Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sharks Part 1



It is the time of year when the heat begins to pick up to mid-summer proportions with a humidity level  matching the temperature. It is not like that everyday, but enough days to forewarn you of the coming dog days.
And there I was, just wondering, what gave me such a fight on the coast just a few weeks ago. What was it? How big was it? Can I duplicate the scenario and possibly get that fight one more time?
The unknown is both a great motivator and a great hindrance. Unfamiliar with talking in front of large crowds? The unknown drives you away. Set up on a blind date by a friend’s friend? Escape plan is in place.
But the unknown as in the big one that got away, well, it kind of ways on your mind for a while.
So, before dedicating some time to the piedmont and mountain rivers where the water is a little cooler and the heat is not quite as bad, I had to try one more time.
The best way to get the same results is to repeat the same steps. While paddling out I dropped some bottom rigs looking for croaker, mullet and pinfish I could use as bait. After boating a couple I cut them into two strips each.
Changing poles to a heavier, stronger version with 80 pound test line, I was ready to find out what was in the depths. Two lines were dropped, one from each side. After a casual ten minute drift, I noticed some action on one of the rods. Wait. Wait. Set the hook!
The fish started to run as the rod doubled. I found a good fish, but not quite what the one was a few weeks ago. I got the fish turned and began making progress bringing it back to the kayak. Then the line went limp. The leader was cut.
I reeled in the other line as well, and switched over to steel leaders on both rods. I attached heavier gauge steel circle hooks too. With three of the four fish strips left, I dropped them to the bottom once again.
I proceeded to bring in a few sharks, each of them being on the smaller size. I fished some more for baitfish, but the sharks were taking my shrimp just as quickly. Finally, I brought in another croaker. This time though, I decided to use the whole fish as bait.
That was the right thing to do.
I hooked into another shark, but much larger. The fight was more of a tug of war than a ‘take off and run’ type battle I had a few weeks prior. He would go down, I would pull him up. He would show a burst of strength and head down, pulling drag, I would wait and tire him a little more. Just as I got him to the surface, he just let go.
I never had the hook set. He was holding on to half the fish like a puppy to a shoe. Technically, he didn’t just let go. Technically, he just decided to bite down harder, cutting my bait fish in half right behind the gills.
The fight was fun, like many of the sharks I pulled in that day, including one that was just a little too big for me to pull up in the kayak, so I looped the hook off the leader instead. But none were my mystery fish from before. None of the sharks pulled and fought the same way. Maybe that is proof enough to rule a shark out of the equation.
With the kings and cobia starting to get close to the beaches, perhaps I can stand another heat wave in order to keep searching for the one that got away.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Big Fish in the Sea

When a relationship goes sour, it is all but guaranteed someone will comment, “it will be ok, there are plenty of fish in the sea.”
 
And there are. The oceans and seas are full of fish. I cannot think of a time when I went fishing at the coast and did not catch anything. I may not have caught the species I was targeting, but I caught something. And even though I write about hunting and fishing, I will be the first to admit that I will never be mistaken for a professional angler.
 
In fact, I just wrote a column recently about how great I was at catching small fish. I would love to say it is an artform. And, as mentioned in that previous column, catching small fish is an artform in some parts of the world. But I would say I am just a magnet for the smaller of the species.
 
I can live with that. I enjoy catching the fish, floating on the water, and seeing the sights around me. I catch as much peace as I do fish. It may be what keeps the stress levels down enough to let me see a retirement age one day.
 
That brings us to this last weekend. I decided to hit the saltwater and target a species I have never caught before from the kayak, the gray trout or weakfish as it may be called. There was also word that a few blues had made their way to the nearshore and inshore areas as well.
 
One thing I always try to catch is croaker. Just call it my ‘priming the well’ moment. I drop a piece of shrimp and hope to bring one up. Depending on the time of year, I will find black sea bass, pinfish, mullet and spot in multitudes that drown out my croaker catches, but again, I am reeling in fish so I am happy. Occasionally I may hook into something more interesting like a toadfish or lizard fish, or maybe a puffer. When I do, I am like a kid at an aquarium show and tell. Things like that fascinate me.
 
But as many fish are in the sea, they are not all small. Some are big. Some are bigger than what you want to know. And regardless of how good you are at catching the small stuff, the big stuff will sometimes bite too.
 
