Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Two Trips, by: Steve Evans

      I'm ready. This is the time, forget sleep, ignore pain. Count out the change in the jar, cash it in, at the bank, in your waders. Insane. Maybe, they'll probably just think, you're one of those guys, that walks the beach with a metal detector, coming in with a big score, all that change. Maybe they'll think you've come in to rob the place. It's fine. Who cares what they think. No going back now, now is the time to quit your job, go on vacation, call in sick, on second thought, call in dead. Now it's time to run with the run.

      We were ready, at the motor lodge, the ocean was in really great condition for a kayak launch, we were there, right at dawn, we were ready. Says it right there on the side: Ocean Kayak.

      Kayak, crate, two rods and a box. In the box: a small selection of lures and snags for bunkers, swivels and a spool of sixty pound fluorocarbon. If I'd seen bunker from the beach I might have only brought one rod, but as it was, on this occasion, I had one for snagging and another for trolling.
        I got past the breakers and noticed lightning strikes right away so we got back onto the beach. We dragged up the boats to the tidemark and  laid down the rods. We watched the storm for some minutes from the canopy at the Atlantic bar and grill.

      "Scattered thunderstorms" is a tough forecast to thread. Alexi dialed Weather Wendy who said four hours more of storm for the area we were in, but there was a weather bubble in Nummy.

      "Go to Nummy." said Weather Wendy.

      It has to be almost two hours driving from launch to launch. What could be done? People get cooked by lightning. We had an estimated four hours or so until we could launch safely at the motel. We could be fishing in two hours at Nummy, and the fishing has been good at Nummy. We got eels and bloodworms on the way.

      I'd got up around three am, met Alexi around a quarter 'til four so we could launch at dawn. Now it was seven or so, we'd been out and back, we hadn't fished and we were driving through rain half-way down the jersey coast to get a bite. Stupid.

      It was an incoming tide and we agreed to work in that direction. Alexi had a small blue on his first cast, right under the bridge with a pink fin-s. From there back it was steady action with tube and worm along the banks and in the creek channels, lots of bass between 18 and 26 inches and a few small blues too. No big surprise, there's always fish in the bay.
      I had the tide well timed to fish the ebb through an area I'd intended to fish under those exact conditions and I was catching right away when I saw lightning, again. Alexi said there was a storm cell heading our way and was already heading for cover, I told him I'd wait and see, now I was heading to cover to meet him. It took a while to get there. I got there just in time.

      The wind pushed out most of the tide I'd wanted to fish while we stood under the bridge and watched it go out. We agreed to head back, more or less, towards the launch after the storm passed. Cells like this would be in and out the rest of the night so we bagged our overnight eel fishing plan and thought we'd go home.

      As usual the ride home was a mix of float breakdown, Alexi sleeping and float planning. Had the bite gone off at Island Beach? Where was the bait? What was the weather looking like? We had another day to fish. Here came the exit sign for Atlantic City Expressway, exit, for home. Should we? There was unfinished business, we'd chased up an OK bite in the back to make the day, but the original plan was still good and the conditions still might be right. I blew right on past the expressway, parkway north, to reckoning.

      "Where the hell is that beer store?" We coasted into seaside heights where we can never find the beer store. The plan was: 1. Get Beer; 2. Get hotel room; 3. Get tackle ready for dawn surf launch; 4. Drink Beer; 5. Sleep; 6. Dawn Surf launch; 7. Big fish.

      We set the eel container in the bathtub with some tap water flowing through, there were 28 lively eels in there. We probably were not fishing eels for the remainder of this trip, but we always stock up anyway, when we have a chance, because we fish eels a lot, often we leave the comfort of our beds, in the middle of the night, to go fish eels, and since Alexi has an aerated pond and I have a container to keep them in, we figure we'd better have at least two dozen or so at the ready if we're going to be serious about eel fishing. We are serious about eel fishing. An eel is no ordinary bait.

      I fell asleep with half my third beer spilling on my leg, and the hotel bed.

      The morning, I stood over the toilet, the quiet was dread. When I looked at the eels my heart turned to puke. "oh. no."

      From his bed Alexi knew "They're all dead!"


