Saturday, May 26, 2012

Your Dog is a Bluefish and your Bluefish is a dog, by Alexi

The fish dance didn't help...................
      On friday, we went for a casual look and see at the beach. Plan A was to ocean launch and snag bunker.  We  didn't see any  Bunker, and the waves were a little high, so, on to plan B. It was to visit the sedges.
     There were lots of people sitting on the beach.  As a fisherman who visits the beach all year it's always a little bit of a shock to see the transformation of the shore from a nice small fishing village to a sunbathing mecca.   By "shock," what I really mean is a kind of repulsion.  This may come off as callous, but I think those of us who fish often can relate to this sentiment.

memorial day

I've heard this referred to as "snot grass"

    We kayaked out past the sedge house to poke around the outside of the sedges. What's really amazing is that there can be a thousand folks at the beach, and back by the sedge islands only one or two people kayaking around.  
    There was one other person fly fishing a nice corner.   I didn't see him land anything.  
    Trolling tube-n-worm in the bay was not productive. The only worms I could get were fake, and I had ZERO confidence in them.   Besides, the bay was really weedy. A simple bucktail with pork rind was my go to lure once we found some deeper water. I had two hook-ups with bluefish but couldn't land them.  I had chronic knot failure, something that hasn't happened to me before.  I lost three bucktails, all broken at the braid with a twist, as if my knot came unravelled.  There is nothing more unnerving than losing confidence in ones knots.  After it happenned twice I decided to solve the problem by using a swivel to connect my leader to my main line of braid,  instead of tying direct thinking that this was a sure fire way of solving the problem.  And of course it did not work.  I am now going to have to review all of my knots which in the past I have used and caught big fish on.  
    Just one last word about "mojo."  Before we left I had decided this post was not going to include any pictures of fish.  Maybe that's why we didn't land any?  The old jinx yourself.  Most fishermen have some things they do that they think will bring them luck.  Here's a few of mine; there's the fish dance,  buying ice for fish that you haven't caught yet,  wearing my fish shirt, fish hat, really  just about anything.... 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Jamaica Bay, by Alexi

jamaica bay kayak fishing classic
new skyline
Steve and I went up to Jamaica Bay for the kayak fishing tournament.  It was three days of competition (with one pre-tournament prep day) and we fished all four days.  We camped out on the old Floyd Bennet air field strip.  It was strange being on a fishing trip in such a populated area, but the fishing was good. I believe that some of our east coast waterways are possibly healthier than they've been in eighty to a hundred years.  The industrial revolution really screwed things up, (in terms of water pollution) and recovery has been a slow and bumpy road. Recovery continues, but the sheer amount of fish at Jamaica Bay makes me hopeful.   I mean, here we are in N.Y.C. on a giant slab of concrete with 250 or so other guys that like to go out in floaty plastic boats and catch fish.  What a scene.
    I had a plan (as usual).  Catch fish using a new lure which as of yet has not worked for me... the tube-n-worm.  I wasn't so interested in winning because as I found out shortly before the tournament there were no prizes. At first this struck me as strange, what's a tournament without prizes?  But I grew to appreciate this aspect of the tournament.  If it were too competitive people might be inclined not to share information.  As it was I found little time for chatting with other kayakers either on the water or at the launch pad. We were there to catch fish and we did that when we weren't busy eating fish and drinking beer.
    As per my plan, I found it worked well on the first day.  I didn't use the tube-n-worm exclusively because it's a trolling lure best used in weed free areas, and that's just not always available.  I used a gulp/ bucktail combo for a bit, and tried a kastmaster (my favorite for bluefish) too, but kept wanting to return to the tube-n-worm mostly for learning purposes.  I think that by Sunday I started to feel like I had worked out a bunch of kinks in regards to that lure.
Blue Fish

        The four days were a bit of a roller coaster ride, one day was good for me and bad for Steve, the next day the opposite.  But we each keyed in on certain techniques that worked best for us.  When we weren't fishing we were discussing fishing tactics.  This lends itself to a certain kind of debate.  We tend to discuss tactics almost endlessly, and sometimes act upon those discussions.   Other times the conditions (wind, current, depth, weeds) dictate what we do.   Steve had more success tossing soft plastics.  While it's true that I had my only bass that way, I was still more interested in trolling.  And we discussed this difference.
  At one point Steve had snagged a bunker and managed to drag it around for several hours with not even bump.  
Steve has a bent rod
     The fishing was good and exciting, and it proved difficult landing a 30 inch bluefish in the kayak and trying to successfully take a picture (while measuring it) and releasing it safely.  I found myself spending quite some time reviving a large bluefish, something I never imagined I would be doing.
     What exactly was the most interesting thing about this trip?  It wasn't the fishing.  It was the place.  The trash.  The neighbor with the generator that went on whenever.  The other neighbor, Dan who had the most camping gear I've ever seen, and in some ways, it was just right.  (He had been there all 9 years in the fly fishing division...kudos...) The old guy with the new Hobie he couldn't get on his truck by himself.   The people with their kids coming to walk along the most desolate wasteland of a shoreline.  The strange animal that ate our chips at night.  The way the sun rises and I try to remember a simple yoga routine I had just learned to give us the limberness required to turn around in a kayak after sitting in it for 14 hours straight.  All of this was quite amazing and wonderful.

