Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Goodbye Malibu Kayaks

For the past 3 years, I have been a part of the Malibu Kayaks pro-staff.  At the end of the month, I will be officially leaving the team and will no longer be affiliated with the brand.  I relayed these feelings, as well as my frustrations regarding their treatment of the pro-staff, to MK back in July.  However, I told them I would honor the remainder of my current contract, which legally ends at the end of 2014.

Unfortunatley, MK has repeatedly failed to deliver on promises, including not honoring contracts and giving the team no support in any way shape or form.  The list of unethical practices goes on, many of which are known throughout the kayak fishing community, so they will not be listed here. 

Sadly, the Malibu Kayaks I joined in 2012 is not the MK of today.  Now, it is on to bigger and better things.  Tight lines!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Winter in the Woods

 Winter has arrived in western Massachusetts.  It came in with a bang, dropping a foot of snow the day before Thanksgiving.  Needless to say, the waterways are beginning to ice up.  I will do some fishing this winter on the local rivers, but lately, my attention has been focused on the woods.  Although I haven't found the buck I've been looking for, it has been a great season for the family and we still have a few weeks to go. 

Archery season was rough.  I didn't get to hunt as much as I wanted and when I did, I was seeing everything but a buck.  Here in western MA, pulling a doe tag through the lottery is rare, so only bucks for me this year.  I saw does, fawns, turkeys, a bear, a bobcat, grouse, rabbits, squirrels, woodcocks, a pheasant, and coyotes.  I don't think I have ever seen so much wildlife without seeing antlers.  To further frustrate things, during the peak rut we had a week straight with winds above 15 MPH, often gusting well over 30 MPH.  Although deer were more active, it made them nearly impossible to pattern and it seemed like no-one was having any luck.

Between archery and shotgun season we did some small game and bird hunting.  One good Saturday resulted in a couple of healthy woodcocks that we turned into a delicious hash.  Too bad we also missed a few of those crafty critters.

MM and I with our woodcocks after a good day of bird hunting

Finally, firearm season opened up for whitetails.  Here in MA, they don't have a rifle season, only shotguns and black powder.  Mary May, her parents, her brother and I all hunted together the opening two days of the season.  It didn't take long the first morning before the shooting began.  My mother-in-law, Johanna, missed one just before 7 AM.  We saw some tails and blurs the rest of the day, but nothing that we could get a shot at.  MM and I had to leave a little early that evening because she had a work dinner she couldn't miss.  But around 6 PM, her dad and brother pulled in to our house with a nice 8-pointer.  My brother-in-law, Jason, had bagged the brute just before dusk and roughly 1/4 mile up the hill from us.  It dressed at 127 lbs and was a beautiful deer.  The next morning we were back at it.  Around 8 AM my father-in-law, Jerry, missed a doe (he is the only one of us who drew a doe tag this year).  We saw a few the rest of the day, but never could quite get them in range.  By evening, the rest of the crew had waved the white flag, but not MM and I.

We headed out around 3 for one last sit.  Finally, around 4:15 PM, I heard MM shoot about 200 yards from me.  Then again.  Then again.  I figured she had missed given the number of shots and the fact that she hadn't texted me.  It turns out that her phone was dead and about 15 minutes later I looked down a ridgeline to see her waving her arms at me.  I hurried over to her and she quickly explained the story and showed me where she had hit him.  The ground was covered in blood and I knew we needed to start tracking before it got too dark.  It was a good shot and we found the deer fairly quickly, but it was a brutal drag uphill, through dense forest and in the dark while the sky spit sleet at us.  The 5-pointer had a big body and dressed at 120 lbs.

MM and I with her 2014 shotgun buck

Last weekend we processed the deer, which is probably the hardest, yet most gratifying part of hunting.  It involves skinning the deer and butchering the meat.  We ended up with about 22 lbs of loins, backstraps and steaks, 17 lbs of burger and 15 lbs of summer sausage - 54 lbs of total meat in the freezer.  That is about a 45% yield, which we were very happy with given that we cut our meat very lean/clean before freezing.  You hear A LOT of theories about how much meat a deer yields - ranging from 1/3 of the dressed weight to 1/2 of the living weight.  The estimates are all over and many are extremely inaccurate to due hunters not knowing the actualy weight of the animal or the actual weight of the meat.  Not to mention, you don't always know what you are getting back if you take your deer to a processing station/shop.  This webpage (http://www.butcher-packer.com/index.php?main_page=document_general_info&products_id=331) is the best I have found for explaining how everything is related and how to properly estimate meat weight.

The first 39 lbs of meat - sealed and ready to be frozen

We got to try out our new vaccum sealer (a wedding present) and it worked like a charm.  Yet another investment that I should have made sooner in life.  We are still loving the meat grinder we bought last year also.  That thing is a beast. 

We are hoping to get one more deer before the season is done and process it into bologna, jerky and other various cuts.  Good luck to all the other hunters out there around the country.  Stay safe and stay warm the rest of the season!  Tight lines!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Custom Rod Wars - Are They Worth It?

The custom rod scene is blowing up in a big way.  Granted, it has always been full of great rod makers, but now it seems to be exploding into the mainstream...or at least onto my Facebook homepage.  I think a large part of that is due to the fact that many small business builders are linking up with the kayak fishing scene.  They are smart.  Kayak fishing is booming and is shaping up to only get bigger.  With growth comes spending.  And my Facebook homepage is already slammed full of frivolous spending and subsequent bragging.  Look at my new 9+ inch fish finder that I can barely use!  A lot of it has been fueled by the Manley Rods new, ingenius, marketing promo to join their team.  But like any purchase, try before you buy.  You hear folks constantly harp on that point when buying a kayak or paddle.  Why would it not be the case of a rod.  There are tons of great rods out there - custom or otherwise.  But I'll vouche for custom rods.  I've been using custom rods for about 3 years now.  But I certainly wouldn't pick up just any custom rod and promote it with a silly grin on my face.  I found what worked for me.  Here are my thoughts.

One of my favorite custom rods - a 7'6" white-out cranker

At first I was pessimistic.  I really wasn't sure if that custom rod price tag was truly worth it.  So I made it a point to pick-up as many rods as possible - noting their action, flex, dimensions, guides, etc.  I found some great rods with bang for the buck.  I found some amazing rods that were way outside of my price range (I'm looking at you G-Loomis).  And in the end, I found that you get what you pay for.  That thought was consistently backed-up by tournament anglers, reps, and pros that I talked with.  One guy, a former BASS Elite qualifier, proclaimed, "why would you not get a custom rod?  If it weren't for endorsements, every tour pro would have a deck covered with them.  What you don't see is what they fish with on their off-days."  That pretty much sealed the deal for me.

