Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How to Choose a Fishing Kayak - a Beginners Guide

How do I choose a fishing kayak?  That has to be one of the most common questions I hear or see posted online.  After all, it isn't a trivial process and is an investment that can last a long time.  If you get your first yak while still living off of a grad school stipend (like me) then it is a very big investment.  So, I hope this post can help shed some light onto what to look for in a fishing kayak. 

Decisions, Decisions  (photo from
Let's just get this out of the way right off the bat.  Price is a huge factor for most folks.  I bought my first kayak, used, off of Craigslist for $500.  It came with 2 life jackets, 2 paddles, a cart, and some other goodies.  I knew I got a great deal, but the boat was not for me.  At 17' long it was a pain to store and transport and it barely got used.  Of course, it was also during my first year at Duke, which didn't lend itself to much free time.  I sold the boat at profit about a year later.  That is when I bought what I consider to be my first real fishing kayak.  I got it on sale at Dicks Sporting Goods for $175.  It was a 10', sit-inside kayak made by Future Beach.  I threw a couple Scotty rod holders on the back, bought a more comfortable seat, and outfitted it with a cheap depthfinder.  In total I probably had about $300 invested in the entire set-up.  It wasn't the fastest or best handling boat, but it certainly did the trick.  I caught some big fish from that boat, used it in many a tournament and got every penny of worth out of it.  Eventually, I upgraded and it found its way to a new home.

Of course, there are a lot of folks out there at the other end of the spectrum.  I remember the first time I saw a Hobie hit the water.  It was loaded on a trailer and rigged with more electronics than the average bass boat.  He launched, got his pedals set, and off he went.  I didn't even see him get his paddle wet.  Although I am biased toward paddle power, I bet his luxuries make for awfully comfy days on the lake.

The bottom line with price is buy what you can afford.  Know that kayaks do retain their value pretty well - some better than others.  So if you are ever going to sell your boat and upgrade, you can expect some of your investment back, much like buying a car.  Also, there are good and bad times of the year to buy a boat.  Most of the new models hit the market in winter to early spring.  Early spring is also the beginning of the paddling season in many areas.  Avoid buying a new yak at this time, although keep an eye out for older models that might be marked down.  I think the prime time to buy a new kayak is the fall.  A lot of retailers are looking to downsize their inventory before winter and offer big reductions on prices (Get:Outdoors and Dicks Sporting Goods are two such stores).  The fall is also the time when many impulsive buyers are looking to sell their slightly used yaks that they bought new in the spring and didn't like enough to keep.

A fishing canoe rather than a kayak, might be best for you

If there is a boat out there for under $150, I really don't know about it, but most companies offer boats from $400 to $1200 these days.  Some probably go a bit higher than that.  I would say the average for a new fishing kayak is currently around $1000 based on the top sellers of the past couple of years.  However, these same yaks can be bought used for significantly cheaper.

Buying New vs Used
That brings me to my next subtopic - buying new vs used.  New boats have perks.  You know exactly what you are getting, there isn't a scratch on it, it will have a warranty and it has that new yak smell.  But, new yaks also have higher price tags and sometimes, if the boat is brand new to the market, there may not be much info available about a certain boat. 

You can often find great deals on lightly used boats

In my opinion, buying used can have some huge perks.  If buying a used boat be sure to check it thoroughly for any signs of damage.  Always ask why the seller is getting rid of it and ask follow up questions to be sure their story is legit.  If you can, take it for a test paddle (more on this later).  Be sure to ask about any original paperwork, warranty info, where the boat was bought, if it has been registered and if it has any known issues.  Also be sure to check the serial number (usually located on the keel at the rear of the boat) and make sure it has not been removed or altered.  Most folks selling used boats simply want to downsize their fleet or upgrade to a new boat.  Their loss is your gain.

Searching for a Kayak
First and foremost, do a little homework.  Google is your friend.  I strongly encourage you to read reviews and talk to other anglers before anything else.  There are a lot of great brands out there right now and they are all pushing to be as innovative as ever.  Be sure to check out Jackson Kayak, Diablo Paddlesports, Native, Hobie, Wilderness Systems, Ocean Kayak and my personal favorite - Malibu Kayaks.  Some other companies include Crescent, Old Town, Future Beach, Folbot and Ascend.  There is a very wide variety in price among these brands as well as some differences in quality.  Some, including JK, Diablo, and Malibu, are entirely made in the USA.  Others may be more easily found in your area.  Shop around.

