Wednesday, March 4, 2015

10 Questions with Kayak Fishing Guru Eric 'Slappy' Harrison

Over the course of the next week or two, I'll be posting a series of interviews with a variety of talented kayak anglers from around the industry.  Today, the man behind the answers is Eric 'Slappy' Harrison.  Before, during, and after my move north, Eric answered every question I had about New England kayak fishing. His knowledge is phenomenal and his kindness unwavering.  I was thrilled to be able to pick Eric's brain with 10 questions that mixed kayak fishing, hobbies, and a bit of personal info.

Eric Harrison has been fishing for over 40 years and kayak fishing for more than ten years. Beyond that, he is one of the good guys of the sport.  Renowned as a striper guru, whose Kayak Wars domination is impressive, he is a multi-faceted angler, who has caught more species than he can count. He fishes everywhere he goes and no fish is too small to target. "Even the "trash" fish are fun to me", he says.  A self-proclaimed fanatic of fishing plastics, he's been using them to fish the salt since the mid-70's and has not only seen, but been part of their revolution.  He is an ambassador for Hogy Lures and Kokatat, as well as a longtime member of the Hobie Fishing Team.  He is also part of their new 'Top Gun' program.

Get out a pen and paper, it is time to take notes.

1. Everyone knows you as the striper guru. I am going to assume that they are your favorite species to catch. But I see a lot of other species posted up on your Facebook page as well. What are your 2nd favorite freshwater and saltwater species to target?

Tough question!  I love the variety available, but with limited fishing time, I try to keep my fishing close by, so I'm going with the fish I target the most.
In salt that would be cod.  They are a fun fish inshore, they hit all kinds of lures, bite all day and are available from many spots along the coast.  Cod don't have a reputation as a sport fish, but most guys aren't targeting them from a kayak using the same tackle that you would for a largemouth. 
In freshwater it is a toss up between panfish and carp.  I don't do much bait fishing, but when I do, it is for carp.  I love stalking schools of them in the kayak and working them over with bread balls.  They can be aggressive or very shy, they are the most underrated of the freshwater fish around here.   Panfish, especially crappies and white perch, are always a freshwater target for me.  I like that they all hit lures and I usually target them with soft plastics.  I'm pretty fanatical about fishing soft plastics and there are many spots where the panfish fishing is very technical in terms of locating and patterning the fish.  Dial in with the right baits and the rewards are big--well maybe small, but lots of them!

2. This winter has been especially brutal. I know I am dreaming of open water. What do you do to beat cabin fever?

I go catching!  I can't go too long without fishing and when I do, I have to catch something.  During the winter I will grab a handful of jig rods and some spikes or mousies and find something to catch.  Ice fishing for me is about keeping active, I can't sit around watching a bunch of tip ups, so I fish with rods, drill 40 holes and jig them all until I locate fish.  I don't care what I catch through the ice as long as I'm kept busy.  Some of my best ice sessions are with sunfish, but this winter I have done well on decent size white perch, which can be a treat on the 2# jigging stick!

3. How did you get the nickname Slappy?

In California I fished with a great group of guys, we packed ourselves into a 20' boat and fished hard and mocked each other.  I fished more than anyone and always had the ideas--where we should go, what we should use.  I also caught most of the fish and took quite a bit of ribbing.  So the name "slappy the bait shop boy" was an insult. I embraced it when I chose it for my forum handle.

4. Catching stripers on the bay takes some serious skill. You have to know your tides and currents, be able to utilize electronics, have the right gear, and a multitude of other things. I also know that you put safety first. What is your #1 tip for beginners looking to catch those bay bass?

Boston Harbor is a crazy place. Most days the tides are a 10' difference between high and low and they peak at over 13', so the water moves!  As a kayaker you have to know your water and understand the conditions that you will face on each trip--your safety and fishing success depends on it.  I know exactly where I'm going on every trip and I know where all the danger zones are, so I'm able to focus my time on finding fish and not on finding water that is safe to fish.  Repeated trips to the same areas are the best way to learn.  There are many more fish out there than people realize and learning to read the water will keep you in the strike zone.  Focus your time on areas where current meets structure, those are the spots that will hold fish and turn into your consistent spots.

5. What is your personal best striper and the full fishing story behind it?
I don't actually know what my biggest bass is!  I've caught quite a few in the 48" to 49" length, some have been fat and some have been skinny--but there is one that stands out.  I've never kept any of my top 50 largest stripers. I value those big fish so much that I let every one go--next to catching them, releasing a large striper is the best!
I was fishing with a buddy and we were working a bar with current running, the bite was really good and we were picking off fish and some were pretty good sized.  Finally the current died and the bite really shut off as we approached the slack.  I told my fishing partner that this was the time to go find something big--big bass often are the only fish feeding on the slack.  I worked over the bar and had a good hit right near the boat.  At first it just dogged me, but then I noticed that I was starting to spin, the fish was circling around before taking off!  It zipped over the flat which was only about 5' and full of rocks and weeds.  I got hung up on some weeds as the bass tried to rub me off on the rocks, but I quickly pedaled after the fish in my Hobie Revolution.  Getting on top of the snags is the best way to get out and I pulled my line out of a couple weed crusted rocks and followed the fish as it towed me to deeper water.  Finally I got her to the side of the boat, she was 49" and a solid fish, a bit north of the 45# mark.  We took a couple pictures then I pedaled her around and watched her swim off.