While acting as president for the Duke Fishing Team, I happened to meet a local rod maker just down the road from where I was living.  At the time, he was building rods in his home on the edge of Chapel Hill.  Anyone who knows me knows that it takes all my energy and patience to tolerate Chapel Hill, NC.  But I was beyond excited to make my first trip to see his set-up and pick his brain.  Over the course of an hour or two, I saw some things I liked, as well as some I didn't, but the potential was limitless.  He let me demo rods and walked me through books, showing me exactly what I could order.  He weighed out rods down to the ounce.  He showed me how intricate wrapping can turn a fishing rod into a thing of beauty.  A couple weeks later, I placed my first order.  Then another and another and another.  Eventually, my relationship with Carolina Custom Rods really took off.  Now, I own a stable of CCR custom rods that I absolutely love, each made exactly the way I want.


I want to address a few things I hear all that time.  The first is, "this is the perfect rod for kayak fishermen."  What does that even mean?  Why would a kayak fisherman be different than a power boat fisherman?  The only arguments I can see are 1) higher likeliness that a rod ends up in the water , 2) less room to store/manage rods and 3) the notion that kayak fisherman can't afford power boats, so why could we afford expensive gear.  I'll start with number 3.  While agree that kayak fishermen can be cheap, so are pretty much all fishermen.  And again, I constantly see guys dropping ridiculous amounts of money on their kayaks and gear.  All that being said, it is all about bang for the buck.  Number 2 is a valid point.  I usually ride with 4 rods - sometimes 5.  But I regularly see guys hauling 7-8 rods.  Heck, most guys like to brag about how many they take.  In fact, I don't know any angler (serious or otherwise) who only uses 1 fishing rod.  So I don't necessarily buy the point number 2.  Number 1, now that is a great point.  A floating rod would be awesome.  But floating rods should not sacrifice quality (see the now defunct Overboard Rods).  So, what does it all boil down to?  It is different for each individual angler.  But I put in the research before choosing.

On this particular day last spring, fish were crushing blade baits.  But before switching to a rod with the right action, it led to many missed fished and a couple lost giants.

I currently own about a dozen conventional rods.  Each has a specific purpose.  I have a cranking rod, deep cranker, finesse rod, jig and worm rod, jerkbait-topwater rod, all purpose rod, etc.  All of those rods were made exactly the way I wanted them - some fairly plain and some very customized.  I would say that for me, undoubtedly, the most important features were action, flex, and weight of the rod.  Spend a day working a jerkbait or topwater walking bait using a rod with the wrong action and length and you end up booking a consult for carpal tunnel a few days later.  There all some great all-purpose rods out there and I even own a couple, but there is no rod to rule them all and all too often, I find myself yearning for that technique specific rod.

I will note that all of my casting rods float and the key is weight.  Not only is weight important to maintain bouyancy, it is crucial for sensitivity and comfort.  For a long time, I used the Abu Garcia Vendetta 7', medium heavy casting rod.  It was a great all-around rod for the price.  But it was heavy and clumsy.  I also used the Abu Garcia Veritas 7', medium heavy casting rod - widely considered one of the best all-around, bang for the buck rods available.  But after picking up a custom rod, of which most of mine check in under 4-ounces, the difference is unreal.  You feel everything.  I can immediately tell you bottom composition and detect every little bit of structure.  In fact, it has elimnated my need for a fishfinder on about 90% of my trips.  Now that is bang for the buck.

Since it is the day before Thanksgiving, I must tip my hat and give a huge thanks to Brett Hinson, owner of Carolina Custom Rods.  His rods forever changed the way I fish and perceive value.  I urge you to give custom rods a try.  You now know where my allegiances lie and I strongly urge anyone interested in a custom rod to contact Brett.  His work is incredible.  But at the very least, try before you buy, do some research, and don't just jump at the first link that shows up on your Facebook feed.  Until next time, tight lines.

Monday, October 27, 2014

2014 Kayak Angler's Choice Awards

In the hustle and bustle of wedding season, work, and other life events, I missed nominations for the YakAngler.com Annual Kayak Angler's Choice Awards.  Oops.  But today, the official list of nominees was released for categories including, "Angler of the Year", "Kayak Fishing Destination", "Kayak of the Year", "Product of the Year", "Blog of the Year", and others.  I was honored and humbled to find my name as a nominee in the "Angler of the Year" category and this blog nominated for "Blog of the Year".  It is always nice to know that your peers enjoy your blogs, stories, pictures, and videos.  I know I love sharing them.

So, follow the link below to check out all of the nominees (there are a bunch of great ones) and vote for your favorites.  Tight lines!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Living the Good Life in the Adirondacks

Paddling, rock climbing, fishing, camping on an island, visiting historic places, and enjoying the fall scenery....how much better can it get? About a month ago I had the pleasure of being invited on a 3 day trip to the Adirondacks, specifically Lake George. I eagerly accepted the invite and a couple weeks later Keith, Andy, and I were headed northwest. Packed for just about everything you can imagine, we meandered through the Green Mountains of Vermont and across the New York border to Ticonderoga. It is not only home to the famous fort, but also separates Lake George and Lake Champlain via the La Chute River. We then turned south on Route 9 and made our way to Rogers Rock Campground. From there, our adventure began!

Casting away in front of the island on which we camped

This wasn't your ordinary camping trip. Car camping, which we all admitted we thoroughly enjoy despite also being backpackers, was not going to work. Instead of a campsite you could pull up to and unload, our site was 2.5 miles from the campground - on a small island in the middle of the lake. Before the trip, we had planned to only have 3 kayaks with which to haul all of our gear and supplies. I tried to mentally prepare for that, but I'm not sure it really sank in just how much gear we had and how far 2.5 miles of big water can be with a boat loaded to the gills. But at the last minute, we were saved. Andy pulled an early moring audible and decided to bring his 14' jon boat and 9 HP motor. Originally, I remember slightly bulking at the idea of bringing a motor boat on our kayaking trip. In hindsight, he was clearly the smartest of the group and I was awfully glad he brought the horsepower.