There is no perfect kayak, but a good all purpose boat (like the MK Stealth 12) can do it all

There are a few things you should keep in mind when initially looking around.  What are the most important features to you?  These may include stability, ability to stand, maneuverability, speed, storage, price, etc.  Do I want a sit-inside or sit-on-top?  Most fishing yaks these days are sit-on-tops (SOTs).  However, a lot of folks like sit-inside kayaks (SIKs) as well as hybrid yaks.  It really is a matter of personal preference.  However, if you are looking for a good all-around boat, I would lean toward an SOT.  How much does the boat weigh?  This is particularly important if you are going to be loading it, solo, onto an SUV or into a truck bed.  What length boat is best for you?  Generally, a 12' boat is a great all-purpose length.  14' and up is best for lakes, inshore, and other big water applications.  Less than 12' is best for technical rivers, small flows, and ponds.  Personally, I think a 12' boat is the best of both worlds.  I have taken my Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12 on all types of water this year and it has consistently kicked butt.  What is the weight capacity?  Naturally, you want a boat that fits your build.  Small paddlers may not like big boats.  Bigger paddlers will need a bigger boat.  The great thing is that there are boats available for every size and shape of paddler.  What kind of material do I want?  Most boats are made of a plastic polymer, but some are now being forged out of ultra-light materials, fiberglass, and even kevlar.  The key is to again remember what you will be using it for.  A fiberglass boat may not hold up well in shallow, rocky rivers, but will do great on lakes.  One other material related thing to rememember is to make sure the boat has been roto-molded.  Roto-molding is a process that basically pours plastic into a mold, melts it, and spins it so that it is one solid piece.  Some yaks use two pieces of plastic and join them with heat or glue.  These yaks are much more susceptible to issues.  How comfortable do I want my yak to be?  Let's face it, spending hours on end in a small, plastic boat can be hard on the back, legs, and butt.  Comfort is important espcially in regard to the seat.  Make sure the boat your are looking at has a comfy seat with good back support or can have a good seat added to it after purchase.  Other factors to consider include shape, keel design, scupper arrangement, width, and bow height.  But keep in mind that there is no perfect kayak.

MK Pro-Staffer Seth Goodrich uses a larger boat for his saltwater needs

Take it for a Test Drive
Now you have an idea of what you are looking for.  This is extra-important, because when you hit that showroom floor, the sales folks are going to have at least a bit of bias toward the boat they want you in.  Some stores only sell reputable boats.  Others sell a mix of qualities.  But even if you are buying used, hit a few stores first.  Use these trips to verify everything you read online.  Check out any issues you might have read about and ask the sales folks any questions you might have.  Sit in the boat and hold a paddle in the boat.  I strongly suggest that when you sit in the boat, wear a life jacket in order to replicate on the water conditions.  A lot of seats are much less comfortable with a PFD strapped on (and you should always wear your PFD).

The awesome thing is that most places these days will let you test paddle boats for little to no charge.  I would pick a top 3 and paddle them all.  Rate them in different categories and see which one does the best.  Keep an eye out for speed, maneuverability, stability, comfort, design, and tracking.  Tracking is how straight a kayak goes.  The better it tracks, the less side to side movement it has when paddling.  A boat that tracks better is easier to paddle and much more efficient.  However, they can also be less maneuverable on flowing water.   And again, I can't stress comfort enough.  Remember, you are going to be sitting in this boat for 4-12 hours at a time.  You don't want to make appointments with your chiropractor after each fishing trip.  Another biggie is stability.  If you don't feel stable you aren't going to have a good time on the water and won't be able to fish effectively.  Rule out any boats that don't feel stable enough (this varies a lot based on personal preference).  Other things to think about are how easy it is to enter and exit the yak, how wet do you get from paddling the boat (either from waves, spray, or paddle drip), how does it do in the wind, and how low or high does it sit in the water (low might mean you need more weight capacity and high might mean it will perform poorly in the wind).