      What could I say. There was a murder of eels all clutched to one another in a dead grey fist of curdled slime. I was filled with such a great sadness that I almost wanted to go home, damn the whole thing, there was such a bad omen in this, I thought, what happens now?

      I launched into the surf. It was clumsy, one wave knocked me down, for a second, such as it was, I got in my damn boat and got out there. I thought first I'd start trolling, then I saw a little bunker splash, I moved over to it quietly, I didn't know yet how many hundreds there were, all around.
      Alexi patched in on the VHF "You marking anything Perch-man?" "Over."

      "I see bunker on the surface, trying to get one now, over."

      Bait was everywhere when Alexi paddled up. We were live-lining.

      It was a little while, maybe by around eight, I engaged the clutch on my reel and started to move with my bunker kicking, I re-hooked it, lightly, just behind the head. My rod went down hard. And line started going off, I grabbed it out of the holder with two hands.
      I had a big fish, I turned around, saw it come up to the surface. A big striped tail slapped the surface, I started to howl. I knew this would be my biggest bass yet, she stripped line off my heavy set-up.
      When she came aboard I celebrated my first 40 inch bass, 29 pounds. Yes. That's why we do this. That's what it's all about.
      We continued fishing. Gas boats started to arrive in the area. In the time it takes for a gas boat to come out of its slip, motor across the bay, out the inlet and down the beach to where we were, we'd launched at break of dawn and already had one fish. Just sayin'. At some point I looked over at Alexi, behind him a silhouette, which I estimated to be somewhere about the size of a large RV, Leapt through the air. "Whale!" I hollered, and pointed straight in his direction, within seconds it was right in the bunker pod with us, probably there were several, a family pod, working this area, but one in particular, it seemed, was working right in with us. It was close, around and under us, I've seen whales from big fishing boats before but in the kayak I felt a sublime terror mixed with awe which like many of our adventures is difficult  to translate to one who was not there. Many times I saw the whale's body explode through the surface, colossal jowls agape, pursing hundreds of bunker at a time. Rich King's immortal words rang in my ears again, I shouted out loud "It's a damn FOODCHAIN!".      
      An hour later I hooked up again...
rainy day
She fought harder. "Bigger fish!" I shouted, to no one in particular. She was a couple inches shorter but heavier, definitely over thirty pounds. so now I had my longest and my heaviest fish. What else can I say?
blurry pictures
       Afterwards, we buried the eels at sea, or rather, in the bay, for the crabs to eat, with great sadness. It was a poetic benediction. "We're sorry eels, for we intended that you should die in battle at sea and not meaninglessly in a hotel bathtub, amen"

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Are there any blues around here?" by Alexi

 "Plugs are American in origin and Americans enjoy fishing with them.  When a bluefish explodes under a surface popper, the reason is clear to see.  Even though I have had this happen to me countless times, I am still inclined to put tooth marks on my heart when the attack comes."  

from a book titled "Bluefishing", Henry Lyman
©1987 published by Lyons & Burford.

   (And now just a few words from myself, otherwise I'd like to let the photos do their job for this post.)

  We started fishing at first light.  I had spent the night out there and Steve met me in the pre-dawn hours.  All of the bass were schoolies and I keyed into them in a couple of spots.  The blues, however, were gators.  I had confidence in my all white smack-it jr. popper mostly because, after a morning of slow fishing, I had talked to land based caster who had just landed ten or so blues.  So I passed him slowly, switched to my popper, and started casting around the grass flats with my lightest-up;  Stradic 2500, 15lb braid, 20lb leader, on a Cabelas salt striker light rod.  I like this set-up a-lot for the bay and haven't used it much this year.  It's almost like a fly rod, if I want to get a small offering out there I can.  

