Saturday, May 28, 2011

My first Massachusetts fish! - May 2011

Earlier this month Mary May and I made the twelve hour pilgrimage, complete with dead battery, wrong turns, and flat tire to Ashfield, Massachusetts. I was lucky enough to spend a few days with her and her family in her childhood hometown, which reminds me quite a bit of my own hometown.

Her father lives right on the Deerfield River and what a beautiful river it is! He even lives in a house sculpted into a giant boat. In fact, his front yard was home to multiple trout that were more than eager to eat our offerings. I lost about a 12" fish before I landed a 13 incher that would come home for dinner.

Mary May also brought home a chunky 14" trout that ate a jerkbait just down river of the Charlemont Academy. It was one of the biggest trout Mary May ever remembered catching and we were both smiling ear to ear as she landed it!

We also tried the "drainage ditch" just down the road from her mother's home in Ashfield. There, I lost a nice size brooke trout, but that was all. However, I feel like we could have had very good success had we had a fly rod with us.

The two trout made an incredibly tasty dinner and they had extremely red fillets - since they mainly fed on liver pellets before being released into the river. I look forward to returning in the fall and chasing trout, smallies, and other species. Massachusetts offers some gorgeous waters and incredibly nice folks everywhere we turned.

From there, I headed to my parents house in PA and then to our annual trip to Ontario, Canada. Until then...tight lines!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Redemption! - Victory at RiverBassin Tournament Trail - Farmville, VA - May 7, 2011

First, I have to apologize for delaying this blog post for so long. I have been as busy as ever the past week or so and am finally getting a chance to sit down and put my thoughts into words.

Two Fridays ago, Bill and I met in Durham and headed north to The Appomattox River Company in Farmville, VA for the RiverBassin Trail pre-tournament meeting. We rolled in right on time after a fairly short and scenic drive. Much to our suprise, there were very few people there. The crazy spring weather had caused the rivers of VA to be high and muddy for quite some time and I think that kept a lot of people away. But, despite the low turn out, we were determined to go out and do our best....and hopefully find some fish too! I got to meet a number of great river bassers, including Aaron 'BigYaker' Dryden who runs the Heroes on the Water chapter in VA.

As usual, Bill and I left our decision of where to fish until the last minute. After researching all week and keeping a close eye on river gauges, we decided to fish the James River below Scottsville. The gauges were showing a falling river and we knew it would be warming and clearing up as well. However, it was still flowing pretty fast - about 6250 CFS. After gearing up and getting a few hours of sleep, we were on the road and headed for the launch. We got there around 6:30 AM and took our time getting ready. The air temperature was around 45 degrees and our teeth were chattering. After getting set-up we launched and headed down river to a smaller, tributary river.

Bill is ready to rip some lip!

The flow was quick, but it didn't seem THAT bad....that is, until we got to the feeder river and turned the noses of our yaks back against the current. We looked at each other and realized that we were going to have our hands full. But that was quickly forgotten because no sooner did we pull into the small river when I looked up to see Bill with a small smallmouth bass that hit a topwater plug. It measured around 10.5" and was a good start! Shortly after, I landed an 11.5" fish on a plastic worm. We were on to a little pattern in this small river, but knew the skinny water probably wouldn't hold many fish over 15". I landed another 11" smallie and Bill hit a 14.5" that was a chunk. Thankfully, I got a limit, albeit a small one, before we pulled out of the river - so I was feeling decent given that it was only 9:45 AM.

My first fish of the day - not a giant, but a start

We then spent the next hour or so "prospecting". We tried a fishing some eddys behind islands with no luck and finally pulled into a braided channel that had looked good on the map. However, we only managed 1 fish there - a 12.5" smallie that hit an R&S Baits Pro Assassinator spinnerbait. At that point, we decided that if we didn't get a couple good fish soon, then we were going to "hit and run" a few rivers on the way back to Farmville. We paddled hard upstream at a pace that felt like about 1/4 mile per hour. We were getting our butts kicked, but slowly - very slowly - making headway. Originally we were headed toward a small grassy island, but an area caught my eye across a small channel, so I headed there instead and Bill headed for the grass island.

