Friday, December 13, 2013

A fish of ten thousand paddles By: Steve Evans

One of my first "back bay" stripers. Now we catch many this size.

       It's a tough fall we had this year. I know we're not the only ones who came up with very little for a lot of hard hours put in, but sometimes that's how it goes. Every year or every season the fishing game plays out a little differently. I've been fishing since I could walk, but fishing saltwater from a kayak is a game that developed out of my pursuit of striped bass from shore. So it began with surf fishing for striped bass on Island Beach in fall of 2010. In summer of 2011 we got kayaks but we were still, at that time, basically shore fisherman with the expanded range offered by these man-powered plastic vessels. But that expanded range was enough, we were catching a lot more fish, and not just stripers but flounder and bluefish and even a weakfish or two. Now we are kayak fishermen, we still jump out and cast when the situation calls for it but we are developing our techniques to use the kayak as what it is: a specialized boat, which is the most effective tool for stealthy fish hunting in shallow water, day or night, and can be car-topped and launched from almost any beach or shoreline. So it's a new approach to the same pursuit which for me has always been to catch more, and especially, bigger fish.
Alexi gestures to the potential fish holding areas.
      Like I said, every year or season the fishing game plays out a little differently. In any given area, predator species are more or less plentiful and varieties of forage more or less abundant. Weather patterns affect the timing and locations for both predator and prey, and so on. It's an inconstant fluctuation of elemental factors, but to be any good at this game you've first got to achieve some degree of consistency just catching fish. Big fish are rare. A lot has been written by many, more informed than I, on fish mortality, young of the year statistics, over-fishing, fish stocks in decline, bad fisheries management and so on, so I will simply say as far as this article is concerned, and I think all would agree, there are many factors that prohibit individuals of many species of fish from reaching truly huge proportions. Furthermore, timing the weather, tide, season and all the multitude of other variables to tilt the odds toward a meeting with this huge fish will leave a very small window indeed. Simply fishing non-stop day and night when that window is open is a good approach but at some point your human weakness will make you crave sleep or food or warmth or comfort before that huge fish shows, or maybe it doesn't show, or maybe it finds something unnatural in the movement of your eel and just swims by without your even knowing.
 On the Chesapeake. 2011. My first year with the kayak.
      Where am I going with this? What's the point!? (you may be wondering) I guess the point is that In this relatively short period of time when I have been trying to catch a giant striped bass I have, as a result, caught more fish than I have ever previously done; I have become a proficient summer flounder fisherman catching my largest this year at 25"; I have taken first place in two kayak specific tournaments and participated in a handful of others; and I have expanded greatly upon my knowledge of tactics and methods for taking a variety of fish. Fishing from a kayak suits my nature, I mean, it puts me on the fish's level, in it's element, and into a connection with the element and the fish which I like very much. I know the areas I fish well enough to navigate them on moonless nights. The paddling keeps me in good shape and helped me quit smoking cigarettes. I get to be out in nature and sleep in a tent pretty much whenever I want (I do have to work sometimes). I've met and learned from a lot of people I couldn't have met otherwise. I get to be involved in an ecosystem, to observe nature from the inside. You probably think that I'm going to say something like "it's not about the fish, it's about being in nature", WRONG. All of this stuff I'm talking about isn't the real game, It is about the fish. It's not any sunset that brings me out there it's the giant fish that I am chasing that drive my focus and my determination. As I keep catching bigger and bigger fish I know I wont be satisfied, I'll have to keep going. So I am disappointed that I didn't crush my personal best for striped bass in Jersey this fall, I am frustrated by the overall lack of fish, but there's big bass down south and we're going to meet them. Yes, it is all about the fish, but I like the other stuff too.



Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sometimes all you catch is a nice sunset..., By Alexi

     "A wet hook is better than a dry hook," I overheard Grumpy hisself say this to a customer.  I'm not sure I believe it.  Word on the street (or the internet) is that they're all gone.  That's right, I said it.   All of the fish are gone.  Since we're new to this game, we don't have a lot of personal data to go by.  Asking each and every old salt will garner the same answer, numbers are down, regulators are slow to respond or unresponsive.  It's our duty to self impose stricter limits.  But still, really no fish of any class size at all in three consecutive trips?  Even if it is partially due to a smaller YOY class, or the total decimation of the species in the great sand eel blitz of 2011, you'd think that there would still be SOME fish in the bays.  Well we sure couldn't find them, from Cape May county to Barnegat Bay, we couldn't even cach a damn cold!!

the boats were full of themselves with potential

into the sunset we launch

and confidence increases
After fishing the evening bite for a few hours we camped out by a tree.
In thew morning the water nearly washed away my kayak.

overcast, perfect, but not a bite...

