Monday, March 26, 2012

I'll Call Him "Lucky" - An Unbelievable Hunting Photo

I almost forgot to blog this, but now I am a little giddy thinking about it.  I was going through old pictures from my camera and found the following shots that I had nearly forgotten about from back in small game hunting season.  It was an incredibly freak thing and I had to share it!

During the last week of the small game season, I set-up in one of my favorite little patches of woods and waited for squirrels to come out.  I was carrying my grandfather's old Mossberg .22 mag rimfire rifle - a change-up from my typical Marlin .22.  As usual with that gun, I aim for the head in an attempt to not ruin any meat.  The hour or so I spent there was a little slow, but I ended up bagging one squirrel.  When I got him home to clean, I noticed something that made my jaw drop.

So, as I mentioned, this is one of my favorite patches of woods and I had hunted there quite a few times throughout the year.  Mary May and I are the only two who hunt this particular area of private land.  Unfortunatley, I had missed a few squirrels there this season as the open sites on the  guns aren't always easy to line up - especially at longer ranges.  There might have been a little user error too.  This particular squirrel had gotten lucky a few weeks earlier, as I noticed a bullet hole that went through one ear, took some of the hair off the top of his head, and went out the other ear.  Talk about a close call!  But I guess squirrels only have two lives as he is now in the freezer and will soon be part of a squirrel pot-pie.  If you want the recipe, feel free to email. 




Tight lines!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oh How I Missed Thee...First River Trip of 2012

Well, this year my kayak fishing has been sporadic, but it is fixing to picking up fast.  Last week I was determined to get on the water.  Instead of chasing white bass, I met my friend Gary at the river in pursuit of largemouth.  I arrived at the launch around 8:15 AM.  The air temp was 40 degrees and water temp wasn't much higher.  To top it off, the water was 1-2 feet above normal and getting dirtier by the minute.  I was sheepishly optimistic, only because I REALLY wanted to catch a few river bass.  The trip was also a bit of a landmark for me.  It was, essentially, my first river trip since November 2010 where I was not in a Jackson Coosa.  Instead, I agreed to test out, give feedback on, and review the Fisher Xtreme kayak by Crescent - a boat Gary is selling.

I imagine it was much like being an American driving in England.  It is an activity you typically consider a piece of cake, but suddenly a huge wrench is thrown into the works.  And although you start out trying to make left turns from the right lane, you quickly realize that it isn't really all that different.  So although the Crescent seemed like an uphill battle...I eventually settled in nicely.

We were in the water by about 8:45 and I started throwing a Pro Assassinator spinnerbait. On my third cast I landed about a 3 lb largemouth.  About 10 casts later, I picked up a second fish, this one about 2 lbs, on a shakey head rigged with a Deep Creek Lures Magic Finesse Worm in june bug.  The day was off to a great start.  (**Note - still waiting on the pictures from Gary)

Next, Gary got in on the action with a solid 2+ lber he caught on a crankbait.  Then, he got a bite...a big bite.  The fish went airborne multiple times and pulled some drag as it thrashed.  The beast just would not stop fighting.  Finally, it came to the side of the boat and Gary reached to grab her.  As he did, she gave one last jump, threw the hook, and was gone.  The fish was in the 5.5-6 lb class by our estimation - an impressive fish for such cold water.

Then it was my turn again as I picked up another chunky largemouth on a Spro Little John crankbait.  I would pick up two more fish on the bait, both in the 2-3 lb range, before the day was done.  Gary also stayed hot with his crankbait as he landed 3 or 4 more bass of about the same size.



By 11 AM the wind was pushing us all over the place and we leisurely made our way back the launch with only a couple more short strikes.  We were both quite happy with our morning on the water and glad we were able to get out.

Over the past few months, I have been taking a long look at the kayak market.   It seems like every year, companies are breaking out new, innovative boats and accessories.   There are so many great yaks out there, it is hard to choose just one.   I have been evaluating boats for my needs, which break down something like 75%-80% of trips in flowing water and 20%-25% in lakes. I need a boat that excels on the river, but also allows me to paddle easily across long stretches of open water. I also want something super stable and comfortable. I came up with a small list of boats that fit my criteria and finally came to a decision (coming next blog). During this whole process, I found out that Gary Ribet was becoming a dealer for Crescent Kayaks and both he and owner James Derbecker reached out to me to test out the boats and give my input. After spending some time with both the 10 footer and 12 footer, I came away with the following thoughts and opinions.

First, the 10-footer. This boat perplexed me a little. The dimensions were odd, the scuppers were in bizarre locations, it didn't have side handles, and the deck wasn't as wide as it could have been. However, I still managed to come away fairly impressed. Gary has them pre-rigged with 4 rod holders, a sea light, ergonomic seat, and even a Bending Branches paddle...all nice touches. The boat was very stable at 32" wide. In fact, I am sure I could have stood in the boat had it not been late winter. The rear deck storage area can hold a lot of gear and a lot of weight - evident by hauling my huge tacklebag for the day. And overall it was well made. The boat tracked well and got me where I wanted to go at a reasonably average speed. It is also very light and easy to carry and load solo. If I were looking for a beginning fishing kayak, it would be on the list - especially because it is very well priced. However, the details that I crave as an experienced yak fishermen need some upgrades.

