Friday, June 28, 2013

All Roads Lead To Snake Ditch (June 24, 2013) By Alexi

    Occasionally we do seemingly normal things in regards to fishing expeditions.  Or, at least, that's what it felt like when we were loading the Kayaks at 3:30 A.M. last Monday morning.  As we drove into the sunrise, full of anticipation, we had that "now this is what real fishermen do" moment.
Fishermen at first light at the L jetty in Deal
Our heads full of memories of when we were kids and our dads would wake us up really early to go fishing.  Because normal people fish at first light, not in the middle of the night (like we usually try to do.)
    We were trying a new spot.  We wanted to surf launch near Deal and snag n drop bunker for big bass.  Just as we pulled up to look at the ocean we saw The Average Angler getting into his truck and pulling away.  We looked and drove and looked and drove, and did not see any birds or bunker.  We decided to go check out Sandy Hook as neither of us had ever fished there before.
Lighthouse at Sandy Hook 
We were not very impressed.  Of course not knowing where the structure was, and not seeing bait in the bay, it really just looked like a lot of paddling against the wind.  We drove more.  We checked out some spots along the Nevasink, but really had no plan, and very little little information on the area.  We jumped on the Garden State Parkway and headed south to good old Barnegat Bay.
     The water was a little stained, but not as bad as it had been before.  It was a little weedy, but not unfishable.  As I trolled a tube-n-worm through Snake Ditch I hooked up with a fish that felt strange.  Unlike a bass or a blue or a fluke.  Minutes later Steve caught a Triggerfish.
(Grey) Triggerfish
I switched to a small bass assassin and caught several short bass throughout the day.
One of many short bass
Steve and I ventured into the inlet where he caught a (just) keeper fluke.  There were LOTS of people paddling and boating through Snake Ditch.  It's summer and daytime, at least there were no waverunners. As we headed back I hooked another short bass by the launch.  I was a little surprised that we didn't get any bluefish as I knew that they were around.
     There was a wall of clouds across the bay and we could see the rain.  We started loading the car.  The rain got closer.  Then the wind picked up.  There were two other kayakers loading their vehicles.  Then, just as we were almost done getting our things in the truck, the hail started.  We were forced to abandon the task of putting the kayaks on the car, and take shelter in the truck.  The wind (reportedly 60mph) was coming from the West across the open water of the Bay and nailing us.  The kayaks were flying around, hitting our truck.  A kayak on another car ripped one of the straps and was flailing around, and on of the guys in a sedan said he felt his car move.  We thought the back window of Steve's truck was going to get blown out by the hail, or a duck, or a bass, but in the end it was fine.  As soon as the storm had started it stopped and we got out of there.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Story Behind Steve's Fluke or, first day of Summer.

     The fishing trip started out like any other.  Someone, (in this case it was my wife's visiting father,) made a comment on how we take a ton of crap with us.  Well, we weren't sure if we were going to go overnight or not, so we put the kitchen sink into the back of Steve's truck.  We had a plan.  It was to launch somewhere on the West side of Barnegat Bay and paddle to the BB and or BI buoys and catch fluke and weakfish.  It was really a vague idea of a plan since it was all new to us.  We didn't know where to launch, or really where those buoys were.  Our research was in no way thorough.
     As any regular readers of this blog may have realized, we usually stop at every tackle shop and spend a million dollars before fishing.  We stopped at Bob Kislin's, a kayak shop in Tom's River, to get a new plug for KGB's kayak since it had disappeared.  Steve was saying that they only had crappy bucktails there, and that they never have exactly what we want.  They had the plug, and they had Gulp and some bucktails, but they didn't have the size braid I wanted for my new Stradic 3000. They had a 3000, but only 40# braid, so they got close...  I didn't get the reel, even though I was tempted.  I really did know exactly what it was I wanted.  I have the perfect rod for a 3000 with  20# braid.
     From there we went to find the new launch.  The water was chocolate and weedy with white caps.  There was no discussion.  We left immediately.  An hour later we were in Seaside Park.  At Grumpy's I asked about a Stradic or Sargosa 3000, and they had one, but it was quite a bit more expensive than the one at Kislin's.   I decided to wait.
     On the subject of Tackle shops: We talked with Ray and got some info about where the bunker and bass were out front and immediately the gears in my mind started churning.  Ray was trying to convince these other customers that they were buying the wrong thing, but they persisted and said that their "Machine" wasn't big enough for bigger hooks.  That seems like a fair thing, but why surf fish with small "machines?"  I guess if it's what you got you have to.  As we were leaving we heard Grumpy say that they didn't want those hooks, but unlike Ray who was willing to let them get what they wanted, Grumpy literally grabbed it out of their hands and put it back behind the counter.  We really should have stuck around for the rest of that interaction just for the imminent entertainment.
    One more stop at Betty and Nicks.  I know it sounds crazy, but one shop has bullet head bucktails, the other has ball bearing swivels, it's these little differences makes us stop and delays fishing indefinitely.  So I asked at Betty and Nicks if they had a Stradic 3000, and of course immediately got the argument that it was too small and that I needed the 4000 which they had.  I waited.  The truth is that though you can get good advice from tackle shops, sometimes it is impossible for them to know exactly what kind of fishing you're doing and where.
    Finally we got to the launch.
going to Alaska