Rogers Rock - 500+ feet of beautiful slab climbing

I did manage to fit all of my personal gear and some of the food into my Malibu Stealth 12. I was pretty proud of that. But there was a lot of group gear that went directly into the jon boat.  Miraculously, the wind was fairly mellow on our paddle out and we casually made our way to our island retreat, soaking in the scenery along the way.  The water was very clear - with roughly 12 feet of visibility in many spots.  We also spotted 'Rogers Rock', our climbing destination for the next day, got to observe a few beautiful wooden boats from up close, and enjoyed the fall colors.  The island greeted us with a wooden dock, small beach, and large bedrock outcrops.  It was bigger and nicer than we had imagined and we eagerly set up camp.

The MK Stealth 12 - loaded and ready to go!

The dock on the island

Bit by the explorer bug, we grabbed a quick snack and headed for the water.  For me, of course, it was time to do some fishing.  Keith and Andy paddled around some islands, snapped some photos, and soaked it in.  Unfortunately, the grass in that part of the lake was already going dormant and the bottom was mainly composed of sand - neither of which are terribly conducive to bass fishing.  I had spotted a rock pile in about 10 feet of water just across a small bay on the paddle in.  I paddled back to it and it wasn't long before I landed a short bass...a humble start.  Not having a depthfinder was killing me, as I suspect there were more offshore rock piles and structure in the area that I couldn't see.  Instead I focused on what I could - rocky points, docks, and weed clumps.  The only consistent bite was the weed clump bite.  They were few and far between, but every time I found one, I got bit.  Most were small largemouths that ate finesse worms in a green pumpkin color.  But the last fish of the evening was a chunky 14-incher that put up a healthy fight.  It was my last cast before dinner.  Usually it is hard for me to put down the fishing rod to go eat, but I was insanely hungry and tired and Mexican spiced chicken tacos over the fire were screaming my name.

Targeting isolated grass in the S-12

Andy enjoying an exploratory paddle

The sunset on night 1

Keith working some chicken over the fire

We ate, drank, and sat around camp for a few hours before turning in.  Despite nightly temps in the high-40's, I slept like a baby.  7 AM arrived before I knew it and it was time for a hearty camp breakfast - you the know the kind you only eat when camping/hiking/paddling/climbing because they are loaded with delicious protein and fat.  After some debate, we opted to pack all of our gear in the jon boat and take it on our climbing excursion rather than making the 3 mile paddle.  We would have fought the wind most of the way there and none of us were keen on paddling back after an exhausting climb up a 500 foot slab.  So we motored over, beached the boat (which required more effort than I just made it seem), and started to get set-up.  Having not climbed, other than indoor rock gyms, since I left New Mexico back in 2008, I was chomping at the bit with excitement.  The day was full of learning for me - as I tried to soak up as much knowledge as possible from Andy (the manager at Central Rock Gym in Hadley, MA) and Keith (the manager at Zoar Outdoor in Wilmington, VT).  They were great teachers and kept a smile on my face all day. 

Andy begins the ascent

Keith making his way up the route

The rock had some easier sections and some more challenging pieces, but we made it up all three sections without any issues.  I must admit that after the first section, I didn't want to look down...it was freaky.  But by the end of the second section, I was feeling more confident and starting to get comfortable with the height. 

Making my way up the rock

It was also at the end of section 2 when Andy found a hazardous hold on a very loose rock.  He carefully avoided it and pointed it out to us, so that we could also avoid it.  After we were all anchored in above it, we decided to break it off, so that it would not be dangerous for others in the future.  We made sure that no-one was below and Keith gave it a shove.  Initially, it was headed straight over a steep cliff and into the water below.  Then, it made an abrupt right and was headed directly for some of the gear we had left on the ground below.  SMASH!  The air was full of profanities for the next few minutes as we soaked it what had just happened.  We weren't sure whether it had hit our stuff or not, but it was awfully close.  All we could do was laugh about it, but we were eager to see the potential damage.

Soaking in the view from the top

A panoramic from the top - notice the beautiful weather to the left and clouds and rain to the right

At the top, we spent about 40 minutes enjoying the view and eating some lunch.  Spectator boats had begun to gather and gawk at the three crazies tethered to the cliff.  Then came the descent - a three section repel back to the bottom.  Walking backward down a cliff always takes about 20-30 feet before you start to get the butterflies worked out.  Then it gets fun.  Before we knew it, we were back at the base of the rock.  Immediately, we checked the gear.  You could see major impact potholes 6-12 inches from our bags where the rock had come smashing down.  Smaller rocks that had broken off of the larger piece actually managed to put holes in a new rope bag.  It was a close call, and a fun story.

One of several on-lookers below

Andy on the repel

We marveled at the craziness of bringing kayaks as we hopped back in the jon boat.  That night we feasted on venison steaks, onions, mushrooms, and creamy risotto, washed down with a few local brews.  Andy even went for a swim.  It was good to be us.

All smiles...because we didn't have to paddle the whole way back to camp

Andy went for a (cold) dip

Keith playing with camera settings around the fire

I was awakened early the next morning by a strong wind, a heavy mist, and waves slapping against the rocky shore.  I cringed thinking of the paddle back to the launch.  I think we all did as we ate and broke camp.  Our island was slightly protected and I worried that when we got around the first point, we would be met with whitecaps and dangerous conditions.  Still, I loaded up my Stealth and grit my teeth.  I began my paddle, given that my boat was the slowest, and made it to the first point before the others had left the island.  The wind was raging and although the waves weren't huge, they were big enough to make me re-think my decision.  So I turned around.  Rather than getting in the jon boat, I pridefully decided to trade out my kayak for the spare sea kayak.  So we switched the tow rope onto my boat and I got in the tourer.  It was my first time ever paddling a true tourer.  What a way to start.

A beautiful framed view from day 1...day 2 was a different story

Keith, who was in a tourer of his own, gave me some quick tips and I began the journey to shore.  I was motivated by the fact that you feel much more stable at high speeds than you do at slow speeds.  But cutting the wind and paddling a straight line simultaneously was difficult.  After about 2 miles, my body was ready to stop.  It was a true mental challenge to keep going, but I kept grinding and eventually pulled up to the dock.  I eagerly sprung from the boat and stretched.  Visions of milkshakes danced through my mind.  Never in my life have I loved and hated a boat so much at the same time.

