Friday, November 25, 2011

Never Give Up...Our Return to Belews - November 2011

After our last outing on Belews, Bill Kohls and I were interested in testing our talents against some competition.  Last weekend was the bi-weekly open tournament on the lake that draws a mix of local and regional anglers.  A few of them, as we came to find out, fish the BFL and FLW tours and carry some impressive sponsors.  The assortment of bass boats was impressive as well, but Bill and I knew we had a good game plan and at 7 AM we running across the lake to our first spot.

We hooked two fish within the first 15 minutes, both short, but quickly hooked two more that kept.  These fish were all caught on drop shots and plastics in a creek arm with a deep channel.  Then I caught a solid 3 lber on a Spro Little John DD crankbait and Bill followed with a fat 2.75 lb fish on a Strike King 6XD.  It was 8:30 AM - we were one fish from a limit and catching small fish with regularity.  We just wanted to get one more before we upsized our baits and chased some culling bass.

We ran to our next area and I bombed a cast between two docks.  My line went tight and I set the hook on a nice fish.  She ran hard sideways and I fought hard to get her into open water.  But, my fear became a reality.  Somehow, I got her around the posts of the dock, but the line hung up on the motor of the adjacent boat.  A few seconds later, she was gone and my stomach dropped.  I never got a good look, but I estimate she went between 3.5-4.5 lbs judging by the fight.  The fish would have been a very key part of our day.

We then went a long time without many bites and the bites we had were short fish.  We did see a couple big fish follow the small fish to the boat as we reeled them in, but we couldn't get them to bite.  We also knew the bite was changing.  That deep cranking bite we had been on a couple of weeks ago was completely gone and many of the fish were very deep.  Unfortunately, our electronics did not allow for us to move deep and fish spoons and drop shots for those fish.  So, we focused on fishing areas that fish use to move from shallow to deep water as well as shoreline cover.

It was around 1:30 PM and we needed a 5th keeper badly.  I tossed my plastic worm near a laydown and twitched it a few times with no luck.  As I started to reel the bait in, I looked down and saw a 4+ lb bass swim away from the bait.  My heart sank, as I knew my tournament nerves got the best of me.  Had I properly dead sticked the bait and fished a little slower, I am almost positive that fish would have hit.  Instead, I spooked him and he was gone.  This is a big part of tournament fishing that most people never realize.  Controlling your adrenaline, emotions, and body are a huge part of tourney day.

At this point I felt pretty down...and our next stop didn't help.  I caught a short fish off a dock before losing another short.  Finally, Bill got a good bite on his dropshot, set the hook, and watched a 3 lber go airborn 8 feet from the boat.  Unfortunately, we also saw the dropshot rig fly sideways into the off!

It was 2:15 PM and we had 45 minutes before weigh-in.  We had one more area we wanted to hit, but decided to stop at a staging area with docks on the way.  On about our 6th dock I threw my worm under a jet-ski platform.  All of a sudden I felt a bite, set the hook, and a big fish went airborn.  My heartbeat sky rocketed as the fish jumped a second time.  He had a massive head and was putting the heat on my spinning gear.  After a nice fight, Bill got him in the net and our limit was full.  The fish was extremely skinny, but measured 22".  It would have been a great kayak tournament fish, but we were elated that our limit was finished. 

We fished the remaining twenty minutes without a bite and headed to the weigh-in.  Usually tournaments on Belews take anywhere from 12 to 16 lbs to win, as the lake isn't known for big fish, but has a lot of solid fish.  Our final bag weighed 12 lbs 5 ozs and our big fish was 4 lbs 15 oz.  That was good enough for third place and a tie for big fish.  The winning bag was a tad over 15 lbs.  We also learned that we were the only boat in the field fishing shallow and most spent their day in 50-100 feet fishing spoons.  We knew if we had landed my fish in the morning and Bills drop shot fish late, we would have had the winning weight.  Add to it the fish that I spooked by fishing too fast, we would have put together a monster limit for that lake.  However, we were extremely happy to have done well in a talented field while doing something that wasn't working for anyone else.

It was another one of those "never give up" days where we managed a big fish late.  The day illustrated the good and bad, ups and downs, & victory and defeat that accompany tournament bass fishing.  Those highs are what keep me coming back and push me to learn more and more about the sport. 

A huge thanks to Bill for inviting me to team up with him and letting me clutter up his boat!  Now, it's time to drag the yaks out and go for a post Thanksgiving paddle!  Until next time, tight lines!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kayak Fishing Adventures - Fall 2011

I haven't fished as much as I wanted this fall - plain and simple.  But, when I got out I had a blast.  The best part is that Mary May typically joins me.  I have watched her really come in to her own as an angler, noticing things that few of my yak fishing peers would.  For instance, she already picked up on the difference in fall rate and movement between various soft plastic worms fished weightless.  And this fall she has really turned it on and shown a patience that I wish I had on the water.  Here are a few shots of the fish we caught the past couple of weeks....

Mary May with a healthy bass from a small local river....

A 4.5-5 lber from a local creek

4-4.5 lber from one of my favorite flows!

Another sweet fish for Mary May

She is starting to get deadly with a plastic worm!

