Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Video Intro to Medium Cranking

Yesterday I put together a short video that talks about a subject that I think gets ignored a lot - cranking medium depths. It is no secret that I love to crank, and I could ramble on about it for hours. But, hopefully this video gives you an idea or two to put to use this spring, and beyond. Tight lines!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Classic Post

Every year I end up blogging during the week of the Bassmaster Classic.  This year, I'm feeling inspired by the word "classic", as well as the fact that it is throwback Thursday.  I am going to throw it back to November 7, 2009 - the date of my first ever kayak fishing tournament win, which took place on Jordan Lake, NC.

It was a cold, foggy day, but that didn't stop a respectable field of anglers from braving the elements.  It was the first ever kayak fishing tourney in central NC, following in the footsteps of the inaugural Hardcore Invitational that had taken place in Charlotte a month or two prior.  I believe about 25 anglers showed up, which was considered pretty substantial back then.  I was in a 10' sit-inside kayak, which was the only thing I could afford in grad-school. I bolted a couple rod holders on the back, threw a backpack full of plastics on the front, and added a seat with some back support to really fancy it up.  On tourney day, I carried only 2-3 rods and a small tackle box, but I was beyond excited.  We gathered, snapped a few photos, and launched like we were blasted from the barrel of a shotgun.  I headed for a channel swing that pushed up against a rocky point, about a half mile from the launch.  I had found the spot on a map, and during practice the Saturday before, I caught about 10 bass without moving - including a few in the 3-4 lb range.  It was a one fish, big fish format, so I knew it would only take one good bite to win it. 

Paddling into the fog.  Look at that sweet paddle!

I began by throwing a medium crankbait and spinnerbait, but after an hour, I had nothing to show for it.  I decided to make a paddle to another area I had scouted - this one slightly shallower, with less chunk rock and more gravel.  But as I made my way around a nearby point, I swung my paddle and felt the blade hit a rock.  The collision was accompanied by a loud crack.  The blade had broken, and about 3/4 of it was missing.  I guess I should have expected as much from the $20 combination of plastic and aluminum.  I immediately called my buddy Gary, who had been there to watch the launch, but wasn't fishing.  Unfortunately, he had left shortly after the launch and was nearly back to Durham.  Panicking, I called the tournament director.  After some searching, no-one had an extra paddle.  Based on his recommendation, I made one of the craziest decisions of my fishing career.  I paddled the remaining 1/4 mile back to the launch with only half a paddle, loaded all my gear into my SUV, threw the kayak on the roof, and sped off toward the nearest sporting goods store.  It just so happened to be a Dick's Sporting Goods, located about 30 minutes from the lake. 

I was doing the math in my head.  It was 9:30 AM when I left.  Add an hour of travel time, ten minutes to shop, another ten to unload, and twenty minutes to paddle back out to my next spot.  It ended up being about 11:30 AM before I threw another cast.  I must of looked half crazy - frantically running through the parking lot in multiple layers of clothing and rain gear, grabbing the first paddle I saw, and high-tailing it back to the lake.  By the time I got back to the lake and unloaded, I basically threw strategy out the window.  It was time to simply go fishing and try to laugh it off.

Some of the anglers who showed up to fish that day

I ended up heading north and fishing a long bank with mixed rock and clay, but that proved to be fruitless.  Then I came to an area with some larger rock and bedrock outcrops that abutted a shallow flat.  It was in direct sunlight and had a breeze blowing on it.  There was a pronounced drop there and I remembered seeing an old road bed on my lake map located somewhere in that vicinity.  I began cranking with a fairly shallow running chartreuse crankbait, and it didn't take long before I got a bite.  It was textbook.  I threw the bait to some shallow rocks, got a deflection after a few cranks, and had a bass crush it.  It was a 14-incher.  I wasn't skunked.  Now to upgrade.

Over the following hour I figured them out.  They were positioned along the drop - some in about 4 feet of water and others closer to 8 feet.  I floated the stretch, which was about 60-70 yards long, over and over again.  First, I upgraded to a 16" bass. Then I landed a couple around 15", followed by a couple short fish. Then, I finally got the bite I was looking for.  A fish crushed my crank after a deflection in deep water, and began pulling drag from my spinning reel.  I carefully played the fish and gave him plenty of time to tire.  I knew he was fairly big, but all of the fish I caught that day had fought extremely hard.  Eventually, I lipped him and swung him into the boat.  The fish was a skinny 18.5" and a great upgrade, but was it enough? 

Cranking a point.  I've come a long way since then.