Waking it

We lethargically loaded the cars and hit the road, winding back through western New York after a great trip.  I was in need of a good outdoor adventure and the Adirondacks proved to be just that.  MM and the dogs welcomed me home and we feasted on cornbread and our famous venison chili.  Despite sleeping well in the tent, I absolutely crashed when my head hit the pillow that night. 

Venison chili and skillet cornbread...making me hungry thinking about it

A huge thanks to Keith and Andy for inviting me on the trip.  Hopefully we can do it again soon!  Tight lines!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Bassin' with the Catch of a Lifetime

As many probably know between my posts here and on Facebook, I got hitched!  On September 6th I took myself off the market and married my best friend and love of my life.  We did as much of the wedding as we could ourselves, which meant lots of early mornings and late nights.  It was a long, but fun process.  The only downside of a DIY wedding is that it really cuts into your fishing time.  The week after our wedding was spent honeymooning in the Dominican Republic - half vacationing and half fighting off stomach bugs.  Then the next week was spent catching up on work, writing 'Thank You' notes, and just recovering in general.  Then finally, a day cleared up on the schedule.  It was time to go fishing!

A panoramic from the Berkshires

As we twisted our way west into the Berkshires, I realized that I had underestimated just how long it had been since I fished.  I hadn't wet a line in over a month and a half and hadn't fished in western Mass. since late-July.  We arrived to find cool water, dying lily pads, and vegetation that was quickly becoming dormant.  Fall had arrived and wasn't wasting any time.  But the sky was clear and sunny, making it pleasantly warm.  We started around 10 AM and despite my hesitation about throwing topwaters so late in the day, I just couldn't resist.  I started throwing my new favorite frog (the Deps Basirisky) while Mary May worked a Lucky Craft Gunfish.  It didn't take long for MM to hook up along a weed edge.  The short largemouth wasn't a giant, but it was a start.

MM fishing in front of a beautiful backdrop

We decided to paddle across the lake and circle back around toward the launch, since we only had a couple hours to fish before heading to a farewell dinner.  We took in the gorgeous surroundings as we paddled.  The fall foliage is starting to really kick into gear and it is stunning.  In the first ten minutes on the far side of the lake I had two nice fish, one a 4-5 lb bass and the other a big pickerel, blow up my frog, but not get hooked up.  They would be my only frog bites of the day.  But I did manage to get a few strikes on a sparkler rig (see previous posts as to what that is) and an LC Gunfish.  MM also picked up a few bass on her Gunfish.

A chunky topwater bass for MM

Then the topwater bite died.  I mean it totally shut off.  So I started flipping and MM started throwing a jerkbait.  I spotted a large, submerged boulder on a drop off, pitched to it, and immediately felt a good bite.  The fish crushed the sparkler rig and was pulling hard on my 7' Carolina Custom Rods - Jig & Worm rod.  It was a fun fight in the clear water and eventually I lifted the 4 lber from the lake.  As always, we snapped a few photos and sent the fish on its way.


My biggest bass of the day


Then we came to a shallow portion of the lake.  The waterline was already about a foot low and combined with the lack of significant shallow vegetation, it meant that it was time to move offshore and fish jerkbait and lipless cranks over weed beds.  The move worked like a charm.  MM was catching fish right and left on a Lucky Craft Flash Minnow SP - an assortment of bass and pickerel.  I was trying to keep up - throwing a Spro Aruku Shad and Lucky Craft Pointer jerkbait.  All of those baits were producing and the fishing were coming in flurries as we drifted over areas with subsurface weed clumps.


Then came the bite of the day.  I saw Mary May make a long cast and almost immediately set the hook.  I chuckled, saying, "you weren't messing around with that hook set".  "This one wasn't getting away", she responded.  But it wasn't for lack of trying.  The fish bulldogged her deep, then broke the surface, then deep again and into submerged vegetation.  Finally, she wrangled the fish and let out a cheer of joy.  The 19" bass was a healthy 4 lbs - a new personal best for her.  She was elated.  I was a proud husband.  It was a great exclamation point on our first fishing trip as newlyweds.

MM's new personal best!

We did throw a few more casts and land a few more fish, but nothing picture worthy.  We got to brag about our day with numerous folks at dinner that evening.  Then the next day, we celebrated with homemade pizza, Patriots football, and a couple cold ones.  It was the type of weekend we both needed. 

Yum, yum!

Now it is time to get in as many trips as possible, because winter will be here before we know it.  Until next time, tight lines!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Batchelor Bassin' - Round 2

Note - this blog was written quite some time ago.  However, my camera battery charger went missing after our move and until recently I had no way to get the pictures off of my camera.  Thankfully, the new charger arrived and now I have to play catch-up on a number of blogs.  Thanks for your patience and for reading!


My North Carolina batchelor party turned out to be pretty awesome.  I got to spend a few days on the water, visit with great friends, and land a giant bass on topwater in one of my favorite small rivers of central NC.  Round 2 had a lot to live up to.  This time we descended upon central Pennsylvania - a stones throw from where I grew up.  One of my best men, Travis, is getting hitched in October and it was time to celebrate with him.  After a few rounds of trying to figure out where to stay, we got lucky and some friends of his gave us the OK to use their cabin for the weekend.  It is situated right on a large creek that feeds that Susquehanna and was perfect for what we needed.  And much like Round 1, it was nothing but fun.

Mary May and I rolled into Woodward, my hometown, late Thursday evening.  The drive from western Massachusetts is much shorter than from the Raleigh-Durham area - despite the efforts of the NY and PA Departments of Transportation, who seemed to be constantly slowing us down.  I had been texting with Travis throughout the day (only from the passenger seat, of course) and we had agreed to meet up early Friday morning to go catch bait.  Travis and his fishing buddies swear by a particular bait - the stone cat.  These miniature catfish live under rocks, are super sneaky, and are tough to catch.  The smallies love them.  I had helped him catch them once or twice before and had fished with them once for about 15 minutes.  Although I know they consistently produce big fish, I kind of like catching them more than I do fishing with them.  The only hiccup with that is that I am not terribly good at catching them.  It's not for lack of trying, but my stone cat catches tend to be more lucky than good.  Travis, on the other hand, is a stoney catching fool.

