Sunday, November 28, 2010

Catching Cold Weather Brutes with my Dad - November 27, 2010

I spent the last few days in Pennsylvania visiting my family for Thanksgiving. I typically try to squeeze some fishing into every trip home, but hadn't originally planned on it this time around. However, my friend Travis convinced me to hit a local spot on Friday morning, but those plans fell through. Thankfully, my dad convinced me that he and I should hit a stretch of lower Penns Creek, a few miles above it's confluence with the Susquehanna River. Neither of us had fished this stretch in 4-5 years, but it is typically a good walleye spot with some smallies mixed in. We had also heard tales of muskie in this area from Travis, but had never actually seen one or had a confirmed encounter.

So, we hit the road shortly after 6 AM on Saturday morning and headed for the creek. When we left the house, the air temp was 31 degrees. When we made it to the creek it was 32-33 degrees. We hadn't spent much time looking at the weather, other than to make sure it wouldn't be raining and were hoping it would warm up quickly. Thankfully we had bundled up and we got set-up to catch some fish.

Now, standing in one area and casting over and over isn't either of our styles, but in this particular area (and targeting walleye) it typically works best. I started throwing a small plastic swimbait, then a grub, jerkbait, crankbait, tube, different color grub, and pretty much everything else I could find in my dad's tacklebox. I just could not buy a bite. The water was a little high, although clear, from recent rains and I was wondering if it would leave us skunked. This spot is typically best before 8 AM as well, but given the cold weather we both wondered if a warmer air temperature wouldn't heat up fishing too. Unfortunately, the weather stayed cold and it started to snow. Coupled with the windy conditions, we were getting cold quick.

On about my 7th trip to the tacklebox to tie on another bait I heard my dad say that he had a bite. I turn and see his rod doubled over. A nice winter walleye quickly showed itself and after a fight he landed the fish.

We didn't measure the fish, but estimated him to be around 22"-23". The fish hit a Rapala X-Rap Shad shallow diver in a gold color. Although we were both pretty sure that larger schools of fish weren't around yet, it was a good sign and I was relieved that we avoided the skunk!

At this point it was about 8:30 AM and although my body was warm overall, my hands were completely numb and nose was running at will. I REALLY wanted to catch a fish, but was beginning to think I would sacrifice my skunkless streak for some warmth. As a back story, I managed to go all of 2009 without getting skunked and was hoping I would do the same in 2010. Unfortunately, the streak ended on a chilly day in late February on Little River Reservoir, but I haven't been skunked since.

It was 9:15 AM and we agreed that we would fish another 15-20 minutes and call it a day - as were really feeling the effects of the weather. Eventually I tied on a Yo-Zuri Twitch'n Minnow in a gold with black back pattern and worked it through the area. After about 10 minutes I hadn't had a bite so I started walking and casting closer to the bridge where we parked. Typically this area is shallow and has not produced fish, but they just put in a new bridge and it looked deeper than before. I saw what looked to be a current break caused by a submerged boulder or rock bar and threw my jerkbait near it. I worked it toward the bank and just had one of those feelings, call it fisherman's intuition, come over me. About midway in I felt a solid strike and immediately line began pulling from the reel. As I set the hook the side of the fish came out of the water and I could see that it was a true Penns Creek leviathan - a muskie. I smiled and new the battle was on.

And the fight was on...and yes I was dressed like a jogger (except with 4 layers on)

My first thought was pure excitement, as I have never actually landed a muskie. I have had numerous muskies either break my line or throw the hook, as I am typically bass fishing when I hook one. I had grabbed one of my dad's set-ups on the way out the door - a 6'6" medium action rod and a size 20 reel (made for 6-8 lb test) spooled with braid. To top it off, neither of us were sure how long the braid had been on there, which made me nervous, especially in the cold weather. I was almost certain that the combination of the muskie's size, giant teeth, the small treble hooks on the bait, the light rod and reel, or the line would lead to the fish getting away. But I was determined to land him.

