Wednesday, June 24, 2015

5 Essentials for a River Float Trip

Recently I was contacted by Salt City Optics (who specialize in prescription sunglasses for various activities), who is putting together the "Dress for the River Project".  The magic question is, what items are an absolute must for a river trip?  I decided to come up with a top 5, which excludes a kayak, paddle, and fishing gear, which are no-brainers.  Without further adieu... 

1.  Life Jacket - By far the most important item I take paddling, I never hit the water without wearing one.  In/on my life jacket, I always carry a whistle and knife.

2. Sunglasses - Nothing bugs me more than having to squint all day. And a nice pair with polarized lenses can be a key to catching more fish. I rock my Smith Optics Backdrop Evolve glasses everywhere.

3.  Water - Dehydration is no joke, especially on long, hot summer days.  I prefer water, although Gatorade, Vitamin Water, etc. would also fit the bill.  My love of the Hydro Flask has been published many times on this blog. It keeps my water cool all day with no ice, no matter how hot it gets. 

4.  Chapstick - I hate chapped lips and chapping can happen very fast out on the water.  I always carry a chapstick with SPF 15 or higher.

5.  Sun protection gear - For me, this includes a long sleeve Columbia PFG shirt, hat, sun screen, and often a buff to cover my neck and face.  Cancer is no joke.

Of course, there are numerous other items I could add to the list, including food/snacks, a first aid kit, a survival kit, proper wading shoes (I prefer the Columbia Drainkmakers), and rain gear. 

Stay safe and have fun this summer.  Tight lines!

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Textbook Post Spawn Beatdown

It was mid-morning and I found myself with a few hours of free time, a rarity these days.  It was a no brainer - I loaded up and headed for the water.  But in the back of my mind, I knew that this time of year can be tricky in New England.  Early to mid-June is the post spawn period in bass fishing.  It represents the phase after bass have finished mating and spend their time relaxing and recovering.  Coincidentally, at the start of the month I published a couple articles that talk about catching post spawn bass.  And trust me, I practice what I preach, fishing topwaters, jerkbaits, and finesse plastics around points, drops, edges, and isolated cover.  If all else failed, the lake I was fishing also has an abundance of chain pickerel, and I was hoping that they would keep my line tight if the bass wouldn't cooperate.  It was one of those days with a lot of variables, and experience made all the difference - eventually resulting in a pile of nice fish.

I launched amidst blue bird skies and perfectly calm water.  When I say calm, I mean zero wind, which is a rarity here in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.  I knew the conditions would hurt the bite, but I was eager to test my skills.  I started by throwing a variety of 4 baits - a soft plastic jerkbait (fluke), finesse worm, topwater frog, spinnerbait, and bladed swim jig.  I eventually rotated in a paddle tail swimbait, lipless crankbait, and wake bait as well.  However, there was only one thing that was working early - a combo of the fluke and finesse worm.  The bass were hunkered down in deep weeds and reluctant to come out.  However, many would slowly follow the fluke and reveal themselves.  At times, I would see them come out and nibble the bait, literally just mouthing at it.  But that was all I needed to see.  I would reel it in and cast back with a finesse worm, then patiently wait.  They just couldn't resist the lazy, gyrating fall of the worm.  The first half dozen bass I caught were between 2 and 3 lbs - not giants, but not babies either.  I knew if the wind would turn on, it was going to get even better.

My biggest chain pickerel of the day

On the other hand, the chain pickerel seemed to care less about the weather conditions.  They were regularly eating the fluke fished slowly along weed lines and around emerging vegetation.  After a few fish in the 18"-22" range, I lost a giant that looked to be in the high-20s.  Then, my wish came true.  The wind picked up.  And the rest of the trip got insane.

I barely put down the fluke the rest of the day.  Instead of lackadaisically hitting it, bass were crushing it.  Pickerel were erupting on it at the surface.  There were times where I would catch fish on 5+ consecutive casts, and often a mix of the two species.  The key was to make the fish aggressive by playing to their instincts.  The wind is your friend when bass fishing, no matter how much kayak anglers (including myself at times) complain about it.  This is even more true during the post spawn.  You don't want fish to be able to see your bait perfectly, especially in the super clear water of New England.  You want them to simply react.  That is why a fluke is such a perfect post spawn bait.  You can fish it fast and get the fish amped up, causing them to react, or simply kill it, and make it look like an irresistible dying minnow. 