A test paddle is a must before any kayak purchase!

Sealing the Deal
Hopefully by now you know exactly which boat you want.  It is time to shop around with only two things in mind - price and color.  Some places will include a PFD, paddle, and other goodies with your kayak purchase.  That can be a nice perk, so be sure to factor it into the total price.  Other places may offer discounts on less popular colors.  If you can deal with paddling any color boat, this can be a good way to save money.  If not, search around until you find that color you really want.  Again, I urge everyone to keep an eye out for used boats, whether on internet forums, Craigslist, from retailers, or from other sources.  Be sure to get all paperwork and warranty info as well.  If buying used, I like to get as much info as possible without crossing any awkward privacy boundaries. 

And hopefully that does it.  You now have a kayak and can begin outfitting it and yourself for your first trip. 

Get that new yak...then go get it slimed!
I hope this helps anyone out there looking into getting their first fishing kayak.  If you follow these pseudo-steps you will end up like many kayak anglers before you (including me) - addicted to the sport and craving another trip.  If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to comment below or shoot me an email (  Tight lines!

Carolina Custom Rods Introduces the High Performance Floating Rod

If any of you have kept an eye out over on the Carolina Custom Rods site, you may have noticed that Brett and I have been coming up with ideas for fishing rods made specifically for kayakers for over a year now.  We tried a few different things and kicked around a ton of ideas, but eventually I just told him to keep making the awesome rods he makes now.  After all, I much prefer a light, sensitive, powerful rod made to my exact specifications.  Plus they look sharp too.

We considered extra foam, different materials, blank inserts and much more.  Well I found out about a week ago that Brett's rods should be very appealing to kayak and power boat anglers alike.  I accidentally dropped my new 7'6", M-MH casting rod in the water.  The spinnerbait tied on to the end of my line sank.  The rod floated!

The rod isn't loaded with extra foam or floatant.  Instead, it is just made to be super-light including the use of carbon fiber grips.  In fact, all of Brett's rods are now incredibly light weight, but don't sacrifice power either.  This particular rod checks in right around 4 oz. and is also the best spinnerbait-buzzbait rod I have ever used.  A couple of my other rods are closer to 3 oz.  If interested in checking out one of Brett's new rods, head on over to the Carolina Custom Rods website and give him a shout.  He can customize your rod however you like it.  Until next time, Tight lines!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Interview with Pat Kellner over at Fish Tattoo & A Dash of Salty

This has turned into a double blog post day.  Last week after I got back from Texas, Pat Kellner contacted me about doing an interview for his blog, Fish Tattoo.  Fish Tattoo is a blog similar to my own and I regularly tune in to see what Pat is writing about.  He is a great guy, talented fisherman, custom rodsmith, lure maker and is on a number of different pro-staffs.  We knocked out the interview this week and I saw Part #1 hit his site today.  Check it out here:  Keep an eye out for Part #2 in the next day or two!  Thanks again Pat.  I hope to reverse roles in the near future and get your input on a number of topics.

Coincidentally, I was also contacted by Jeffrey Weeks last week.  He is an award winning writer who just published a book titled Surf and Saltwater Fishing in the Carolinas.  He also asked if I would do an interview for his blog - A Dash of Salty and the kayak fishing portion of his Surf & Salt site.  He wanted to focus on the rapidly growing trend of kayak fishing in North Carolina.  The article was posted today on a number of sites, including the Examiner website.  Check it out here:

The interview process was really fun and it was great to share some info and tell some stories.  Until tomorrow, tight lines!

YakAttack Park N Pole Review

I was a skeptic.  You see, I hate having extra, un-needed pieces of equipment on my kayak.  I will never understand the guy with a million gadgets on his yak.  They simply clutter up the boat and get in the way.  However, over the past couple of years I have seen product after product come out from YakAttack and more than a few have really impressed me.  When I saw the Park N Pole come out last year, I knew it was a must for the type of fishing I like to do. 

        The Park N Pole - simple yet effective!

