Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sleep? Eventually..., by Alexi

Steve at first light
     Twice now we've made a trip to the Sedges with the intention of fishing pre-dawn and first light.  This usually means missing a night of sleep.  You could say that the first trip like this a couple of weeks ago precipitated the second, not because it was a success, but because of the experience.  As fishermen we hear of things, but quite often we haven't experienced them yet, and when it happens there is truly a "AHA" moment.  Seeing the flats of the sedges at first light in the summer is an amazing experience.

   In the middle of the night (when we launched) there were sounds of fish feeding.  We heard them, "sploosh, splish, splash"  but we still went to deeper water.   What we didn't know is that the fish were (only) up on the flats, not in the deeper water where they would move to after sunrise.  To know....When I say "What we didn't know"what I mean is, of course we had heard and read that the larger fish move onto the flats at night and feed, but we haven't figured out a way to target them..., yet.  (Fly rods may be in short order for next summer.)  To know where the fish are isn't enough.  To have the right tools for fishing for them is equally as important.  So after trolling around a tube-n-worm along the sedges and casting around bass assassins, we agreed to move to a different spot.  During this move, going through about one to two feet of water I began to hear what would eventually become a cacophony of fish feeding.  The problem is that there are lots of weeds and almost any lure will get mucked.  I threw on a Zara Spook and started trolling it.  " SPLOOSH"  I wasn't expecting a fish trolling this lure, as it's not really a swimmer, but needs to have more of a walk the dog presentation.  But I did have a nice upper 20" class fish take it.  (it self-released at the side of my boat.)  I continued to fish it for a little while, then switched to smaller plastic baits because whatever they were feeding on was SMALL.  "SPALSH" As I stood there on a bank, I kept hearing larger splashes mixed in with the smaller ones.  Even the smallest popper I had was seemingly too big to match the hatch.  Eventually I caught a few on a small bas assassin, but they were really small bass.

one of many shorts

        After sunrise we found a new cut through to the buoys, and it was full of short bass.  We probably could have stayed there and caught a hundred.  But we moved on to another task, fluking.

     We drifted and battled wind and current out by the buoys in the channel but it was too challenging with the wind.  Eventually we ended up across the inlet.  Out by the Dyke we took a land break.  Afterwards, I started drifting with the end of the out going tide.  I caught several short fluke in and around a fleet of boats, but again, this type of fishing is frustrating for a kayak in the inlet.  I decided to

head for the quiet serenity of Snake Ditch where I met up with Steve again. Several drifts through Snake Ditch proved fruitful for short Fluke for me, and three keepers for Steve.  I was getting pretty frustrated with only getting short fluke.  I even had a double header of short bass when reeling in my fluke rig to check it for weeds.  Finally on what was to be our last drift I hooked up with a 19"fluke.  No doormat, but still what I was after.

This is mostly what we see
Sleepless disheveled kayak

     Many things come to mind when I think about the kayak as a tool.  I think about the boats in the inlet catching short fluke, the amount of resources it takes to maintain a boat.  I think about the recent news story of a boat that was 7 miles off shore fluking, and they saw a great white shark eating a dolphin.  I heard that story, and my first thought was, 7 miles of gas for some fluke?  I'm not suggesting people shouldn't enjoy their boats, I only mean to say if your goal is to catch fish, sometimes you don't have to go too far.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Gimme Shelter: By Steve Evans


