Friday, September 28, 2012

How to Prepare for an Out of Town Tournament

This weekend Mary May and I are headed to Virginia to fish in the TKAA Charity Tournament.  The tournament is one of the biggest in the world and draws a lot of top notch anglers to compete in both fresh- and saltwater divisions.  It has two greats causes - Heroes on the Water and Project Healing Waters.  I will be in the largemouth bass division and Mary May will be in the female angler division.  But it isn't just a field of great anglers we are up against this week.  We know nothing, zero, zilch about fishing the Tidewater region of Virginia.  We have had no practice or scouting time.  In fact, we may be late to the Captain's Meeting due to late hours at work.  Thankfully, this isn't my first rodeo with an out of town tournament and no scouting time.  This is how I prepare for such events...

The first thing I do is go "virtual scouting" a few days in advance.  Typically, this means I have about 8 different tabs open in Google - searching for info about fishing in the area.  I try to pick two or three fisheries that seem to stand out.  From there, I try and get more specific with my searches.  For rivers, I immediately go to Google Maps and look for areas with shoals, chutes, tributaries, or other interesting features.  For lakes, I typically look try to find more specific information - depth, clarity, temperature, fish population survey info, number of citation fish caught there, tournament results, and anything else that might help.  I also want to be sure to look for any other clubs or organizations having tournaments on the lake/river on the same day as my event.  Having multiple tournaments on one lake can be brutal, especially if it is a river or small lake.  It has burnt me before, so now I always check.  At this point, I typically know where I want to fish and I have a plan A, B, and C.  Having multiple plans is key, especially in river tournaments where weather can drastically change river conditions overnight.

My next step could be one of a few things.  Sometimes I shoot an email to a local guide, club, or pro-staffer for any info he or she can give me.  I never ask for specifics.  I keep it very general and polite.  I also look into old fishing reports.  Typically, I try to to find ones posted within about 3 weeks on either side of the tournament date - so for this coming weekend, I was looking for reports from mid-September to mid-October all the way back to 2005.  I use the reports mainly to try and pin-point what depth I should start fishing and potentially what areas are most and/or least productive.  Typically, if I know the depth where they are hanging out, then I can quickly figure out how to catch them.  I also might call a local tackle shop and get advice from them.  If all goes well, I now know where I will fish, how I will break down the body of water, and what lures I will be fishing.

A fish like this would go a long way on Saturday

Next is getting familiar with local data.  What time is sunrise and sunset?  What have the night time temperatures been lately?  What is the weather forecast for the day of the event, as well as 2 days before and after?  What does the barometric pressure look like?  How windy will it be?  These all helps give pieces of the puzzle.

Then, it comes down to logistics.  Where is the cheapest hotel that is both clean and safe?  How long does it take to get from my hotel to the lake, then from the lake to the weigh-in?  What time does the lake open?  What fees do I need to pay in advance?  Do I need to bring cash or do they take plastic?  Do I need to hire a shuttle?

Last, but not least, is personal prep.  This means prepping my gear, packing the car, charging batteries, and that whole deal.  For me, it also means making sure I have my cable locks.  After all, you are going to leave your car/gear/yak in a random hotel parking lot overnight - you don't want anything to get jacked.

Early morning's are meant for being outdoors!

There have been tournaments where I have debated which plan was best until 1 or 2 AM, made a choice, and then got up 2 hours later to head out the door.  Other times, I decided well in advance, gotten a great night's sleep, and hit the water feeling fresh.  Unfortunately, no amount of planning ever assures a victory.  Both the late night sessions looking over maps and the well thought out plans have worked - and failed - for me.  But, I love the process and the challenge.  No matter how this tournament goes, I will have given 100% of my efforts and will be more than content as we head back to NC.  Although, hopefully the trip is a little louder than know, because we have the two extra kayaks on the roof that we just won.


Tight lines!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Taking the Time for Conservation and Resource Management

This post has been in my queue for quite some time, but I finally had a few minutes to sit down and finish it.  As a kid, I was involved in a number of organizations that did trash pick-ups and other types of conservation work.  That continued through my teen years and into college as an Environmental Science student.  Since then I strive every time out to make sure that I am a "leave only footprints, take only pictures" outdoorsman.  But as I get older I find myself less and less involved with organizations that do conservation work.  I tend to lean toward the side of education and personal accountability.  Certainly time is a factor these days, but sometimes I wonder if I am doing enough.