Along with extra clutter on deck, I don't really like using anchors either and in the river they are an accident waiting to happen.  Drag chains are a nice improvement on flowing waters, but they can also be a pain in the butt.  For me, the answer was the Park N Pole.  There are now two versions, the 6- and 8-footer.  They float, are made of extremelly durable poly-plastic, and have a handle on one end for folks who like to pole.  The other end is a point that you can jam into the ground.  I use the pole a few different ways.

On lakes, I like to start shallow and move deeper as needed.  Given that lakes can often be windy, I like to use the Park N Pole to quickly anchor on prime, shallow spots.  I jam the pole down through a scupper in the bottom of my Malibu Stealth.  I can also set-up to fish deeper water and points in the same manner. 

On rivers, I use the Park N Pole to effectively set-up and fish push-water, key areas, and eddy lines.  One of my favorite uses is to float down through a rapid, swing my boat around, and stick the Park N Pole into the river bottom right on the edge of the eddy line. 

The Park N Pole was perfect for catching Suwannee bass in windy conditions this spring

This year on the BASS Slam trips I beat the tar out of my Park N Pole.  It has some scratches, but has held up impressively well.  If you are looking for a good anchor pole for your yak or other small watercraft, then I highly recommend you check it out.  Tight lines!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Abu Garica Orra SX Spinning Reel Review

A while ago, I wrote about my experiences with the Abu Garcia Orra S.  Now it is time to review the SX.  I ordered the SX at the same time I ordered my first Orra S.  Naturally, I was expecting more out of the SX than the S, based on price ($70 vs $100).  And at this point, I think it delivers.

The Abu Garcia Orra SX is a sharp looking reel out of the box


I ordered the SX 40 - a larger reel, so that I could fish some heavier baits on spinning gear.  However, the one major drawback is that it only holds 125 yards of 8 lb line.  Granted, this rating is for mono, meaning that it holds more braid and fluorocarbon.  So I spooled it with 125 yards of 10 lb fluorocarbon.  The reel did not appear to be over-spooled, but during use, line wanted to slip from the spool.  It was creating a lot of line twist and made it tough to fish light baits.  So, I took some line off the reel.  Still, some problems persisted.  So, I decided to say screw it and change the line out to 8 lb fluoro.  This seemed to do the trick and finally the reel became fishable.  However, I will note that at times the line still has a tendency to loop at the reel when fishing lightweight baits.  It isn't horrible, but it could be frustrating for someone not familiar with the pitfalls of fishing light spinning gear.

When I finally got to put it to work on some impressed.  I was able to fish baits ranging from texas rigged worms to weightless worms to drop shots to crankbaits without any major problems.  It is a little smoother and has a bit more power than the Orra S.  It also has a finish that I think will hold up better in the long run.  The drag system is noticeably better, which has held up well to a bunch of solid bass, catfish, and even gar. 

The Orra SX was able to muscle this 19" largemouth out from a brush pile

It will be interesting to see if it stays competitive as the new Revo spinning reels hit the market.  However, if the Revo line takes off, it may mean a price drop for the SX.  In terms of bang for the buck, I think the S really holds its weight and if I was on a tight budget that would be my choice.  But, if you are a tournament fishermen, gear guy on a budget, or you fish both salt- and freshwater regularly, I would consider upgrading to the SX. 

Kudos to Abu Garcia for going the extra mile to upgrade their spinning collection.  I think all of their new offerings, including the Orra S and SX, will impressive the angling community.  Tight lines!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Deep in the Heart of Texas

I apologize for my blogging lull.  I blame it on Texas.  Ya know, everything is bigger in Texas - hats, boots, trucks, and blogging lulls.  Actually, this past week I took a few days to travel down to central Texas and chase the Guadalupe bass.  It was a combo slam trip and mini-vacaction for Mary May and I.  We had a fantastic time, filled with gorgeous scenery, delicious food, awesome wildlife, and one crafty little bass.

The gorgeous Texas Hill Country

Last Thursday morning we boarded a plane and headed for Austin.  You might have seen the bumper sticker that reads, "Keep Austin Weird."  Well it was about to get a little weirder.  We began thinking, what angler in their right mind travels half way across the country to a state known for giant bass in an effort to catch a species very few folks even know about that rarely gets bigger than 12 to 13 inches.  I reminded myself that it is about the challenge.  And it is about getting lost in the Texas Hill Country on another remote river adventure.  That is what I live for.

