"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."
-André Gide

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chasing Tail

Me and my roommate, Austin, spent the last three days around the Coastal Bend area looking for redfish. Fishing was fair for the most part except when the winds and tides didn’t cooperate. The first day we concentrated on leeward shorelines to get out of the wind, and we were able to find plenty of redfish and a few trout but most of them were undersized. A majority of the fish we caught were holding 10-20yds off of the shorelines in 1’-3’ of water over grass.

As the wind let up over the course of the day we moved to a second location to see if we could locate some bigger fish. Our efforts were quickly rewarded. As soon as we launched we began to spot redfish roaming the grass flats in and around shallow patches of oysters. We came up on our first school of 10+ tailing redfish soon thereafter. As we moved into position to attempt to get a double hookup, a lone Tern decided it wanted in on the action. The bird proceeded to dive-bomb on the feeding redfish and the entire school dispersed before we even had a chance to make a cast. Oh well, nothing you can do about an animal’s natural instinct to seize an opportunity for an easy meal.

We worked the area where we saw the school and Austin managed to catch a 24” redfish on a topwater. We continued searching the area for any signs of activity and we ran into another similar-sized school tailing about a half mile away. I managed to pull out a 23” red on top as well that spooked the rest of the school when it ate.

The rest of the school regrouped shortly afterward about 50 yards away, so I decided to sit back and let Austin catch the first fish out of the school before I made a cast. After a few misplaced casts due to the wind, he decided to cast closer to the feeding fish and it landed right in the middle of the school. The fish reacted to the lure exactly how they reacted to the diving tern, getting out of the area like a cockroach when the lights turn on. With no signs of the spooked fish in sight after waiting several minutes and darkness sneaking up on us swiftly, we decided to head back in.

On the way in we encountered another school of foraging redfish. I decided to sit back and capture footage while Austin tried to redeem his prior plight. Austin quickly hooks up but the fish breaks him off on some shell after one stalwart and calculated dash for survival. When fishing around oysters remember to frequently check your line for frays and hold your rod tip high while fighting a fish to prevent the fish from putting its head down amongst the razor-like shells. Another lesson learned the hard way, by experience.

We continued down the shoreline on our way in and we spotted yet another school. Again I decided to let Austin go first while I videoed the action. After several missed attempts Austin made the perfect cast with his soft plastic, and he was able to get the fish out of the school without disturbing its counterparts. With posteriors wagging in the wind it was hard to focus on shooting footage. I stopped the tape and yelled over to Austin, I was leaving in pursuit.

I moved into position and made a cast with my topwater beyond the outside right edge of the school. Twitch… twitch… boom; our first double of the day. Nothing quite compares to the sound a redfish makes when it explodes on a topwater; a sound so incredibly distinct and exhilarating, if I couldn’t see I would still be able to recognize the difference between when a redfish inhales a topwater versus any other fish. Austin lands his 25” redfish shortly followed by my 24” red. By this time there’s barely enough daylight to see each other silhouette several yards away, so we decided to call it a day.

It was Austin’s first time experiencing a school of tailing redfish. Later on that evening he described the feeling he felt the moments leading up to the hook up while chasing tail. He said each time we snuck up on a school of reds his legs were trembling from nervousness and anticipation, and he was overcome with excitement just like greenhorn hunter when he sees his first big buck. He also said that there was only one other feeling on earth it could be compare with. I let your minds wonder and put the pieces of the puzzle together but it involves chasing tail of another kind.

The second day we slept in after getting home extremely late from the previous night. We fished for a few hours in the evening but it was very windy until just before sunset. We caught a few small trout and reds in deeper cuts leading into the flats on an outgoing tide.

