Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Duke-UNC Charity Tournament Fall 2013 - The 3-Peat

Last week I was able to get out for a few hours on a local river to wet a line for the first time in a couple of weeks.  The water was cold, the fish were pale, and the bite wasn't easy.  But over the course of the morning I was able to grind out 16 bass...and I mean grind.  The nice thing was that they were almost all in the 3 to 3.5 lb range with the biggest going about 4 lbs.  There was no real pattern and it was a sure sign that the fall, junk bite had arrived.  By "junk bite", I mean you have to throw half the junk in your tacklebox to come up with a limit of fish. 

Fall is here in central NC  (photo by Krishan S.)

I kept that in the back of my mind as I started to prepare for yesterday's Duke-UNC Charity Tournament that UNC held on University Lake - a public lake on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro border.  I knew the cold morning temps would surely have the fish looking for areas to stay warm, but honestly, I wasn't 100% sure where that would be - shallow, deep, or scattered.  I had only fished the lake twice before and only in the spring.  I marked a number of places on a map that I thought would produce and was confident in being able to fill a limit.  But, limits can be a tricky thing when the morning temps hover around freezing.

Pre-tournament, I prepped some of the new guys to the Duke Fishing Club and put together tackle boxs, plastics, and rods for the guys who didn't have gear on campus.  Of course, I prepped my own gear as well, opting to start with a buzzbait, squarebill crankbait, jerkbait, and plastic worm.  When tourney day came, it was up early and out the door around 5:30 AM.  The air temperature was much nicer than previous days, reading 46 on the Escape's thermometer.  It had been 26 degrees at 7 AM the morning before as snot ran down my face while in the treestand.

Everyone gearing up to hit the water

There were more teams than normal for both schools - 11 for UNC and 6 for Duke.  My partner for the day was Dean, a freshman biomedical engineering major.  It was his first ever tourament and his previous bass fishing experience was minimal.  I was trying my best to give him tips while not overloading him with fishing, because I can get pretty single minded when on the water.  The limit was set at 3 fish over 12".  I would have preferred the 5-fish limit that the tourney typically uses, but I knew it would give more boats a chance of pulling a limit, which in an event like this is a good thing.

Who would pull off the winning, 3 fish limit?

Everyone finally got settled and we launched around 8:15 AM.  We motored across the lake to a point on the inside of a channel bend with some stumps on it.  I began throwing a buzzer and jerkbait while Dean threw a popper - nothing.  Next we moved down a clay bank fishing wood cover and cranking rock - nothing.  Then we went to the back third of a creek arm and flipped and cranked shallow - nothing.  It was about 9:45 AM and for the first time all day, the wind was picking up.  We decided to move back toward the main lake.  On the way, we saw a bass blow up shad in the middle of the lake.  That was kind of the key to our day in a way.  I realized that most of the bass were still in the deep channels due to the cold snap.  Since no-one had fish finders, fishing deep or on drops was nearly impossible, but it eliminated a lot of water.  We would just have to fish areas that if those deep fish started to scatter, would be prime transition spots close to the channels and with bait around.

The launch

I decided it was time to go do the most stereotypical thing to do in the fall - crank a wind blown rip-rap bank.  I set up Dean with a lipless crank and I began fishing a medium diver.  There were a couple other boats around the rip-rap, but we found a spot that was out of their way and started fishing.  I noticed further down the bank was a portion of rip-rap that was recently re-done.  I told Dean those types of spots are either great, because new rocks fall into the water creating new spots for bait to hide, or terrible, because the construction caused so much disturbance that the bait and fish need a while to acclimate to it.  Thankfully, it was the former.  My second cast to the new rip-rap section produced a 16" bass that got the skunk out of the boat.  Things were looking up.

We then made a move into the outter third of creek arm, characterized by a funnel area and large pocket.  We fished around the pocket, targeting rock cover and off-shore wood in 5-8 feet of water with crankbaits.  As we got to the deeper side of the pocket, I began flipping plastics into wood cover.  I dropped my bait between a log and a big pine limb, let it sink, popped it off the bottom, and I felt the "tick" as it fell back down.  "Fish", I exclaimed.  After a short fight, we landed the 15-incher and were excited to have 2 in the (makeshift) livewell - a rubbermade container with an aerator hanging off the side.