When we left I was so beat I was actually dizzy.  Steve had won a new paddle as a raffle prize. Something he swore he never did.  I couldn't even wait until the end of the raffle.  We left before everyone.  I was out of gas, Steve was out of cigarettes and we needed to get the hell out of Jamaica Bay.  We may have left the tournament with a sour taste, like it was a waste of our time and energy, but a month from now we'll probably be talking about what we'll do for it next year,  to win. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

sometimes a plan works almost too well, by Alexi

   I have been paying close attention to the surf reports, particularly the height of the waves.  (As I've said before I am not interested in flipping my kayak in the surf if I can avoid it...)  I noticed that a couple of important factors were lining up really well for Sunday morning to be a good fishing day.  First off the waves were 0 to 1ft.  Secondly the wind was under 10mph.  Thirdly, there had been reports of pods of bunker out front.  Not a lot, but enough get my interest peaked.  I called Steve and KGB to tell them my plan and see if they wanted in.  I had a bbq to attend Sunday afternoon/ evening because it was Mothers' Day, and my folks were going to be visiting my brothers house.  What this meant was that I would have to get my fishing done in the morning.  I was joking with my friends the night before saying "I'm going to go out and catch two giant fish, come back and show up the bbq drunk, and smoking cigarettes and just flop the fish down in front of the grill."
   Both Steve and KGB were otherwise occupied.  I'd have to go at it solo again.  I convinced my housemate Colin to join me on the trip, for him getting out of town and sitting on the beach was enough incentive.  We were going to leave early.  Like 5 a.m. early.  Really we left at 6.  We stopped a couple of times.  I picked up a tube and some bloodworms, not knowing what to expect, partly expecting to troll around for a few hours and return home empty handed.     When we pulled up to my familiar ocean launch site I "took a look" (what fishermen say when they're not fishing but are checking out the ocean scene, usually with binoculars.)  As is often the case, there was another fisher type person walking off the beach with some advice.  He saw my Kayak and said " I heard that the kayak guys are really nailing 'em at Manasquan."  I was for some reason full of bravado and said "I've caught fish plenty of times where I'm the only one around doing it.  I think there's fish here."
     I thought I saw a dark area near a boat about 100 yards out.  that got my blood pumping.  I quickly put my gear together and got on my wetsuit. .   Walked out and launched.  Not a hitch.   I quickly put on the tube-n-worm and start trolling south, if only because that's the way Colin was walking.  Within minutes I saw some splashes.  They were a little small for bunker and I didn't want to switch to the snag yet as I had really only been trolling for maybe 5 minutes.  I trolled past the splashes.  Nothing.  I heard more splashes.  I scanned the horizon.  I could hear them, but I couldn't see them..., then I saw them.  A not too thick, kind of spread out Bunker pod.   I switched to the snag and prepared the deck of the kayak in case I had to put a fish there.   Snagged a bunker on the first cast.  Waited.  Was this going to be a repeat of two weeks ago?  Snags and no fish?   Sometimes there aren't big fish under the bunker, just bunker.   I saw another pod splashing around to my right.  I reeled in the bunker, put in my kayak, and cast to snag another.  I figured if there were fish under the splashing pod, the best place to have a snagged bunker would be directly under the splashing.
first snag n drop bass from my kayak
    This time I felt a zing, a tug, a pull, almost immediately upon the snag a bass had it.  I waited, and after a longer zing, I set the hook.  Fish on.  Solid.  It swam right at me.  I had no idea how big it was.  I even doubted there was a fish on, and that it wasn't just the bunker (for a second.)  Then, as it came upon my boat it dove.  And dove.  My rod was completely bent over.  I quickly adjusted the drag, and now we had a little bit of a stalemate. We both held our positions.  I started to reel her in, closer to the boat, up from the unknown depths of the ocean, as she came up, she dove again.     I was not going to muscle this fish into the boat.  I wanted to land her safely,and not have her twist and break my line at the side of the boat.  I planned on eating this fish, and that was that.   I waited until she floated serenely next to me, and situated her head towards me, and use my lip grip on her mouth and my left foot to lift her gently into the kayak.

