Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Quest for the BASS Slam - 2012

Last year I was browsing through the RiverBassin website when I first heard mention of something called the BASS Slam.  I had no clue what it was, so I did the obvious...I Googled it.  The first link brought me to this page.  I intently read the info like an adult version of Ralphie eyeing his new Red Rider.  But, as much as I wanted to do it, I never thought I could pull it off.  The logistics were tough - I mean, the Texas Hill country is a long way from North Carolina.  Yet somehow, this year, it is happening.  I am going to attempt the BASS Slam - catching all 9 species of black bass found in the United States in one year and meeting minimum length requirements for each species.  Plus we are going to one-up it a little bit.

First and foremost, I owe this chance, in large part, to two people.  My amazing girlfriend, Mary May, has been a rock for me over the past year.  Not only does she support my fishing endeavors, but she loves to participate too.  I couldn't have had this opportunity without her.  And, I am excited to say, that we will be headed to Texas in October to fish for Guadalupe Bass together - a trip which I hope will complete my slam.  The other person is Bill Kohls.  I knew I couldn't go through this craziness alone and when I told Bill about my idea, he was eager to jump on board.  Thanks man!  I owe a lot more "thank you's" than that, and I will run through those at the end of this blog.

So, I said we were going to one up that original Slam and this is how.  The RiverBassin site also has a River Bassers Slam, which we are going to incorporate as well.  For a few species, the necessary length for a fish to count toward the Slam is longer on RiverBassin than with BASS, so we are going to use the longer requirement for each.  Second, we are going to include the Bartrams Bass.  The Bartrams is currently considered a Redeye bass, but is reportedly close to gaining recognition as a unique species.  This brings our total "species" count to 10.  The third one-up is that we are going to catch them all on rivers and lakes, ponds, or reservoirs allowed.  And the final one is the kicker - we are going to get it all on video, so you can follow along with our adventures!

I guess the next logical question is what species will we be chasing.  Well, the Slam includes (with minimum length in parentheses) the:  Redeye (BASS: 8", RB: 10"), Smallmouth (BASS: 12", RB: 14"), Largemouth (BASS: 14", RB: 17"), Florida Strain Largemouth (BASS: 16", RB: N/A), Spotted (BASS: 12", RB: 13"), Alabama Spotted (BASS: 12", RB: 15"), Shoal (BASS: 12", RB: 16"), Guadalupe (BASS: 10", RB: 12"), Suwanee (BASS: 10", RB: 11") the Bartrams bass.  That list is exciting, yet daunting.  If I had to make a bold prediction, that Redeye bass is going to be one of the toughest.  However, none of them will be easy.

Actually, the largemouth bass will be pretty easy.

The next question would probably be, "when are you going to attempt this."  Well, you have one year to do it.  We are beginning our quest on May 25th and road tripping through the southeast trying to knock out the majority of the species.  I guess that means I have until May 25, 2013, but ideally it won't take that long...emphasis on "ideally".  We will be traveling through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama along the way.  While we travel, we will be updating our Quest for the BASS Slam Facebook page, the Malibu Kayaks Facebook page, and the Team Malibu page.  We will be putting slightly different content on each page.  You will probably see some stuff pop-up on this blog, our YouTube channels, and on Twitter as well.  And we are going to throw out something extra special for those who follow along with us.  We are going to give away a bunch of prizes and here is the breakdown:
- "Like" the Malibu Kayaks Facebook page, our Quest for the BASS Slam post on the Malibu page, & the Quest for the BASS Slam Facebook page and be in the running for a Malibu Kayaks hat.  We are giving away 2 - 1 trucker hat and 1 khaki hat.
- "Like" the three pages/posts above plus "Like" at least four of the pages of some of the gear we believe in and will be using on the trip:  Carolina Custom Rods, Columbia Sportswear, GoPro, Crack of Dawn Paddlesports, R&S Baits, RiverBassin, YakAttack, Kayalu, HOOK1, Kayak Bass Fishing, Outdoor Blogger Network, RiversEdge, or Southern River Fishing.  Do this and be eligible for a sweet fishing prize pack full of goodies.  Also, as a side note, I know that some of you may already "Like" these pages.  That will not exclude you from being entered into the drawings.
- Knock out the requirements above and sign up to join the Team Malibu page (it is free and easy) and put yourself in the running for one of the grand prizes - a 1/2 day guide trip with Froggy Waters Outdoors or a 1/2 day guide trip with Reel Fishing NC.  We might throw in a few extras too.