The third and final day we hit the water at sunrise and to catch the last of the outgoing tide and the start of the incoming tide on one of my favorite flats. The wind was blowing pretty hard for the first few hours of the day and we covered a bunch of water with no luck. The wind died almost completely right about the time we made it to the outside edge of the flats. We worked an area with deeper 3’-5’ sand pockets in 3’ of water. We began spotting fish cruising the edges and middle of the sand pockets and it didn’t take long for one of us to hook up. Gold and copper ½oz spoons were the only offerings the fish didn’t pass up entirely. We caught several redfish up to 23” by anchoring up or wading grassy areas that dropped off into deeper sand pockets.

We decided to move back to the area where we started to see if the incoming tide had pushed any fish up shallower. We got there only to find that the tide never came in and had actually dropped even lower than its previous level. We moved back deep to a large cut leading into the flats. We spotted a few fish so we stalked the edges slowly, and we were able to sight cast to a few more reds to 24” on soft plastics.

We found a majority of our fish in shallow areas over grass and scattered shell or hanging near drop offs from 1’-2’ to 3’-5’. Hard baits of choice were Skitterwalk Jr.’s in holographic bone/chartreuse and silver mullet, LC Sammy in ms american shad, ½oz Secret Redfish Spoon in gold, and a ½oz Eppinger Rex Spoon in copper. Soft plastics of choice were Bass Assassin Sea Shad in copperhead, Gulp Shrimp in molting, Gulp Jerk Shad in pearl white, and TTF Flats Minnow in matagorda magic and sabine shiner.

I was thoroughly impressed by both the LC Sammy and Eppinger Spoon. The Sammy has a different walk, sound, posture in the water compared to other topwaters, which I believe led to more strikes and hook ups. I purchased this bait on sale a few years ago and it sat in my tackle box ever since. I took it out of retirement and brought it along this trip. I knew I was onto something when my first cast with this lure resulted in a redfish. The Eppinger Spoon is one of the best looking spoons I’ve seen to date. It has a smaller profile compared to other spoons in the same weight class and it holds up pretty well.

Although I didn’t get any video of our encounters worth posting this trip, look forward to me posting videos of my fishing adventures in the near future. I should be getting a waterproof HD video camera very soon. I’m excited and can’t wait to put it to use.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tournament Preparation Part 1

It has been said that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. To increase your luck, i.e. opportunity for success, you must be as prepared as possible, physically and mentally. If being ready is most of the battle then your groundwork should be completed before you ever hit the water.

The key to tournament fishing is being efficient, thereby maximizing your time out on the water. No wasted time looking for you pliers or fumbling around trying to get your net untangled while you have a fish on the end of your line. No digging around the inside of your kayak looking for your stringer or ruler.

Fishing, like most hobbies, is all about personal preference; we do things as we see fit. My approach to tournament preparation is by no means the best way or even the most efficient, but it works for me. If you find a method that better suits your needs incorporate it into your preparation regimen.

I’ll start with tackle. I am a tackle enthusiast, a more flattering label for tackle junkie, and have accumulated quite an “investment” (idle collection) of tackle over the past few years. In the past I was one of those fishermen that carried everything I owned on every single trip and at the end of the day less than one percent of all that tackle was actually used.

And while I still carry way too much equipment, tournament fishing, as well as kayaking in general, has forced me to tone down the quantity and quality of what I cram into my tank well and hatches these days. Fishing tournaments you want to pack the bare essentials only; things you know you’re going to need over the course of a day of fishing. Toning down your tackle helps you stay organized while on the water. Organization and efficiency has also carried over into my recreational fishing, which has allowed me to be more productive at catching versus just fishing.

Essential equipment to bring aboard your kayak for tournament fishing purposes include a net, rods and reels, pliers, drinks and snacks, stake-out stick or some other anchoring device, the minimal amount of tackle needed, accurate measuring device, scale, stringer or livewell, drift sock, and a camera if necessary. Although you could add or subtract a thing or two these, more or less, are the necessities.