They say bass eat the bunker head first, not always...
   Then, the pods of bunker pretty much exploded all around me.  I mean, I was into another fish within minutes.  This one was bigger, and she surfaced.  I had hardly any sleep, and in my mind these fish were enormous!  The second one was gut hooked.  I didn't want to risk gut hooking another so I cut the line on the snag and started to pack everything in for the (dreaded) return to shore.  As I got closer to shore I noticed that some swells were much bigger than others.  I decided to put everything away.  Tie everything down.  And I even went so far as to put the fish IN the hatch of the hull.  With everything secured I prepared for the reverse landing.  Again, easy, and successful.
     I weighed the bigger of the two at Grumpy's and asked about rods, because I have new conventional reel coming in the mail any day now.  My gear was pretty much maxxed out, so when I catch a larger fish in the tournament (Jbay) this week, I will be better off with heavier duty gear.   Left the beach around 9:30 a.m.

      That was the best hour and a half of fishing ever.   Next time I will try harder not to gut hook the fish so I can be more selective about the fish I keep, if I decide to keep one.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Bluefish Whisperer, by Steve Evans

"Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes."
-Henry David Thoreau
That more, apparently reasonable pastimes  exist cannot be disputed, and among those who log countless hours perforating the water in search of biting fish there is little consensus regarding the matter of "why?". Luckily for you the reader, I went to art school and have since developed an acrid aversion to senseless and pretentious "why?" questions. I am far more interested in sensible "why?" questions, those whose answers rightly benefit the individual who would rather solve a problem than create one, and for our purposes let us call this individual the "rational and inquisitive fisherman". He is a scientist in method: hypothesizing, testing and concluding, but rather than the controlled atmosphere of the sterile laboratory, his work is carried out, not with a closed set of elements and variables but in an environment of innumerable factors operating independently and in concert. Moon phases and tides; air temperature and water temperature; wind  direction and speed; movements of bait species, water clarity, barometric pressure and an innumerable amount of bait and artificial lure presentations... Need I go on? The point is the odds are not in his favor. If he is to succeed he must overcompensate with tenacity for what he lacks in knowledge and experience. We here at fishing in the dark are such tenacious, inquisitive, and at least occasionally rational anglers. Our trips to seaside park and points beyond, fishing from bank, beach, jetty, or boat are never without new lessons, experiences, and a multitude of new questions. Here we hope to log our experiences in a format that will hopefully assist and at the very least heartily entertain fellow anglers.
 Our latest trip to seaside park (5-30-12) began with this hypothesis: Bunker out front, fish high tide at sunset for bluefish and the dropping tide after dark for bass. We really only fished 8-10, mid dropping tide at the hotel and couldn't get our bait past the breakers.At 10 we left for Pt.Pleasant canal with a dozen lively eels. We began under the popular Bridge Ave. Bridge and after an hour of eeling with not even a sniff moved on to the south end of the canal; another popular bank fishing locale where a strong and well developed tide rip emerges with the southward flow. The presence of Bluefish was apparent immediately, with an abundance of runoffs and chopped up eels. There were no obvious signs of bass so I drifted some small pieces of leftover bunker on a bottom rig to see if I might at least hook up with a bluefish for my efforts while Alexi likewise switched to a bucktail with a small piece of eel hanging on. This farce continued until about 2:30 am at which time we had successfully fed twenty dollars worth of eels to a school of cocktail blues with nothing to show for it.  My patience was worn but Alexi's interest was piqued. At the hotel, working on some hard won 3am beers, we hypothesized for the morning. I was weary of the canal but the presence of Bluefish was clear and Alexi drove the point home. So we would head to the canal in the morning to fish with lures over the same fish. While I felt that a lot of time and effort (not to mention expensive live baits) had been wasted on the canal the previous night Alexi was charged, and not without reason, as I think we can all agree that finding fish is the first step toward catching fish. Now although they receive less fanfare than the elegant Striped Bass or the noble Fluke, Bluefish are ravenous predators, impressive fighters, and tasty food fish when fresh caught and well prepared. Bluefish are also destroyers of expensive lures, they bite through heavy leaders, and mar live bait presentations intended for other gamefish. So my feelings about Bluefish are sometimes mixed, but for Alexi this species holds rank with any and all other gamefish that swim and his adeptness at hooking and landing them reveals his respect for them. Not surprisingly Alexi landed the first while I was still sipping on my coffee and fussing with tackle, and in a scene played out many times before, he had landed at least two with his beloved Kastmaster before I had my first bite, a fish which I failed to land, then went on to catch a few more on Hopkins and bucktail before I finally landed my first. So from about 11am to 1:30 in the last two and a half hours of an overnight trip where we logged about ten hours of fishing we walked off with almost a dozen cocktail blues. Fishing next to the bluefish whisperer I have to say I was extremely pleased with my three fish to his eight. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