The reason I fish

large piranha

     We moved off of the flats out onto Seal Island which borders OCC.  Unfortunately,  it looks like Seal Island is shrinking.  The Sedges are ever changing, shifting, and mostly the fish back there move around, but consistently we've pulled out some big blues on bucktails from this spot.  Once Steve keyed in on his retrieve and cast he was pretty much on fire.
Blue on a Bucktail from Seal Island 

too big for the bag/smoker 
What has been a SLOWWW spring is now starting to shape-up.  This is Steve's biggest bluefish ever.   Could this become the personal best record breaking Spring we've been hoping for?  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dogfish head......... By: Steve Evans

      This one had to get thrown up in a hurry, I was already late getting this post up from our trip LAST WEEK! then on top of that we've got some more really good chowder coming up in short order from our trips this week so that's why the unusual brevity. Someone who really knows what they're doing should probably be writing this here... BUT THEN IT WOULDN'T BE FISHING IN THE DARK!!!

       Barnegat or North Wildwood? Actually neither. We decided again to look to the map, to gamble on new water, to launch our kayaks wherever we could, in the dark, in a stiff north wind, all praise to stupidity heeeellllllyeeeah! This was the most stuff I've ever had in my boat, you could say it was a full touring load, tent, sleeping bag, food, water, extra clothes, tools, repair kit and on and on, more than ready for three days and two nights of self-support paddle fishing mania, we only ended up staying about 24 hours though because the fishing really wasn't that great, though after actually sleeping we both wished we'd have stayed longer.

      We had eels for drifting, clams for bank fishing, and bloodworms for tube trolling. Thanks to 24/7 in Marmora for hooking us up with a good price on that. One thing though, this I have to mention, the worms came in take-out chinese containers which pretty much just disintegrated as soon as we launched. I just wanted to mention this because in my experience, blood worms will last for weeks in the right container or die in minutes in a soggy take-out chinese box, I have to remember to take my own container, a bloodworm hotel to insure the preservation of the liveliness of my bloodworms and I would recommend this to others who use these for bait.

      All you got to do is look at a map of this area to see that it looks very fishy and a perfect area to explore by kayak.
      Many articles or chapters in books on night fishing say "learn an area well in the daytime before fishing it at night". That's pretty good advice. So do as we say not as we do on that one. We launched in the dark and it was windy and there was current, oh yeah we didn't look up tides either, but it was a full moon so the current was honking, just dumb luck that both wind and tide were taking us where we wanted to go, and would be the only time that this was the case for the next 24 hours.

      We got into the lee of the big island and started drifting eels in some current. Some baitfish, probably bunker, flipped on the surface, I reeled up half an eel, so there were bluefish in the area too.

      Here's the straight dope: Alexi had his biggest fish of the spring so far with a 9 pound dogfish, there were some bass both on clam and artificials. Paddled and paddled and paddled. Beautiful country. Let's see it again, after dark...

P.S. I forgot to mention, It's Great Bay.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Week of May 4th "The Spring that wasn't" by Alexi

   Getting skunked at the Sedges in May???? Unheard of! (but it's fishing)
     Lets go back a few days.  Steve had to get a new Humminbird transducer from Chris at the kayak fishing store. He left early in the day.  I had some things to do so I left a few hours later.  The opportunity wedged in between weather and work was for Wednesday May 7th.   I was super-on-the-fence about where to fish.  I had the day off but was very uncertain about  Nummy.  I wanted to go to the Sedges at IBSP.   After a whole lot of back and forth in my head (and out loud ranting) I decided to join Steve at Nummy.  In my head I was debating the chances of catching keeper bass (IBSP) vs. schoolie bass (Nummy), and as I have been hearing reports of some keepers in the surf at IBSP I thought MAYBE they would be in Oyster Creek Channel. BUT.... I still went to Nummy.

    I could see Perchman (Steve) from the bridge going into N. Wildwood.  He paddled back to the launch to meet up and we proceeded to the spaghetti. Once there we had about three hours of consistent action on Tube-n worm and some hits on eels.   the fish ranged in size from 20 to 28".

     Suffice it to say I was not disappointed in my decision to go to Nummy.  But still the thought of larger bass at IBSP haunted me, and so Steve picked up more Eels on his way home with a plan for fishing all night on Saturday may 10th.

     And so it happened this way; we executed the plan perfectly!  We got skunked at the sedges.  We drifted Eels up and down and up again at Snake Ditch and spent a total of at least three hours in Oyster Creek Channel with eels.  The only action, was a gator blue at sunrise who had committed to my eel, but wasn't hooked.  And so I fought it to my boat, then it swam away.
     We are now faced with a dilemma of a very serious magnitude: do we spend three days we have off this week set aside to fish at Barnegat, or do we, instead, change our plans and go to North Wildwood?