My forearm was burning! (Also notice the iced up guides)

The fish took line for a couple of minutes as I applied steady pressure. The rod was doubled over and my dad turned to me and mentioned that my fish sure was fighting hard compared to his. I realized that he hadn't yet seen the fish and so I replied that the fish on the end of my line was not a walleye or a smallmouth. He quickly put his rod down and came downstream to where I was. I told him that it was a muskie and he snapped a photo of the fight (which I am hoping to upload soon). In an attempt at a second shot, his camera battery died. I thought about giving him my camera and asking him to take video, but I was worried that I would lose the fish trying to unzip my pocket to reach the camera. I decided against it and continued fighting the fish. Every time I gained line on him he pulled it back out. Finally, he began to tire and we could see his massive white underbelly and sides. Occasionally he would thrash his head out of the water. It appeared as if the line was actually wrapped around his mouth with part of the line in-between teeth.

We debated about the best spot to land him for a minute or so. Option A) was a few feet downstream of where I was standing, but was on a muddy bank that would make things interesting for us all. Option B) was a few feet upstream on the piece of bedrock I was standing on. Although flat and not far above the water level, pulling the fish a few extra feet upstream was not what I wanted to do. Option C) was landing the fish at my feet, but the drop to the water was a bit much. We went with Option B) and my dad offered to land him. After another short run I pulled the fish to the bank. His shear mass made it hard to get him on land, as the deeper water had helped support his weight. I got him on the rock and my dad got a finger under his gill plate. Then the second fight began....

The fish slipped from his hand and in the process the line broke with the lure still in his mouth. I hadn't realized the line broke as my dad began to panic a little and grab for the fish. He tried to grip the fish behind the head (as we often do pike), but the muskie was thrashing and the combination of rogue treble hooks and teeth made it hard to grab or control him. The fish slipped through his grasp again and my dad even got a foot wet trying to corral the beast. I tried, in a last effort, to grab him as he swam away, but was barely able to touch his tail. I thought about jumping in after him, but instead I was forced to watch him slowly slip back to the depths of the creek.

Although we were both disappointed to have not gotten a photo (my dad seemed to take it harder than I did), I was happy to have at least been able to touch the tail of the monster and to have gotten him on land, albeit for a few brief moments. I can definitely see why some people spend their lives chasing these beautiful giants as there is just something special about them that words can not describe. We decided that was the "perfect" ending to the day and packed it in.

We estimated the muskie to be around 36" in length and it had an incredible girth, placing it in the 12-16 lb class. Thinking about it now still gives me chills. It is one of those special fish that I will never forget and I was really glad my dad was there with me. So all in all, we braved the elements and landed 2 fish - a beauty of a walleye and a now legendary least to us. Tight lines!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Late Fall River Fishing - November 20, 2010

During the middle of last week I decided it had been way too long since I had been fishing for fun. This semester has been full of work for me, so I was eager to get out. In fact, I hadn't done anything except tournament fishing and pre-fishing since moving to my new place. After some contemplating I talked with toba (Bob) and we decided to hit a local river.

Ready to launch on a pretty November day

I got to the river around 10:30 AM and quickly prepped my yak and gear. I realized I had forgotten my seat and my life jacket. A moment of panic overcame me, as I never leave without a life jacket and forgot I had actually hung it up in my closet (for a change). Thankfully Bob had an extra and off we went. We paddled about 2 miles up river and started fishing. I tied on a Deep Creek Lures floating worm in a green pumpkin color, a Deep Creek Lures Razor Beetle in a candy grass color, a shad colored spinnerbait, and a Strike King jig with a Deep Creek crawdad trailer. Bob and I both agreed that the bite would be slow, as water temps were pretty cold, but I was hoping the wind would push around some bait fish and cause a spinnerbait bite.
About 20 minutes into the float I got my first bite and landed a chunky little 14.5" fish. He hit a 6.5" Deep Creek floating worm fished on a texas rig.

My first bass of the day that hit a Deep Creek worm

Then, save a few bites, I went over an hour without landing a fish. I lost one fish that hit as soon as my worm hit the water and another that bit so lightly I barely felt him and was late setting the hook. Bob was having some luck on the other side of the river and landed a pretty 17.25" bass.

Bob with a pretty 17.25" largemouth

Finally, I landed my second fish - right around the 14" mark. It also came on the Deep Creek floating worm in a green pumpkin color. I was fishing it on a 1/4 oz. texas rig and the finesse style seemed to be working better than the razor beetle, jig, and larger worms.

