while standing in the ATAK.  Eventually, I began calling my shots and even caught a few strikes on video, which were filmed with one hand while fishing with the other.

After about 4 hours, I had to head back to the launch.  I had just had my biggest chain pickerel of the day, a 25 incher, explode out of the water and devour the fluke, so turning around was not easy.  Thankfully, I had a hot date I couldn't miss.  Still, despite the great day, I had lost two jumbo pickerel and a 5+ lb bass, so I wanted a bit of redemption.  I stopped along a deep weed line on the paddle back to the truck and began working the fluke.  When it got to the near weed edge, I again killed the bait.  As I did, I saw a nice bass come out of the weeds, stare at the bait for a second, then open its mouth and suck it on!  The fish wanted no part of getting in my kayak, as it made multiple runs into deep water, then back into the weeds.  I dialed back the drag on my reel as the fish darted under the boat.  Finally, I got the brute to the kayak and was able to lip him.  It wasn't the monster I had lost earlier, but the 19.25" fish was nothing to sneeze at.  I snapped a few pictures and let him go.

The fish capped off a day where I landed approximately 20-25 bass and probably 40-50 chain pickerel.  My biggest 5 bass went 92.25" and my 5 longest pickerel went 119".  It was another awesome day here in New England.

The big bass for the day at 19.25"

In the past, I haven't been a big fan of fluke fishing.  It gets to be tedious and takes a while to perfect.  But I really enjoy fishing it around vegetation, because it is so versatile and there isn't as much wasted time and effort.  It is funny how all soft plastic jerkbaits are now universally known as "flukes", when in reality the Zoom Fluke is just one type of soft jerkbait.  I have come to prefer the Berkley 5" Saltwater Jerk Shad to other soft plastic jerkbaits.  I love the colors they offer and think it holds up better over the course of a day.  However, the tougher plastic probably results in a few more missed bites as well.  I rig it weedless and weightless on a 5/0 Gamakatsu EWG thin wire worm hook.  I typically fish the bait on 15 lb monofilament line, although I believe braid or fluorocarbon would also work fine.  I spool the line on an Abu Garcia Revo STX HS.  I prefer the STX HS because it is high speed (7.1:1) and has an awesome drag force for the price point.  I pair it with a Carolina Custom Rods Jerkbait and Topwater rod, which is 6'9" and has a particularly short butt section, making it easier to work baits all day without becoming fatigued.  It is also super lightweight and sensitive, allowing you to detect slight bites as the lure falls.

Mullet - it's not just for haircuts

Oh and that hot date, we headed east, caught an awesome concert, and had an amazing couple of days staring at this...

The beautiful Rhode Island coast

Until next time, tight lines!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Fishing Report - Cayuga Lake, Ithaca, NY

A few months ago, I got the idea of surprising Mary May with a trip to Ithaca, NY - the town where she went to college.  I decided to also run it by my good friend Bill (who is no stranger to references in this blog), whose girlfriend Courtney is also an Ithaca College alum.  Shortly after, we were planning a couples trip.  We put together an awesome to-do list of places to eat, waterfalls to hike, wines to sample, and shops to visit.  But no list could be complete without some fishing.  After all, Ithaca is situated on the south end of Cayuga Lake, a finger lake known for its vegetation and dock fishing.  Bill and I knew that the only way to squeeze it in would be to fish the first few hours of daylight each morning...and that is precisely what we did.

Loaded up bright and early at the rental


I had spent some time scouting the lake before the trip - examining Navionics, scanning Google Earth, and scouring message boards and websites for trip reports.  They certainly don't call it a finger lake for nothing - as it has almost a perfectly straight shoreline, with no coves or major creek arms.  And unfortunately, the south end fishing reports weren't terribly comforting.  The vast majority of bass anglers preferred the upper end of the lake, which was about an hour drive from our rental.  However, the southern end was supposed to have some smallmouth and pike fishing, so we would have to hope we could grind out a few bites.  The plan was to fan cast a large flat, which we suspected was covered with grass.  We would fish the flat out to a large drop-off, figuring that we would find fish scattered on the flat and bunched up on certain sections of the drop.  But mother nature wanted none of it, and we were forced to improvise.

We pulled up to the lake around 6 AM on Saturday morning to find 2-3 foot whitecaps rolling down the lake, due in large part to a constant, hefty wind blowing straight out of the north.  Plan A was out.  Instead we opted to paddle up Falls Creek, which was somewhat protected from the wind.  It also had a few side pockets and coves, although most of them were partitioned off with barriers - possibly to protect spawning areas.  Still, our hopes were high.  Sure enough, on cast number 3 I landed our first fish - a chunky 12" largemouth that hit a finesse worm in about 10 inches of water.  And from there, the bite never let up. 

Most fish were situated around chunk rock, gravel banks, or laydows, and were eating a variety of baits.  We ended the day with 9 bass in about 2.5 hours of fishing, although we probably lost or missed another dozen.  They were split at about 50% largemouths and 50% smallmouths.  The big fish of the morning was a 3 lb largemouth that Bill caught, but he lost a really nice smallmouth next to the boat.  The best baits were green pumpkin finesse worms fished weightless, 1/4 oz Premier League Lures spinnerbaits, and 4.5" soft swimbaits.  I was also again impressed by the wind resistance, stability, and tracking of the ATAK.  It really shines as a lake boat.

Catch and release!

The next morning was a completely different story.  There was almost no wind, but a storm from the day before had caused the south end of the lake to get muddy, limiting visibility to only a couple of inches.  In hindsight, maybe we should have revisited Plan A, but instead, we decided to explore some other creeks and channels that run through Ithaca.

The ATAK and my new Bending Branches Sun Shadow Crank paddle

It was urban bass fishing 101, casting to pipes, steel beams, concrete walls, and other man-made structures.  But, the Sunday bite proved to be a grind.  The only bait I could get them to eat was a black finesse worm fished very slowly, and there was no real pattern to where I would get bites.  Most were around rock or concrete, but others near wood or docks.  It was a post-front pattern at its finest.  Although we didn't get as many bites, the fish that did bite were mainly decent sized smallmouths - in the 15"-17" range.

My biggest smallie of the trip

My advice for folks interested in bass fishing the Ithaca area would be to come up with a few plans based on the time of year, much like we did, and systematically try them all.  Definitely be wary of the wind and weather, which can be brutal when it blows down the lake.  Lakes like Cayuga change drastically between late April and late June, as vegetation emerges, fish go from pre-spawn to spawning to post-spawn, water temps change, boat traffic increases, and baitfish move to different areas.  Note that because of the shape, much of the lake won't always be terribly conducive to kayak angers, so plan accordingly.  However, I suspect that Cayuga is a very bassy lake, particularly up near Seneca Falls, and it certainly has plenty of beautiful water to explore.  Until next time, tight lines!