A beautiful James River, VA smallie

As I pulled into the spot, I tossed a plastic worm along a downed tree and...WHAM! A chunky and beautiful 13" smallie hit the bait and ran hard at the boat. I landed him and beached my Coosa. I knew instantly that the area was one that would hold a few good fish. And sure enough, about 10 minutes later I was tossing a chartreuse R&S Baits Pro Assassinator near a laydown. About 8 feet from the bank I saw a huge flash and I thought my Carolina Custom Rod was going to fly out of my hands. My adrenaline was running at full blast as I fought and landed the brute. I brought him to hand and put him on the measuring board for a solid 18.5" fish. At that point, I motioned for Bill to come over to where I was to try to get himself a limit and upgrade our team limit. As he paddled over I landed another 13" smallie on the Pro Assassinator.

This 18.5" smallie hit like a ton of bricks

Then a bass boat passed through our small stretch of river and they landed a decent fish on a crankbait way out in the middle of the river. Immediately that fish keyed me in on what was going on and I told Bill to hook up a crankbait of his own and fish through the channel and long points that were there. After about 5 casts he had a nice smallie, easily over 17", hit his crank. Unfortunatley, the fish threw the bait as quickly as he hit it. Not be outdone, I lost a solid fish, over 15", on a jerkbait when the fish hit at a funny spot and I failed to get a good hook set. We couldn't get another bite there and were both a little frustrated. We decided to let the area rest and check out some similar areas. Bill pulled up and started fishing the next eddy and I went ahead to fish a side channel. I realized that I needed a big bite, so I decided to go in search of a prime looking area. I spent about 15 minutes pulling my boat behind me until I got to an area that looked like it could hold one or two good fish. I beached my yak on a big clay point with boulders everywhere and went to work.

I was throwing a Lucky Craft SKT MR crankbait in my favorite color. I started fan casting the area, working each small pocket thoroughly. Finally, the bait got crushed behind a rock and I knew it was a big fish. This bass was exactly why smallies have the reputation that they do, as she fought like crazy. Finally, I got her to the bank and nearly fell in trying to lip her. At 18.75" she was a fish I desperately needed. I was excited now and fished down the outside of the island, which looked good, with no bites, although I did have about a 14" fish follow a bait right to the boat. I saw some areas up river that looked perfect, but they were at least a 30 minute paddle away given the conditions and time was running out. I was fairly sure I needed to upgrade my small fish, at 13", and decided to fish m way back toward the ramp and cross my fingers.

Big smallies (this one 18.75") love crankbaits

Unfortunately, neither I nor Bill would manage another fish before we had to leave. He had two for 25" and my best three went 50.25". Our team total was 62.25" - an average of about 15.6" per smallie. I was nervous driving back to the ARC and was trying not to jinx myself. As we pulled up and reports came in, I knew my stringer was toward the top. And after some waiting the great news was confirmed....I had won! I was unbelievably happy and felt redeemed after losing a winning fish the weekend prior. Bill and I also came in 1st in the team division - a huge win for RippinLip Outdoors!

Redemption...and a beautiful boat to boot!

I owe a lot of people a big thank you - my wonderful girlfriend Mary May (who let me fish the event even though she had an incredibly important final exam that day), The Appomattox River Company, the RiverBassin Tournament Trail, Drew Gregory, Bill Kohls and RippinLip Outdoors, my family, Brett Hinson & Carolina Custom Rods, Great Outdoor Provision Company, Gary Ribet, and R&S name a few. Also, a HUGE thanks to everyone who reads this blog. I really appreciate everyone who tunes in to read and as always, if any of you want to go fishing just drop me a line. Oh, and feel free to comment too!