6. If you were forced to choose a favorite bait, what would it be? Since I think I already know the answer, what are your top 3 favorite colors and top 3 ways/weights to rig it.
As I mentioned, I'm pretty fanatical about plastics, for stripers, I catch more than 90% of my bass on plastics.
For big fish, my hands down favorite is a 13" blamber Hogy fished on a Hogy Barbarian jighead.  I like the dark colors at night and the blamber has a nice natural look that has produced so many big fish for me. My other choices would be the 10" Hogy in black or bubblegum.  I love the bubblegum color when the squid are around, it is a very visible color fished under the lights.  Stripers get crazy when they are on squid and fast jerky retrieves really produce- so my retrieves when fishing around squid are very erratic.
As a general "I'm going to go out and catch a bunch of bass" lure, the 7" jigging Hogy is a go to lure.  I don't get as many big fish on it, but it catches a ton of fish.  The 7" size is big enough to attract bigger fish but small enough so that you catch plenty of smaller fish.
I almost always rig on a jighead because it allows me to work the whole water column.  I always choose a jighead that is going to give me a slower sink to the bottom because so many fish hit on the sink.  The half ounce to one ounce heads are all I need to work in 5' to 20' of water with current.
Weighted swimbait hooks are another good rigging tool.  They have a nice swim and you can use them in some very light weights.  I work plastics on weighted swimbait hooks as a sub surface lure and allow them to sink just off reef edges.  Using a 1/8 or 1/4 oz weight allows you to do a very fast retrieve and keep the jig just under the surface which often fires up fish and creates explosive strikes.
Unweighted hooks are fun for top water plastics.  I don't go unweighted very often, when I do I'm usually bouncing the plastic on the surface to create a commotion to draw the fish in and get an explosive strike. 

7. Hobie just started their “Top Gun” program. What is the story behind it and how exactly does it work?

Hobie works hard to promote kayak fishing and the Top Gun program is designed to put content out that would be of interest to all levels of angler.  They have chosen a dozen anglers across the country to talk about their favorite species of fish and share techniques and tactics used for the targeted species.  Hobie is working to create a powerful educational resource for anglers, especially those just getting into kayak fishing.

8. Can you tell us about your fleet of kayaks and why you use what you use?

I love having a bunch of kayaks and use mine for different fisheries.  When I'm on the water, I want to be fishing as much as possible, so all my kayaks are Hobies.  My fleet is:
1. Revolution 11--I use this for freshwater and inland water, the small kayak is very easy to maneuver in tight spaces and is great on the rivers I fish.  Plus the smaller size and lighter weight allow me to launch it anywhere, it is easy to carry if I have a launch that can't be reached without a cart.
2. Revolution 13--this has been my go to kayak for saltwater.  I enjoy the speed and its ability to handle rough seas.  I often fish strong current and the 13 cuts through it quickly and allows me to hang on rip lines with ease.  There are many nights when I spend the whole trip fishing 1 to 2 mph current and I'm casting the whole time.
3. Oasis--this is a tandem and is a big stable boat that I use to take my kids out.  We've had some great trips catching all sorts of fish, sometimes for fun and sometimes for dinner.  There is nothing a kid likes more than outfishing dad, so make sure that they catch more than you!  With a kayak, it is pretty easy to make sure the kids hook up while they are holding the rod because you can pedal the bait right into the strike zone.
4. For 2015 I will be adding a Revolution 16 to my fleet as well.  The extra speed on this kayak will give me more fishing time when I plan longer trips and it will be easier to work in the big currents.

9. You do a lot of (very) early morning and late night fishing. What are the major advantages of fishing during those hours?

Next time you catch a striper, look how big their eyes are. Fish pupils don't dilate, so they feed best in the dark or in low light conditions.  As the day goes on stripers will move deeper in the water column and feed less actively.  I also have 3 young kids, so fishing at night gives me a chance to spend time with the kids and fish when they go to bed!  It also doesn't hurt that bass, especially big ones, feed best at night. 

10. People love to hate your hometown Patriots. Who is your favorite all time player (if Tom Brady give a second favorite too)?
I grew up in LA rooting for the LA Rams and Oakland Raiders, but both teams eventually came and went so I had no loyalty to them.  I didn't really pay much attention to football until Parcells took over the Patriots and his teams got me watching them.  I'm old enough to remember the Patsies, so I appreciate having a winning team around!  I have to give the nod to the little guys, Welker and Edelman show that the little guys can get it done.  As someone shorter than average I have to root for the little guys!  I'm also a huge Lakers fan, but we'll save that for next time.


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