Knowing how to operate your equipment and making sure all your gear is functioning correctly is also a vital component in being prepared. Tournament day is not the time to test if your tackle is in proper working condition; this should be done days beforehand. Check to see if your rods and reels are functioning properly. Make sure hooks are sharp and all knots are cinched down appropriately. Look for cricks or frays in your line or leaders. Replace hooks, knots, leaders, and line as needed.

Depending on what type of tournament you are fishing, CPR or live weigh-in, you are going to need to know how to use the equipment required submitting your catch. Practice keeping fish alive in your livewell or taking pictures of fish on your measuring device. Although these tasks may seem easy, and they usually are after a little practice, you never know what problems you might encounter until you make an attempt yourself.

Another important consideration is to remember to bring plenty of liquids and quick snacks along with you to prevent dehydration and hunger. If you’re fishing hard you’re going to burn a ton of calories. There’s probably no smaller deed you can perform that will help you refocus while fishing than eating a snack and taking a drink. A loss of concentration can make a world of difference, especially considering the disparity between winning and losing can boil down to just one bite.

One of the most important aspects of tournament fishing and efficiency is time management. The simplest way to manage and keep track of time is by wearing a wristwatch; I always have a watch on my wrist on tournament day. You’re on a time limit, and catching winning fish does you no good if you can’t make the weigh-in. Calculate how long it takes you to drive from your fishing spot to the weigh-in. Know precisely how long it takes you to load up and connect your livewell. By the morning of the tournament I usually know when I have to be back to the launch to make the weigh-in almost to the minute. Another thing to consider is how long it will take you to paddle back to your launch site from the furthest distance you plan on fishing.

Fish hard until the very last minute as long as you don’t have fish. Many tournaments have been won in the crunch with literally minutes left of possible fishing. If you do you have fish to weigh-in then give yourself plenty of wiggle room to make it back on time. If you’re trying to upgrade then you have to make a decision if it’s worth not making the weigh-in to possibly upgrade. If you’re in an area where you know there’s fish then it might be worth the risk. I like to have all possible scenarios played out in my head before my kayak touches the water so when the time comes to make a decision I know what to do without hesitation.

The day before the tournament is usually when I like to unwind and relax. If I do fish it’s usually a short trip to check if the fish I found prefishing are still in the same location or get a gauge or feel for the conditions the next day. This is the time I use to make sure all my tackle in order after previous days of prefishing put everything in disarray.

Besides for registration purposes, captain’s meetings are more or less mandatory, mechanical gatherings that usually offer no more relevant information but do bestow participants with the opportunity to converse (fabricate stories) about past successes and blunders. Remember to sign up for the tournament you plan on participating in well beforehand, and have all paperwork filled out prior to attending the captains meeting. It saves both you and the tournament director trouble from having to verify registration and payment, and helps you avoid any late fees.

The captain’s meeting is usually the best time to mingle with your fellow kayakers but don’t overlook the weigh-in as a likely source of information. Anglers are usually willing to enlighten you about how their day went regardless of whether the outcome was good or bad. There is wealth of knowledge that leaves the mouths of participants and floats around the air, like a cloud on a foggy morning. I’ve heard about many David versus Goliath or the one that got away stories at these gatherings. Don’t be bashful, open your mouth and become a sponge if and when someone opens theirs.

Get plenty of rest the night before the tournament. You don’t want to wake up in the morning and feel groggy or scatterbrained while on the water. Remember to have fun; you’re fishing after all, not trying to get that hot blonde to go on a date with you. Don’t put undue pressure on yourself; go out and do what you love, just fish. If you’re not having fun you won’t do well, and you’ll probably lose interest in tournament fishing fairly quickly. Be confident in your game plan and fish efficiently and let the cards fall where they may.

I’m sure I didn’t cover everything and it would be impossible task, so if there’s anything I left out or if you want any more information regarding a specific issue feel free to send me a message.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fisherman’s Addiction

When it seems like everything in your life is total blur. Everything seems to be happening so fast that you feel like your racing down a highway at a hundred miles per hour. You catch a glimpse of things here and there but nothing seems to make sense or have any meaning.