                                                                    Bill and I on the Guadalupe River

We landed in Austin around 2 PM and quickly found a highly recommended BBQ joint close to the airport.  Vic's was pretty darn good.  The brisket had a fantastic smokey flavor.  It would be the first of many delicious meals we had on this trip.  Then we made a stop at Academcy Sports to pick up a few baits.  You still can't fly with hooks in your carry-on, so it was a must.  Then we headed for Fredericksburg - an old German settlement in the heart of Texas wine country.  We stopped at Grape Creek Vineyards on the way into town and enjoyed a wine sampling.  I must say, their sweeter wines were very tasty.  After checking into our hotel we walked down main street and eventually ended up at the Fredericksburg Brewery.  Long story short, the food was solid if unspectacular, the beer was average at best, and the service was brutally poor.  It is probably the one place we went on this trip that I would not recommend.  We still managed to stuff ourselves with German food before we headed back to the hotel to touch base with Pat Kellner and then crash.  And crash we did!

Welcome to Austin - Texas BBQ!

The next day we were up fairly early and headed for Junction.  Along the way we saw all sorts of wild game including a bunch of African plains animals brought in for hunting purposes.  Junction wasn't much to look at, but it had two things that have a special place in my heart - Dairy Queen (the new Pumpkin Pie blizzard is amazing) and a river.  The Llano River make its way through Junction and is known for having one of the few remaining populations of pure strain Guadalupe bass in Texas.  I was incredibly excited to meet Pat and finally get on the water.  I will leave the details for the BASS Slam, but I will say it was a fantastic day on the water and I was blown away with the beauty of the river and surrounding landscape.

The Craftsman himself

That night we were sporting sunburns and were zapped.  We headed down to Boerne for the evening, which put us a lot closer to our fishing destination the next day.  We were so tired in Boerne that we didn't even bother to go downtown, we just grabbed something close to the hotel and called it an early night.  Bill had made it to Texas Friday as well.  He was staying in a town down the road and would meet us the next day for our trip down the Guadalupe River.

These guys were on the Guads menu over the weekend!

The next morning we were headed north to fish the Guadalupe above Canyon Lake.  After fearing I would run the rental car out of gas, we made it to the launch.  It was much different than the Llano - loaded with cypress trees that dotted the green and blue water.  This stretch had Guads, smallies, and largemouth and we caught all 3 throughout the day.  However, it also meant that fish identification was a little more effort than usual.  Again, I will withold the details, but these fish are smart, crafty, and hard to pattern.  They also like to hang out in packs.  You might catch 2 or 3 in one spot, then float 100 yards through good looking water and not get a single bite.  After Pat's wife scooped us up at the take-out we headed into Gruene for the night, just outside of New Braunfels.

                                              Mary May with a solid Guadalupe bass...and a sweet life jacket!

Mary May and I stayed at the Gruene River Inn.  The view from our room was amazing, the service was amazing, really everything there was amazing.  I highly recommend checking it out.  Later we met up with Bill, Pat, and Dana at the Gruene River Grill and had a delicious dinner and drinks.  After that Bill headed home and we decided to join Pat and Dana at the Gruene Dance Hall.  We didn't really know what to expect, but as we entered it was like something out of a movie.  The place was busy with folks lining wooden benches and tables.  Others encircled the dance floor, waiting for the music to get started.  We went outside and shot the breeze until the band started.  When they did, the dance floor lit up with folks of all ages two stepping, swing dancing, and just about anything else to the rockabilly sounds.  Mary May and I even mustered the courage to hit the dance floor for a song.  Eventually, we got to the point where we were all feeling the effects of a long day and decided to hang up our dancing shoes.  We said our goodbyes to Pat and Dana and headed back to the hotel.  Our Texas trip was almost over...but not quite.

The Gruene Dance Hall - a very genuine TX experience

The next morning we stopped at the Gruene General Store and picked up a few keepsakes before heading toward Austin.  On the way, we made a little detour out to Lockhart to grab some more Texas BBQ.  We ended up at Blacks (although Smittys Market was our original destination) and ordered some brisket and sides.  DELICIOUS!  I feel like I could eat there every day!  Then we pointed the car north to Austin and were aboard old silver wings headed home shortly after.