      Drowned and blasted by vacationers and loaded down by the hustle and machinery they cannot leave behind; overrun by the whole mania of civilization,  cartopped, beach carted and humped out among overcrowded machine groomed sandboxes and partitioned wave pools; inundated by speed boats, and waverunners churning up it's bays, inlets, and beach fronts where parades of billboards, banners, and advertisements stream and bounce along before it's globby masses of pink fleshy tourists in sandy trunks lined up for their gluttonous helpings of push-button entertainment; drive-ins, drive-thrus, touch-screens, put-puts, and all you can eats along it's boardwalk menageries bedazzled with every conceivable variety of sparkling multicolored landfill garbage known to man, the still quietly extant hidden wilderness of sedge grass sanctuaries and the thin natural boundary of coastal estuary and barrier beach that comprises the buffer between the urban sprawl of the northeastern U.S. and the Atlantic Ocean which we know as the Jersey Shore weathers the onslaught of summer. Here some tiny harangued wildness still survives in spite of us, where we do  most of our fishing, and it is now and until roughly september second (labor day) transfigured into a sensory experience somewhat like the combination of a water park a shopping mall, and a Nascar event.
Coral Gables
       I'm going to sidetrack here for just a moment..... Did you know that the natural strand of barrier beach known as Island Beach State Park was nearly turned into a summer resort of the "coral gables" variety in the mid 1920's? In point of fact were it not for the stock market crash of 1929 IBSP would be nothing more than another tastelessly over-developed stretch of jersey shore beachfront, a thought which is all the more appalling once you've witnessed the summer assault on the shore which I have just described (or if you've witnessed coral gables). I think of this with a profound and abiding gratitude whenever I dip a paddle into the waters of the sedge islands.
Island Beach State Park
      Now the park still gets crowded in summertime but to a somewhat more acceptable degree compared with the rest of the shore, back in the sedge islands there is an increase in man-powered boat traffic and the occasional gas motored skiff. PWC (that's personal water craft i.e. jet-ski, ski-doo, wave-runner etc.) are not allowed back in the Marine Conservation Zone known as the Sedge Islands and I've rarely seen them, though when I have, colorful interactions usually follow. I'm not going to go there. It could be worse, even so I'd rather catch nothing alone than catch piles of fish in a crowd. In fact the very effectiveness of fishing from a kayak (and  why it is my favorite method) is due to it's natural provision of stealth and solitude, two attributes also of another extremely effective fishing technique: fishing in the dark.
      This time of year if fishing alone is at all important to you, you're probably fishing deep in the night, at break of dawn, or just after sunset and on our last trip to IBSP we did all three. In fact our plan was to launch our boats on the LBI side (Long Beach Island) to fish around some lighted docks in search of weakfish and then to make a clandestine paddle across the inlet and into the park. In reality the wind was whipping in a storm from the south west so we changed the plan, fished from shore by the lighthouse until the storm arrived then drove during the rain to our favorite little launch in IBSP. This area called "Winter Anchorage" is protected by the surrounding terrain and so even when other parts of the bay would be too rough and windy to think of kayak fishing this spot is often a safe bet, it was relatively calm when we arrived and of course we were alone.
      Small bait is the name of the game in the back bay: Marine Worms, Grass Shrimp, at least Four species of Killies, Sand Eels, Bay Anchovies and two distinctions of Silversides (Spearing) as well as immature mullet, bunker, and herring are always present and we have even found situations where predator fish prefer the smaller offerings imitating these species even during times when larger forage species are present. No wonder it is a well documented fact Fly-anglers have been hoisting big fish from the waters of Barnegat Bay for nigh on a century.

      From the standpoint of fishing with spinning and light casting equipment small bucktails and soft plastic molded lures give a lively impression of the forage I'm talking about. Certain brand names and tried and true colors and designs are hardly a secret. There are however an enormous variety of plastics and bucktails out there and while they are likewise variant in construction and productivity, constant experimentation does occasionally trapdoor into major discoveries. A little lure making company in Mayo, Florida you may have heard of: Bass Assassin Lures (and I don't work for them) makes some unbelievable plastic lures and we catch a ton of fish with them. For whatever reason I find them hard to come by north of the mason-dixon line so I made an online purchase of four different styles one of which had already proven pretty deadly in Alexi's hands. I don't mean to whirlpool into talking excessively about gear but I thought it was at least worth noting here that the three other styles which I chose all caught fish and the weird looking pink one which I thought of as kind of a gamble netted me a nice fluke.