Life’s throwing so many things at you at once you feel overwhelmed. It’s like you’re at a buffet that has all your favorite foods combined in one place. You walk down the aisles contemplating what to eat but with so many good choices you throw a little of everything on your platter and before you know it it’s piled high and too much to handle. You get the feeling that you’re just a helpless bystander of your own existence.

There’s only one place to go when everything seems to be crashing down on you at once. The place that helps you to get away from it all and clear your mind from all the world’s pressures. The place that makes you feel like a new person and gives you a renewed sense of meaning and worth.

The feeling you get inside every time you go to this place is indescribable. It’s like you’re in another world. The feeling that you’re at peace with your surroundings. The feeling that you’re one with nature. It’s this feeling that lets you know you’re alive.

When you’re at this place you wouldn't trade seats with anybody else in the world. You don’t have a care in the world. All your worries erased. All your problems gone. Nothing else matters. There’s only one place in this world you want to be. You know this place well. Ah, that great place all too familiar but yet so distance in your memory.

Fishing in its purest form is you against Mother Nature. You armed with a rod and reel, and Mother Nature with all her elements. Tides, wind, current, pressure, rain, cloud cover and everything else she has in her arsenal that she can dish at you over the course of a day. Your ability to combat these external forces is what makes you successful or leaves you in the dust of her wrath. Sure catching adds to the experience but just being in the presence of her elements is more than enough to satisfy your craving.

You have no obligations tomorrow so you decide it’s been long enough it’s time to reacquaint yourself with this wonderful place. You load up everything the night before going through your mental checklist making sure you haven’t forgotten anything. After all preparations have been made you’re off to bed.

You feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. You toss and turn all night opening your eyes every so often to see if it’s time to get up and head out for the day’s adventure. You’re so excited about the prospect of being able to get on the water that you’re up and can’t go back to sleep long before the alarm clock goes off. You get up and go through your morning routine and then hit the road as quickly as possible for the journey ahead.

As you make the drive to your favorite spot you think about all the memories this special place has brought you over the years. You know the spot that over the years hasn’t let you down very many times. The spot that you know you can count on to produce even in the toughest conditions.

You pull off the highway and start making your way down a tattered, dirt road that leads you to what feels like the Promised Land but it only dead ends to the water. You bring your truck to a stop and crack open the door to get that fresh salty breeze running down your nostrils for the first time in what seems like forever. You get out of your truck and quickly unload everything you’re going to need for battle ahead.

With everything unloaded and ready you jump in the water with your heart beating as if you just run a marathon. You’re on the water well before daylight when most souls are still at rest. All your other senses are significantly magnified due to the darkness and silence in the air. You hear every bug buzz by, every blade of grass move, and every splash in the distance. You feel every breeze and drop of water hit your body. With every breath you inhale the aroma of salt and marine life in the air.

You make you way to favorite area just as the sky begins to light. You begin to see the tale tell signs that fish are in the area. Nervous water, the occasional fleeing of baitfish, and birds hovering above. As the sun begins to peak over the horizon you sit back and enjoy one of the universe’s most magical performances. A new day has begun. You can’t but help to think about possibilities that lie ahead.

You are so overcome by your emotions you temporarily forget the reason you are here. You regain your concentration and make your first cast to a swirl off in the distance but it lands nowhere near your intended target. Second cast a little closer but comes up short. As your about to make your third cast, off in the distance you hear the sound of a constant beeping. Beep, beep, beep.

The sound seems to be getting louder & louder. BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. You open your eyes and turn your head to see the alarm clock shows 6:00am. It's time to get out of bed and get ready for work.

This feeling is all you can think about on a daily basis. It makes bad days better. It makes major problems feel like minor annoyances. It keeps the work week bearable and puts life into perspective. It’s engraved in your soul. It runs through your veins. You can’t get this feeling anywhere else.

You are an addict.