MM with a pretty smallie from the end of the weekend

We met him around 9:30 AM and started chasing the little critters.  Quickly, Mary May got addicted.  Something about being knee deep in the creek, flipping rocks and seeing what is underneath takes you straight back to your youth.  And no matter what you catch (or don't catch), you can't help but smile.  Crayfish, hellgrammites, and stone cats darted here, there, and everywhere.  Although our progress was slow, we eventually put a few in the bucket (to add to the batch Travis had already snared) and headed down to the camp to unload some gear.  The rest of the day was spent relaxing before other folks started rolling in to begin the festivities.  And Friday night was extremely festive.  I could write an entire non-fishing related blog about that night alone - so many great people and hard laughs.  We ate, drank, played quates (or quoits), did some night fishing and told fish tales until the wee hours of the morning.  That 6 AM alarm was about 3 hours too soon.

Amazingly, we all got up and moving fairly quickly...some of us quicker than others.  We loaded our gear and opted to head up the creek to a launch point roughly 7.5 miles above the cabin.  Some people would probably think we are nuts - fishing a little tributary creek rather than heading out to fish the famous Susquehanna River.  Travis and I have many a memory on the Susky too - most before the internet was in existence.  Some of our best days on that river are almost unbelievable - so I won't even go into it.  Let's just say, if you think the river is fishing well now, you have no idea.  Plus, there is something special about catching big fish from small water.  For me, it was even more special, because I hadn't fished that particular creek in about 13 years.  Admittedly, I romanticized it in my head before the trip even began.  But it really did live up to my imagination.

The crew included Ben - another of my best men who hadn't done much kayak fishing and hadn't fished at all in half a decade, Ken - a co-worker of Travis who is part of the PA Kayak Anglers and quickly becoming a yak fishing junkie, and Travis - who knows those waters as well as anyone and can put a whoopin' on some fish with or without live bait.  We arrived to find a light fog on the water, cloudy skies, and just the slightest touch of stain to the water.  We drug our boats down to the water's edge and I grabbed a small Rico Popper, took a cast, worked the bait 3 or 4 times and WHAM...fish on.  It was not a first cast jinx.  It was the start of something good.  The small bass wasn't much to look at, but it was a start.  I heard Travis say behind me, "See! What did I tell you?"  Apparently, his stories of our past adventures had garnered a mix of skepticism and bewilderment.  I smiled.  Then I proceeded to catch another one on the next cast.

Ben's first smallie in a LONG time - what it lacked in size it made up for in fight

Along with the popper, I tied on a 4" senko, a Jackall Bling crankbait and a Power Team Lures tube.  I wished I would have been tying on a Biffle Head Jig, but they are seemingly back ordered for an eternity at Tackle Warehouse.  Ben and Travis began the day using stone cats, while Ken threw a mix of grubs and plastics.  I drew a few more strikes from small fish on the popper, but their small size didn't make it any less fun.  I felt like a kid again, remembering pockets and boulders I had fished as a teen.  Ben caught 3-4 fish right out of the gate before losing his stone cat and deciding he wanted to switch to artificials as well.  I hooked him up with a 3" Berkley Power Bait grub (brown pumpkin body with charteuse tail) on a 1/8 oz jighead - aka one of the most effective smallie catching baits in history.  It didn't take long before we were both landing fish fairly regularly.  For someone who claims to "suck at fishing", he was doing pretty darn well.  We targeted riffles, eddies, patches of weeds, deep holes, and any isolated cover we could find.    Eventually we floated over a stretch of water I knew quite well from back in the day and I cautioned Ben that there was a hole that not many knew about hidden in the middle of a large weed bed on the left bank.  We quietly approached, cast, and BAM...fish on.  Then another.  Then a double.  Another double.  Another double.  It was getting silly.  Travis, who was with Ken about 200 yards behind us, floated down and said, "I knew you would stop here".  Honestly, I didn't really think other people knew about that little spot.  They did.  It even has its own name.  Oh well. 

One of numerous doubles from the day - this time two 14-inchers

Amid the flurry, we stopped only long enough to snap a few pics and send the fish on their way.  As soon as one bait stopped producing, I would switch to another and catch a few more.  At the end of a half hour, we landed well over 20 bass and lost at least 10 more - 2 of which were really nice fish.  We eventually called it quits on that spot and continued floating to try and keep up with Travis and Ken, who had floated past us to the next deep hole.  It was about this time that I broke out the sparkler rig.  I've debated whether to blog about the sparkler rig because of how much I like fishing it, and how much I don't want every yahoo out there to also fish it.  It is unique and smart and that is why it works.  I originally saw the sparkler on a TV fishing show.  It was quietly spliced in as a piece of local knowledge.  It went by a different name, but after rigging one up and showing it to Bill, the sparkler is the name that stuck...and it seemed fitting.  It looks like a gimmick, but man does it catch fish.  In fact, the rig helped Bill finish in the top-12 of the B.A.S.S. Open on Douglas Lake back in May.  And, much like it did on this day, it catches good quantity and quality of fish.

When I wanted a bite, I would throw the senko.  They gobbled it up.  In riffles, they would nail a drop shot rig with wreckless abandon.  But when I wanted a bigger bite, I threw the sparkler.  On a creek where the average smallie is around 10", it was consistently catching 14" fish...consistently.  Many fish would hit it on the fall.  Others would eat it as I hopped/swam it across the bottom.  It was so extremely fun.  Meanwhile Ben switched to a senko and was picking up bass as well.  He ended the day with 20+ fish landed and quite a few more that spit the hook.  Not bad at all for a kid who hadn't fished in years.  Travis wasn't putting up the same numbers that I was, but his stone cats were producing the best quality fish - with 3 over 17", including the biggest which was a fat, 18" pig. He also had a couple big ones snap his line.  Creek fishing at its finest.

One of my best from the day - around 15".

Spurned by hunger and the heat, we did less fishing and more paddling over the last couple miles of the float.  I did manage to lose another nice smallie just before the take-out and caught some solid fish with regularity as we went.  When it was said and done, I landed over 60 smallies on the day and shook off numerous others that were dinks (an angling term for small fish).  My biggest few were around 15"-16".  I just couldn't connect with the big bites.  Then again, I didn't work overly hard for the big bites either.  The day was more about having fun. 