    You've got to get up pretty early in the summertime to beat the sun, lucky for us we were already awake from fishing all night when a remarkable thing happened. I don't think you could properly call it a "blitz" like how a surf fisherman would describe marauding schools of game fish feeding on schools of hapless bait near shore since it has really none of the same flair or drama and in the scenario I'm about to describe, you wont necessarily hook fish on every cast, whatever you call it sometimes when it is very quiet and the water is like glass and the fish are in a natural state unaware of your presence you can witness something which is every bit as thrilling as a blitz. As Alexi and I drifted silently over a glassy flat we watched the splashy rises of feeding fish break the surface all around us some within feet of our kayaks. There is no way of estimating the number of fish up on that flat but there were a lot and all feeding on and near the surface on tiny silversides which occasionally burst out of the water in clouds in an attempt to escape a bass. Fishing action wasn't fast and furious, for one the bait we could see was tiny, maybe two inches in length, too small to imitate with really anything but a fly, and while we each caught and released a few small stripers it was the event itself that was the real gift, one of those rare transcendent moments when I find myself putting the fishing part aside and watching these fish being really wild feeding with complete abandon as if we weren't even there.
      As the sun climbed we moved on and found a pretty co-operative bunch of schoolie stripers and caught so many that we thought it would be more sporting to focus on bottom fishing for fluke. We had a pretty good bite of fluke going losing a few at the boat and landing some shorts and one keeper in addition to the one I bagged on the pink thing. Then some menacing clouds began to gather momentum along with still fresh memories of kayaks being lifted by the wind and tossed into cars and golf ball sized hail threatening to shatter the windows of my car (oh and a fisherman struck by lightning in the park the day before) urged us to leave the fish biting. We packed up our gear and loaded the boats fast and that was that. So that's summer fishing at it's finest: on the water when everyone leaves and heading in when they all come back (or when a supercell storm drops in out of nowhere and you've got to get the hell out of there).


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Duke of Fluke tournament, by Alexi

     Tournaments are weird.  every single time I've done them, and I've only done a few, the prizes are a mystery.  You'd think that would be the most important information to get out to the public.  Like in a poker tournament.  For the boats it is out there.  Thousands of dollars in prizes, but for the kayaks?  Maybe a blinky light and a lure????
     I don't know.  I'd like to find out what the winner of the kayak division got and update it on here when I do.   But seriously, I was there regardless.  I got my damn shirt.  I got my damn beer cozy.

    The weather was probably too much on mind than it should have been.  After seeing the lightning strikes at IBSP I want to be careful not to get caught in a thunderstorm.  Unfortunately, this time of year the forecast is ALWAYS 30% chance of a thunderstorm.  The forecast for Saturday was rain in the morning and a thunderstorm in the afternoon.  (The reality was fog in the morning and partly cloudy, turning to sunny in the afternoon.)
the launch site
    I made it to the check in and bought some bucktails and gulp swimming mullet with plenty of time to spare.  I launched across the bridge from the Kayak Fishing Store (Nummy Island).  My plan was to avoid the crowds and head into some back waters that were productive for Stripers earlier in the season.    It seemed reasonable except what happened was I got stuck in some stagnant water for two reasons;    1. it was coming up on high tide, and
2. because I kind of got lost.  
     It was really foggy to start out, and my plan made even more sense for safety from boats because of the fog.  But after two hours of dismal mucky paddling and snagging a turtle, the fog had lifted, and I headed for the bridge.
N. Wildwood Blvd Bridge from the north

     There were more people fishing for fluke than I've ever seen in my life.  (although this picture doesn't show it, as the fog lifted this area filled up)   Generally, I like to avoid fishing weekends to avoid the crowds.   As I found out later there were actually two fluke tournaments on that day.   So here we had a Saturday, mid-summer, and two fluke tournaments!!!!  The good news is that everyone was drifting and jigging, and so they seemed fine to drift together.  I didn't notice or hear of any problems.  
     When I got to the other side of the bridge in the picture I hooked into a 17" fluke.  It had a 6" white gulp twisty tail stuck in it's throat.  I removed my hook, then the other bait, and released the fish.  Not too long after that I had the biggest ray I've ever hooked (and saw).  I fought it for a while.  I got it to rise up beside my kayak a couple of times.  My estimate is that it was at least 4-6ft wide.   After some research, it was probably a Spiny Butterfy Ray.  It was then I decided it was really a waste of my time and pulled on the line and broke it off.   The fog lifted and revealed a line of clouds that surrounded N. Wildwood.
N Wildwood Blvd Bridge from the south
     The ominous clouds in the background and the slow action told me it was time to let the switch in the current take me back under the bridge.  (It was a pretty easy day as far as paddling goes.)  My drift under the bridge was fruitless, however where ever I was I saw fish caught, and that always gave me hope.  It was a slow day over all.  
     The wind kicked up right around 4.  As I didn't have a fish to weigh in or any keeper I decided to continue fishing until the wind became unbearable, which was just around 4:30.   I found a drift along the sedge by the West Ocean Drive bridge (where I launched from) that was holding a bunch of short fluke, so I ended the day with about four more shorts.
     I stopped by the Kayak Fishing Store and bought some Carls tubes in preparation for the fall.  (I had lost my only red one when I lost my rod.)   I was at Sterling Harbor Bait and Tackle for a little bit, watching the fluke get weighed in.  When I saw the winner I was impressed.  Later I found out that it was caught in the back. (the bay as opposed to the ocean.)  Even more impressive. 
     Tired and exhausted, as it should be at the end of any fishing day, I decided to skip the meal and head home. 