 Stay tuned to find out what happens next...

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Any. Day. Now. or Rumors. Rumors. Rumors. By:Steve Evans


      "Any day now" is what the optimists say about fishing in the spring. Been hearing it since march.
      May one now. Gotta get something started here, I'll be fishing tonight and tomorrow but it'll help to have some words down already when I get back. I've been trying to get out past few days, I'm not waiting on a weather window, I'm waiting on a windshield. Car is in for state inspection, getting a new windshield and a few other fixes to keep us legal for another year. I didn't expect it to take three days and wipe out my savings but c'mon, you know I probably should have. I like stories that start like that anyway; forfeiture, loss, setback, failure. Don't you like stories that start that way? And who knows if it won't end that way too? So I'll start there, and we'll see.

      I must admit, lack of focus has dogged our season so far, not to mention cold water, some having to plan around bad weather, and for me, incidentally, a painful hand injury which won't go away, which I have now self-diagnosed, with information gathered solely from the internet, and by pain of Finkelstein maneuver, as De Quervain's Tenosynovitis and for which I have self prescribed the apposite regimen of rest (when not in kayak), icepack, nsaids, vitamins and beer........

      Wait, I'm sorry........ the lack of focus.

      There has been some lack of focus. In a season of exploration, some leads are bound to dead end. But exploration should be by no means haphazard. There is a plan and a plan to be seen through in spite of failure, setback, forfeiture and loss. You could say exploration is, after all, an end of its own. It is true, no efforts in pursuit of art are wasted, but some are dalliance, and some, careless aim at shadows.

      We have caught some fish in new places and by new means, anyway we've caught a lot of catfish for whatever that's worth. Bad timing Fishing new waters in bad conditions, the spring being, so far, about a month behind schedule, and we, about a week or two ahead of schedule. Wasted a couple trips on rumors and gambles when we should have kept up the plan, or some plan anyway.
      So a few, not wasted, but nonetheless pitifully misguided trips have set us off course, a little. Great bay? I still believe it's a good shot at black drum from a kayak and we know there's some bass there. It's just been ok so far, maybe it's just a bad season there, only this is all we have to compare it to. It doesn't matter. There's a rain bomb of water coming down the Mullica and into great bay right now, and no doubt a lot of mud and debris, and catfish, so I'm not going to fish anywhere near there tonight, maybe for a while. Nor am I going to bother with any other areas under the dramatic influence of fresh water after the pour.

      The night lights of Barnegat were on last week, and since reports have remained consistent, I'll bet there'll be bass under them tonight. Shorts anyway but I've heard of some weakfish too, and more than likely, so have you.

      Still here. Hm. Any day now....
Post Prelude
      Most anglers go out for an early morning or an afternoon or evening. I'm an addict, I'm going to fish two full tides, maybe three or four at a time, I also live between an hour and two from the places I fish which is a handicap I try to supplement by fishing longer hours when I get there. I might be a little fetishist too, certain things need to happen on a fishing trip for me to be satisfied. A rickety ping pong: exuberance versus mental disorder. A heady compound of awe and despair, over-hot or freezing; notes of mildew, lots of salt;  dry, then wet, then dry, then wet again. I aim to do more than just catch fish, I aim to branch out my dendritic arbors, explore, experiment and learn. And to push myself physically also. It's not until I've been up twenty-four hours or so that things really start to get interesting anyway. This trip was really three trips in one.

      I began at the LBI bridges. A popular spot. We've caught fish from land there before, this was the first time for me from a kayak. Saw another kayak and other shore and bridge fishermen. I like fishing this way, bridge fishing, fishing the shadow line. The bridge fishermen dangle their offerings in the shadow like marionettists, they use very small, light jigs, casting is advantaged by gravity they don't need something heavy enough to load the rod. I watch the small fish fly up into the air. Fishing was slower for me. In a kayak I can cover more and different aspects of a bridge, but there is a disadvantage when it comes to presentation, particularly when the bite is on top, on invisibles, I wind up thinking 'I should really be using a fly rod'. I pulled out three fish, in about six hours but I couldn't find consistency. There was surface feeding the entire time. I'd have done better if I'd had a smaller presentation that stayed in the strike zone, on top, longer, I think. I should've been using a fly rod........ nah.
The morning after.
         The very first blue light of dawn blends into the shadow line, and the magic dissolves. The splashy rises stop. The early shift of fishermen then arrive casting from the bulkheads on either side. I marveled at their enthusiasm having got up so early, only to have missed it.