So, I got to pick out a new Coosa from the stock room at ARC. First, WOW, what an awesome stock room! Second, I had some cool color choices, but I wanted something unique and sharp looking to boot. I chose slate, the original slate that is, a color in which very few boats were made. It looks like someone poured Duke blue and baby blue in a mixer - then called it "slate", which looks different depending on the light. Both Bill and Mary May were super excited. Bill gets to use it for our upcoming tournaments and Mary May gets to use it the rest of the time.

Good lookin' girl, in a good lookin' boat

In fact, we took it out a couple days later to get it slimed. We didn't fish long and she didn't land a fish....but she did land a snapping turtle, so that counts right?! She really liked the boat and stood with ease within minutes. If anyone wants to try the Coosa (Kev and Gary, you are already on the list!) just drop me a message. Until next time, tight lines!

Turtle soup anyone?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The One That Got Away - Battle of the 'Boro Charity Tournament - April 30, 211

This past Saturday marked my second tournament of the year and my second trip to the NCKFA spring bass fishing tournament to benefit Heroes on the Water. Last year, I had a tough day on Lake Mackintosh, but managed to land a 16.5" fish that put me in 5th place. This year, as I mentioned in my last post, I decided to head to Randleman Regional Reservoir. Randleman is a unique lake that was re-opened just 2+ years ago. They only allow a certain number of boats on the water, so people come out and get in line early. On the weekend the lake opened this year, boats started lining up on Friday afternoon and waited to be let in at 7 AM on Saturday. Thankfully, it was less crazy last weekend.

I got there around 5:45 AM and was boat number 9. There were probably another 25 boats behind me by the time the gates opened at 7 AM and many more came in after that. Randleman also has a non-motor area where quite a few other kayakers headed, but that group included the Heroes on the Water guys and I did not want to intrude on their water.

Fellow RippinLip Outdoors staffer Bill Kohls told me about a couple areas that were typically bassy, so I paddled to a long cove fairly close to the launch. I had never fished the lake before, but immediately I noticed a lot of brush and some deep points. I was hoping for a topwater bite early, but it was non-existent, so I started throwing a shakey head with a june bug colored worm. It didn't take long before I had my first fish in the boat - a 13.25" fish. It wasn't very big, but I was certainly on the board!

On my next cast I got another bite - a 14.75" fish that would be a decent upgrade. He hit the shakey head on a rocky point and small brush pile. Over the next 30 minutes I landed 4 more fish and lost 1 on a fluke. All were under 14", so I kept fishing down the cove. A bass boat was fishing down the other bank and I saw them land a couple nice fish, which I later found out were in the 4-5 lb range. I knew there had to be more big fish in the area, so I kept fishing hard. I had landed about 8 fish by 9:30 AM and my bite seemed to shut off. The shakey head just was not getting bit, so I tied on a finesse worm fished weightless. I actually tied on two - one in green pumpking (my favorite color for plastics) and one in june bug (which had been the hot color for the day and earlier in the week on Jordan Lake).

The switch did the trick, but only in the june bug color! I fished it incredibly slow along drop-offs, points, and cover and was getting bit again. I caught a few fish right around 14"-14.5" before finally getting a good bite. The fish crushed the worm and headed for deeper water. After a nice fight I boated a solid fish - just shy of 17". I knew it wasn't going to win, or place for that matter, but I was happy to upgrade and improve over last year.