I brought in a small fish early. Since the blues were potentially in the area, I used the small fish for bait on one of my rods. After an hour of drifting slowly with the current using my anchor as a drag, the rod with the fish for bait doubled over dipping the tip into the water. At first, I thought I had snagged a rock in the 20 feet of water. But I quickly realized that I was not going fast enough in the current for my rod to react that way.
 
I gave it a quick tug. That set everything into motion. Whatever ate my bait fish, didn’t like me tugging. The drag started screaming from the line going out. I reached around and grabbed my anchor line and pulled it in as fast as I could. I used my paddle on the other side of the kayak as a rudder to get the kayak pointed in the same direction as the fish.
 
I gradually tightened my drag as the kayak began to move with the pull of the fish on the rod. Eventually, the fish was no longer dragging line, rather he was dragging me in the kayak. For sure, this would tire it quickly and I could reel in whatever this behemoth monster.
 
He pulled me into the basin against the current. Boats were passing by me. Waves were rocking me. But as long as I felt safe and visible, I felt I could continue to wear the fish down.
 
“Pop!” The rod snapped back toward me as the 40 pound test monofilament broke in two. My big fish was gone.
 
After catching many more smaller fish, including the trout I was after, I headed to the ramp and loaded the kayak and gear into the truck. A boat which was pulled out before me was being tied down by the three men who enjoyed their day as well.
 
“You got a trolling motor on your kayak?” one asked.
 
“No sir, I paddle.”
 
“No, I knew you didn’t. I was referring to that fish you had hung up out there. We saw you fight it for 30 minutes.”
 
“It was that long? I had no idea! It was fun though,” I replied.
 
“Yeah, we saw you hook on. We all reeled in, grabbed a beer, and sat back to enjoy the show,” he said while the three of them laughed.
 
At least I was being laughed at for a big fish this time. There are a lot of fish in the sea. Sometimes though, you may not want to see just how big they are.
 
The word is the kings and cobia are making there way into our coast, and in all likelihood, I hooked a cobia. Not having a gaff or club, a cobia would not have been a fish to catch on a kayak in that situation. Though I was not prepared for what may have been, it was fun.
 
 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Smallest Fish Doesn't Win Tournaments

In Japan, the best angler is often considered to be the one who can catch the smallest of fish. Tanago fishing is a unique sport with a long history in Japanese sport and lore. The tackle consists of the smallest of rods with the smallest of hooks, and before the advent of nylon lines, a woman’s long hair.
 
Maybe I was born at the wrong time on the wrong side of the world.
 
Let’s go back a few days for the main text of this story. We had a couple of weeks worth of warm weather with rain mixed in periodically. Between the air temperature and the warm rains, the rivers and lakes warmed up rather quickly, finally hitting the mid 60s. The various species of fish had begun their spawn cycles, one after another.
 
And there was a largemouth bass tournament. I had never really fished a true bass tournament, and this was a kayak only tournament, so I decided to give it a go. There would be people I knew competing, and many more I did not know. My only worries were I would not catch anything, finish dead last, and either embarrass myself or the companies I represent.
 
However, I am not one to get caught up in whether people laugh at me or not. In fact, I laugh at myself aplenty. Let’s face it, you have to have thick skin and a sense of humor in just putting your life out in front of thousands of people in these words each week.
 
I watched the weather during the week leading into the tournament and realized it was going to be much more difficult than I originally thought even though we would be fishing on one of the state’s premiere bass fisheries. The weekend was shaping to take a nose dive in temperature, and rain was likely going to set in early as well. Just enough to kill the bite. As if I needed more obstacles than the nearly 100 other competitors to contend with.
 
Having never fished the lake, I put in hour after hour of internet scouting. I read reports from forums dating back several years during the same monthly time periods to see what was used to catch the lunkers as well as what didn’t work. I watched Youtube videos taking note in where they were fishing, how they were fishing, and what time of year they were fishing the lake. I scoured over Google Earth, Yahoo maps, and Navionics trying to determine the best locations for plan A, plan B, plan C, and so forth.
 
I set up four of my Denali rods with different lines and lures, ranging from top water plugs and chatter baits, to worms and plastics, and even my favorite, a Beetle-spin. My thought process was three small bass would likely out do one large one if the fishing become tough. Therefore the Beetle-spin may be my salvation, and I could try and upgrade from there.
 