       I'll never forget, on a cape cod trip, meeting a fisherman at first light, in the spring. "How'd you do?" he asked.

      "Hm? Oh, uh, we're just heading out."

      "Now?! You're not gonna get 'em now! You're too late! They had 'em an hour ago!" he blindsided, mocking in punishing cape accent.

      Gusto vaporized, I rationalised that he was just fucking with me, he was, a little bit anyway, it was too easy, the ego of a young striper fisherman being so vulnerable as it is, knowing so little as I did, a poseur and a tourist, I was a bullseye, but he was teaching me a great lesson too, I now understand.
      So the sun started up and I moved off the bridge. The rest of the morning I explored. There are some flats, islands, sand beaches, sod banks, points and cut throughs not far from the bridges, I checked them out on the map and wanted to paddle a circuit with a little casting and trolling to check them out. No fish, but some ok water, I'll probably look again, some other time. Any day now.
Prime flats real estate.
      Around noon I pulled up to the launch backside of island beach state park, you know what I'm talking about. I was going to meet Alexi at the big bridge that night to fish the lights again, I was done with LBI for this trip and I wanted to try a different place to do a little more reconnaissance.

      There's always someone back there, especially on nice days, who wants to talk fishing. Funny how even when you're talking to guys three feet from the water's edge they still want to talk rumors up north, or down south, or what they caught in 2011. 

      I forgot to mention that earlier in the week we went to see a seminar given by Capt. Dan Schafer, owner/ operator of Insomniac Guide Service out of Stone Harbor, New Jersey. The information, which was generous, could not have been more apt to the kayak bound angler, and a heavy emphasis placed on fishing the shallows, the flats, the grass beds, salt marshes, "ponds" and sod banks. This is the water I went looking for behind Island Beach, and deliberately in areas where I haven't spent much time before, apropos of Dan's advice "Fish where no one else is fishing". All the water discussed was there, but the fish, not yet. Any day now. 

      I stood in my kayak and looked mostly, I had a rod ready. I was sight fishing, which when you aren't sighting fish feels a little more like a snipe hunt. 

       After a nap I was ready for the real fishing. I chatted with a friendly shore angler, he redoubled all the popular rumors and I politely acted surprised. Any day now. 

      Like I said, I like bridge fishing, and the big bridge is made for the kayak. The fish have been small so far, my biggest around 27 inches, but I believe bigger ones use the lights to eat too, any day now. We met Greg there who we've fished with before and another kayak fisherman showed up later. Two boats showed at different times to fish the bridge. One fished quietly off motor from place to place, they caught a few. The other boat had his motor on the whole time, puttering up and down the shadow line running over rising fish and right into areas where we were casting, you can guess how he did. 

      Alexi was on the bite first. He caught lots of small bass before I got my first. I was changing lures helter-skelter, and  still trying to keep my jig up, thinking of the surface bite of the previous night, but the bass were lower, couple feet down and right along the shadow line. I got one on a small paddle tail (bass assassin) on a bullet head jig. 
        When I made a significant adjustment I had fish every few casts for the next couple hours. I looked up at the lights. I know the lights are the structure in this kind of fishing but I wasn't reading them like a structure, some were burnt out, some brighter than others, some of the bright ones were positioned directly above a bridge piling or near another piece of structure. In some places a few bright lights in a row made a crisper shadow line. I made the connection: the lights have the same nuances as any sod bank. So I started hunting out areas with little differences and finding patterns within the pattern, unravelling the bite.
Not a great picture but you get the point.
      Any day now. May six now. I'm going out again. Another marathon. Gonna fish where no rumors are, make my own rumors.