Full of confidence in the morning, hot coffee and all...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Striper Revenge, Monday Nov 18th, by Alexi

     So after the debacle of the surf launch; the embarrassment of being laughed at by thousands of fish; the humbling experience of looking at the weigh in lists of tackle shops a mile long;  after all that and more, I decided to stick with a plan made over a week ago: to fish the a sedges on Monday evening with KGB.  DESPITE the forecast for approx. 15 mph winds we went ahead (between 6 and 8 p.m. the wind was actually more like 0 mph).  DESPITE the fact that the bite was obviously on sand-eels in the surf, we launched our kayaks in the bay!  Against all odds, and despite all of the whole damn internet telling us that if we want to catch fish we needed to do do something else.  I guess we (I) just really like fishing the bay with my kayak.  I also hate crowds, so that might be another reason I didn't want to fish out front.  So here it is:

My fish for the great Sand Eel Blitz of 2013
15 lbs, 33"

apparently a guy at the launch was making fun
of all of my gear and asked where I was going to put the fish....

     It wasn't easy to come by.  We started fishing just before sunset.  We hit all of our usual spots where fish were caught in the past.  Up and down Snake Ditch.  "Weakfish Point."  Unsure about the wind, since the forecast was so far off from the reality, we decided to head west, knowing that if and when the wind picked up, at least it would blow us back to the launch.  Around many turns, and through Horsefoot Slough (where I had caught a keeper exactly a month ago) we travelled out to Oyster Creek Channel, (the area we call Seal Island.)  It was here that I caught my biggest fish of the spring.  There were no boats.   I was surprised.  I was surprised because the past few trips out there there had always been at least one one boat drifting along the banks.  This time we had it all to ourselves.  I went straight out into about 20 feet of water.  It was slack tide, and there was a nice rip forming just in front of Seal Island where the incoming and outgoing waters were trying to do battle.  This meant some standing waves.  I was unsure if I was getting hits on my eel, or the water and current and (now) wind were just strong enough to take line on my baitrunner.  I tightened up on the drag a little.  Still getting tugs, then nothing a few more times, and a few recasts to check my eel, I hear the line go...., I pick up my rod....., and I feel the telltale weight of a fish.   I'm using a relatively new rod, A Shimano Teramar with an Avet SXJ.
     The rod has a ton of sensitivity in the top half.  I could feel every little head jerk the fish was making, and I wasn't used to this.  Also, it took me a few moments to feel out the size of the fish.  I hollered to KGB "Hooked up!"
He said, "nothing."
 I said, "HOOKED UP"
 I hollered " NO,  I HAVE A FISH, AND IT"S BIG!"

 I think that's when he realized what I was shouting about.

I let it take a few runs once I felt the weight, which was probably a good idea, as it was barely hooked.

Though the Teramar is sensitive, it has a good backbone, and the Avet is just a powerhorse.

We spent a little longer at Seal Island, then moved on to the Sedge House where KGB had a short on his eel, then let the wind which had picked up  carry us back to the launch.

All in all, we followed the plan we had made, and had a successful trip, (though still not the off the hook trip we were hoping for,) the weather was much more pleasant than predicted and we both caught fish!!!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"It's a damn FOOD CHAIN!" By: Steve Evans

      Most of the time we'd plan a fishing trip about a week in advance, but sometimes an unusual coincidence of sea conditions, weather, and season is imperative: FISH NOW!. Weather predictions are sketchy when projected beyond about three days, so we cannot know exactly when the perfect conditions for an ocean launch will arrive. I work most weekends and plan fishing during the week since I have the good fortune of being able to schedule my work around fishing, and I dislike fishing in a crowd. So my Saturday and Sunday were taken by non-fishing plans and fishing mate Alexi was in the same boat.

      A window of time opened up when ocean-launch kayak fishing conditions would be ideal, And the word was: loads of striped bass feasting on sand eels ocean side of island beach. We had to go. We figured there was time since it was a very early morning bite, we'd fish three hours from dawn to around 8 or 9 and go home with giant striped bass to rub in everyone's face.
This is what perfect conditions look like.

      I couldn't wait so pretty much right after work Saturday, I was getting ready and heading out. Meanwhile Alexi, with the help of the internet, was gathering an armada of obsessive-compulsive kayak fishing nuts to stage the largest surf-launch the world would ever see.... sadly only one person would show up.

      At 10:30 pm, Saturday night, I was standing at Winter Anchorage, the bay side launch at Island Beach, There were anglers everywhere through the park and trucks in every lot, but the sedge island canoe and kayak access was empty, quiet, and the bay was flat and still.

      Whenever I go ahead of Alexi I always burn out my mind, and eat all my food and use all of my energy before he gets there, and when he gets there he's like..... "wow! conditions are great! I'm gonna catch a big striped bass! Can I get an eel?" and then I'm like.... " I used all the eels, and there's no fish anyway. fishing is stupid, let's go home and drink."