Minutes later I flipped to another shallow tree and immediately a fish picked up the bait and took off with it.  I caught up to him on the reel, but didn't get a great hookset because the line was partially under a limb.  The fish charged toward the boat and looked like a solid 3-4 pound bass.  As I reached down for the net, he changed direction and a slight bit of slack formed in the line.  The hook popped and the fish was gone.  It took every bit of energy to hold in the profanity that sat on the edge of my lips.  I mentioned to Dean about how important execution is when tournament fishing.  Losing fish, not re-tying your line, tying bad knots, etc. can easily lose you a tournament if you don't pay attention to detail and execute.  I was kicking myself, but I re-focused and we went back to fishing. 

We eventually circled back around the pocket to the rip-rap wall.  I began cranking parallel to the wall and - BAM.  A bass inhaled my squarebill as it deflected off a rock.  The crankbait was eaten frontward, with only the back treble sticking out of his mouth.  Because he ate the bait funny and had a hook that nicked a gill, I was worried our little livewell might stress him too much.  Thankfully, on the next cast, I landed another bass.  The fish was probably half a pound smaller than the previous fish, but I knew the previous fish would have a better chance of living if we released him instead.  So we took a loss on total weight and ketp the smaller bass, but were super excited to to have a limit right at noon.

Never underestimate rip-rap or docks in the fall

The rest of the day was hit and miss.  We caught a few short bass on plastic worms and finally hit a solid 2 lber on a wind blown point.  The problem was that when we went to cull, we couldn't tell which was smallest.  With the blue walls of the cooler and four fish in it, it was nearly impossible to see the size of each fish, which were all in the 14"-15" range.  On top of that, they kept trying to jump out.  We decided to just take all 4 back to the weigh-in and sort it out there.
As they day came to an end we fished a couple deep banks with no success.  Then I noticed something.  Because all of the boats typically available for rent were being used by the tournament, the docks were calm, quiet, and empty.  On a typical day, they were full of kids splashing, people making noise, and general boat loading/unloading chaos.  As we motored toward the docks I told Dean that it would be a brilliant end to the day or a total flop.  We began fishing down the first row of docks with no luck.  But I noticed one particular spot that looked good - right on a sun-shade border with some overhanging structure.  My first cast was hurried as the wind blew us by the spot and missed the mark by a couple of feet.  After we fished to the shore I flipped the trolling motor into reverse and went back to the spot.  As I cast, I turned to Dean and said, "If there is going to be a fish on this dock, it ought to be right here."  The cast skipped perfectly into the spot I wanted it to go.  I felt an ever so slight tick on the line and started to reel up the slack.  Then I saw the line running sideways, reeled down, set the hook, and listened to the drag start to peel.  The fish ran under two floating docks before I turned him back toward open water with my favorite rod - the Carolina Custom Rods "Finesse Special".  He made multiple charges as he got closer to the boat and ripped drag each time.  Finally, Dean scooped him into the net and I let out a huge sigh of relief.  I looked at my watch - it was 2:48 PM and the tournament ended at 3 PM.  The fish was a beast and we knew that it would probably secure the tournament victory.  It reminded me a little of this moment that had us literally jumping up and down on the couch a couple years ago.

We fished the rest of the dock structure with no luck and called it a day.  As other boats rolled in, I kept the news of our catch quiet until the last minute and even then, only the Duke teams knew what was in the cooler.  We had heard that a few of the UNC teams had solid limits, so we weren't sure what to expect.  But I felt good, knowing that is was a tough day out on the lake and crossed my fingers. 

Dean and I with our winning limit

We were the second team to weigh-in and as I lifted the brute from the cooler, everyone started buzzing.  Our three fish limit (which actually included a fish smaller than one we let go simply because it was more lively) weighed in around 10 lbs 4 oz on Santosh's massive carp scale.  The kicker fish went 7+ lbs and 22.5".  We were feeling awfully good.

UNC Team #1 weighing in

Impressively, the other Duke teams all caught at least 2 fish with two of those teams limiting out.  I am not 100% sure of weights, I believe the team of Santosh and Krishan took third place.  I was really excited to see the young guys do so well, particularly because I know there were a few lost fish that would have made a big difference for the good guys.

Duke freshmen Colin and Joey with their limit

The UNC teams then weighed in and had some very nice fish including the second place bag of 7 lbs 4 oz.  But it wasn't enough to stop the Duke 3-peat.  After a few handshakes and some chit-chat we snapped a group photo and hit the road.  It was another great day on the water with a great group of folks and for a good cause.  As the tournament winners, we got to pick the charity where 100% of the money gets donated.  It will go to the Schoolhouse of Wonder, a Durham non-profit that does outdoor programs and education for area youth all year long.