Fishing started off slow.  There was a hard wind from the South (again) and the incoming supermoon max tide made it a tough paddle to Snake Ditch.  I had mentioned, but not convinced the team that we should go chase Bunker around the ocean at first light tomorrow A.M.  So we still didn't have a solid plan.

one of over 20 shorts
the magic hour

    By 8 p.m. I had caught at least 10 small bass on a die dapper bass assassin swim shad on a 1/2 ounce bullet head jig.
     As an aside, when I first hear of things like "you should crush your barbs" and " you shouldn't use treble hooks" I thought that these rules didn't apply to me because at the time I didn't catch that many fish at all.  But I remember them, and now I fully agree.  It is important to properly and carefully release fish, and there are many resources to learn how online.  Suffice it to say, it is easier with single hooks and crushed barbs.
     I also had two keeper fluke.  KGB was not hooking up at all, and Steve's evening was also slow so he went to paddle to Seal Island.  Just when I started hooking up Steve was also getting into fish on his way there on Tube-n-worm.  We kept in radio contact, and it wasn't long before Steve headed back to Snake Ditch because a group of loud teen-agers blasting bad country radio music had shown up at the other spot.
   Upon returning to snake ditch Steve managed to catch his biggest fluke to date on a pink fin-s type lure that is actually a Zoom "Salty Super Fluke."
KGB is persistent

While Steve and I were setting up camp KGB hooked into a 20 some inch bass on Tune-n-worm by weakfish point.  We decided that it wasn't worth it to pack and unpack the truck and the gear in the middle of the night just on the off chance that there would bunker at some surf spot, so we stayed at Snake Ditch.

Best camping spot, hidden by trees and brush

     We all agreed it was the best night we've spent out there as far as sleeping goes.  KGB was first up, and he drifted out to the inlet for some fluking.  I noticed tons of bait at weakfish point so I decide to head up the ditch.  As soon as I hit some deeper water I started catching short bass on the 31/2 inch bass assassin.   This lasted until we left around noon.   Steve switched to the same lure I had and he also started hooking up.  He also landed the largest piece of debris any of us have ever seen, and it was on his light set-up, a Stradic 2500.  So I say poo poo to the tackle shops that think light spinning gear can't hold up!  If we've learned nothing else this Spring, it's small baits and match the hatch, and for that you need a light set-up, not giant surf-fishing gear.
Steve and his log

        And so we were just getting ready to peacefully troll back to the launch so that I wouldn't be too late to work, when this happens....
Where this wave-runner is going, along the bank, is where all of the most sensitive life forms are living


     Steve advised the three wave-runners that they weren't allowed back there because it was a wildlife preserve.   As if in second grade, they said "Your'e not allowed back here either" and sped off at top speed.  Not to get too involved into this gripe, but....

1. Wave-runners have jets that destroy lots of small life.
2. They aren't allowed back there, but the signs aren't up yet, they're still at the launch in a pile since Sandy.
3. They were going way too fast through an area where there have been divers and swimmers recently
4. They were rude

   We called the park office and the coast guard.  It was a better option than snag and drop wave-runner which would have been easy since they were literally within ten feet of us. We can only hope that the Coast Guard harassed them.