      So I was planning on doing the same thing Saturday night, wasting myself on fishing bay side, when two guys beached their kayaks there and we talked for a while. These guys, Ron and Rich, are two sedge island old timers and talking with them for an hour was an education, I mean these guys have a decade for every year I have fishing Island Beach, so I listened very closely to the things they said. "It's a damn FOOD CHAIN!!!" said Rich.

      (Richard King is a wildlife photographer specializing in the Barnegat estuary and when he told me this I remembered instantly a work of his which I had seen which shows all of the Barnegat forage fish. I had previously used this image to identify the stomach contents of some fish I cleaned.)

      After a long chat with these guys, who hadn't had any fish at all, I decided not to waste my energy on the bay, I would sleep in my truck until it was time for the ocean. Alexi arrived some time in the middle of the night and threw an eel at the sod banks while I slept, no fish though.

      We readied the boats and met Greg at the Island Beach Motor Lodge, he was the only kayaker who showed for the surf-launch armada, sometime before 6 am. I think the tide was high, and there was a fisherman every two-hundred feet in both directions so we asked permission before launching.
      This was my first time using the Ocean Kayak Drifter I bought recently so setup was a little different, this boat isn't outfitted to accept my tackle crate and so I just grabbed the eels and some boxes of lures, the eels were the important thing, or so I thought.

      It was overcast when we launched but visibility was good, we paddled straight out to a depth around thirty some feet. Fog moved in fast and I said to Alexi "Soon we won't see the beach" and then "There goes the beach."

      Boats were everywhere and I was getting uncomfortable, I know how difficult it is to spot kayaks from big boats with a small swell on the water and this fog limited visibility to a hundred yards or less which means captains spend more time looking at their electronics and not at the water, add to that that it's a weekend so there are lots more boats and an increase in the percentage of inexperienced boaters and likely at least a few boaters who are just plain stupid. A boat stopped very close to us and the captain called out to us that he hadn't seen us 'til he was very close "Be careful!" he shouted. He wasn't being rude just trying to help which I appreciated. I thought we'd have to head in. The three of us stayed close together and moved closer to the surf zone where there were few boats and a couple more kayakers and some guys trolling from stand up paddle boards, safety in numbers. We fished close to shore as the fog started to lift. While we were there we saw two big skiffs nearly collide.

        All the while Alexi was watching his sonar and he kept saying "Hold on!" and "Here we go!" and "I"M MARKING A LOT OF FISH!" But nothing was happening. We did see a boat bring up a fish. My VHF radio was tuned to 78 and the chatter was mostly from the bathing beach area, guys trolling white shads, some guys jigging, some trolling umbrellas of small tubes all catching tons bass.

      Next, all around, there were fish breaking everywhere, chasing sand eels at the surface, some right next to my boat. Greg hooked a hickory shad on a teaser. Alexi and I were fishing live eels from rod holders and casting lures, Alexi trolled a tube and worm, I was casting hogys and sluggos. I heard a shout and saw Greg was hooked up. Definitely not a hickory shad, a nice bass, his first keeper for the season and I think he said first ever from the kayak, or maybe first keeper from a kayak, anyway a special fish. He got it on an SP minnow.

      No doubt that the bite was on sand eels, they were everywhere, the bass were going nuts. With my new boat carelessly outfitted with minimal tackle, I didn't have anything; a teaser or a soft plastic or  a small swimmer, that looked much like a sand eel, (If you're reading this you probably know, but for the benefit of those who don't, and to clarify any confusion an Eel and a Sand Eel are in fact two very different fish.) so I put on a pencil popper figuring that was the best imitation I had. I had a lot of short strikes and a few solid hits on the popper but I couldn't convert them into fish in the boat.

      Time was up, and we left with fish still swirling on the surface Alexi and I had the skunk, but it felt better that Greg, at least, got a nice striper, one bass, at least, for the kayak crew.

      Later on the online reports and the weigh in lists showed that about a million fish were caught that day, I was there at the perfect time and place, I can only speculate that I simply didn't have the right presentation. I'm still amazed that at least one dumb fish didn't hit my eel. I had good action on my popper and if I'd fished another hour or two I more than likely would have caught a bass.....  maybe. Maybe if I'd had a certain lure, an AVA or a Bass Assassin or a YO-ZURI but who knows. Greg had a good sand eel imitation with the SP minnow and a teaser but with what seemed like hundreds of bass around, he only caught one, so that can't be the whole explanation. Sometimes maybe there's so much bait in the water that the fish are hyper selective, or maybe our offerings are like a needle in a needle stack, the big boats definitely put more hooks in the water with their trolling spreads, but weren't guys catching them jigging too?

I keep hearing Rich King saying "It's a damn FOOD CHAIN!"

       That's the mental game of fishing. If you've never sat on a pile of fish and couldn't catch a single one, it will happen, and you will be haunted by the thought of it, and conjecture and superstition will plague you for days.... I wish it wasn't so. On the bright side with every experience comes knowledge and gain in imperceptible forms, which hopefully will aid us somewhere further on past where we started from... someday.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2nd week of Nov.