The 2nd biggest bass of the day - caught on a Berkley Jerk Shad

I would find patches of isolated vegetation and throw the bait 4-5 feet past the far side of the patch.  These patches ranged from roughly 20 feet across to as small as 3-4 feet, and were a mix of dollar sized Lily pads (watershields) and emerging grass.  I would start by working the fluke slowly on the far edge of the patch.  But as soon as I got near the vegetation, I would begin to work it as quickly and erratically as possible, keeping the bait at or just below the surface.  If nothing bit by the time the bait reached the near side of the vegetation, I would kill it on the weed edge and let it fall toward the bottom.  Fish were hitting during all stages of the retrieve, with most coming a few seconds after I changed speeds. 

Chain pickerel are rapidly earning a special place in my heart

It was one of those days where you just shake your head and smile.  Blow-up after blow-up would be followed by witnessing fish rush out of the weeds and inhale the fluke on the fall while standing in the ATAK.  Eventually, I began calling my shots and even caught a few strikes on video, which were filmed with one hand while fishing with the other.

After about 4 hours, I had to head back to the launch.  I had just had my biggest chain pickerel of the day, a 25 incher, explode out of the water and devour the fluke, so turning around was not easy.  Thankfully, I had a hot date I couldn't miss.  Still, despite the great day, I had lost two jumbo pickerel and a 5+ lb bass, so I wanted a bit of redemption.  I stopped along a deep weed line on the paddle back to the truck and began working the fluke.  When it got to the near weed edge, I again killed the bait.  As I did, I saw a nice bass come out of the weeds, stare at the bait for a second, then open its mouth and suck it on!  The fish wanted no part of getting in my kayak, as it made multiple runs into deep water, then back into the weeds.  I dialed back the drag on my reel as the fish darted under the boat.  Finally, I got the brute to the kayak and was able to lip him.  It wasn't the monster I had lost earlier, but the 19.25" fish was nothing to sneeze at.  I snapped a few pictures and let him go.

The fish capped off a day where I landed approximately 20-25 bass and probably 40-50 chain pickerel.  My biggest 5 bass went 92.25" and my 5 longest pickerel went 119".  It was another awesome day here in New England.

The big bass for the day at 19.25"

In the past, I haven't been a big fan of fluke fishing.  It gets to be tedious and takes a while to perfect.  But I really enjoy fishing it around vegetation, because it is so versatile and there isn't as much wasted time and effort.  It is funny how all soft plastic jerkbaits are now universally known as "flukes", when in reality the Zoom Fluke is just one type of soft jerkbait.  I have come to prefer the Berkley 5" Saltwater Jerk Shad to other soft plastic jerkbaits.  I love the colors they offer and think it holds up better over the course of a day.  However, the tougher plastic probably results in a few more missed bites as well.  I rig it weedless and weightless on a 5/0 Gamakatsu EWG thin wire worm hook.  I typically fish the bait on 15 lb monofilament line, although I believe braid or fluorocarbon would also work fine.  I spool the line on an Abu Garcia Revo STX HS.  I prefer the STX HS because it is high speed (7.1:1) and has an awesome drag force for the price point.  I pair it with a Carolina Custom Rods Jerkbait and Topwater rod, which is 6'9" and has a particularly short butt section, making it easier to work baits all day without becoming fatigued.  It is also super lightweight and sensitive, allowing you to detect slight bites as the lure falls.

Mullet - it's not just for haircuts

Oh and that hot date, we headed east, caught an awesome concert, and had an amazing couple of days staring at this...

The beautiful Rhode Island coast

Until next time, tight lines!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Fishing Report - Cayuga Lake, Ithaca, NY

A few months ago, I got the idea of surprising Mary May with a trip to Ithaca, NY - the town where she went to college.  I decided to also run it by my good friend Bill (who is no stranger to references in this blog), whose girlfriend Courtney is also an Ithaca College alum.  Shortly after, we were planning a couples trip.  We put together an awesome to-do list of places to eat, waterfalls to hike, wines to sample, and shops to visit.  But no list could be complete without some fishing.  After all, Ithaca is situated on the south end of Cayuga Lake, a finger lake known for its vegetation and dock fishing.  Bill and I knew that the only way to squeeze it in would be to fish the first few hours of daylight each morning...and that is precisely what we did.