Fish #2 - glad it wasn't my last!

Then the bite started to pick up. I am not sure if it was finding a pattern with the smaller worm or the fact that the sun was slowly warming up the river, but either way, the bass started getting active. After landing a few solid fish, I landed a pretty 17" largemouth.

A 17" fall bass from the river

Then I ended up landing 5 fish in a 40 yard stretch of bank - 4 of which were caught on the same Deep Creek worm and 1 on the Razor Beetle. The biggest went right around 4 lbs and was an extremely healthy fall fish.

A 4 lb largemouth toward the end of the day

After that I landed one more bass - a 12"-13" fish that would be my last of the day as both Bob and I had to head for the trucks. I was really happy to have gotten out on the river and even happier to have caught some solid fish in the cool water. All of the bass felt cold to the touch, but most of them still had nice colors and hadn't developed the typical red lips yet. And today, all of my fish were caught on Deep Creek Lure plastics.

This will most likely be my last trip in the "old", green kayak for quite some time. Although I will miss it, I can not wait to go pick-up my Jackson Coosa in 2 weeks! Happy Thanksgiving and tight lines!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Carolina Yakfish Tournament #5: Jordan Lake - October 30, 2010

Saturday was the last Carolina Yakfish tournament of 2010 - taking place on Jordan Lake. Jordan is a lake that has typically been good to me, so I was excited going into the day. Being the last event, it would also determine, in part, the final angler of the year standings.

One of my favorite times of the year - fall cranking time!

I got out on Thursday morning to practice - launching around 9 AM. The water temps were between 69 and 71 degrees, which were warmer than I had expected. I decided to start fishing the wind blown bank, targeting fish eating schooling shad. This is one of my favorite times of the year, because I love to "power fish" with various crankbait patterns. On my 3rd cast of the day I landed a 14" largemouth on a Cotton Cordell Big-O crankbait in chartreuse. The fish was set-up on a small funnel area in about 2-3 feet of water.

My first practice fish - caught a stones throw from the launch

I continued fishing down the bank, but went a couple hours without a bite. A couple areas I had done well in before didn't seem to hold fish, but the water was also 3-4 feet higher than usual, so I expected some change. Finally, around 11 AM I got another bite. The fish hit toward the back of a small creek arm on a drop that went from 2-8 feet of water. It hit a Lucky Craft CB-250 crankbait in a shad color. The fish measured 16" and was chunky.

About 20 minutes later I hooked another fish on a rocky, wind blow point. The fish measured 13" and hit a Lucky Craft SKT MR in Gun Metal Shad. I was feeling good that my crankbait pattern was paying off and I decided I would call it an early day and head to the office for the rest of the afternoon. I stopped at one last spot on the way back and caught a chunky 15" bass on a rocky point. He hit the same Lucky Craft SKT MR crank. I ended up at the dock around 1 PM with a 3 fish limit of 45". I was content with that, although was pretty sure it wouldn't win on tourney day.

This trio (Daiwa Zillion, Carolina Custom Rods 7 footer - "Duke Edition", and Lucky Craft SKT MR) has been GOOD to me this year!

I had an important assignment due Friday, but after it was finished my mind turned back to the tournament. I didn't sleep much the night before and I hadn't slept much due to school the 3-4 nights prior. So needless to say, when I pulled up at the launch at 6 AM Saturday morning I was exhausted already. And to top it off, the sub 40 degree temperatures were not making it any easier. I loaded up the yak and got ready to launch as guys were rolling in to compete.

We went through the usual pre-launch stuff and 22 of us hit the water a little before 7:30 AM. Instead of making a long run in the dense fog, I first pulled up in a little cove where I had caught one during practice, but I couldn't get an early fish. I then started making my way down the bank knowing that my crankbait pattern would be best later in the day when the wind started blowing and the sun got up.

About midway back a small creek arm I felt a small bite on a crankbait, set the hook, and after a few seconds the fish was gone. It was probably a small bass, but I would have loved to get one on the board early. I stopped to hit another spot where I caught a practice fish and after about 20 minutes caught a 15.5" bass in 8-10 feet of water on a Lucky Craft CB-250 crankbait. Given that it was only about 9 AM, I felt good with that fish. My next 2-3 spots had bass boats in them, so I skipped them and fished some new water heading north on the lake. But, the structure there wasn't what I was hoping for, so I turned around and headed back toward the launch.

