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.