27" Striper with Eel in mouth
Just a quick little report.  

First the good news:     It took us a while, but Saturday night we ended up finding some fish.  Nothing over 28" in the boat, but all were very close.  I think we each boated two, and had many many hits and lost fish on our eels.  There was very little water back in the Sedges, and it wasn't until the incoming tide that we started getting hits.  I marked the fish on my Humminbird, and immediately started getting hits.  I feel more and more confident about being able to read and interpret the information my fishfinder is giving me.

And now the bad news:     COLD AND WINDY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

     Two things, like pop rocks and Coke-a-Cola, that when combined together make it extremely difficult to fish from a kayak.  Steve tried it on  Monday night.  When I joined him on Tuesday evening he was frozen solid.  I held him over the fire to thaw him out, but only the outside got crispy.  It melted, and smelled like burning plastic.  Eventually he thawed out and came to at Grumpy's.  Someone was talking to him when he came to.  I think the guy was trying to tell him a story of how his friend stepped off a sandbar, and that's why it's smart for Steve to wear his pfd.  But Steve actually thought he was still in his kayak floating in the inlet.  He told the man so much, but he wouldn't listen, he just kept talking, and talking.  It was warm in the store, but we knew that eventually we would have to leave, so we made a plan that did not include the boats....
       Instead (of kayak fishing) we tossed some eels in the Pt. Pleasant Canal for a couple of hours, then tried surf fishing for an hour and a half (really pathetic, I know).  One of the first things I think I learned about fishing is that you have to put in the time to catch fish....and this we did not do on Tuesday night.  So, it's not much of a report, because, though I packed my kayak, and all of my kayaking gear, I didn't even bother getting it wet.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"Paddle paddle paddle" week of Nov. 6th ....

paddle paddle paddle

Monday Nov 4th, 2013 thru Tuesday Nov 5th, 2013.

Steve arrived at the Sedges in IBSP before sunset to fish through the night.  He managed one short and one keeper, both on a Hogy eel imitation.  Both at Weakfish point. (the interesting point here is that he had real eels with him)

I arrived at 5:00 a.m.  Just in time for sunrise.  Short bass, and more short bass.
The morning was slow.

We paddled our way to all of the usual spots.  In fact, if your looking at this blog on a computer, (as opposed to a smart phone) then to the right you should see a new little map of the sedges.  We basically covered every inch of that map.

In front of the sedge house I caught a short on a live eel.

Steve had continuous daytime action on topwater lures.

Rule # 201: When in a kayak, remember, things are always farther away than they look!

We paddled across the inlet to Double Creek channel, where we had never really had much luck, and the current was ripping.  (I caught two shorts there.)

---Over the radio I heard some boat chatter about another kayaker that was stuck paddling against the current by the lighthouse----
We paddled across the inlet (back to snake ditch) after sunset.  I got stuck on a sandbar, then went too far, then caught no fish in Snake Ditch even though I heard them feeding, and was throwing small profiles.  Oh well.

So, overall, we caught no fish where we usually catch fish, and caught fish where we usually don't!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Shorts, shorts, shorts, and I'm not talking about pants!

    Sometimes I am haunted by the thought that I will never again see as big a fish as I have in the past by the side of my kayak (which truth be told isn't even that big), to slide it onto my lap and regard its beauty.  I am now the master of the 20" back bay striper!
     I can say with near certainty that no-one was fishing in N.J. this time last year.  So as I look at my records I have to go back to Oct 2011.  We were fishing the sedges from land with eels back then, and my records are vague in that they say "many fish 30"-35" for all three of us, (KGB, Steve and I) from Oct 26th to Nov 7th. 
     Almost every fishing trip has a week of planning and theorizing behind it.  So, when the time comes to fish, the let-down of unfulfilled dreams is tremendous.  What would seem to a normal person as a good day on the water turns into utter failure for the crazed and demented and addicted fishermen that we are.
    To the point: I was after big fish.  I sought structure and deep water.  I used live baits.
The Report:

     On Monday Oct 28th I went on an evening trip with KGB.  Our plan was to fish until 11:00 PM, but instead we fished until 1:00 AM.  I made a beeline for the N. Jetty.
Slack tide in the inlet was 6:00 PM and sunset was around 6:00 PM, a wonderful coincidence worth taking advantage of.  I trolled tube-n-worm through Snake ditch and caught two shorts.  I could have stayed and caught more fish (and perhaps larger fish), but my thoughts were stuck on the fact there would be larger fish along the rocks.  There were a few guys fishing the pocket, a diver at the end, and several boats fishing over the rocks at the end of the N. Jetty.  It was calm, and the boat traffic was surprisingly low.  I had no problems trolling  my lure out to the end of the jetty, then at the end of the incoming drifting an eel back in.  I didn't even get a sniff.