     About a year ago Steve Kgb and I were surf fishing near the entrance to Islands Beach State Park when we first had the idea to get kayaks.  We stood there on the beach and watched with envy a couple of kayakers pull in very large bass by snagging and dropping bunker (menhadden).  The journey from that point had begun.  By the end of the summer 2011 we had kayaks.   We were practicing surf launches/ landings and self-rescues.  Getting your kayak flipped in the surf is one of the worst feelings.
     I always kept that image in my head of a 40lb bass being caught on snagged bunker.  Yesterday all of the elements lined up.  I had off work, wave height was 1 to 2 ft, wind was less than 10mph, schools of bunker out front.  I bought a new snagger and after checking out the beach a little further north went to the same spot we saw the Bunker (and whale) last year.  First thing was to take a look.  The wind was strong enough to make little white caps, which made looking for bunker pods/ splashes a little difficult, but they were there.  They we there, and not more than 50 yards off shore.   My heart races, after all, for a YEAR I've been thinking about this moment.
    Minimal gear, that's the key.  We've been fishing in the bay with our kayaks and taking the kitchen sink, but now it was time to take a year's preparation and put it to test.  One rod. No hooks on it.  Strapped   down.  Paddle strapped down.  Snagger, and two lures sealed in the hatch between my legs.  It's a pain to get flipped in the surf in your kayak, it's a bigger pain to be flipped then impailed by one of your own hooks.  Everything tightly stowed and ready to go, I drag the boat to the surfs edge.   I only forgot one thing, a bottle of water.  Back to the car, bunker splashing.  Time is of the essence.
     I get near the pod of bunker and first try I snag on.  I wait.  Nothing.   It kind of drifts towards me.  I pull it in, put it by my feet and snag another.  I don't know how long they'll be here and If I should have been collecting bait.  (I probably should have been)  Nothing was attacking my Bunker.  I'm  a little disappointed now.  The pod dissipated pretty quickly, maybe ten minutes later, though it felt like an eternity.

     There were birds working farther out, so I troll my wounded Bunker out to them to see what they're onto.  As I got closer I noticed that only the smaller birds were diving, probably for spearing or sand eels, and i was looking for Bunker pods.  Since I'm alone I'm hesitant to get too far from shore.  I start to make my way back towards shore.  Just about an hour into this ordeal, and feeling pretty disappointed (only because I was so excited to begin with) I feel it.  Tap tap.  Tug tug.  My heart races.  Bunker splashes around me.  Tap tap.  My baitrunner zings, then stops.  Slack line.  I reel it towards me to take up the slack.  Tension, but is it hooked?  I pull a little more.  She pulls. It's on! I reel hard thinking that I'm setting the hook, tighten drag, get her closer, can see her shadow, her long body, she says hi... lets go of the bunker and swims away.   Not hooked?  After all that, not hooked!  Over the course of the next two hours I reeled in two half eaten bunker (bluefish)  and had another close encounter with a bass.  I was down to drifting a half eaten bunker and had that tapped on.
Half eaten bunker

    The pods of bunker had come and gone.  The sun was behind a cloud.  I had been out there for three and a half hours and had that feeling that I needed to call it.  I still planned on fishing after dark in the Sedges, so I needed to reserve some energy.  
     Now the dreaded part.  Ask anyone, surf landing is tricky.  I am not well experienced in it, and my success rate is low.  If the kayak gets turned at all to less than a 90 degree angle from the waves, the smallest wave will flip your boat over.  It's really simple, your boat will flip.  Since this is my feeling on the matter, I'm not looking forward to it.  Plus the swells were pretty big, even though the wave action at the surf line was low.  I go for the reverse landing.  Face the waves, (the beach is behind you, you can't see it) let them take you in to shore, keep the boat perpendicular, when you can, jump out and push your boat towards the shore while holding onto a rope.  Next thing I know, I'm on the beach.  Done......
the view from sea

     I make my way to Betty and Nicks and buy four eels (they were all very small).  I have a funny feeling like no other fishing will ever be as exciting, even though I didn't even get a solid hook up.  I try waiting until dark to fish, but it takes too long.  I fished from 8 to 10:15 p.m. Not much, but I guess I had enough excitement.  8 to 9 I fished an eel, nothing, but I kept him just in case.  I had the next two of my eels tangle up line and unhook themselves.  I was cursing.  My last live eel produces a bass, both the bass and eel come undone at the side of the boat.  (I am now cursing louder.)  I'm down to one dead eel, and ready to leave.  Tide is slack and has been feeling that way since I got there.  Also the tide as low as I've ever seen it.  The dead eel produces a short, landed, about twenty inches, released quickly, no pictures, I was done.