It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached the take-out.  Exhausted, we devoured some food, re-hydrated, and took a nap.  That night was much more tame.  The over-30 crowd has trouble staying up late two nights in a row.  But we did manange to do some bowfishing.  We aren't overly good at it, but it sure was fun.  I can't thank Travis enough for such a great weekend.  Also a special thanks to everyone on 'party row' along the creek who welcomed us like we were old friends and treated us great all weekend.  These weddings are going to be a blast!  Until next time, tight lines!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Who Says There Aren't Big Bass Up North?

A million people said it.  I thought it.  Mary May even stressed over it.  Moving from North Carolina to western Massachusetts would be tough on my fishing lifestyle.  The Berkshires are known for top notch trout fishing - not some silly green fish that lives in warm water.  I admit, I fully expected to spend less time chasing bass and more time flinging flies at trout.  I expected to have to settle for days where 3-pounders would be the icing on the cake.  I was ready to pocket a few hundred bucks as I pared down my bass baits.  Oh how a month can change things.  This weekend was nothing short of, and I hesitate to use this drastically overused term, epic.  If these keeps up, western Massachusetts is going to be on the kayak bass fishing map.

This weekend Mary May and her gang of bridesmaids headed to Vermont to celebrate the end of her life as a single.  That meant that the dogs and I were home alone.  That meant I was going fishing.  It started slow, but it ended with a bang.

I spent the early portion of Friday evening at a BBQ, where I met so many of the fine folks that my soon to be mother-in-law, Johanna, had told me so much about.  It was great food and great company, but I couldn't stay too long.  The lake was calling my name.  Although I was shooting to get started a little before sunset, I didn't make it to the lake until well after dusk.  Being that I knew very little about the lake, that was a poor decision.  I found some weed lines and lily pad clumps and started fishing a variety of topwater baits.  But the fish were stingy.  I felt like I was doing all the right things, but getting no results.  Eventually, I did grind out a few fish in the 14"-15" range, but it was one of those instances where I should have taken my own advice.  Last year, in the Skills Issue of Kayak Angler Magazine, I wrote about the importance of scouting bodies of water in the day time before embarking on night fishing trips.  Sometimes, your excitement gets the best of you.  Lesson re-learned.

Abu Garcia Reels & Carolina Custom Rods - ready to put in some work!

However, I didn't let the poor evening bite get me down.  I got home, game planned for the morning, caught up on some emails and fell asleep shortly before 1 AM.  4:30 AM came way too soon.  Snooze - 4:40 AM.  Snooze - 4:50 AM.  I guess that extra 20 minutes helped, because I actually sprung out of bed fairly quickly when the alarm went off for the third time.  The dogs, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with getting up to go outside in the dark. 

I cruised down the road to a local lake I had fished once with Mary May.  It was actually one of the first lakes we explored after the move and fishing was pretty slow that day.  But, I knew we had caught the lake at a bad time.  The fish were in that late spawn to early post-spawn haze and on top of that, the lake's vegetation was minimal and needed a few weeks to properly emerge.  I launched around 6 AM and started throwing a mix of a black Jitterbug and Lucky Craft Gunfish.  It didn't take long for my first hook-up, probably 5 casts into the day.  It was a 15-incher with a gut and an attitude that clobbered the Gunfish near an isolated patch of weeds.  The Gunfish yielded a few more 12"-15" bass before I finally got my first Jitterbug bite.  Reeling the bait through a gap in some lily pads, I gave it a short pause, and slowly started reeling again.  BOOM.  The bait disappeared in a gaping swirl.  After pulling me around, the fish eventually ended up buried in a mess of weeds, or as I fondly call it - salad.  I wrangled him from the mess and was delighted to find a 17.25" fish amongst the greenery.  Now, if I could just keep it up!

The black Jitterbug jitter its way to another solid bass

My next few fish were all 12" or under when I came to a long, tapering point adjacent to a rock wall.  My first cast with the Gunfish was to the shallowest part of the point, in about a foot of water.  Suddenly a wake shot out of the deerp water and erupted on the bait.  The fish jumped once, then twice, then a third time.  The third time was the charm...for him.  My bait came flying back at me and the chunky bass, easily 18", vanished back into the deep.  The next hour or so was spent dissecting different types of vegetation with topwaters - mixing in a buzzbait and Rico Popper for good measure and a fluke as a follow-up bait.  I managed about a dozen between 10" and 16", lost a 4 lber, and was cursing the sun for finally starting to burn off the morning cloud cover.  But I had realized that most of my fish were hitting the Jitterbug.  Somehow, I remembered a bait I had buried in the bottom of my tackle box and had never used.  I had found two of them in a large lot on eBay for a fraction of their typical cost.  I scrounged out a white Deps Basirisky frog, which I later described to my buddy Bill as, "a Pokemon version of a Jitterbug".  For some reason I found that particularly funny, probably because I have no idea what Pokemon is other than some weird Asian cartoon animals that became a fad that I was a little too old for.  Anyway, it was a move that would pay off.

The Basirisky is a frog that has hard plastics legs on each side of the bait and a hard bottom.  However, the top of the bait is soft, like a normal hollow body frog.  When reeled, the legs swim up and down, similar to the movement of the Jitterbug.  All I know is, it drove those bass nuts.  On my third cast, I flung the bait under some overhanging pine limbs on the edge of a small lily pad patch.  I barely twitched it when the water erupted.  My adrenaline sky rocketed as the bucketmouth choked down my bait.  It was a heavy fish and he fought like he had every intention of stealing that frog from me.  Thankfully, I won that round, and was able to bring him to the boat.  The fish measured just under 19"and I would guess was right around 4 lbs.

My first bass on the Deps Basirisky - the start of something special

After that, I sold out on the frog.  Despite the sun now fully hitting the lake, I managed two more bites.  The first was what looked to be a 18" fish that blasted the bait, but didn't get hooked because I got a little too anxious.  The second was perfect.  I am talking as ideal as it gets.  There was a laydown, one of very few on the lake, with some blown down reeds parallel to it.  I threw the frog on top of the blown over reeds, twitched it 2-3 times until it hit the open water over the log, and then took about 3 cranks on the reel before the water exploded again.  The sound a big largemouth makes when it sucks in a frog is something almost unexplainable.  But I'm not sure any type of strike can match it.  Immediately I saw the fish flash and knew it was a good one.  The fish pulled drag as it drug me around.  I was downright giddy.  Seriously, for as often as I stress focus and execution when on the water, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.  Thankfully, the hookset was a good one and the I lifted the fish from the water with a fish pump.  He went 20" on the tape and I decided that no crappy selfie would do him justice.  So I pulled over to the bank, set the camera on a log, and got a couple shots with the self timer before letting him go.  That would be my last fish of the day, as it was time to head over to the in-laws farm and spend the rest of the day bailing hay.  But I couldn't compain about a 20-25 fish morning with two over 4 lbs - one close to 5.  I knew I had to get up and do it again the next day.