Mary May hauls a bucket of trash that we removed from a small stream bed

Earlier this summer, Mary May and I met up with Triangle Fly Fishers to help do a clean-up on the Eno River here in Hillsborough.  We removed trash as well as a number of invasive and detrimental species.  It was fun getting a little dirt under the fingernails and we both felt good at the end of the day knowing that we had accomplished something that would make a difference.  But the Eno is a lucky river.  It has folks adopting it, it has a conservation association, it has good water quality, and although the watershed is moderately urban, at least through Durham, as a whole it lacks large scale agricultural development.  Other bodies of water are not so lucky.

TFF out in force for the Eno clean-up

On numerous occasions this year I have hauled a hull full of trash back to the launch.  It is sad to see folks who have no idea that they "live upstream".  So I urge everyone to be conscious of your choices.  I am not saying to go out and pick up trash every weekend or to go sign up for stream restoration work - just live so that no-one else has to either.  Just be wary before your throw that cup out the window or let that old battery fall apart in the back yard.

Yanking invasives in the mud and the muck

For you ag types, my rants could go on for quite some time, so I will just say this - many local conservation districts will help you with projects that will greatly improve water quality (fences, buffers, etc).  Most are free and some even pay you.  So pull out the phone book, look-up your local ag office, and give them a call.

So why is this flowing out of my fingers all of a sudden?  I guess it is because of all the amazing places I have been this year, soon to be capped off with a trip to Texas to fish for one of the most threatened species - the Guadalupe Bass.  Pat Kellner did a great blog a while ago about the Guads and how special they are to the region.  Shoal, Suwannee, and other bass species have similar cult like followings.  The bottom line, no matter what species or region, is preserving these species for future generations.  That includes practicing catch and release and obeying size and creel limits.  And one final thing we can all do is have our state or local wildlife officials phone number in our wallets or phone contacts.  I have dialed them here in NC on numerous occasions to report violations when in the field.  If you wait until you get home, it will most likely be too late.

I have one final thing that I think can help - and it boils down to publicity and marketing.  Conservation needs to be viewed as a hotter topic.  Groups like GreenFish and Recycled Fish are a step in the right direction, but it needs to go further.  It needs to become "cool".

My "trophy catch" at the clean-up

For the past two years, my "write-in category" for the Kayak Anglers Choice Awards has been someone who goes above and beyond in terms of the combination of conservation and kayak angling.  Both years it didn't make the cut as an extra category, although I hoped they were contacted via email to let them know that their efforts are being recognized.  But most of the outdoorsman I know are like me - they would rather be responsible while fishing or hunting.  They let the idea of having to pick up after others slip to the back of their mind.  It is sad and needs to change in so many ways.  But outdoorsman are the group that need to spearhead the change.

Until next time, tight lines!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kayak Angler's Choice Awards 2012 - I GOT NOMINATED....GO VOTE!

This year, and Kayak Fishing Radio are holding the 2nd Annual Kayak Angler's Choice Awards.  Anyone is able to nominate folks in a number of different categories and the top nominees are put into the voting round to be crowned as an ACA winner.  The nominations were announced yesterday.  I was extremely grateful to have been nominated in two categories - blog of the year and video of the year (twice).  I am downright excited too - a big thanks to whoever penned me in!  There are a bunch of great anglers, guides, forums, products, videos, and sites on the ballot.

Also, Malibu Kayaks has a couple nominations in the kayak of the year category - including the Stealth!

So, I urge you all to FOLLOW THIS LINK and go vote.  I urge you to check out all the anglers, videos, and blogs and then vote for your favorite....and hopefully it is mine (resisting the urge to blatantly self-promote)!