Loaded up bright and early at the rental


I had spent some time scouting the lake before the trip - examining Navionics, scanning Google Earth, and scouring message boards and websites for trip reports.  They certainly don't call it a finger lake for nothing - as it has almost a perfectly straight shoreline, with no coves or major creek arms.  And unfortunately, the south end fishing reports weren't terribly comforting.  The vast majority of bass anglers preferred the upper end of the lake, which was about an hour drive from our rental.  However, the southern end was supposed to have some smallmouth and pike fishing, so we would have to hope we could grind out a few bites.  The plan was to fan cast a large flat, which we suspected was covered with grass.  We would fish the flat out to a large drop-off, figuring that we would find fish scattered on the flat and bunched up on certain sections of the drop.  But mother nature wanted none of it, and we were forced to improvise.

We pulled up to the lake around 6 AM on Saturday morning to find 2-3 foot whitecaps rolling down the lake, due in large part to a constant, hefty wind blowing straight out of the north.  Plan A was out.  Instead we opted to paddle up Falls Creek, which was somewhat protected from the wind.  It also had a few side pockets and coves, although most of them were partitioned off with barriers - possibly to protect spawning areas.  Still, our hopes were high.  Sure enough, on cast number 3 I landed our first fish - a chunky 12" largemouth that hit a finesse worm in about 10 inches of water.  And from there, the bite never let up. 

Most fish were situated around chunk rock, gravel banks, or laydows, and were eating a variety of baits.  We ended the day with 9 bass in about 2.5 hours of fishing, although we probably lost or missed another dozen.  They were split at about 50% largemouths and 50% smallmouths.  The big fish of the morning was a 3 lb largemouth that Bill caught, but he lost a really nice smallmouth next to the boat.  The best baits were green pumpkin finesse worms fished weightless, 1/4 oz Premier League Lures spinnerbaits, and 4.5" soft swimbaits.  I was also again impressed by the wind resistance, stability, and tracking of the ATAK.  It really shines as a lake boat.

Catch and release!

The next morning was a completely different story.  There was almost no wind, but a storm from the day before had caused the south end of the lake to get muddy, limiting visibility to only a couple of inches.  In hindsight, maybe we should have revisited Plan A, but instead, we decided to explore some other creeks and channels that run through Ithaca.

The ATAK and my new Bending Branches Sun Shadow Crank paddle

It was urban bass fishing 101, casting to pipes, steel beams, concrete walls, and other man-made structures.  But, the Sunday bite proved to be a grind.  The only bait I could get them to eat was a black finesse worm fished very slowly, and there was no real pattern to where I would get bites.  Most were around rock or concrete, but others near wood or docks.  It was a post-front pattern at its finest.  Although we didn't get as many bites, the fish that did bite were mainly decent sized smallmouths - in the 15"-17" range.

My biggest smallie of the trip

My advice for folks interested in bass fishing the Ithaca area would be to come up with a few plans based on the time of year, much like we did, and systematically try them all.  Definitely be wary of the wind and weather, which can be brutal when it blows down the lake.  Lakes like Cayuga change drastically between late April and late June, as vegetation emerges, fish go from pre-spawn to spawning to post-spawn, water temps change, boat traffic increases, and baitfish move to different areas.  Note that because of the shape, much of the lake won't always be terribly conducive to kayak angers, so plan accordingly.  However, I suspect that Cayuga is a very bassy lake, particularly up near Seneca Falls, and it certainly has plenty of beautiful water to explore.  Until next time, tight lines!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Kayak Bass Fishing Magazine Officially Launches

This past week, Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) Magazine made its debut.  Texan Chris Payne is the man behind the mag, and he deserves a ton of credit for all of his hard work.  Creating a magazine from scratch is a tremendous feat, and KBF really impressed.  I was thrilled to be able to contribute two articles, both with New England/Northeastern twists.  One talks about late spring and summer patterns for fishing topwater baits and the other details my approach to fishing lakes with lots of vegetation during the post spawn phase, which is often when vegetation gets particularly thick.


The inaugural issue also featured a hit list of authors - including fellow Wildy pros Jeff Little, Juan Veruete, Alejandro Perez-Arteaga, and Thomas Philippi, as well as number of good friends, new friends, and folks I know via social media.

Here is a link to read the magazine, which is free:  At the bottom of the page is a link to subscribe (also free) to the magazine.  Every subscriber helps keep KBF free, so if you like it, please sign-up.

Tight lines!