I didn't land another fish, although had I known then what I know now, I almost assuredly could have put on a deeper diving crank and hammered a few more.  I was giddy as I paddled back to the launch.  Jordan can be notoriously tough, and I was hoping she would send some good luck my way.  Much of the field struggled, and I believe only about 1/3 of the competitors landed a fish.  Thankfully, my fish was about an inch bigger than the next closest bass and took home top prize that day.  It was a fun story to tell as we stood around and conversed after the weigh-in.  That day remains one of my favorite kayak fishing moments, and proves the adage, "never give up."

Coincidentally, in my rush that day I purchased a 210 cm whitewater paddle, which I successfully returned a couple days later.  Shortly after, I bought my first Bending Branches paddle, which has seen many miles since.  And I still have the broken paddle.  I turned it into a trophy, of sorts, from that day.  Most that see it on the shelf have no idea what it is, which is another good excuse to tell the story.

Until next time, tight lines!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Exciting Changes for 2015 - Team Wilderness Systems & Bending Branches

If we are connected via social media, then this is probably old news.  But, I am so excited that it deserves its own blog post.  It is a pleasure and honor to announce that I have been added to the 2015 Wilderness Systems and Bending Branches pro-staff teams.  I am excited to be an ambassador for these brands, as well as represent kayak fishing in New England.  They are both innovative industry leaders with top notch products and, most importantly, great people.

A few folks have already asked, "well how do you get on teams like Wildy and Bending Branches?".  There is no simple answer.  It is a combination of working hard, paying your dues, becoming an expert in fishing and paddling, networking, marketing yourself and your skillset, representing the gear you use in a professional manner, and finding a way to stand out above the crowd.  It is isn't easy.  My road, like that of many others, was filled with ups and downs.  There will be hard times and times when you get knocked down.  You will make mistakes.  You will probably make a poor decision or two.  We all do.  The difference is how you respond.  I've always tried to use my failures and poor choices to make myself a better person.  Learn from your mistakes.  Pay attention to details.  Ignore those who don't support you.  Come back stronger and smarter.  Being successful in the kayak fishing industry is not different than being successful in life, although success has very different meanings for different people.  OK, speech over.

Head over and check out the Wilderness Systems - Community.  There, you'll find all things Widly Fishing, including reviews, videos, articles, team bios, and much more.  Last week, my first addition to the fleet arrived, in the form of the 2015 WS Ride 115X Max Angler in camo.

My new WS Ride 115X Max Angler...waiting to be tricked out

It is 11'6" long, 33" wide, and has a ton of features, including the Phase 3 AirPro Max seat, a removable console for electronics, and numerous angler add-ons.  The seat alone could sell this boat.  Even stuck inside on the warehouse floor, the seat feels fantastic.

The uber-comfortable Phase 3 AirPro Max high-low seat

I'll be adding another boat in April - the brand new ATAK.  Most of the details of the ATAK haven't been released publically, but I can tell you it is going to be one sick boat.  Not only are the base features going to perfect for any type of angler, the add-ons and extras that you can use to trick this boat out are impressive, to say the least.  Widly pro Jeff Little recently released an article that talks about the prototype process that went into the ATAK.  It also has a couple "sneak peak" pics of the prototype boat.  Wilderness is also releasing a series of ATAK photos on their Instragram account using the #wildyfishing tag, so you can see more of the final model there.

Bending Branches also has a great website, which includes details of all of their paddles.  I've used a few different models in the past, and recently received my new Angler Pro in the mail.

The carbon fiber BB Angler Pro with the Plus Ferrule System

It is extremely light and has a great ferrule system that extends between 230cm and 245cm.  There is also a larger ferrule that extends from 240cm to 255cm.  However, I prefer a shorter paddle for river use, even from a high seat position.  They will also be offering it in a RealTree camo pattern in a few months.  As I said on Facebook, it will make a redneck heart skip a beat.  BB is also hoping to offer the RealTree pattern on the entire angler series within the next year.

The new RealTree camo Angler Pro paddle

Head on over to the Bending Branches website and spend some time looking around.  Beyond the angler series, they have some sweet paddles, including the popular Navigator - a wood paddle.  You can also check out the team bios, including yours truly.

Now I just have to wait, impatiently, for the ice to melt and rivers to clear.  In the meantime, I'll be blogging, preparing some seminars, and prepping gear.  My first seminar is March 14th-15th at the LL Bean National Fishing Expo, which will take place at their flagship store in Freeport, Maine. 