To see how easy/hard this was, I just attempted to complete the above 3 requirements.  In under 2 minutes, I was successfully entered in all of the drawings!

The drawing for the hats will be held on May 24th, the drawing for the fishing prize pack will take place on May 29th, and the drawing for the trips will take place on June 4th.  All winners will be announced by 7 PM EST on the Quest for the BASS Slam Facebook page.  We will check and double check that all of those who signed up are included in the drawing, however, if you want to make it even easier on us, head over to our Facebook page and comment on the prize thread.

I can't begin to express how excited I am about this trip.  Keep an eye out for a teaser video coming soon.

Last, but not least, the many people who have helped make this thing happen in one way or another.  A huge thanks to Mary May, Bill, Uncle Gorden & family, Drew & Ange Waligora, Todd "The General" Unzicker, Sean "Bruiser" Brodie, Tim Perkins, Evan Howard, Pat Kellner, Tony Hart, and Lance Coley.  I actually saved Lance until last for a reason.  Although I have only ever met him in passing, he is the one who inspired me to do this...and he is a heckuva river basser.  Check out this awesome article for everything you ever wanted to known about bass identification.

So, keep an eye out on all the happenings as the trip unfolds...then come back and check out our 10 part web series detailing all of our adventures, triumphs, defeats, and (of course) bloopers.  Tight lines!

Friday, May 4, 2012

HOOOORAY! - I Won a New Abu Garcia Revo MGX via the Outdoor Blogger Network

Last week got off to an incredible start thanks to the Outdoor Blogger Network.  I was lucky enough to win their pseudo-weekly review giveaway, which featured Abu Garcia products last week.  I ended up winning an Abu Garcia Revo MGX - their brand new, carbon fiber, 5.4 oz reel.  Reading the news literally caused me to let out a scream of joy - and even Huck joined in the celebration with a mini-howl of his own.  Combined with my favorite Carolina Custom Rod - we are talking a 9 oz combo....YIKES!  I will be reviewing the reel as soon as it gets here and posting the review on my site and on OBN. 

If you like to blog or read blogs, definitely check out the Outdoor Blogger Network.  They feature blogs from just about every possible outdoor category and are a great network of folks.  It is where I stumbled upon many of my favorite yak fishing blogs - listed on the right side of my page.

Picture courtesy of

Now, the MGX wasn't the only new product added last week.  On Friday, I finally got to pick-up my two new Malibu Kayak Stealth 12s.  I will go over them and show them off in my next blog.  Until then...tight lines!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Taking Home the Title - NCKFA Battle in the Boro 2012

The past couple of weeks have been absolutely crazy for me, particularly working some long hours in preparation for big meetings this week.  Last week was beyond stressful, but I had a few awesome things happen...which I will get to later this week.  And even as things got really stressful, there was a light at the end of the tunnel - the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association Battle in the Boro 2012.  This is an event that has been tough for me in the past.  Two years ago, I managed only one bite, which was good enough for 5th place.  Last year, I caught some decent fish, but got my heart broken by a giant that spit my hook.  This year, I was looking for some redemption...and I got it.

In previous years, the event was a little different.  There were two divisions - one for conventional gear and one for fly gear.  While the conventional division was bass only, the fly division was any species.  So, after seeing a ton of carp last year, I decided I was going to do the fly division this year and target carp.  But, when the rules came out for this year, the fly division was also bass only.  I debated for a while about exactly what I wanted to do and after talking with Mary May and Bill, I decided to go for the fly division.  I told Mary May I was worried because I was rusty - having not fly fished for bass in roughly a year.  But, she gave me one of those looks and I knew she had confidence in me.  That meant a lot and really had me feeling good going into the event.  I consider myself to be a good fly fisherman, but not nearly as good as a lot of my friends and fellow fly fishers.  I knew it would be a good challenge for me and I was excited to see how it turned out.

Everyone gathered at Libby Hill Restaurant in Greensboro

The day before the event I was headed to Bass Pro Shops in Charlotte to pick up my new kayaks.  While there, I swung into the fly fishing section to look for a couple specific flies.  I didn't find exactly what I wanted, but one fly really caught my eye.  It was a surface fly with a big body and appendages.  But, the key trait was that it dove slightly when popped and that allowed me to really mix up my retrieves and give some different looks.  So I started the day with it tied on my 8 weight rod and a fly tied by my good friend Levi Blazer (one of the guys I mentioned above who is a super talented fly fisherman) on my 6 weight rod. 