N. Jetty
     After the sun had set I fished with eels in Oyster Creek Channel along with MANY boats.  Again, not a sniff.
     Back inside I caught a few more shorts on bass assassins, all tagged and released.  We ended the trip floating eels around in Snake Ditch.
     Not a Sniff.
A short striped bass tagged fish for the American Littoral Society

    I got to hand it to KGB, he stuck it out with the big baits and got skunked, while I couldn't help but toss small plastics and catch 20" fish.

     Two days later I was back at it, only because I could.  My confidence level was WAY too high.  For sure, I thought, this time there would be big fish around, as the boats had been nailing them out front just the day before.  Steve and I fished from about noon to 11:00 PM.  He stuck to flats fishing with a popper and was able to conjure up some shorts (and tails of larger fish).  I was determined to hit deeper water, again, with bigger lures.  This time I went straight out to Oyster Creek Channel.
     I found a school of shorts out by Seal Island.  I stopped harassing them to troll my tube in deep water.  I probably gave up on this too soon.
     I paddled to the corner of Snake Ditch where a million short bass live.  I was beginning to be bored.  I started to go through all of the free soft plastic lures that I had gotten at the tournaments recently.  First was a Chartreuse bass assassin.  I watched a fish come look at it.  Next cast I  slowed my retrieve and hooked up.   I cast it a few more times, then Steve joined me for a dinner break on the corner.  As we were sitting there, I threw on a generic version of a Mr. Twister.
Mr Twister

Something I had never used before, but others do well with out there.  I had a whole baggie full of them.  First cast, fish on. (Yet another 20 inch fish)

 Once again I ended my day at Snake Ditch drifting an eel, getting no love.   The tide was really slack, both Steve and I felt satisfied with the trip.

old Barney and a calm inlet

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

10/25 and 10/26 report: The 2013 Cape May Kayak Fishing Jamboree In Review... WE WON!!! By: Steve Evans

      This past weekend we took part in our third, kayak angling specific, tournament of the year, only this event is not touted as a "tournament", it's a jamboree.....

      What the hell is a jamboree!? (If you've never attended this event, and you were never a boy scout or girl scout, this is what you're probably asking.) For our purposes let us say that a jamboree is a gathering of loosely affiliated entrants who share a common avocation, for the purpose of engaging in some friendly yet sporting scrimmage.

      There is a "calcutta" or pool for the largest fish, lots of raffle drawings, and a big party with food at the end.  This year the event was held at Lake Laurie Campground

      The money raised by the event was for the New Jersey chapter of Heroes On the Water.

       In the jamboree no prizes are awarded for first, second, and third in the various categories. Instead, those who wish to play can put five bucks into a bin which corresponds to a fish species. The angler who registers a photo of the largest fish of any of the species involved within the allotted time wins all the cash for that species.

      The species were: Redfish. Weakfish. Striped Bass. Tautog. And Bluefish.

      We arrived Friday afternoon at the Kayak Fishing Store. There were car topped kayaks and kayaks going into the water and kayaks coming out: this was the jumping off point. We got directions to Lake Laurie from a guy in a Kokatat dry suit with a David Crosby mustache, his name was Paul, he was very helpful and as it turned out he had a key to the store so he let us in and I was able to get a battery for my Humminbird fish-finder/ GPS which I needed to complete the troubleshooting and repair cycle of the last couple trips. IT FINALLY WORKS!

      The Captain's meeting was at 6 pm.

      As for Captain Alexi and Captain Steve, this time of year our primary target is Striped Bass, and so it was for the tournament. Since we share a surf fishing and back bay kayak fishing background, Tautog are not really a familiar species to us, so we each put in cash for all the species except Tog since we agreed it was not reasonable to expect Tog as a by-catch while targeting Striped Bass.

      Finally a tournament with night fishing!

      Some guys at the captain's meeting were already drinking beer, enviable, I thought, but we were drinking coffee and five hour energy (Alexi brought a case). There was heavy wind in the forecast for the following day, the best conditions would be night and early morning. There was much fishing to be done......

      If there is one thing we've got going for us, maybe more than anything else it is our endurance. I am not exaggerating when I say we each fished a total of sixteen hours all through the deep night and into the next day and the truth is: the fishing was not so good. One short bass for Alexi and nothing for me all night.... In the early days of our fishing we fished the surf, so when we made the switch to kayak fishing we were already very used to putting in long hours walking the beach and casting, and regularly catching few or no fish.

      We started where we had good results in the past. When those spots failed we tried some new areas. We were Trolling Tube-and-Worm, we were drifting eels, we were casting a variety of lures.

      At first light we were over some sand flats approaching the inlet.

