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. Weather.com 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 Reel-Time.com. 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!!!!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray": first week of Oct. fishing report by Alexi

     It was already dark out.  Steve had moved furniture all day.  I had just finished band practice.  Usually it's time to put back a few beers.  Instead we pile our gear into his truck and head east.
     There is no logical explanation for the false expectations we held in our heads.  Neither reports nor our own records  pointed us in the direction of having a "banner" night of fishing.  The only explanation I can give to you as to why we were ever so confident that we would catch keeper bass at Snake ditch, or Weakfish Point, or Oyster Creek Channel, or on the flats, is that we had left the fish biting last time we were fishing.  Our general confidence level was way UP!  That being said, I truly believe that there was a resident keeper bass lurking the other night in the deep recesses of Oyster Creek Channel, only we never made it there.
     The problem with working all day, and leaving to fish at midnight, is that by the time we got to the fishing spot the sandman was at our door, saying "sleep damn it!!!! You're tired."
     It is questionable wether or not we fished between the hours of 2 and 5:30 a.m.  Nothing was caught.  The current where we were was ripping, it was FULL of weeds, and the current and wind were in some kind of conspiracy.  We struggled through Snake Ditch, and by the time we were ready to take a nap, the sun was coming up "like a big bald head."

     We wake up late.  Within minutes of being on the water I hook into a short.

I think this is how the rest of the day is going to go, solid non-stop fishing action.  We fish at "Weakfish Point"  for a while and nothing really happens.  Some bass assassin tails get bit off, but that's it.
     Time slows down and speeds up at the same time.  Going from Snake Ditch to Oyster Creek Channel isn't far, but it always seems to take forever because at low tide it might mean getting out of the kayak and walking.  And so it did.  By the time I got there Steve was already there via a different route.  Drifting, jigging, trolling, casting.  Nothing is producing.  Finally after trying all of the usual spots in that area, I go for what I know best.  Bluefish with a bucktail.  Well, really I prefer to use a kastmaster for bluefish, but a bucktail is second best.  Cast far.  Count to seven.  Jerk it hard, let it drop, jerk it hard, let it drop, fish on....That's it folks, my (not so) secret bucktailing for bluefish from land near a channel technique.  I stayed for a few more casts, hooked into another short bass, then moved on.

     I went through one of the new channels on my way to the Sedge House and it was gin clear with not a fish in it.  Out onto the flats, I stood and took in the scenery.    I guess I was sight fishing, but since I didn't see anything it was more like site seeing.  In front of the Sedge House I saw a small school of medium sized bunker.  It was a good sign.  It's the biggest bait I've seen back there in a while.  Right now there's spearing, mullet, and bunker.  Where were all of their predators?  I had no luck in front of the sedge house, so as I was leaving I needed to switch from a bucktail to a topwater lure to fish the flats.  As I was reeling in my line to change the lure I hooked up with another short bass.
     I stood and paddled most of the way across the flat on the way back to the launch.  I saw one bass that I couldn't get a lure in front of because in the time it took me to ready the rod the current changed my position.   Back in front of the launch produced nothing, and
 usually it's not hard to pull a bluefish out of there.
    As you can see there were fish that were caught.   But the plan.  The plan to catch a 28"bass, or a weakfish.  That plan failed.  And failure, coupled with complete exhaustion, is a recipe for disappointment.  In the end, however, it's ALWAYS BETTER THAN WATCHING T.V.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Fish Is In The Spaghetti! By: Steve Evans

      Whenever we need replacement or upgrade items for our kayaks; When we need new Kayak Carl's (trolling tubes) or accessory parts for our kayaks we stop in at the Kayak Fishing Store in North Wildwood (obviously!). The fishing we have done near there has been sometimes decent and the store's proprietor Chris Parson is always helpful when it comes to figuring out where the bite would be if there was one. So we went to the island of King Nummy's exile to catch the descendants of the fish that picked his dead bones.
      This is still new water to us but in ways it is not different from areas we fish on Barnegat, there is an inlet close by which means current, lots of bait, good structure, and lots of spaghetti.
      Serpentine watertrails formed by the tidal currents of bays and estuaries lace inland from the sea in a maze of squiggly blue lines lined with green: water, sedge grass and mud which is mostly made out of the decaying bodies of millions of creatures ranging in size from small to infinitesimal. Bay fisherman often refer to these phenomena as "creeks" but when we're looking at the big NOAA maps that hang on my kitchen wall as we plot over beers we say instead, "Look at all that spaghetti!".
      This pasta is so unbelievably alive that most of my Philly friends don't even believe me when I talk about all the life I see out there. Much of the ocean's load of creatures begin their lives in one form or another in places like this and almost every known food item within a Striped Bass's diet can be found in abundance. Juvenile Striped Bass and Bluefish grow fast on this mother load of food.

      Not all spaghetti is productive for fishing and really the only way to know for sure is to go exploring. Many places with good current flow, deep holes; undercut sod banks; steep ledges; and generally good fish-holding structure show up on the most detailed charts as tiny black or blue threads often without even an indication of depth or if there is a depth marked it may indicate 1 or 2 feet over a large area. The noodles sometimes shoal up near the joining with another channel and even small jon boats wouldn't attempt to enter.
      I complain about trolling sometimes because it is not my favorite fishing method but it is one of the best methods of fishing from a kayak. Trolling is the best way to explore and fish simultaneously. There is rarely an occasion when paddling from one point to another when you shouldn't be dragging some kind of lure around behind you. We test the spaghetti waters with our kayaks trolling tubes tipped with live or gulp sandworms or bloodwoorms or if the water is very shallow we troll surface lures (I am especially fond of the Heddon Zara Spook).

      Trolling can give you as much information about the water you're fishing as a sonar transducer if you are paying close attention. Even when the water around you seems featureless small differences in the bottom or shoreline contours will hold a fish or two. A deep ledge or a steep bank could hold a whole school of fish.
      On our last trip to Wildwood tube trolling accounted for the majority of the fish. We caught dozens of school bass topping out at 27 and 1/2 inches. Casting Bass Assassins and bucktails along the banks also brought up some bass and bluefish.
      This was an overnight. I had to think that catching a fish 1/2 inch short of being a legal keeper under the mid afternoon sun meant that night would bring bigger fish. In fact outside of one small bass I landed after sundown no night fish were caught at all. Even more bizzarre was the fact that the following day the fishing improved continuously with the height of the sun, even culminating with a barrage of fish trolling our way back to the car sometime about 2.

One thing feels obvious to me: The sheer numbers of 20+ inch striped bass we've caught all over, all year, foreshadows some record braking seasons in ten to fifteen years.

      To that end we're always trying to figure out the story of all these fish we catch.... These Nummy school bass were larger in general than the school bass we'd caught in Barnegat days before. I surmised classic assumptions such as: less competition; more forage; a difference in habitat which holds mature bass longer? WHO KNOWS?!

      Into the vermicelli we go! Kayak and a map! Come deliverance and sit on my lap! Something, somewhere wants me to find vermicelli, spaghetti, the cosmos aligned.