The only fish I managed to get a photo of on tourney day - a 15.5" LMB

It was around this time that I noticed a little extra water in my kayak, but didn't think too much of it and kept on paddling/fishing. I stopped at a few spots that fit my patterns, but just could not get another bite. I ended up making a long paddle back toward Ebenezer and Beaver Creek. I pulled up on a bank and on the second cast had another small bass hook up and then get off within seconds. This time I dropped a few profanities...thankfully the wind covered them up. I fished some points and rip rap for the next 45 minutes with no luck.

Finally I got to an area that looked good and the wind was set-up on perfectly. After cranking it with no luck I flipped a plastic into a downed tree and felt the characteristic thump of a bite. The fish hit and ran right at the boat. I set the hook, saw the green side of the fish, and the hook came free. Another fish, this one measuring at least 14", had escaped me!

I decided to keep fishing down that bank realizing that the fish I was finding in 3-7 feet of water were now deeper. Unfortunately, I didn't get another bite on that bank. I was completely worn out from paddling, the wind, and lack of sleep. Not to mention I now had a few extra gallons of water in the bottom of my boat, which made it extremely hard to maneuver. It was nearly 2 PM and we had to be back around 3 PM. I hit one more area before heading back toward the launch. I stopped for a couple minutes and fished the area where I had started the day and caught the 14" bass in practice. I couldn't get a bite on a crank or finesse worm and my exhaustion and frustration were enough for me to hang it up a little early. Deep down I knew that I should have fished a tree in that last spot slower and with a texas rigged worm rather than a weightless worm, but I was absolutely beat.

I pulled up on the beach with one fish and a boat full of water. I emptied my gear from the hull and stood the kayak on end. The water reached from the back of the boat nearly the whole way to the seat. I am not sure of the volume, but it was A LOT (the search for the leak will take place later this week)!

At that point it was time to cross my fingers for AOY. The numbers were coming in and I knew I stood in pretty good shape. Since I knew I couldn't upgrade (AOY is the best 3 out of 5 events) I had to wait on the results of others. At nearly 3 PM, I knew I was in great shape, although I wasn't sure of the exact points needed. Then Joey Sullivan, who was in 2nd place for AOY going in, caught a pretty 17" bass right where I had stopped fishing and within sight of the launch. The fish, and 2 others, originally put him in 2nd place - giving him the AOY crown hands down. Later the 17" bass was DQed because the picture did not include his identifier, but he had a 4th fish, which allowed him to hang on to a 4th place finish. That was still enough to give him the AOY crown by 2 points as his 1st, 2nd, and 4th finishes beat my 1st, 3rd, and 3rd. A huge congrats to Joey on his day and entire season! The winner for the day was Native Guide Philip Ruckart who crushed the field with a 62" limit. He caught his fish in 18-25 feet of water on jig and pigs and plastic worms. I mentioned to him after that I was extremely envious of his patience on the water....maybe I will have to work on that next year! Again, congrats to him as well as Tommy Sullivan and Don Parks who placed 2nd and 3rd respectively. Even more importantly, the Carolina Yakfish Series raised $1701 for Heroes on the Water - surpassing our goal of $1500. A HUGE thanks to everyone who fished with us this year!

This was my last tournament of 2010 and it has been an amazing year! Late August marked the one year anniversary of solo kayak fishing for me and it is still hard to believe how much I have accomplished, all the amazing friends I have made, and how many beautiful places I have fished. First, I want to thank everyone who has been there to support me in one way or another - especially my family and friends. Second, a huge thanks to Brett Hinson and Carolina Custom Rods for the support and continued partnership. Third, my friends on the water - especially Gary Ribet, Bob Dainton, and Joey Sullivan (although there are MANY more). I also have another thank you as a result of this past year, but I am going to save that for another month or so and announce it when everything is finalized. However, it is something I am really excited about!

Bob, Joey, and I will be organizing the Carolina Yakfish Tournament Series for 2011 as well, so keep an eye out for the schedule in the next few months. If you have any ideas/additions or know of a potential sponsor or donor then please email me (see the 'Contact Me' page). We hope to see you out there! Tight lines!