       We decided to head over to the rock walls across from where we were and to troll along the bottom structure with weighted tubes. Alexi got there first while I was re-rigging due to some typical shit-storm. Over my VHF I heard him say "Perchman... I've got something... I need photo assistance". I paddled over and he pulled up a nice fish about 30" and real fat.

       He was hooked up again while I was battling another shit-storm and once I was back in action I was on too. I lost the first fish wheeled around and went back over the same spot. The tide was slack and I was positioning my tube precisely with my boat and watching my depth-finder, I was watching my rod tip telegraph my weight 'ticking' the bottom when in typical Tube-and-Worm fashion I stop and drop the tube and WHAM! Now is the hard part: I keep paddling, I know I lost the first fish because I picked up the rod too soon. There is another hit then, WHAM! again, and now the drag is engaged I pick up the rod and feel the weight of the fish. A nice tow and few drag pulling dives and I leg the fish onto the deck. I measure The fish at 32" this one is real fat too.


      It was still early but we felt pretty confident. My 32" might be in contention.

      Unfortunately the bass bite seemed to be over. And that was pretty much the day, and the tournament for that matter. A few more small bass were caught but after the wind started to build we were ready to head in.

      Back at the hobo camp fatigue was gaining the upper hand.....

      But the Tog guys were just getting going!!!

      By 4:30 pm I was registered and in the lead for Striped Bass... By sometime around 8 pm, 26 hours after the captain's meeting the night before and without a lick of sleep I left the party to find a toilet. Asleep upon the noble john I wake to my phone ringing... It's Alexi... He says "Hurry and get back to the party! You won!"........


      I WON!!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

10/23/13 Report: Straight, No Chaser or "It's so much like life" By: Steve Evans

      After work I loaded up and drove straight out to IBSP with one stop at the Hook House for a dozen snakes. Low cloud cover and spitting rain, the whole drive I kept thinking "Perfect!"  (I was gonna catch a big fish).
      I think I got bit on my first or second cast.... Wait! Before my first cast my eel managed to mostly destroy itself by tying it's throat up in knots of 50 pound leader and to successfully pop it's own eye out. I fixed that, re-hooked the eel and sent it out and brought back an empty hook. Apparently with such a hole as it had bored into it's own skull it had simply to be cast to be entirely thrown off.

      Second eel, second cast.... I get bit, swing the hook and miss. Third cast: fish on. Even though my drag is completely loose and my boat is backwards I know this fish isn't very big. I land it quickly but it takes a long time to release. The octopus hook is dug into the fishes throat badly, I know just by looking that this fish is gonna die. I release the fish and move back up. Fourth cast: fish on. This one is the same about 22", and hooked well and released quickly, only as I release this fish I can clearly see the first fish is floating almost dead.

      Seventh cast: fish on. I know It's another school bass. It's a good bite but not the one I'm looking for. 

      Next I cast off another eel, and the following snake annihilates itself in much the same fashion as the first. Then I bring the next eel out of the bucket dead. My kayak is becoming Halloween.

      The wind comes in at this point and blows the whole thing up. was completely wrong about wind velocity. I was sitting in my boat listening to the NOAA marine forecast on my VHF: 15 to 20 knot winds gusting to 25 and 30 from sandy hook to cape may county. I don't mind bad weather if the fishing's good but The bite had stopped for hours. It was time to go.


      Though originally I ended this post here I am going to add a little more. Killing a fish unintentionally does not make me happy. In fact I was pretty upset, and even more so having just read about some depressing striped bass issues in a blog article by Capt. John McMurry on I considered whether or not to even include this event on fishing in the dark. Then I thought: fishing in the dark is about keeping it real. We do not represent some larger entity and we are not here to sell a product or to make a profit in any way or really even to be popular or loved. We are writing about our experiences on the water as we try to become better fishermen. That said we consider ourselves to be conservation minded anglers, involved in tagging for the littoral society and members of the CCA. We love these fish. Sometimes the unfortunate side-effect of fishing is the death of fish we do not intend to keep or which are not legal to keep. Whether using lures or bait or flies statistics tell us that, even with proper handling and care, a certain percentage of fish we release will die; by exhaustion; over-handling; deep-hooking or other wounds.  It is a part of fishing so there it is, Straight no chaser. If you don't like it, take up golf.   


Sunday, October 20, 2013

GO FISHING!!! By: Steve Evans

      Shrinking days and cooler air herald the fall season. Low-pressure systems and their attendant storms cause atmospheric shifts that prick the migratory instincts of predator and prey fishes to move and eat, and move and eat, as the seasons wind down again to winter. This is mother nature's clockwork, the pins all locking correctly and obediently into place set the stage for the commencement of the season  known to anglers from the Gulf of Maine to Cape Hatteras as the "fall run".