  All in all this trip was a 10 in my book.  I almost had a slam, I had a bluefish, over 20 bass and two keeper fluke.  The only thing missing is the elusive weakfish.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Personal Record: My Biggest Fluke. By: Steve Evans

Didn't get too much sleep in the tent last night so I'm gonna keep this post short and sweet. Caught at night in the sedge islands on a bubblegum fluke this summer flounder of 25 inches represents my personal best to date.

Monday, June 17, 2013

skunked at Snake ditch, fathers day

Just sleep in the damn kayak... (Haley's already a pro)

    I went out for a Fathers day snake ditch trip with Haley.  We got skunked.  The water was high and brown from all of the rain.  We started early.  She had a school dance the night before.  Like a pro, she slept in the kayak for a bit while I desperately tried to prove that my fishing stories weren't all lies!  Alas, the best we could do was enjoy the nice weather.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Kayak Fishing in the Dark (part 2) by: Steve Evans

     In the first segment of this series "Kayak Fishing in the Dark" I mentioned that always putting things in the same place and always doing things in the same order is essential to insure that setup of the boat happens quickly and you don't forget anything. What some refer to as "good habits", the captain and crew of a large commercial vessel would call "Procedure" and though your kayak is much smaller and in most cases singularly manned the same discipline should apply. In this follow-up I would like to expand further on the rule: (and we have learned it as we learn all things: by trial and error..... not to mention at the expense of more harm and general embarrassment than I'd attempt to quantify here, though if you are a regular reader of "Fishing in the Dark" you may by now have some idea of what I am talking about) Always do everything the same always. I'll give you an idea of how it works on my boat and then you can adjust the method to your own specific fishing and paddling needs.
A plan comes together.
      1. Stowage: Everything in my boat gets stowed in the same place on and off the water. My crate, my dry bag and my life jacket are all used for stowage and the items that they hold are always the same and only ever absent if I am using them after which they are returned directly.
      2. Setup: With everything in its place the setup of your boat should simply consist of attaching your crate, seat, paddle, dry bag, and whatever other necessities to the boat. Again for emphasis ALWAYS do this in the same order. I have found it helps to take everything I need out of the car and set it by the boat before setting up. This also goes for re-loading the car after the fishing is through.
      3. Leash it or lose it: If you haven't learned by now you will and you are going to be mad.
My rod is leashed.

4. Hooks and line: Funny how we as fisherman fail again and again to appreciate truly these most ancient and effective tools though we use them all the time and trust them to hoist our fishes from the deeps. Hooks are designed to hook onto things and stay hooked and line is used to attach things to other things so that they stay attached. This simple system has been trapping fish for millennia.... KNOW THIS: All loose hooks and all loose ropes and lines in your boat WILL hook and tangle on to you and everything else. As with all things according to Murphy's law this is most likely to happen when it is least convenient for you such as when you are fighting a large fish or being sucked out to sea.
KGB steps in a hole during a surf landing.
      5. Be prepared to catch a big fish: Everybody's got a story for this one and they all end the same way.
      6. The battle: fighting and boating big fish in the kayak is what it's all about. Here as with all other things there should be a procedure, securing the rod and gaining control over the fish being top priority then things like de-hooking toothy or deep hooked fish and finally measuring, tagging, picture taking and/or stowing fish you intend to bring home to eat. That fish doesn't want to be in your boat.
      7. Whoever coined the phrase "up a creek without a paddle" was speaking from experience: While we realize that we cannot experience the lows of Ill preparedness and poor planning for you (and if you are like us you will probably have to experience them for yourself before you'll believe a word I'm saying) we here at fishing in the dark still wish to share the fruit of our expeditions in the hopes that you the reader may make some kind of sense out of it and maybe even find a little that's useful.....
Loose hooks everywhere.
Beware of fish with teeth.
Falling out of the boat isn't such a big deal for a paddler who is prepared.
Stay tuned for "Kayak Fishing in the dark" (Part 3) Coming soon.......