This brute capped off a fine morning of bassing in western Mass

That may have been a little ambitious.  After 7 hours of haying, I spent the evening around a campfire until 11 PM.  It was around midnight before I finally did drift off.  4:30 AM, again, came way too soon.  8 hours of sleep over a weekend was way easier in my 20's.  This time I knew that touching the snooze would result in not rolling out of bed at all.  So I, literally, rolled out of bed and stumbled around with my eyes half shut looking for my fishing clothes.  The dogs, much like the morning before, gave me as a dirty a look as a dog possibly can.  Man's best friend was gumpier than man.  But I imagine they fell right back to sleep, while I jumped in the car and headed to another lake, this one up in the hills.

I launched right at 5:30 AM, a perfect time to watch the sun rise over the far end of the lake.  But the large ball of pink and orange quickly disappeared in a haze of clouds.  The morning prior had given me immense confidence in the Basirisky, so I started throwing it on a weedy bank.  Much like Saturday morning, it was only a few casts before I had a fish - a 16.5" chunk that crushed the frog.  I had two more blow ups within 10 minutes.  Something told me it was going to be a good day.  Then it started raining.  That was the sign I needed.  It was about to get silly.

The next hour resulted in about 15 blow-ups on the frog in areas I had never fished before.  Most came throwing it into heavy cover, working it out to the edge, and then fish would crush it as I reeled it in.  I batted around 50% - landing 7 and losing 8.  Patience is a virtue, right?  But the fish hitting the frog were big - none smaller than 16".  One of the fish I lost came totally out of the water with it and was pushing 5 lbs.  Unfortunately with the rain, my attempts at photos were rough.  Eventually I resorted to a cell phone selfie of a 18.75" largemouth.  It will not be shown here because, frankly, I look like a zombie.  Literally - a mouth agape, red eyed, half asleep looking zombie.  Yikes.

Then I moved off the shore onto a big flat with mixed vegetation below the surface.  That is when all heck broke loose.  It was like the LC Gunfish was a drug that they couldn't get enough of.  Cast after cast after cast they blasted the bait.  Pickerel and bass alike, I was catching them as fast as I could reel them in.  Most of the flat was only about a foot deep with other sections as deep as 3 feet.  Wakes would blast from the weeds and sky rocket with the bait.  By 8 AM, I had caught nearly 50 fish and my hand (not just my thumb, my entire hand) was torn up and tender.  My biggest came while making a long cast toward a small branch in the water.  I worked the bait side to side about 4 times before it was engulfed.  The fish jumped repeatedly and I thought for sure he would throw the hook.  He made a run to deep water, then an abrupt left and pulled me about 20 yards down the bank.  In a last ditch effort, he plunged into a clump of weeds and I fought to keep pressure on him.  Somehow, he stayed hooked up and I lifted the brute from the water.  He measured 20.5" and was every bit of 5+ lbs.  Again, no selfie would suffice, so I pulled up in the shallows and snapped a quick pic.  He swam off and I just shook my head.

I could get used to this!

I caught about 3 more fish before noticing that my Gunfish was acting oddly.  It wasn't floating right, so I reeled it in to inspect it.  Somehow, it was taking on water, which was causing it to sink and suspend.  One last fish was the nail in the coffin - at least for now.  I was half proud of having put a hole in a hard bait and half disappointed in having to fix it.  Needing repair, I decided to switch it out for an LC Sammy.  Although the Sammy produced - the bite slowed.  I wasn't sure if it was due to the rain stopping or the change in bait.  But just as I was ready to move to another part of the lake, I saw a wake about 75 yards away in about 6 inches of water.  A fish was exploding after a real frog and finally caught it.  It made me realize that maybe I should be fishing the frog super shallow as well.  So I paddled over to that area and started casting.  I started with the Sammy in open water, which resulted in a blow-up and miss, a 12 inch bass, and a small pickerel.  As I worked my way toward the bank, which was littered with weeds and lily pads, I started throwing the frog.  First cast - BOOM - 3 lber.  Then a 16-incher.  Then a 20" pickerel.  Then a Mack Truck.  A fish that acted like he was just sitting there waiting for some dumb frog to come snooping along...and he tanked my bait.  He ran for open water before doing an about face and charging into the weeds and under some pads as he pulled drag in the slop.  Eventually I wrangled him, put him on the tape, and snapped a photo.  Then I let the 19-incher swim off to find a real frog to chow on.

Frogs for hogs

The rest of the day was a roller coaster.  I landed 5 more bass on the frog and two pickerel on swimbaits, but had about 15 blow-ups on the frog.  I also had 2 bass that were both 5 lbs or more follow the Basirisky back to the boat without hitting it.   I couldn't get either of them to hit a follow-up bait, as I think they got spooked by the boat.  Some of the missed fish were pickerel, most of which couldn't fit the wide bodied frog into their mouths very well.  Of the 5 I did land, 3 were over 4 lbs and the other two were right around 17-inches.

Sometimes, you can do no wrong - big largemouths everywhere

Then to cap the day off, I had one last hurrah.  Not more than 30 yards from the launch, I was working the frog along some lily pads near where I had started the day.  I threw my frog into the thick stuff, worked it out, took a few cranks on the reel, and...nothing.  I thought for sure it would get crushed.  I continued to reel the bait back to the boat - another 40 feet or so.  Suddenly, not 10 feet from boatside, KASPLOOSH (is that a word?).  A giant inhaled the frog.  Fueled by adrenaline, I set the hook out of shear reactionary surprise.  The lure came flying out of the fishes mouth and she rolled as she headed back to the depths.  She was a monster - a legit 6+ lber.  I was pretty crushed, but I guess sometimes a little disappointment is a good thing.  I can't believe I just typed that.