      In the human world of New Jersey the fall run begins with rumors. Inevitably when the first big school of fish moves through, some sentient soul is posted out on a spit of beach, or perched on a rock jetty with a dressed or baited hook pointed and expectant. All the others watching football; or in bed; or at work; or standing in the Wawa parking lot; or looking at pictures of fish on their computers; or otherwise occupied by some non-fishing event will not know that the heavy oblong shapes of sea run striped bass are moving close at hand until they check the local shops; or the weigh-in lists; or the online fishing forums, in short, until the rumor mill begins to spin.

      The problem about chasing rumors in fishing of course is that by the time news of the bite gets to you everything may have changed, the wind shifts, the bait moves, the air pressure spikes or the temperature drops and the fish wont bite, or for whatever reason the fish just leave. The only sure way to know whether the fishing's good is to get out and fish as much as possible. Every day would of course be the ideal amount to be certain not to miss the bite, but let's just say that's pretty hard to do unless fishing pays your bills. That being the case most fishermen are still going to rely somewhat on second or third hand information when planning where and when to fish. Nothing wrong with that of course, we do it plenty, in fact any fishermen amateurs or pros who aren't using every bit of reliable information available to dial in the bite are handicapping themselves.
      I was at home Wednesday night, October the 16th, when I got a text from Alexi "29 lb bass weighed in, live eel Island Beach State Park". The fish had been weighed in at Betty and Nicks in Seaside Park New Jersey. I had previously intended to fish Wednesday night but since Alexi would be going Thursday and KGB on Friday I didn't press myself to go, by all accounts a lazy mistake. The news on the Grumpy's Tackle site (which we consult along with Betty and Nicks daily if not hourly when we are not fishing) indicated fish moving through the area and by the time we got to the shore one guy had already walked straight up to us at the Wawa to tell us of his 2 keepers and other short fish clammed up the night before in the park, the tackle shops were buzzing with chatter about fish from shore and from boats bay side and ocean side. "They're here" everything seemed to be saying, music to my ears. 

      We were going to fish with live eels but for some reason even such a simple plan cannot prevent Alexi and myself from schlepping every goddamn piece of fishing tackle we own out onto the water with us "just in case". In case of what I really have no f-ing clue, but it is manifestly clear by now that we cannot simply go out with one rod, some hooks, some weights and some eels even if that's all we need.

      We actually began throwing Bass Assassin's first and the school bass were in all the usual points, creek mouths, seams, and holes. These were typical length fish for late summer early fall but some heavier fish were, I think, in from the ocean (maybe my imagination but some look just a little more silver too). The spring tide (full moon) current matched with a building south south west wind, made simple drifting with our eels pretty tough so we moved around a bit. On the flats we trolled our eels behind us, this netted me a short bass and a short for Alexi. Alexi and I were in a nice channel near some sedge banks when he said something like "I want to make a few more casts here, I really like the looks of this spot" a few more casts made and I was watching Alexi getting towed around by a nice fish which taped out around 30". We fished another hour or so while the weather turned to rain and the wind continued to increase. We left without any more action.

      Day two of this stretch we brought KGB. Now it was a Friday and the after work crowd was out in force. The word was now out that the first waves of the fall run were rolling through. We had about a dozen eels left from the first night so we put them in my Frabill Flow Troll and set them in Alexie's pond next to the aerator to keep them lively. Still we would need more than a dozen for the three of us for a full night so on our way we put in a call to Murphy's Hook House to make sure they would have the bait, the guy who picked up the phone said "you better hurry, I just sold three dozen to some guy going out in his boat tonight in the bay". All the rumors and reports, the mild weather and a bright full moon meant a lot of fishermen in the park, we saw another kayak fisherman launching in the dark at winter anchorage, and a whole fleet of boats out in oyster creek channel. From my seat I did not see a whole lot of action. Alexie had one short. I got hung up on every damn sand shoal on my way back to weakfish point where we set up camp, drank a box of wine and stumbled around until we were all too tired to stand.

      In the morning there were still plenty of short bass to be taken throwing plastics and Alexie and KGB were on that bite and so was a hundred year old guy in camouflage bib waders fishing from shore with a curly-tail grub on a lead jig old school. Later at the launch the old man ran over some clam raker's shoes which was pretty amusing for everyone except the clammer. Anyway, I was about to be skunked and I dutifully fished my eel until that bitter fate was sealed.

      Back in the world of second hand information we found that Friday had not been good fishing for a lot of anglers. Well, that's just how it is sometimes, but I just can't help the feeling, If I'd have gone fishing Wednesday night I'd be telling a very different story now.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

report - 4th Annual NCKFA Oak Island Classic Kayak Fishing Tournament, by Alexi

 Last weekend we drove 8 hours to fish in the 4th Annual NCKFA Oak Island Classic Kayak Fishing Tournament.  The anticipation for this trip was intense.  It had been two years since we had been to this tournament, and supposedly we were much better fishermen now than we were then.

the launch pad
     Our first stop was the Bass Pro shop in Baltimore, Md.  We had 15% off one item coupons from the CBKA tournament.
Steve holds the coupon

We had been planning to use this coupon to it's fullest potential, perhaps buying the most expensive thing we could see useful.  However, upon reading the fine print, (always fine print) Steve discovered that this discount was only good for certain items; nothing expensive.  We picked up some popping corks having read on the magical internet that these would be useful to us in catching redfish and specs.