At that point I had landed about 15 fish and was feeling good. I caught a nice 16" and two 15+" fish in the next hour. Then the bite slowed again. I went about 20 minutes without a strike before my bait got crushed. The fish was coming at the Coosa with a full head of steam. I had yet to see her, but I knew she was big. Finally, I turned her and saw that she was a nice fish. She ran sideways then again turned and came at the yak. She was headed for the surface and I did everything in my power to stop her. The fish launched into the air and I got a good look at her. She was easily in the 4.5+ lb range. I can still picture her, hanging two feet in the air in a moment that will be frozen in my mind for some time to come. She shook her massive head and the hook came flying out of her mouth and straight back at me. It hit me right in the chest just as I looked up to see her swim back down to the depths of the lake. My stomach was in my throat and let's just say I was glad no-one was around to here the words coming out of my mouth. I knew I had lost a fish that was a potential winner and it took every ounce of energy to keep my mind focused on the task at hand, rather than the $1000 fish that was laughing at me.

I kept fishing and the bite was changing again. The fish had moved slightly deeper and were again eating the shakey head. I couldn't seem to get bit on the finesse worm or a texas rigged worm at all. I caught a number of fish standing in the Coosa and flipping into brush piles and bushes. And I was catching fish with regularity, but they were small. I actually stopped setting the hook on small fish around 1 PM. Shortly after I had one decent bite that ran me into some brush and popped the hook, but I suspect the fish was only about 17" anyway. I finished the day with 22 bass brought to hand. My best 3 would have went around 49.25", but that really didn't matter in this one bass (big bass) tournament. I knew my fish wasn't going to cut it and I was trying my hardest to shake off that one fish because I had a nice day on the water at a lake I had never fished before.

Most guys at the weigh-in were reporting tough days. Native guide Nathan Raycroft managed one fish all day, but it was a nice bass around 19" caught off a bed. There were very few fish left on beds, so kudos to him for finding that girl. I spoke with two members of Heroes on the Water who had both caught bass estimated around 19.5" and there were rumors of a fish or two caught over 20". It turns out that the biggest fish, and winning bass, was 19.75" followed by a 19.25" and 19" bass. As you can tell, estimates of length often get exaggerated when on the lake. 2nd and 3rd place were taken by members of HOW and 1st place by an extremely nice older gentleman named Wayne. I am not 100% sure where I placed, but my guess is somewhere between 5th and 8th based on everything I heard. The fly fishing division also had some solid fish come in with Great Outdoor Provision Company (Charlotte) water sports rep Gwen Crabtree landing a 16.5" catfish that won first place and a new Native Versa Board. A huge congrats to Gwen - a great rep for GOPC!

Again, a big congrats to all the winners. I had a blast and will always remember that she taunted me on her way back to the depths. This week has been incredibly busy and this weekend is all about re-focusing and getting some revenge. The RiverBassin Tournament Trail hits Farmville, VA where we will be chasing smallies. Needless to say, I can not wait to catch some bronze backs and have a good feeling to boot. Until then, tight lines!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Post Spawn Bass Fishing Tips & Warriors on the Water Pre-Fish - Jordan Lake, NC - April 26-27, 2011

A few weeks ago my friend and fellow RippinLip Outdoors pro-staffer Bill Kohls told me that he would be fishing the Warriors on the Water tournament this year. The tournament pairs a volunteer angler, and their boat, with a military serviceman or servicewoman. This year the tournament was slated for Friday, April 29th. Since Bill had a few days off from work, we decided to get together and pre-fish as well as shoot some video for RippinLip Outdoors. Plus, how could I say no to a boat ride...a rare treat for me these days!

Whether 'Warriors on the Water' or the kayak version 'Heroes on the Water' - it is a very worthy cause!

We hit the lake around 7:30 AM on Tuesday morning. We to the south end of the lake and up the Haw River to a creek arm. It was already too late to throw topwaters, at least under the fairly clear conditions, so we started with crankbaits, soft plastics, and jigs. We quickly noticed that the fish were not eating anything except plastics and jigs. They wanted a fairly slow presentation and were off of the bank 5-10 feet. I knew this meant that a) the post spawn period had arrived and b) it is officially summer pattern time in North Carolina. In other words, it is time to stock up on your favorite plastic worm.