I decided to hang it up after that.  Reflecting on the 60 fish I had landed over the course of the 5 hour trip, I paddled back, packed it up, and headed home.  Within 15 minutes, I was fast asleep - reliving strikes and dreaming of things to come.  Who says there isn't good bass fishing in the north?  Until next time, tight lines!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Banner Day on Lake Icanttellya - Big Bass and Trophy Pickerel

Lake Icanttellya - named after a famous Mohican Chief of the eastern Berkshires.  OK, not really.  It is just a small, public lake hidden up in the hills that is already fairly busy and doesn't need added pressure because they read about it on some guys blog.  So for the purpose of anonimity, the lake will remain nameless.  But I will tell you that it is a gorgeous lake with mixed vegetation, pockets of lily pads, and some tapering points.  It is a fairly shallow body of water and perfect size for a 3 hour paddle fishing trip.

Sunday was poised to be a prime fishing day.  It had been hot, humid, and sunny for 4 days straight, but storms were predicted to roll through in the late afternoon.  The pre-front conditions were cloudy, breezy, and...perfect.  Instead of having to dissect the thick vegetation in search of often scarce bites, I expected the fish to be out on weed edges feeding aggressively.  They were.

We started around 11 AM and made the paddle across the lake, figuring the wind would slowly blow us back to the launch.  The theory was great.  In reality, the wind switched directions multiple times and we constantly were adjusting our yaks.  But as easy as it could have been to curse the wind, we knew it would help the bite.

I pulled up in a small cove and started casting around some vegetation with a swimbait.  Mary May started a little deeper, throwing a 1/4 oz, white and chartreuse Premier Leagure Lures River Series Spinnerbait over a weed bed.  On my second cast I saw the swimbait disappear and set the hook into a 12" pickerel.  He wasn't much to look at, but it was a sign of things to come.  Shortly after I moved into deeper water as well and began throwing a swimbait and lipless crank.  The weeds were just too thick for the dual trebles of the lipless crank, so I tied on a topwater.  Shortly after, a cast to a long point yielded my first largemouth of the day - a nice 14" fish.  Seconds later, Mary May exclaimed that she was hooked up.  The fish nailed the bait on the fall and was pulling drag.  She eventually wrangled in the 15-incher and was all smiles.

                                                              Mary May gets on the board with a healthy bass

A few minutes later she was hooked up again.  The fish was bulldogging her through the weeds to deep water.  Then it started running at the boat and lept from the water.  As it did, the lure sailed helplessly through the air.  The fish was big - easily over 5 lbs.  We both let out a scream of angst.  "I feel like I am going to throw up", she said.  "Wait until it happens during a tournament", I responded.  The feeling of losing a giant is brutal.  It takes the breath from your chest and then punches you in the stomach.  It would have easily been her personal best largemouth.  But as I told her, you never know when you will get that redemption bite.

I made my way toward some blowdowns that reached into deeper water and quickly landed a 16" bass on a green pumpkin colored finesse worm.  The fish was gorgeous and put up a heck of a fight for a lake bass...not that I am biased to river fish or anything.
                                                           How perfect is that backdrop?

Then we began fishing around the outside edge of some weeds and with random patches of mini-lily pads poking through.  I landed a few bass and pickerel on my topwater bait - a Lucky Craft Gunfish.  Then Mary May let out a yell.  She was hooked up with what she thought was a solid fish, but it had run her into a massive clump of vegetation and would not come out.  After a short tug or war, she was able to leverage him from the grass and get him in the boat.  It was a healthy 3.5 lb bass, which tied her personal best largemouth from a kayak.  "You never know", I told her again, smiling from ear to ear.

                                                                        Beautiful girl, beautiful fish!

I continued to work weed edges and at this point was only throwing topwater.  The wind and cloud cover was perfect for the Gunfish, which I can walk, spit, and pop at different speeds.  I was landing fish fairly regularly, including a couple pickerel that pushed 20".  Then it happened.  I made a long cast over the deeper part of the weed bed and began twitching the bait back to the boat.  I regularly pause topwaters when I retrieve them and on this particular cast, I paused longer than normal about mid-way back to the boat.  Suddenly, on the dead stop, I saw a massive head and body of a pickerel come out of the water and suck down the bait.  I could tell the fish was big, but had no idea how big.  The fish thrashed and pulled drag as I kept pressure on him as best I could.  He made multiple attempts to run under the boat and bulldogged me for what seemed like a half hour.  Finally, he got close to the boat and I could see my bait lodged in its mouth.  My line, 12 lb Sufix Mono, was visibly rubbing against his teeth.  Thank goodness I had brought my lip grippers, which were in Mary May's boat.  She paddled them over to me and with a sigh, I lipped the giant.  It nearly spanned the width of my kayak and had a massive head.  I was in slight disbelief.  Carefully, I dislodged the lure from his mouth, noting the multiple cuts in the line.  Then we snapped a few pictures, took some measurements, and released the monster back into the lake.  He went 28" and roughly 6 lbs - my biggest chain pickerel by a long shot and big enough to qualify for a Massachusetts Trophy Fish Award.  That makes two trophy catches in as many months.  I was beyond stoked.

                                                                     The Leviathan

But the day wasn't done, in addition to about a dozen small pickerel that came unbuttoned for us at the boat, we found a few more solid bass to round out the day.  Our 5 fish limit was right at 17 lbs - a number I would have been happy with on many a tournament day.  My biggest fish was one of my last.  I stood in the Stealth in a pocket protected from the wind and made long casts with my finesse worm to holes in the patchy weed bed.  I threw the bait toward a particularly dark patch of weeds and felt a nearly immediate tap on my line.  I set the hook and the fish blasted toward deep water.  It pulled huge strips of drag from my spinning reel and kept making runs under my kayak.  Finally, I reached down and lipped her.  She was thick, heavy, and extra dark from living down in those weeds.  At 4 lbs, she was my biggest MA largemouth so far.  Vacationers at a lake house saw me catch her and started asking questions.  Before I knew it, there were 3 people bank fishing and 2 kayaks launching.  Combined with the other lake traffic, that was my cue to wrap it up.  I did land a couple more bass in the short distance between there and the launch, prompting one guy to run down the bank and ask the inevitable question of, "what are you using?".  I kindly obliged.

                                                   The south ain't got nothin' on northern largemouth like this!

By 3 PM we were back home and taking care of wedding chores.  It was one of those days that won't be forgotten any time soon - personal bests, quantity and quality, and the one that got away.  Now, I just have to wait for the weekend to come around again.  Until next time, tight lines!