My nominations for online video of the year are listed as:
Quest for the BASS Slam Episode #1
Quest for the BASS Slam Episode #2 - Suwannee Bass

And for blog of the year it is:
Man Powered Fishing

Tight lines!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Another River Bassin' Adventure - New Friends, New Waters, and Giant Bass

It seems like my days off this summer have been filled with bad weather - turning my favorite local rivers to chocolate milk.  But this weekend I got lucky.  Tim Roach, winner of a guided trip giveaway from Quest for the BASS Slam and Froggy Waters Outdoors, and I decided to hit a river I have never fished before.  Our goal was to hook-up with a few stripers with some largemouth thrown in to keep things interesting.  I did some virtual scouting, read some river reports, and could barely sleep the night before.  However, this river had some obstacles.  It posed class four rapids, webs of islands you could easily get lost in, huge fluctuations in river levels due to upstream dam releases, power plant discharges, and a strong current.  In was my kind of place.

After a long drive into the middle of nowhere, we popped out at the river and set-up our float trip.  By 7:15 AM, we were on the water and casting away.  Within 5 casts, I had a small bass hit my buzzbait and run straight at the boat, jumping to spit the hook just before it reached me.  I was hoping it was a sign of things to come.

We fished a few holes and runs with topwater plugs, hoping to see a striper explosion.  I could envision it in my head and feel the adrenaline pumping through my body.  That feeling when a big fish blasts your topwater bait is indescribable.  But as much as I wanted it to happen - it didn't.  The striped bass were either not in that area or simply not hungry.  I waded through a chute into an upstream area with a few large boulders and downed trees.  I cast along a log with significant current flowing over it.  Once, then twice, then a third takers.  I then cast about 5 feet above the tree and a fish immediately crushed my popper - sending it 3 feet into the air.  I guess it goes to show that the best looking spots aren't always the best producers.  This would become my theme for the day.

Two casts later, a bass which I suspect was the same one, nailed the bait again.  This time, he was hooked.  He fought hard in the current and had a gut that suggested he had been gorging on shad, bluegills, or other minnows.  The solid 1.5 lber was a good start.  I threw one more cast toward where I had hooked him thinking maybe there was a school in the area, but had no luck.  I waded another 10 feet upstream and cast under a tree branch that was hanging down in the water.  I twitched my popper, causing it to spit and gurgle as it glided in the current.  Suddenly, there was an eruption and I set the hook hard when I felt weight on the end of the line.  The fish went airborne multiple times and was peeling drag from my lightweight spinning outfit.  I waded closer and finally was able to lip him.  My popper was sideways in his mouth with one hook stuck in each side.  I guess he was hungry, although he too possessed a gut that suggested he had not been skipping meals.  The solid 4 lber was a great start to the morning.  We snapped a few photos and let him go.

This 19" largemouth was a great start to the day

We floated on and both caught a couple smaller bass around some current breaks.  Then we descended on a long, flat stretch littered with wood cover along the bank.  Despite my best efforts, the bites were few and far between.  I had bream and gar nipping at my baits, but no bass.  Tim was having similar luck on the other side of the river, although he did have a few fish blow up on his popper.  The water looked too good to not hold fish, so I was rotating through a host of baits - spinnerbaits, poppers, buzzbaits, texas rigged worms, drop shot rigs, crankbaits, swimbaits, and jigs.  I tried a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes with no luck.  Finally, I cast out the spinnerbait and before I could even turn the handle a fish was pulling my yak hard right.  I could tell that it had some weight behind it.  As I got him closer to the boat, he began to spin to try and throw the hook.  I realized that the fish wasn't a bass, but he was a slump buster.  I landed a 7-8 lb channel catfish.  Things were looking up again.
A short time after, Tim spotted some bass staging on a rocky flat.  He mentioned that the fish seemed skittish.  For me, that meant it was time to tie on a finesse worm - a bait that often gains the interest of sluggish and/or wary bass.  After another fifteen minutes, I had unlocked a pattern.  The pattern was having no real pattern at all.  I would throw my finesse worm as far as possible toward cover, flats, or holes in the grass mats.  Sometimes I would get bit and sometimes I wouldn't.  But it seemed like most of my bites came in the middle of nowhere.  I would fish by perfect looking downed trees and mid-channel boulders without the slightest sign of life.  Then, casting randomly over the river grid, I would hook a 2 lber.  It was a bizarre bite.