The UNC team that took 2nd place

A big thanks to both club presidents for their hard work, organization, and coordination as well as my partner Dean and all of the other guys who came out to fish.  It was great seeing so many Duke participants and I hope the club can continue to keep growing.  Current officers Krishan and Brian have done a great job! 

More pictures of the event can be seen here:  Duke Fishing Club Event Photos.

The Duke team - 3-peat champs!

Hopefully I can squeeze in a few more bass trips before winter sets in - then it is crappie season!  Until next time, tight lines!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Austin Kayak - Kayak Fishing Gear Guide

Recently I was contacted by some folks from Austin Kayak (ACK) about doing a guest blog here at Man Powered Fishing. I usually don't do guest blogs, although I get a suprising number of requests, but one of the topics they mentioned seemed like a great fit. I have blogged many times that I am a minimalist on the water. I don't want to have a fish finder, battery, extra rod holders, or milk crates on most of my trips. I like to keep it simple and some of the places I go, they would get beat up and broken quickly. However, kayak customization is becoming incredibly popular and for good reason.  As the sport grows, more and more people are doing cool new things that require more or different gear.

ACK has been at it a long time and they run a fantastic business that offers all sorts of great deals on products made for everyone from beginners to hardcore kayak fishers. Below is a 'Kayak Fishing Gear Guide', which they put together for the blog.  Some of this stuff, I do take with me on every trip, such as the essentials, a paddle, a camera, a first aid/emergency kit, a dry bag, a whistle, and other odds and ends.  Take a look and see what you may want to add to your yak or gear before your next trip on the water. 

                                 Image credit to Joel Cowen and ACK

I'll have a fall fishing blog just around the corner, but for now, it is time to finish out the work week and knock out a plan for the first Duke-UNC Fall Charity Tournament this Sunday.  Hopefully one of the Duke teams can make it a Duke three-peat!  Tight lines!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Honored to be Nominated for the Kayak Anglers Choice Awards 2013

For the second year in a row, I am honored and humbled to be nominated for blog of the year in the Kayak Anglers Choice Awards 2013 held by YakAngler.com.  A few years ago, when I started this blog, I was in the midst of graduate school and was constantly surrounded by numbers, equations, computer codes, and textbooks.  Man Powered Fishing became my escape to share my stories and experiences out on the water or, occasionally, in the woods or kitchen.  I hope my passion for the sport shows through in everything I write.  For me, there is nothing I enjoy more than comments, emails, and questions I get after I blog about a trip, recipe, or review because I know I had a positive impact on someone or the sport. 

I encourage you to go and check out all of the nominees in all of the categories BY CLICKING THIS LINK. A lot of my good friends in fishing are nominated, including many in the 'Blog of the Year' category. Vote for who you feel deserves to win and hopefully it is me! They are doing a weekly elimination format this year, so you can vote once each week. 

Oh and the fall bite...it is red hot!  More on that coming soon.  Tight lines!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Baptized by Bass - Two Days & 314 Largemouths

Why do you guide?  That is a question I get from a lot of my fishing buddies and folks within the kayak fishing industry.  The answer is somewhat lenghty because there are numerous reasons.  One is that I love to teach.  Another is that I love the challenge.  And I really like introducing folks to the sport and sharing my passion.  This year nearly every trip I have had has been folks with little to no kayak fishing experience - kids, teachers, doctors, military personnel, and others.  We have had some great days along the way, particularly pseudo-guide trips the past two weekends.  Not only did they encompass the type of trip that I love, but they ended in a straight up baptism by bass.

Trip number one took place two Sundays ago on the Deep River with some folks who proudly serve our country.  They were really excited and I wanted them to walk away smiling from ear to ear.  The Deep is an insanely long river and one that Bill and I had a very good day on earlier this summer.  We decided to try a spot we suspected would fish well...and it did.

Chris with a healthy Deep River largemouth

The day started throwing buzzbaits and poppers around wood cover.  Black buzzers seemed to be the preferred bait and were getting hit regularly.  The fish weren't huge, but we were having fun watching them blow up on our baits.  Unfortunately, the topwater bite shut-off fairly early, but fish were still gorging on cranks and texas-rigged plastics.  We also managed to nab a few on spinnerbaits, swimbaits, jigs, and other offerings.  Our red, white, and blue kayaks were looking Patriotic as we meandered down the river - casting to every piece of cover we could see.