     My plan for next year is to drink $65 (the entrance fee) worth of beer at the end of the tournament, hang out for the party,  stumble to a hotel, and not care at all about the fishing!  


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"Gimme a Gold Mepps Spinner and a Ratl'n Rap" By:Steve Evans

      A lot of time has passed since I last fished the Delaware river and longer by a lot since I fished a stretch of it with my Dad. We had a plan to fish over the fourth of July break, the weeks preceding piled on the rain.  A swift and turbid river can douse the fishing but it can also make the whole flow unnavigable and dangerous. So we'd wait and see, a respite of a day or two can clear conditions up enough and often the fishing can be better than average since the fish stack up in slower areas and feed indiscriminately on a variety of injured and hapless forage stirred up by the flood.
      Friday afternoon we tested the waters around the Byram boat ramp- to fish a bit but mostly to insure that all parts were operational on the ranger bass boat (the real fishing would be early Saturday morning). My dad has owned this vessel for over fifteen years and it's been perpetually busted for the last fourteen. In all seriousness though and In fairness to the boat (which is a good boat) it has seen less action over the past few years so it's probably just a lack of attention that causes the engine to splutter and the batteries to die with predictable regularity. 
Ratl'nRap & Mepps XD
      Getting the engine to turn over took a little while and I was invoking all the names of the great mechanics that I could think of  (this is a short list so I wound up just having to repeat it in my head like a dozen times) when the motor started to come to life I was of course inwardly dubious but nevertheless enthusiastic. The first starting of the boat has become for my father and I an experience of combined excitement and frustration something like the lighting of the Griswold Christmas lights often complete with the obligatory gathering of slack jawed onlookers. 
      But now we had the boat running (at least for the moment) so I parked the trailer and climbed in. We had Janessa with us and I was excited to have her along although the river was pretty high and fast and the number of jet-skis and wave-runners was enough to make navigation a hassle and an unnerved sort of relaxation a foregone conclusion. We almost came right back in without fishing at all, thinking that the trolling motor wasn't going to work- which would have made steering impossible without the engine but we sorted that out and made a few shoreline drifts with a couple of smallmouth and a catfish before we left.
Smallmouth release
      The next morning we launched into a quiet river before 7 am and I tied on a few old stand-bys the Mepps black fury and the Mepps XD. Eric (Dad) Fished back and forth between the Mepps XD and a lure I've often called unskunkable in the right hands: the Rapala Ratl'n Rap. Each has produced it's share of Delaware trophies and produce in the river under a variety of situations but in brown murky water lures with a lot of thump and vibration are essential.  
      The next couple of hours brought some decent fishing but the most impressive thing was the variety of species caught on this small selection of lures: 5 total: Smallmouth bass, Striped bass, Walleye, Fallfish, and bluegill. 
      Janessa boated her first smallmouth bass and I had some pretty decent action on some pretty small fish. When my old man boated and released a beautiful gold river walleye he proclaimed "Gimme a gold Mepps and a Ratl'n Rap" (the rest is implied: all you need to fish the river) .
      As a teenager I caught small Delaware river schoolie stripers on flies and light tackle, I caught a pair on this trip neither even twenty inches, it now feels strange catching these fish like striped trout in the rapids and pocket water of a freshwater freestone river and even adds to their mystery.  
Walleye on Ratl'nRap
      As if on cue the tubers and jet-skis appeared as the morning waned and the heat became oppressive. The very early morning and the very deep of night is about all the quiet one gets this time of the season. All in all not a bad trip. 
Father, Son and Boat
Delaware River Smallie (Janessa's first)