Her first case of raw thumb....hopefully many more to come!

A couple awesome things have happened off the water as well.  First, is that I was contacted by Paul Lebowitz, the editor at Kayak Angler Magazine, to write part of a story about spring bass fishing in the southeast.  It took me completely by suprise and was a real honor, since KAM is probably the biggest kayak fishing publication out there.  I will collaborating with a number of other top kayak bass fishermen including Drew Gregory and Jason Stutts.  The article comes out in the spring, so keep an eye out for my contribution and hopefully a photo!

Second, Mary May and I are getting a puppy!  Yep, we are taking that plunge and welcoming a cute little shih-tzu into our home.  We are naming him Huckleberry....Huck for short.  Some of you probably know that I have a 7 year old dog, Brewer, who is a golden retriever-chow mix.  So you can imagine, I wasn't sold at first on the idea of a small dog.  But the shih-tzu breed really grew on me and I can't wait to bring him home.  We get to pick him up during the first week of December!

This weekend I will be joining Bill Kohls to fish a bass boat tournament.  It should be an absolute blast, as fishing with Bill usually is.  I can't believe crappie season is just around the corner, so I hope everyone is landing bass while they still can.  Tight lines!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Belews Lake Bassin' with Bill

This past Saturday I found myself in an unusual position.  The heavy Thursday and Friday rains were much needed, but they had turned the local rivers to chocolate milk.  And since it was supposed to be very windy, I decided the Coosas were getting the week off.  I was up early and headed west to meet good friend Bill Kohls and do some fishing on Belews Lake, NC.

I didn't know anything about Belews prior.  In fact, I didn't even look at the lake on Google Maps, which is an extreme rarity for me.  Instead I relied on Bill's knowledge of Belews.  The big things to know are that it is a very clear lake, it is a fairly deep lake, it is power plant lake (ie - warm water), and that it has docks.  I was literally salivating at the idea of fishing Belews.  I rarely fish water in North Carolina where I can see the bottom in 10 feet.  Plus, the air temp started out at a brisk 35 degrees and was only predicted to rise to 50, so warm water was going to be a huge perk.

After getting our gear situated, we launched the boat and were on our way to explore the hot hole area.  Duke Power doesn't let you get close to the actual hot hole, but you can get to an area with visible current and water that was reaching 85+ degrees.  We quickly realized that the warm water was not the ticket and moved across the lake.

I quickly lost a short fish on a Lucky Craft CB250 crankbait and a few casts later had another small bass chase my worm to the boat before retreating to the depths.  We weren't seeing shad, which bothered us, so we moved again.  The new spot looked good, with a mix of rip-rap and docks.  Before long, Bill boated the first bass, which blasted his topwater bait 3 times before completely inhaling it.  On the next cast I lost a bass on a plastic worm and lost another not long after on the same worm.  I was a little frustrated because usually I have a good hook-up ratio on shakey head worms, but so far I was 0 for 2 on the worm and 0 for 3 overall. 

We moved to a wind blown bank and that is when we started figuring out the pattern.  The fish were on deep, tapering, wind blown points in 13-25 feet of water.  We pulled out our deep running crankbaits and went to work.  The Spro Little John DD proved to be the best producer in large part because it was getting down to the bottom in 20 feet of water.  "Clear Charteuse" and "Spooky Nasty" were the best colors on the day (and also two of my general favorites) and our Carolina Custom Rods cranking rods made throwing those cranks an absolute joy.  In particular, my CCR deep cranking rod is an absolute beast paired with a Shimano Curado 200 DPV with a 5.2:1 gear ratio.

By noon we had about 14 lbs in the boat (our 5 fish limit) and had culled quite a few fish.  Although most of our fish came on deep cranks, our biggest came on a plastic worm.  We were already pretty satisified with our day and decided to go try for catfish for a while.  Long story short, catfishing was slow and we only managed a few small bites. 

After that we messed around a little in an area of the lake Bill hadn't fished before, but only managed a couple small bass.  And before we knew it, it was time to snap a few photos and head home.  Bill and I were happy with our day on the lake, particularly because 14 lbs is a good limit from Belews and we left them biting.  I actually think we could have culled up to 15-18 lbs had we kept bass fishing and got a little lucky.

It was odd fishing late summer patterns in cold, fall weather, but it is important to recognize that water temperature will dictate where the fish will be.  When bass set-up on those deep points eating shad, you can usually catch fish on deep running cranks (like we did), flutter spoons, or even Carolina rigs.

I also wanted to note one last thing.  This trip took place a little over a week ago.  On the way out the door I randomly picked up my camo Penn State hate even though PSU had a bye week.  As you can tell by the pictures in this blog, that is a rarity, as I am usually rocking my Red Sox or Jackson Kayak hats.  I returned home later that evening to find breaking news about a scandal at Penn State. Since then, as I am sure most you know, things have been in an uproar.  I grew up in central PA and Penn State football has always been in my blood.  For me, the allegations were simply heartbreaking and my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families.  At this point, we can only hope for the best moving forward and need to make this about the victims and not football.

This week it will be back to the yak to search for some chilly river bass. Until next time - tight lines!