We were running and gunning all day - catching fish at the south end of the lake with some regularity. However, we didn't get nearly as many bites on the main lake. We ended the day with about 15 fish between us and a pattern we thought would hold through the weekend. The day was paritcularly tough for me as I lost a couple 3+ lb fish due to some bad luck. Bill also had a nice fish break his line in some heavy cover. Most of the fish were around 13"-15", but we caught a few good ones. The best baits for the day were the Zoom Trick Worm in June Bug color rigged on a shakey head and the Deep Creek Lures 9" MT worm texas rigged.

Two decent fish from day 1 of practice

On Wednesday I had planned on pre-fishing for my "Battle in the 'Boro" Tournament on the 30th, organized by the NC Kayak Fishing Association (blog soon to come). However, Bill and another friend were very familiar with the lakes available to fish for the tournament, so they gave me enough insight that I felt comfortable fishing it without practicing. Instead, I headed back to Jordan with Bill.

This time we hit the water, ran down lake, and were fishing by 6:30 AM. If you do the math, that means a 4:45 AM alarm bell for two sleepy anglers. Anyway, we arrived at a spot where we thought we could catch some fish on topwater. We were seeing a lot of shad, but not many bass chasing them. Finally, the wind picked up a little and Bill caught a decent fish on a Zoom Fluke. About ten minutes later it started to get windy, cloudy, and rainy. We came to a wind blown point with some grass - a perfect buzzbait target. On the third cast my R&S Baits Chatterbuzz got blasted. The fish was bending my 7'6" Carolina Custom Rod to the max. Finally, I got the beefy 4 lb bass to the boat and Bill got her in the net. After a few pictures, we set her on her way.

We also caught the bite on camera. This shot was awesome in real-time and made me realize just how much equipment, computer software, and talent you need to make top notch fishing videos.

Shortly after, the rain passed and wind died down. We kept fishing and landed 8 bass in the next hour and a half. We were catching them on plastics with regularity and feeling good about our pattern. We decided to leave the river and fish a main lake cove for a while before putting the boat on the trailer. We got there and on my second cast I hooked into a nice, 2.5-3 lb fish. Bill was setting up the GoPro Hero HD video camera as I did so. Check out the clip below for just how close we were to disaster!

As you can tell, we both laughed it off thanks to Bills diving save. It only took a few seconds, but in real time it felt like slow motion watching that green cord sink. I was extremely glad that the GoPro is waterproof...and that I tied a piece of cord to it, which is typically fastened to a cleat on the boat. After this near miss, I attached the suction cup to the boat (properly) and tied the cord to the cleat. One near miss was enough for me!

We ended the day around 12:30 PM with close to 20 fish. We felt good that Bill would catch plenty of fish on tourney day with his military partner, but knew it would take 5 solid fish to place at the top.

On Friday, Bill let me know that they had caught about 12 fish. However, nearly every fish was around 13" and only 1 kept - a 4 lb fish caught on a fluke. He was pretty frustrated and I was bummed for him. I was just hoping that his result wasn't an omen of things to come for me in my tournament the next day.

Why yes, Bill is wearing the same clothes for the third day in a row!

However, Bill also told me that it was a top notch event and that his co-angler was a great guy. The tournament organizers provided food, gifts, and behind the scenes tours of Fort Bragg. I have a feeling Bill will try and do it again next year if he can.

If you are out there on the lake right now you may still find a few bedding fish, but they are moving toward deeper water to catch up on energy and R&R. I like to look for banks with fairly quick/deep drop offs, particuarly those with wood cover or grass. These areas often act as transition zones for bass between the shallows and deeper channels. In these areas I find that you can catch some bass looking for an easy meal. For me, post spawn is about plastics and topwater. And, if you aren't getting bit in an area you have confidence in, try slowing down and fishing a little deeper. Remember that wind, as always, plays a big role in where and how fish stage during the post spawn. Good luck to everyone out on the water and, as usual, tight lines!