The 12-footer is a tandem boat and I actually had no intention of liking it. But, when I finally got to take it for a spin my gears started turning. At this point, it is a little rough around the edges, but it has some flexibility because it can be paddled solo as well. The depth of the hull is very appealing and at 33" wide, standing is a breeze. The front hatch and rear deck storage area are more than adequate. And the boat moves suprisingly well in the water, although it is a tad slow and is prone to catching some wind at times. It is also a beast of a boat to get on an SUV. In fact, I highly recommend not doing it solo for fear of hernia. However, I believe the boat has a ton of potential. A few tweaks to the seating, balance, and weighting and you have an awesome solo, 12 foot, fishing yak on your hands.  As is, it is a nice tandem boat that would suite a lot of people quite well.

If you are interested in taking one of the Fisher Xtremes for a spin or even purchasing one, give Gary a shout (garyribet@froggywaters.com).

As mentioned above, I have been looking at new yaks for a while.  Over the past couple of weeks my stars somehow aligned and now I have a really great opportunity in front of me - including a couple new yaks.  Hopefully, I can give you the full run down soon....until then, tight lines!

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Tough Tournament Day - March 3, 2012

Saturday, Bill and I hit the water for the Stokes County Mental Health Association Bass Fishing Tournament.  The event drew about 70 boats from across North Carolina and Virginia.  We were enticed by the fairly high purse and our growing knowledge of Belews Lake - where the tournament is annually held.  The story goes like this....

We started honing in on the lake early, practicing about 3 weeks in advance.  Since Belews is a power plant lake, fish have been in pre-spawn mode for some time.  However, they also spawn for a much longer period of time than normal lakes and sure enough, we found fish on beds in mid-February.  However, they were not bigger females, so targeting bedders was not part of our plan.

Our first day out, we filled out a nice 8 fish limit including a few fish around 3 lbs.  We felt good about our pattern, especially because that practice day was a Saturday and there were 3 tournaments on the lake that day, so it kind of mimicked an actual tournament in terms of boat traffic, commonly fished areas, etc.

The next weekend, Bill found a couple other strong patterns, including a good jerkbait bite.  He was getting quantity and decent quality from that bite, so when we went for our final practice day early last week, we started with jerkbaits.  Sure enough, the bite was there and we had 8 keepers within 3 hours.  We also caught fish flipping wood, throwing a shakey head on deep transition banks, and on topwater in the morning.  Based on all of our practice, we had plans A through C.  These plans also considered the predicted weather and wind patterns.  Then tournament day came....

Tournament day arrived and everything looked perfect....except the weather was going to throw us for a major loop.  The forecasted wind of 10-15 MPH was non-existent and the fish just weren't active in our areas early.  We waited, seeing fish on the graph, but the wind still did not come.  We tried going shallow to wait it out and Bill hooked a solid keeper on his first flip of the day to get us on the board.  Next I caught one a shakey head in a creek channel and things were looking up a bit.  But by 11 AM there was still almost no wind and we knew that was a killer for our areas.  We headed for the back of a creek with a beaver dam and started throwing plastics at the dam and on points.  I hooked a small keeper on a point followed by a short fish in the channel.  Then, suddenly, the wind picked up.  We ran back to our main area.  And in that 5 minute run, the wind had again died.  We waited, hoping the gust was a sign of things to come, but the wind was not our friend.  It did start to blow, slowly, swirling out of the northwest...the one direction it did not hit our two main areas.  It had been predicted from the west and southwest nearly all week.

So, we strategized and ran to one of our favorite areas on the lake.  30 minutes and zero bites later, we moved again.  At our next stop, Bill quickly caught a keeper on a Carolina-rig before another boat roared in and cut us off.  A little frustrated, we headed to another area and I hooked into a solid keeper on a shakey head.

About this time, the sun started to come out and we hoped it would draw even more fish shallow.  We headed back to our main areas to work on the suspended fish we were marking.  I started chucking my A-rig and got a bite, but not a hook-up.  I have heard all sorts of things about the A-rig and my conclusion is that I like it.  It actually was less of a mess than I expected.  I threw it on my Carolina Custom Rods A-rig/swimbait rod with a Abu Garcia Revo Toro.  The only downside is that you really have to use braid...and I hate braid.  Anyway, we had another fish slash at a jerkbait and that was about it.  That seemed to be the theme for the day as it just didn't get windy enough for the fish to commit to the jerkbait - they either followed or slashed.

Time was running out and things were looking bleak.  But there was no last minute tournament magic for us this week.  In fact, it got even worse.  In the last hour and a half of the day, I lost a fish on a shakey head and what felt like a small fish on a Deep Creek Sink & Catch worm.  Bill had a solid fish nail his jerkbait and break his line at the boat and had another hit the bait, but not get hooked.  We ended the day with 5 keepers (out of 8) and about as many short fish.  None of our fish were over 3 lbs and one squeaked to the 14 inch mark.  It was frustrating, knowing that throughout the day we had missed out on at least 3 keepers that were all solid fish due to a mix of poor execution and bad luck.

At the dock, we felt a little better after hearing a lot of boats return with fewer fish than us, but there were some very nice bags caught as well.  We ended up somewhere in the middle of the pack and knew that we should/could have done much better.  It was rough for us, having good practice days only to have all of our plans fall apart on tourney day.  Maybe our downfall was sticking to the plan too much.  Maybe we were fishing too shallow.  Maybe we should have slowed way down.  Or maybe we should have just sat on those suspended fish and thrown everything in the box at them...I'm just not sure.  However, you can probably bet that next year we will be out there again competing in this great event for a great cause.  Everyone treated us great and we had a lot of fun.

Duke followed suite Saturday night - going 0 for the first 10 minutes shooting the ball and looking like a rec-league team on defense.  I think it is time to go look for some white bass in a nearby creek to cure my crankiness.  Until next time....Tight lines!