The Battle for the Boro is named such because participants can fish on any of 8 city lakes in and around Greensboro, NC.  I decided to fish Randleman Lake, where I had found some success last year.  I launched amid some 40 bass boats and made the paddle across the lake.  The air temperature was around 50 degrees with a high of 55.  The wind blew hard at times, ranging from 5-20 MPH.  My new Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12 flew across the water and I pulled into the area where I planned on starting.  But, it looked a lot different than last year.  Two large pieces of brush had been removed and the portion of the bank that had weeds previously had very little this year.  On top of that, carp were splashing and going nuts everywhere.  But, I didn't really have a back-up plan, so I started casting.  On about my fifth cast I threw out the bass bug and looked down to adjust my drag and pull out more line for my next cast.  No sooner did I look down then a small bass came up and smacked the fly.  I was very late on the hook set and the fish went free.  I was hoping it was a sign of things to come, but knew fish that size were not going to help me.

I fished down the entire bank with no bites until finally getting to a small rock pile in about 10 inches of water.  I threw my bug between the brushy shoreline and rock pile and it got nailed by what looked to be a 12-13 inch fish.  But he too unbuttoned after about 5 seconds.  I was wondering if the weed guard, which was fairly large on the large fly, was prohibiting hook ups.  I got out my hook sharpener, sharpened the hook, and went back to casting.  At this point, I was standing in the Stealth and making long casts, despite the wind.  Every once in a while the "rust" showed and I made a really sloppy cast, but overall I was feeling good.

Around 9 AM I got to a stretch where I had caught a couple of fish last year and threw my popper along some shoreline cover.  It was one of those perfect casts and after one pop the fly was absolutely sucked in.  The bass took off and felt pretty big as it pulled line toward deep water.  Suddenly, the fish went airborne and as it did, my heart rate doubled.  It was a 4+lb fish that was around 20" long and I knew it would be a serious contender.  In fact, it looked almost identical to the fish I lost last year.  Despite my efforts, it jumped twice more and began pulling my yak through the cove.  He came close to the boat, but I couldn't grab him as he spooked and again screamed for deeper water.  Then he stopped, turned, and headed full speed toward the boat.  I was stripping line as fast as possible, but I could barely keep up with him.  When I did catch up, he was still hooked, but he made a sharp right turn, created a loop in my line, and that was it....the line was slack.  I threw my rod to the deck and said a few choice words.  It was the only time in my career that I ever remember thinking I wanted to give up during a tournament.  Nearly every part of me wanted to paddle back to the car, head home (stopping to grab a case of beer on the way), and nap/watch the NFL draft on the warm, cozy couch.  But after taking a few deep breathes and calming down, I kept paddling.  It just takes one good fish.......

About a half hour later I came into a small cover with a tree that was growing about 6 feet from the bank.  The wind was blasting me at this point and I somehow managed to throw a cast right up against the tree.  As I popped my bass bug by the trunk, a bass came up and absolutely smoked the fly.  He ran around the tree, through a pile of sticks, over another branch, and finally into open water.  Thank goodness I re-tied my leaders the night before!  I landed the bass at a solid 15.5 inches and the fly was inhaled at the very back of his throat.  Although it made me feel a little better, I was not confident that fish would be in the top-3 with the talented field of anglers out there.

My first fish of the day (note that I took 4-5 pictures of each fish)

As much as I wanted to upgrade, I didn't think it was in the cards.  For the next 3 hours, I didn't get a sniff.  The bite totally shut off and I wasn't sure what to do.  I began to ponder my strategy.  In NCKFA events, if there is a tie in length, then the tie-breaker goes to the person who checks-in their fish first.  Check in began at 2:30 PM and went until 4 PM.  I decided that if I wasn't having much like by 1:30, I would head in and make the drive back to Greensboro and check in my fish right at 2:30. 