After getting the launch word that morning, myself and 85 other kayak anglers began paddling to our plan A locations. My first target would be about a mile and a half down the lake and then work my way back towards the check in location throughout the day. I found a small cove that I was able to paddle into and hog from the other competitors and began making casts with a jitterbug. No luck. I switched to a large double spinner, only because I spotted a couple of bass in the cove breaking surface and tailing.
 
Second cast of the double spinner and I had a thump. Then another. Boom! I embedded the hook with a firm set but immediately realized this was a small fish, but one nonetheless. Another angler down the bank from me yelled “fish on!” and I noticed every one of the dozen or so kayakers turn my way to see what I was about to reel in.
 
It was a crappie. He was a nice size, but it was a crappie. One guy yelled over to me “how big?”
 
“It doesn’t matter, it is a crappie. I’m not on the board”
 
And then the rain hit. I fished and fished and just didn’t get a hit. I tried different lures, different techniques, and different depths with no luck. Then, while peppering a rock ledge near a bridge, the same double spinner I used on the crappie felt as though it went flat. I didn’t have the pull of the spinners spinning any longer. As the lure breached the surface of the water I realized why.
 
Fish on! Or maybe it should be more like “fish on?”
 
I proceeded to pull a threadfin shad from his watery home with a hook over half his body length. A clean hook set too, not a snag or foul hook. I am still unsure how the barb of the hook was able to pass into his miniature mouth, but it did.
 
That would prove to be my last fish of the tournament.
 
If I existed in ancient and not-so-ancient Japan, I would likely have been sitting atop my kayak in wanderment, instead of wonderment. At least I would have been a great angler at some point in history.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Take a Kid Fishing


Many years ago people of my generation and older would regularly watch a television show called The Southern Sportsman. Franc White was the host, and the format was pretty simple and consistent. He would show some footage of fishing or hunting trip, go to the kitchen and show you how to cook whatever he caught or killed, and then finish the footage.
He would venture throughout North and South Carolina and go anywhere from the mountains to coast and all places in between. White was easily identified by his zebra striped boat and airplane. Even the commercials that played during his show became synonymous with both the outdoors and himself, such as the line “choose Happy Jack, your dog would.” It was part of the show each weekend.
But probably the most recognizable and memorable part of the show was Franc White’s closing line. Each and every show ended with “Do yourself a favor, take a kid fishing.”
Now there are many lines that people use everyday, including “give a man a fish, he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will eat forever.” Well, take a kid fishing, and he will love the outdoors forever.

And that brings me to this. A social media ‘friend’, Samantha Gay, has come up with a field trip for two classes at the school where she works. It would probably be best if I shared her exact words:
“As we all know, exposure to the nature is very important to children’s development, intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and physically. If children are raised with little or no connection to nature, they may miss out on the many benefits that being outdoors offers. Research shows that outdoor experiences help reduce negative stress and protect psychological well-being, especially in children undergoing stressful life events. It also suggests that children involved in outdoor educational settings show improvement in self-esteem, problem solving and motivation to learn!
By encouraging children to get out and enjoy the simplicity of nature while doing something so rewarding as fishing, they are able to obtain knowledge and skills that can be applied to all areas of their lives. Knowing how to fish instills confidence, as it builds independence and self-worth. It also teaches children the wonders of the great outdoors, while developing an appreciation and respect for nature. Learning a skill, such as fishing, also teaches patience, good morals and ethics, while promoting healthier lifestyles, as well. Unfortunately, in the technological age we live in, people, especially children, spend less time playing outdoors than any other generation. Children are spending more time indoors, glued to a television set and/or video games, becoming less active, which also has profound effects on their health.”
Samantha is raising funds and donations to assist in the field trip, and in doing so, is hoping to be able to leave each of the kids with a rod and reel to keep for themselves.
Imagine if your teacher announced to your class in fourth grade that you would be going on a field trip fishing, and get to keep a rod and reel so you can go fishing anytime you wanted afterwards. It is easy to understand why these kids are so excited.
In the process, many donors have stepped up, including the likes of Zebco, Plano, Flambeau, Rat-L-Trap, Strike King, Gary Yamamoto, and many more. But there is still more needed. The field trip is coming up on May 6th.
If you would be interested in donating money, you can do so at http://www.gofundme.com/gethookedonfishing. Or you can contact Samantha directly at samanthagayfishing@gmail.com to volunteer, or assist in other ways.
You never know what will be the one thing that influences someone’s life, and something like this has the potential to do so.
And to modify the late Franc White’s encouraging closing line, do yourself a favor and help take a kid fishing.