I really hope to be part of a group that can accelerate the growth of kayak fishing in New England, and hopefully attract some bigger tournaments and more local outfitters to the region.  If you are a reader and have any kayak fishing questions or would like to hit the water, don't hesitate to contact me via email (

Until next time, tight lines! 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Using Maps to Become a Better Fisherman

Maps, they never lie.  Those were words I found myself typing last week in response to a Facebook status from uber talented Georgia kayak fisherman Rok Ly.  Rok was on information overload - lots of dock talk, yet no solid info.  So, as he stated, it was time to go to the map.  Like Rok, I've learned to rely on maps to succeed when fishing new bodies of water.  Map study is probably my biggest help in sorting through the massive amounts of info online and from other kayak anglers.  A lot of what you hear can be straight BS.  Or, the info may not suit your style, only be reliable during certain times of the year, or be second hand rumors.  Outside of a handful of very close friends, I don't pay much attention to dock talk.  So when it comes to scouting for that out of town tournament or fishing trip, go to the map.

The satellite image from an area I always wanted to fish in North Carolina.  Note the dam discharge, rip rap, eddies, and feeder creek.  Plus access is very tough via kayak.

Nowadays, I feel like the word 'map' evokes one of two thoughts in the fishing community.  The first is Google Earth.  A hybrid of a traditional map and satellite imagery.  Although extremely useful, it isn't always the best option.  The second thought is Navionics.  Navionics has a great app and numerous data cards for fish finders and GPS units.  Again, it is a fantastic tool, but sometimes, you need to go old school.  In my opinion, there is nothing better than an old school, paper lake map.  They can be hard to find for every lake, but their detail and reliability is often unmatched.  Some can be found online or at local tackle shops.  I have also seen them at bigger box stores from time to time.  All too often, they show old ponds, road beds, and backwaters not visible in many modern maps.  But although they are my favorite, in reality, the best practice is to rely on a combination of the 3 types of maps noted above, as well as any others you may find.

This specific lake map helped both myself and Bill Kohls put some nice fish in the boat on multiple occasions

The main things I think about when breaking down a map are season, weather, characteristics specific to a fishery, and access.  There are a million articles from B.A.S.S. that talk about bass habits and structure preference throughout the year.  In fact, many of their articles are also specific to a body of water, which can benefit a map study even further.  Bass are fairly predictable in terms of how they move and act seasonally.  Combined with an understanding of weather, you can usually narrow down where bass will be feeding.  Then add in fishery characteristics, by this, I mean is a lake known for having something specific that really impacts fishing.  This might be significant current, a certain type of vegetation, rock bluffs, a warm water discharge, ledges, abundance of crawfish, or numerous other features.  Finally, access is something that is more specific to kayak fishing.  Personally, I want to find areas that are tough for motor boats to get to.  They are even better if far enough from a launch that most kayakers don't want to make the paddle or are difficult to get to for other reasons.

My goal is to locate a dozen or so areas on a paper map.  I then cross-reference them with satellite imagery.  Which have visible cover and structure?  What does the shoreline look like (specifically, is it variable or fairly plain)?  Is it close to other areas that were not obvious on the paper map, yet could be productive?  I then develop a gameplan, which starts by ranking each spot and deciding on a practice plan.  After practice, I hammer out a final plan.  Sometimes, that can be hammering one area all day, something I dislike, or running and gunning to multiple spots.  Ideally, I want 3-4 spots fairly close together that I can rotate through, throughout the day, giving each spot ample time to rest, yet still being able to fish each multiple times.

This was a spot on Santee Cooper that I found during the 2013 KBF Open.  Note the deep (for Santee) river channel with a transition area right up onto a staging flat loaded with stumps.  The transition area was mixed rock and some sand. Just to the east were other areas protected from the wind for spwaning.  Had I gone with my gut, I think I could have placed much higher than 12th in that event.  The pic is from my Navionics app for iPhone.

Also, don't think map study is specific to lakes and reservoirs.  Although traditional maps are not available for rivers, Google Earth can be an invaluable tool.  Not only can you see visible cover, such as timber, blowdowns or boulders, but also shoals, bedrock outcrops, and other structure.  Possibly most importantly, you can get an idea of the impact of current in the river, as well as average clarity, major tributaries, and access points.  You can also see major obstacles or large rapids, and knowing they exist in advance can be a key to a fun, successful, and, most importantly, safe day on the water.

So I urge you to become a map nerd.  Learn to read and utilize them.  Use them to come up with a solid game plan.  Then go kick some butt!  Until next time, tight lines!