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 fishing...in 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!


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