The stunning view from the Gruene River Inn

We had an amazing trip to Texas.  A million thanks to Pat and Dana who provided gear, shuttled us, showed us around, and did way more than I could have ever expected.  I hope we all get to spend time together again soon.  You are always welcome here in NC.  Anyone looking for info about fishing or kayaking the Texas Hill Country, just shoot Pat a message.  Also a big thanks to Mary May.  This was a mini-vacation for us, but a lot of it was spent on the water.  I know those were two long days and you did a great job out there on the water.  I am very proud of you and love you so much!

The BASS Slam has been one heckuva ride this year.  I am so incredibly glad I attempted it, as it has been filled with adventures, challenges, and amazing memories.  Keep an eye out for the third episode very soon.  Until next time, tight lines!

Friday, October 5, 2012

One Last TKAA Post - What it's all About!

First let me say that I can take zero credit for this - I simply wanted to share because I think it is an awesome video that gives a great look at the Heroes on the Water and Project Healing Waters programs.  This was filmed by Rob Choi (who runs a great blog over at Angling Addict) at the TKAA tournament last weekend.  I can't stress how much I believe in using kayak fishing to benefit others and this video sums it up perfectly.  Awesome work Rob!

Again, HOW & PHW are great causes.  I know other tournaments out there are being held that get youth outdoors, get folks healthier, and many more awesome things.  Hopefully we get to the point where every tournament includes a charity or two. 

Tight lines!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Success in Tough Conditions at the TKAA Charity Tournament

In my last blog I talked about how I planned for the TKAA Tournament.  Well, now it is over and I can fill you in a little more on my exact strategy going in and just how that strategy played out.  Before I do, I will say that a big thank you to Wayne Bradby and the rest of the TKAA folks who put on an amazing event.  There were tons of great prizes, raffles, art, and much more.  I will definitely be headed back to fish the event next year.  It also had two great causes - Heroes on the Water and Project Healing Waters.

So after doing as much research as I could, I decided to fish a lake just outside of Suffolk.  It looked to be one of the top producers in the area and definitely holds some good fish.  As a perk, it has a healthy striper population and I was hoping Mary May could land a big striper for the female division crown.  I learned that the most consistent parts of the lake were at opposite ends.  But between the launch and the south end of the lake there were a string of aerators along the main channel which often attract shad and therefore stripers.  So, my plan was to head south, have us both get a solid largemouth early and then let her go striper fishing while I tried to upgrade my bass.  In hindsight, I actually think it was the right decision in terms of covering all of our bases.

The weather forecast was calling for a drop in temperature of almost 15 degrees overnight as well as cloudy, rainy, and at times breezy conditions.  In the spring, I knew the fish might shut down, but in the fall cold fronts typically don't hurt as much.  When it gets cold in the fall I find the spots I would be fishing in ideal conditions, then I move deeper until I find the next piece of cover.  For instance, if I was planning on targeting fish on points in 3-6 feet of water, I will move out to deeper water on those points and look for cover/structure in maybe 10-15 feet of water. 

The drive to VA seemed to take forever, despite being only about 3.5 hours.  We got to the Captain's Meeting late, checked in, and said a few hellos.  Shortly after it ended and we headed over to Suffolk to crash for the night.  We rigged up some rods, got our gear ready, and were asleep in no time flat.

Mary May was ready to go 20 layers of clothing!

The next morning we got up around 5:45 AM, which is late compared to when we typically get-up for tournaments.  We were allowed to launch at 6:25 AM, but we had to stop and get a few things before we could fish, so there was no sense in getting up before the bait shops were open.  We were at the lake around 7:15 AM and launched fairly quickly.  We were seeing some bait pods, an occasional small fish breaking the surface, and a ton of gar.  The lake was not quite like I had imagined it.  It was more like something I would see in Canada, minus the heavy weed growth.  The real bummer was that the heavy shoreline timber I was hoping to be able to crank and flip was mainly smaller brush/sticks and skinny trees.  However, there were also a lot of cypress trees and that really peaked my interest.  But the weird thing was that in all my scouting and conversations with folks who had fished the lake before, no-one mentioned doing well around the cypress. 

