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 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 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 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 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 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 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!