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Snake ditch ate my Alexi

We spent the night in the Sedges probably for the last time this Spring.  Not only will the flies and the mosquitos keep us away, but the Park Ranger and tourists will as well.  Also, the season for big fish is coming to a close.   
     It was supposed to rain all night, but the rain held off 'til the morning.  We really didn't have much luck at night.  We arrived around midnight and fished until just before sunrise with just one big blue on a live eel.  We slept.  I was hoping to sleep in, and was looking forward to it because i figured the rain would mask the usual sounds that would wake me, like the infernal racket of the birds.  But the sun rose, and the birds squawked, and I rolled out of my tent.  I cast around for about an hour before Steve emerged.  I had nothing to show for my efforts.   It was shaping up to be a disappointing day.  As we travelled back up Snake ditch I saw some bass follow my lure, recast, and hooked up with a short.  I tagged it.  As the day progressed we managed to catch many short bass, a fluke and a few  blue fish.  THe fishing was slow, but steady for me, and sporadic and then awesome for Steve.  But the tale to be told is not really about the fish that we caught, but about the one that got away.....

    Never, EVER, ever do ANYTHING different than you did before.  You might think it OK to place something down in your kayak in a new spot, but it's just not OK!  In fact you can kiss it goodbye.
    A kayak is a ship.  Only it's a very small ship.  And like a ship, everything has it's place.  If just one little thing is different, it's a recipe for disaster.  Let me get to the point. I lost  my favorite reel on this trip.
      I have been extremely diligent about leashing it to my boat for over a year now.  And recently I have become a little lax in that department.  There are many lessons to be learned from what happened to me the other day.  (And that's just who we are.)  The type of people who only learn from experience.    We try to glean information from the old salts.  From those who have "been there" but in reality we are the type who can only learn from experience.  But do we truly ever learn?
     So it's not some great story, a larger than normal (as the day had been going) fish attached itself to my hook, and thus my line, and thus my rod and yanked it out of my hand.  And into the water.  And away it swam, with my wonderful, favorite setup!  (It's always your favorite gear that you lose, because that's what you're using most)  And I screamed, but no one heard.  Not even the closest person (Steve) heard my screams.  I wanted to jump in, and truly considered it for a moment, but with my pfd a dive would be impossible.  Was it a giant?  Was it my great Whale?  We will never know.  I won't even postulate on that one.  All I know is that I had my rod in my hand and as I wasn't expecting a large fish, it yanked it right out of my hand.  Which leads to another lesson.  Always be prepared to catch a big fish.
      What are we doing out there?  The record al McReynolds fish was caught on a small lure.  The new record I believe was caught on an eel.  It's spring and we have lures equally as big.  There are large fish moving through our waters.  That's why we're there.  So even though I  had been catching 20" fish all day, I should have been prepared mentally and with my gear to catch a giant fish.   I wasn't.  When I grabbed my rod, in my mind there was going to be another 2 lb fish, but alas.........
     So, it's not the greatest loss.  it's not a Van Staal or anything too fancy.  Some guys fish with super expensive gear and don't leash it.  That's their problem.  I had a simple Avet with an Ugly stick tiger lite.  For me it was the best, and I will replace the reel.  And I will continue to leash it, always...
     But there is still another story besides this tragedy to be told.  Another tragedy in a way.  The heralding in of the summer.  It's sad to have to think this way, but the spring is essentially over.  Some Signs of change are Steve's 21"fluke he caught in Snake Ditch, and the bass are getting smaller, and the bluefish angrier.   Barring anything spectacular happening in the next week, my chances of bigger fish for the spring are over.

     The wind has really been the biggest factor this spring.  We've had a blow from the south for two months.  That and the rough surf have made it difficult to surf launch to say the least.  We've done it three times and not had any luck.  I did, however, get a puffer and a sea robin
on the tube-n-worm (the small weird fish are in the ocean?).  Kind of funny.  So, if there are reports of bunker I may try to go out and beat my PB (personal best), but otherwise I probably won't be targeting large bass until october.  Time to switch gears and target doormats (large fluke).  As much as we hate it, the obsessed fisherman needs his white whale.  There are guys that go out to catch fluke and have 20 shorts to one keeper, while KGB Steve and I  rarely if ever have caught shorts and only catch 18" and over fish.
     I will miss the serenity of the sedges in the early Spring, but soon it will be cold again, and dark, and raining (or snowing), and that's when I'll be searching for a real fish...Until then I have a bigger puffer and a bigger Sea robin to catch.......