I started working an area that looked great, but produced zero fish last year.  It was also an area I noticed that bass boats, many fishing local tournaments, were avoiding.  Typically, this means it is one of those anomolous areas that looks great, but holds no fish.  However, with no other plan, I decided to try it anyway.  While casting toward some wood cover I had a fish flash at the bait.  It was a smaller fish, but it gave me an idea of a similar area I had seen while paddling earlier, so I headed in that direction.  This area had a lot of brush and wood and I started casting.  Typically brush and wood equal fish, but this area wasn't stereotypical bass habitat.  After about a dozen casts with no luck, I finally decided to throw right into the heart of the cover.  After two twitches, a nice bass that appeared to be in the 15"-17" range shot out and swiped at the fly.  Unfortunately, he never got the hook and I lost yet another bass.  At this point, my frustration had turned into a smile, because at least I was having fun watching bass come up and smack my fly.  I fished about another 40 yards of shoreline with no bites until I again came to the biggest, thickest part of the cover on the bank.  I bounced the fly off the log - landing it right at the base.  Two pops later and a chunky fish came up and grabbed it.  He dove deep and was hooked momentarily, but again, the fish didn't get the hook.  This fish looked like he was in the 3 lb range and would have been an upgrade for sure.

It was nearing 1:30 and I was beginning to weigh my options.  I paddled through one last stretch of shoreline making long casts near any cover I could find.  Finally, while in about a foot of water, I threw my fly near some stick-ups and started twitching it.  As soon as it moved, a huge swirl engulfed the bait and the fish took off toward deeper water.  This was happening as a bass boat was pulling up to the same general area and they stopped to watch the chaos.  The fish was pulling every trick in the book - changing directions, running around brush, and jumping like crazy.  I thought for sure I would lose her.  She wrapped my leader around one last piece of wood as I maneuvered the yak to try and land her.  I decided it was now or never and swung her in the boat.  She was a chunky 3.5+ lb bass and a definite upgrade.  I let out a big sigh of relief and gave a little fist pump.  I knew all the people that support me in this sport must have had my back on that one.  She was 17.75" - a whisker shy of 18".  After snapping a few photos, I let her go.  Shortly after I talked with the bass boat in the area and they said they wished they had a few like that.  They were in a local tournament and had only managed two small keepers all day.

My biggest fish of the day...what a thrill on the fly!

I turned the yak and headed for the dock to check my fish in.  It was hard to leave after getting a few bites in the last 30 minutes of my day, but I knew I had to go with strategy and check-in early.  Bill, who had fished Reidsville Lake, showed up to the check-in about a minute after I did - around 2:10 PM.  He had caught a few fish, with the biggest going 18.25", on crankbaits and topwater.  There were two guys who were already there to check-in their fish and a few guys showed up just after us, including Malibu Pro-Staffer Nathan Wiles and his son.  Nathan hooked two fish, but had both break his line before he could get them to the boat.

Folks checking in with the NCKFA crew

Mark Patterson and company doing some judging

As competitors rolled in, we made small talk with other anglers, planned some of our upcoming fishing trip, and waited for 4 PM to get there.  Most anglers reported tough days and all the fly anglers I spoke with reported very tough days with most not landing any bass.  Finally, registration closed, and we all chowed down on some food.  I knew I had a good fish, but I was nervous and the butterflies made it tough to eat.  They called me up to download my pictures and at this point, my blood was really pumping.  They announced 3rd place in the fly division - Bobby Dobbins from Virginia.  He caught a nice 14.5" bass early in the morning on a popper.  After a few raffles, second place was announced - NCKFA headman Mark Patterson had a 14.75" bass.  Finally, I let out a sigh of happiness and I am sure my face turned red - as it often does. 

After a few more raffles, my fish was officially good enough for first place in the fly division and brought home a sweet trophy, a very nice gift certificate for a Native kayak, and an awesome piece of bass art from Jeff Christian.  I was so excited and ready to come home and share the news with Mary May and my family.  Talking with them on the drive back to Hillsborough helped fight off the exhaustion that comes from a long day on the water (and a long work week).  I really appreciate all of your love and support!

I promise I was much more excited than this picture made it look.

The top 3 for each division

I think there were about 65 anglers who came out to fish and support Heroes on the Water.  I don't have the official numbers, but I think about 25-30 of them were in the fly division and and the remaining were in the traditional division.  Bill came in 5th place in the traditional division, which is an impressive finish in that field of anglers.  The winning length was 20" for that division.  A huge thanks to NCKFA, Mark Patterson, everyone at Get:Outdoors, all the sponsors, and everyone else who made this an awesome event!  Again, it really is all about supporting a great cause like H.O.W.

My sweet new art and trophy!

Now it is time to get back to work and also put the finishing touches on our fishing trip next month.  I will have a couple blogs popping up later this week, so keep an eye out.  Until then, tight lines!