Tim showing off one of many nice bass he caught on a popper

Tim began hooking fish too - including a few on a tube style bait.  Then, for no real reason at all, I picked up my buzzbait.  I began throwing it, somewhat haphazardly, toward every boulder, current seam, and log I could find.  Again, the usual spots weren't producing.  But I would get bit in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.  After catching a few on buzzer - a black, double bladed bait which has seen better days - my confidence was building again.  If I couldn't pattern where they were, at least I could pattern what they were eating.

Then, after having been standing for the previous half hour, I sat down again and took a cast toward a small log near a weed line.  Maybe my body knew what was about to happen.  I cast the buzzer and began reeling as I turned to talk to Tim.  Suddenly, I heard something suck in my buzzbait and felt the weight of a fish on the line.  My 7'10" rod was bowed and the fishing was pulling me against the current.  I quickly loosened the drag a few clicks as she headed for the weeds.  She never broke the surface of the water, but instead fought hard using the current and weeds to her advantage.  Finally, I got her to my yak and lipped her.  She was a brute - the kind of river bass the makes a day, week, and month.  Again, we snapped a few photos and watched her swim back into the mass of weeds from which she came.

This fish will be remembered for a long time

Then the fishing turned up a notch.  Tim also tied on a buzzbait and we were in the zone.  Floating between islands in the ribboned channel, we were either catching fish, getting blow-ups, or seeing fish follow at every piece of wood cover or indent in the weed bed.  We even had gar trying to smash our buzzers, including one that was pushing 20 lbs that nearly gave me a heart attack as he launched at my bait right next to the boat.  There is just something about a good buzzbait bite that is addictive.  We didn't want to leave.

Alas, after 20 to 30 bass a piece, a few bream, and the catfish, we were at the take-out.  Sometimes that means you can fish a little longer, but we knew a discharge was scheduled for later that afternoon and we didn't want to cut it close.  The end of this stretch poses a class IV rapid (with lower water conditions) that drops roughly 6 feet.  We both spent a little time looking at it from the top before I decided to go the safe route - dragging my boat down over some rocks well to the edge of the main chutes.  Even that route proved a bit tricky.  As I lowered my yak through a small chute, I slipped, the boat got stuck between two rocks, and a couple items got swept our of my yak.  Thankfully I was able to swim and get them back with no real harm done.  This is when Tim decided he wanted to try and run it and asked me to film it.  I asked him if he was sure and if he wanted me to take anything.  He said he was sure and that he was good to go.  Part of me was thinking it was a bad idea, but that part was greatly overshadowed by the part of me that wanted to run it myself.

I paddled out and got set-up with the camera.  It was difficult to film as the water spun me sideways.  Finally, I found a small eddy and focused on Tim and his Jackson Coosa.  He made it down the first drop without any problems.  Then the current took over.  It was pushing him toward a large boulder in the middle of the rapid and he couldn't do much of anything about it.  The boat hit sideways and moments later Tim was in the water.  I was torn between wanting to film more and going to help.  I waited a few seconds...they seemed like minutes.  Tim didn't immediately pop up, so I stopped filming and started paddling.  Thankfully, he did come to the surface moments later.  I made sure he was OK and started gathering what was left of his gear.  The river Gods were not kind - taking some rods, reels, and lures to the depths.  It was a fitting end to a river adventure.

Sorry about the quality - Blogger doesn't support HD

The day had some ups and downs, but it was a great day by any standard.  I really enjoyed my time with a new friend and on a new body of water.  Catching a bunch of fish and some big fish was just icing on the cake.  There is no doubt that there will be a a return trip to this river sometime this fall.  However, I don't think either of us want any sort of revenge with those rapids.  The water levels have to be right to run them safely and they are difficult to maneuver.  I strongly urge anyone reading to always use caution when on the water.  The number of ways accidents can happen are innumerable.

One thing that can be challenging when fishing new water is what lures to throw.  I literally threw 20 lures over the course of the day, but in the end, I went back to my favorite few baits that I feel most comfortable with.  I know there were some areas where I could have caught more fish if I had slowed down and fished them differently - possibly with a drop shot or shakey head.  But, I was catching fish and having fun, so I didn't bother.  The bottom line is that fishing is about confidence and you have to feel good about whatever it is on the end of your line.

Of course, it poured here in central NC the past two days, so another long river trip might be weeks away.  Hopefully, I get out sooner rather than later.  Until then - tight lines!