Cypress Trees?  Yes please!

There is a little caveat to this story that occurred the Thursday before the tournament.  I went out to a local lake to test our depth finders and make sure they were tuned and ready to role.  After a short, but fishy couple hours on the lake I headed back to the put-in.  I totally forgot I had the transducer for my new Humminbird 596c HD DI under my yak and when I was taking it out of the water, the transducer snagged and the cable ripped completely out of it.  I was extremely mad at myself and incredibly let down.  I knew having two depth finders would be much more useful in helping us track down a striper come tournament day.  I tried calling anyone and everyone who sells marine electronics and none had a spare transducer in stock.  But, I guess having one is better than none.

Mary May and I paddled along the channel to scope out the aerators and lay of the lake.  She kept an eye on the depth finder in case we came upon a big ball of shad or school of stripers.  Finally, we got to an area that looked good, with steep drops, small points, and plenty of cover.  It didn't take long before I had my first bite - a 10" bass that ate a texas rigged plastic from Deep Creek Lures.  It hit at the base of an isolate cypress tree in about 8 feet of water.  As we fished along the bank, we both managed a few more small bass.  At this point, the wind was picking up, it was raining hard, and I was getting cold.  We decided to head for a bridge with some rock and cement structures.

Fish this size were seemingly everywhere

Mary May was marking some small, but active fish in the channel and I quickly caught another short fish along a cement wall.  Then the turning point in the day came.  It was about 10 AM and I still hadn't caught a fish worth measuring.  I spotted a dock back in a creek arm that was in about 10 feet of water.  As I turned the corner, I saw 4 more docks.  I was excited and carefully set-up to fish each one as thoroughly as possible.  I skipped a finess worm underneath, fished a shakey head down the edges, pitched a worm to anything and everything, and ran a crankbait off of anything and everything.  Absolutely nothing worked.  It was time to come up with a completely new plan.

I paddled back out to the main creek arm where Mary May was trying to locate shad and stripers.  We came up with a new plan and it entailed me heading across the lake to flip cypress trees/stumps.  Mary May was going to fish around a few of the aerators and eventually meet me near the other side.  I got to a big patch of cypress and started flipping.  I was actually pleasantly suprised that my practice has been paying off and I was able to flip quietly and accurately.  However, I quickly realized that I was fishing too shallow and moved deeper.  I managed one small bass, but again, he wasn't worth measuring.  At one point I flipped into what looked the perfect spot - but ended up with nothing to show for it.  Now it was 11:30 AM and I still didn't have a keeper in the boat.  So, I picked up my favorite finesse worm and started fishing the deeper cypress stumps.  I started catching fish almost instantly.

Within 15 minutes I had a 4 bites, but still no fish over 11".  Mary May made her way over to where I was and we both decided to target largemouth for a while.  She started catching fish too and we knew that eventually a bigger fish had to bite.  Sure enough, I cast to an isolated cypress tree with some brush at the base that was situated on a long point - right where it dropped into deeper water.  I felt a good bite, set the hook, and it was game on!  The fish was pulling me around and putting some serious pressure on my Abu Garcia Orra S reel and Carolina Custom Rods Finesse Rod.  Finally, I landed the brute.  He measured a hair under 18.5".  18.25" was a very solid fish - one that would have been a second place fish last year and first place two years ago.  I snapped the necessary photos and let him go.  I felt like a huge weight was off my shoulders, but not completely.  I REALLY wanted Mary May too hook a good fish.

This brute really helped improve my day.  Brought to you by old school Pepsi and some seriously white legs.

At this point, I put my rod down and focused on letting Mary May get hooked up.  She was kicking butt and catching fish on almost every point.  The problem was that she couldn't find any good fish.  I have never seen someone so determined to get a bite and I can't commend her enough for the effort she gave in some pretty crappy conditions.  Unfortunatley, that big bite wasn't in the cards on Saturday.  She did have a pull-down on one of her minnow rigs while fishing over a deep channel, but the fish came unbuttoned shortly after she set the hook. 