     Our second stop was Green Top.
taxidermy at it's finest

A family owned giant fishing and hunting store just outside of  Richmond, Va.  There I bought a Shimano Curado baitcaster reel and a Shimano Teremar rod that's probably too heavy for it, but will be useful to me in the future.

     Our third shopping stop was at Walmart.
even the outside is depressing!
Steve was getting his fishing license and we were both doing some grocery shopping for the next couple of days.  Some items in our carts; Cheese, bread, charcoal, mayonnaise, beanie weenie, ice, beer, water, beer, energy bars, and energy drinks.
     The motel was familiar.  We stayed there two years ago.  It's the Captains Cove Hotel. We got there just in time for check in.  Very affordable and not shady.  They do however say that even if you get skunked, you can always catch crabs at the Captains Cove Hotel.
     Upon arriving there was a truck in the parking area with four kayaks on it.  We started talking to Chad who was there to promote he and his dad's company that makes the T-bone.  It's an attachment that goes on the back of your pick-up truck to load your kayaks onto it.  Chad was also there to fish.  As he said "Beer, Beards, and Kayak Fishing!"          
captain's cove hotel

     We woke up early and went to our first pre-fishing spot, Bluewater Point Marina and Hotel.  The plan was to pre-fish four areas (four hours each) over the course of two days, and where we caught the most inches of fish total would be the tournament spot.  It was windy, to say the least.  I had some short fluke, or flounder as they say in North Carolina and most other places on earth besides N.J, N.Y,)  and Steve caught a redfish (as would be the pattern for my whole trip).
one of many Redfish
double spots

one of many Flounder

We found some really nice, out-of-the-way flats that should have been holding slot reds, but weren't, so we moved on to the next spot.
     The next fishing location was a fish desert.  It was Dutchman Creek. We were both skunked there.  
     We went back to the base camp and drank beers and cooked a Redfish, and talked with Chad.

cleaning the REdfish at the hotel

     The next day had a similar pattern.  In the first half of the day we went back to the same launch we ended the previous day with, even though it stunk like a dead skunk by the side of the road, but instead of going left we went right.  I caught flounder, Steve found a redfish.  I also ran into Phil who was calling out like a loon or an owl in some narrow little creek.  He thought I was one of his friends.  I thought he was a bird.  Since fishing was really not a priority for either of us, we paddled and talked for a bit.  It turns out the concrete ships at Kiptopeke are four hours for them, and four hours for us, so tentatively we planned on meeting there this winter.
     The second half of friday we spent at the spot we fished for the tournament two years ago, Varnamtown.  It's a small shrimping port, way back up the Eastern Bend.  This is where two years ago KGB, Steve and I saw tons of finning redfish on the flats.  I had high expectations.  Steve was skunked there, and I caught (my first) two Spec's simultaneously.
10" speckled trout

18" speckled trout

I had a popping cork floating behind me while I was casting a gulp bucktail along the shore.  I hooked up with a ten inch Speck on the Gulp Bucktail and was in the process of photographing it when my back rod went off.  It was an 18" Speckled Trout.  This was pretty much the highlight of my trip, though I wouldn't know it then.  That was the end of the day there.  Now we had to decide what to do for the tournament.

     Tournament day we went to Varnamtown.
launch at Varnamtown

We woke up late.  My alarm didn't go off.  Not too late, but we weren't there by 7 A.M.  Steve started the day off finding the Redfish in some shallow water.  The tide was out going, and they were in some shallow spit of water.  I wasn't getting into any action, so I went and did the float he did, and saw several Reds, but had no luck hooking into any.  My best fish for the day was a measely 14.5" flounder.  Steve's redfish was 19", a bit shorter than the one he had on the first day we were out there, which was a 22" Red.  He caught that one the same way I caught my Speck, with a drifting a fake shrimp under a popping cork.
     Later in the day we find a little spot that will forever be known as "shitstorm hole."
example of a shitstorm

I hooked into something big in this spot that cut me off on some oyster shells.  Then, as I was fishing the hole, I nearly lost my rod and my reel, and my boga grip.....but I didn't actually lose anything, because magically I stood up and walked across my boat and gathered my gear and sat back down!
  That was it for the tounament, we had to head back to the be at the door by 4.  We got there at ten of...Our fish were small, but it wasn't worth the chance, because what if everyone else's day happen to be worse....Of course it wasn't.

tournament headquarters

All in all, though we didn't "win" we were triumphant!!!!