The red, "white", and blue Malibu Stealths

By mid-afternoon we were hammering the fish and broke the 100 bass plateau.  The average size for the day was right around 2.5 lbs, with a pile of fish over 3 lbs.  Our biggest two or three topped out right around 4 lbs, but that big river bass escaped us. 

Chris with his biggest of the day

We ended the day with 146 bass - an absurd number by any measure, but we had to work for them.  Chris said it was the most fun day of fishing he had ever had, and that made me extremely happy.  The most productive bait for the day was a 4" Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog, Texas-rigged on a 4/0 EWG hook and with a 1/4 oz tungsten weight, unpegged.  Many fish were hitting it on the fall, while others when it was popped or swam.  The bait has become my go-to flipping bait this summer and early fall and they may be worth a look in bodies of water with lots of sunfish.  It has outfished my previous favorite, the Deep Creek Lures Super Razor Beetle as well as the Missile Baits D-Bomb, the Berkeley Pit Boss and Devils Spear, and Zoom Speed Craw, among others.  All are fine baits, but for some reason the Fighting Frog has really shined.

Bill and I doubled up

Trip number two took place with a friend of Bill's who is still learning about freshwater fishing and had never kayak fished before.  He also hadn't done a lot of river fishing.  But he was the perfect learner - asking great questions and soaking up info like a sponge.  He was so tired of hearing our stories of chasing river beasts that he couldn't take it any longer and bought a new fishing kayak, the Moken Feel Free, last week.  We wanted to break it in right, so we again decided to hit the Deep.

We were on the water before it was light out in hopes of coaxing a giant from the depths.  After doing some dragging and portaging, we began fishing.  Unfortunately the bite started extremely slow.  Fish were hit and miss and finally I got onto a little pattern with a black buzzbait.  I had a big fish blast it, but miss the hook and followed that with two solid 3 lb fish.  After missing another, I put a trailer hook on the bait - something I should have done in the first place.  A short time later I made a long cast parallel to a bank with some submerged wood along it.  About midway back to the boat, the water errupted.  A big fish came flying skyward then torpedoed for deep water.  I leaned into him with my 7'6" Carolina Custom Rod and eventually landed the brute, which boasted a hefty gut and weighed in right at 5 lbs. 

The biggest bass we have landed from the Deep so far at 5 lbs

The bite remained a typical fall, junk fishing bite until about 11 AM.  Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, the bite exploded.  Swimbaits, swimjigs, and flipping baits were getting demolished. Fish from 12"-17" were the norm as we worked each piece of wood or rock ledge thoroughly.  Then we came to a "holy grail" type of area.  It was non-stop action for all three of us on just about any bait we threw at them.  Of course, the big fish were a little more picky, but we caught some chunky fish up to 4 lbs.

Derek with a fat river bass caught on a swim jig

At one point, I decided to head over toward a little side channel.  On my first cast with the Fighting Frog, I lost a fish.  On my second cast, I felt a solid bite and set the hook hard.  The 2.5 lber was fighting like a fish twice his size and when he turned I noticed another, bigger fish with him.  I grabbed my spinning rod and flipped my plastic worm out in their direction.  Before I could close the bail, line was screaming off the reel.  Thankfully, the two fish diverged and I fought one in each arm as they ripped around the river.  After a fierce fight, I subdued them both and hopped out for a quick photo.

Double the pleasure - double the fun!

By the end of the day, we were worn out, as we had to do a lot of paddling, dragging, rock hopping, and portaging.  But it was totally worth it.  Derek was visibly exhausted, but all smiles after his best day of bass fishing ever.  We ended with 168 largemouths - not too shabby.  In three trips to the Deep this year, we have landed a total of 466 bass - yikes!

The next day I got an email from Derek detailing a conversation he had with a fishing buddy of his about our day.  The buddy was impressed with how many fish we caught, but repeatedly said, "that sure does sound like a lot of work."  I thought about it for a while and realized, that is exactly what I want to convey.  Most of the spots I love to fish are off the beaten path.  None of them have boat ramps.  They all require dragging, portaging, bush whacking, and wading.  They are the type of spots that most people simply don't want to go.  That is why I love them.  They still have a wild aspect to them.  It makes each trip into an adventure and that is how memories are made.  Catching fish is just icing on the cake.

So I encourage you to pull up a map, get off the beaten path, and put in that extra effort.  You may be rewarded with the best day of fishing you have ever had!  Tight lines!