A solid Suffolk, VA bass

It was time to head back to the dock and I knew there were a few decent spots left to try on the way in.  But the wind picked up, rain started coming down harder, and conditions turned even worse.  We were both tired and ready to warm up.  However, we did stop to fish a few small areas on the way in.  This is where the low point of my day occurred.  I told Mary May to try over by a tree trunk that dropped into deep water.  While she fished there, I turned and chucked my finesse worm.  It was thrown down a completely nondescript bank in the pseudo-middle of nowhere.  Sure enough, I felt a bite and my line started to run sideways.  I set the hook (mainly out of habit) and felt a better fish on the end.  My heart sank.  I would have never told anyone to cast where I did, but for some random reason there was a fish there.  I landed him and measured him - 16.25".  It wasn't a giant, but if Mary May had caught it, it would have been the winning fish in the female divsion for 2010 and third last year.  Now I was mad at myself, Mary May was mad at me, and we were running very short on time.  I headed back to load up my gear and yak while she kept fishing.

My fish is trying to escape!  That folks is why you use a stringer.

We ended the day having caught well over 20 bass, but most were short.  Our fingers were crossed that the conditions had made it tough on others and both of our bass might get us into the top-4.  We were wet, cold, hungry, and tired.  As we pulled into the weigh-in location, we could tell that a bunch of other folks were exhausted too.  After checking in, we changed clothes, warmed up, and visited with a variety of folks.  There were some good days, bad days, and really horrible days (more on this later).  Local angler Ray Montes, who has a very accomplished resume, had a solid 19" bass, so I knew first place was out of reach.  Eventually, I learned that another angler had caught a 19-incher as well.  I really wanted a top-3 finish, but I wasn't very confident my fish would hang on.  But they called me into the judging room to look at my photos, so I knew that was a good sign that I was at least in the top 5 or 6.  After some food, raffles, and general comments the winners were announced. 

4th place in the female division was 16.5".  I felt like I dodged a giant bullet there.  I think it took 21" to win that division.  The winner of the youth division was the daughter of Kayak Angler Magazine editor Ric Burnley with a speckled trout that measured nearly 20".  They donated the kayak she won to Heroes on the Water.  Other notables were Malibu Kayaks Pro-Staffer Seth Goodrich taking 2nd (although I heard this was later ammended to 3rd) in the Redfish division and a father-son duo taking first and second in the trout division.  The Saltwater Slam division winner had roughly 52" and took home a brand new Hobie kayak as his prize. 

Fellow MK pro-staffer Seth Goodrich with his 3rd place redfish in his Stealth 14

As for me, I took third place in the Bass Division behind Ray and another local angler.  It turns out, I was the only non-local in the top of the bass standings.  I got to take home a custom rod from Overboard Rods and a KBF BassPass for 2013.  We also made out like bandits in the raffle.  I bought 6 raffle tickets and 3 of them were winners - so we came back with a gift certificate from HOOK1, a new pair of Hobie Polarized sunglasses, and a first aid and signaling kit.

                                                    Accepting my prizes from TKAA headman Wayne Bradby

We had a great time and like I said earlier, will definitely be back again.  We hit the road around 8 PM and the drive home actually went by pretty fast.  Needless to say, we crashed hard and slept in on Sunday.

Now for the folks who had horrible days.  I have often talked with fellow anglers about how kayak fishing in these remote places is eventually going to lead to finding a dead body some day.  In fact, Mary May and I had discussed it on the drive to Virginia on Friday night.  Well, on tournament day, two kayakers entered in the tournament found a dead body.  They alerted authorities and did everything by the book.  Although the tournament directors found out about the news that afternoon, they did not make it public until the next day - which I feel was a wise decision given the circumstances.  My thoughts are with the two kayakers who had to go through that ordeal.  Know that you have the support of everyone else in the yak fishing community.

This will, most likely, be my last tournament of the year unless plans change, as my weekends are packed until mid-November.  I may sneak in a bass boat tournament - if only to try and win a tournament from a kayak, jon boat, and bass boat all in one year.  I will be focusing on finishing the BASS Slam, writing, editing video, and, of course, fun fishing.  Until next time, tight lines!