Sunday, June 2, 2013

My name is Steve and I'm a kayak fishing addict. By:Steve Evans

      Frank Daignault's "Striper Surf" contains a chapter called Compulsive Surfcasters. Reading over it as I was today strikes a little close to home, especially when I consider the last trip. After a few days off the hunt I pressured the team to leave Philly for Island Beach at midnight on Wednesday rather than leaving early the next day which would have been perfectly reasonable except that I am now consumed by the paranoia that the spring bite of striped bass we've enjoyed this year might disappear at any moment and I still haven't captured the large specimen that I dream of now almost nightly (when I actually sleep). The pack list  was typical of our style: A dozen rods; all kinds of lures and baits for back bays, beaches, or inlets; tents and sleeping bags; days worth of food, water and caffeine; bug spray, sunscreen, waders, wetsuits, drysuits  and all weather clothes. I mean some passerby always manages some smart ass comment whenever we're loading up or unloading our mountain of gear. When It's Alexi, KGB, and myself, this stuff fills my SUV to the roof and by the first repack it is a tangled stinking mess of tackle without beginning or end.
my boat
      We almost always plan on fishing bay side: the true domain of the kayak. But since there is always the possibility of bait and game fish ocean side that could be accessible to the kayak we also have to be prepared for that option, hence all the extra equipment. 
      On this particular trip we fished Island Beach bay side Wednesday night (really Thursday after midnight) through Thursday Afternoon managing a few bluefish and some nice bass on bass assassins, one nice bass on a mirrolure, as well as some bluefish trolled up around the inlet on tubes. Not a bad start but pretty typical of recent trips so we decided to gamble on a different area.
      After a repack we are on route to North Wildwood to launch Hereford Inlet and also to fish bay side around Nummy Island, Turtle Gut, and Little Turtle Gut. As I drive everyone is asleep and I feel my energy flagging as well, kicking off this trip with an all nighter seemed like a real great idea twenty hours before, but the downside was now apparent...... 
                      BUT WE ARE MEN OF ACTION! NO GUTS NO GLORY!....... 
        And so it was that when I pushed through the twenty-fourth hour I was bouncing over four and five foot rollers in Hereford inlet, a sea of dolphins were scaring off every fish for miles and I was fatigued and delirious in my little plastic boat with a big dumb smile on my face.
      By midnight I was forced to concede to reason and get some beer and find a hotel to sneak a few hours of rest and a shower though I always feel a little defeated at times like this, always like I should have pushed a little more and worse the thought of fish I hadn't caught haunts my sleep til morning when we take to the water again.
      Last time we fished North Wildwood It was pretty lousy.... Oh, and the time before that too. So there was a bit of a reckoning involved in this outing. But we were confident I think especially because we had a pretty solid plan and failure really was not an option.
      Trolling tubes in the back creeks isn't easy with shallow water, sharp turns, and lots of flotsam in the water but It's worth it because if you can keep that tube running clean you're going to catch. The fish, when we dialed into them were in a pretty cooperative mood on Friday.

I released somewhere around 10 bass to 28" and most seemed to really be in a fighting mood taking some nice runs that were pretty impressive for school size fish. Alexi had had some action with short bass on the tube and on the bass assassin and decided to switch to bait. Whenever Alexi puts on an eel I get a little nervous but I couldn't stop trolling when it was working so well and shockingly the mighty tube and worm out fished the eel! 
      Later in the afternoon the bite seemed to be getting hotter and I switched to a longer tube hoping to catch the attention of a bigger fish but the clock was running out and at the end of my run I saw the team was casting from shore near my car waiting for me, time to pack it in.
      There is a rest area on the Atlantic City Expressway where we stop for coffee and it is here following trips of this nature where I have on occasion been met with some curious stares from the people there. Suddenly and forcibly confronted with the reality of my condition I am a little bit shocked: there is a white paste of sun screen on my face and arms and into it are smushed little gnat bodies and black mud, my hands are raw with tiny cuts and dry cracks, my clothing is crusted with bands of salt and I am swaying, if only slightly, as if I am still in my boat. It's a little sick probably, anyway it's definitely not normal behavior, most people are lucky if they can pursue their passion a little after work and sometimes on the weekends, but probably most, even if they had more time probably wouldn't give up the deep night and their physical and mental well being to catch a damn fish. My name is Steve and I'm a kayak fishing addict.
KGB and Alexi casting.
Alexi sticks a feather in his hat and calls it "macaroni".

KGB hooks my boat
Alexi and bluefish.