Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas in the Caribbean

When I was little, if I was not fishing on a Saturday morning, then I was watching my favorite fishing shows.  I always enjoyed watching Spanish Fly, Walkers Cay, and Hunt for Big Fish. A lot of the time these shows took place in the Bahamas, flyfishing for tailing Bonefish.  I have always wanted to be standing on the front of a flats skiff, flyrod in hand watching 5 or 6 tails slowly swimming towards me.  Last week I got my chance, I finally got the opportunity to catch a bonefish on the long rod.
While on a family cruise in the Caribbean and at one of the port calls, my mom surprised me with a 3 hour Fly fishing excursion for bonefish.  I met Captain Tony at the dock and within 15 minutes I was on the bow searching for bonefish.   It didn’t take long for Capt. Tony to say “11 o’clock there are a few”.  I made a 30ft cast right in front of the cruising fish.  A few strips and BAM! Fish on.  A blistering run with screaming drag abruptly ended when the fish ran into the mangroves and broke off.  I quickly re-rigged and was back out searching. 

A few minutes later a massive school of at least 30 fish came down the flat.  I made a long cast and almost immediately a bonefish hit my shrimp fly.  This fish took off away from the mangroves and down the flat.  I was amazed by how fast this fish could move against a strong drag.  After a good fight I worked the fish to the boat where Capt Tony grabbed the fish.  The fish was about 18in long and very healthy.  After a few quick pictures and a release, it was back to the bow looking for more.

There was a ton of life on the flat.  Blacktips, bonnetheads, and lemon sharks prowled the flats along with massive stingrays.  Another cool sight was seeing giant triggerfish finning in only a foot of water.  While I was seeing a lot of life, it appeared that the bones had vanished.  With about 30 minutes left in the trip, Capt Tony poled around a point and there they were.  Just like on TV, I saw one tail pop up, and then another, and another.  There was a group of about 6 NICE size bonefish tailing my way.  Once we got into range I laid out a good cast, and then everything went into slow motion…
                                 Strip… Strip… Pause… Strip… Strip…
                                                    BAM! FISH ON!

Immediately the fish dumped all of the flyline off the spool and half of the backing.  I could tell that this fish was substantial.  I worked the fish back to the boat where it took off again, dumping all of the flyline again.  The power in these fish is incredible.  The fish made several runs over the next few minutes, but Capt Tony did an awesome job poling us away from the mangroves and eventually it slowed down.  I fought the fish back to the boat and Capt. Tony grabbed it.  This fish was about 23in and fat.  I was excited to have a day just like the shows I used to watch.  It was everything I hoped for; seeing the tails, making the cast and feeling the power of the bonefish.     

If you are ever in the Bahamas and interested in catching these awesome fish, checkout South Abaco Adventures.  Here is there website…

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Epic Day on the Lake

Fall is here and that means school, cross country and soccer have really cut into my fishing time.  I only get a few opportunities to get on the water.  This weekend I was lucky with two free days and good weather.

                On Saturday my Dad and I went out for some late season speckled trout.  The reports lately had been good and I was excited to get on them.  After a long paddle out to our spot, we found gill nets all over the area we wanted to fish. The water was extremely clear and we could see countless trout, stripers, and redfish in the nets.  Fishing was really tough and we only caught a few schoolie stripers.  The only baits that produced were PTL Swinging Hammers and Mirrolures. 

                After a slow day in the salt, we looked for some redemption on Sunday.  We went to one of my favorite lakes looking for bass.  The conditions were perfect, with cloud cover and little breeze.  When we got to our first spot my Dad quickly hooked up on a small bass.  A little while after that he hooked up on a much nicer fish.  After a few runs he landed a NICE bass.   It measured out to 22.25in and enough for Virginia trophy citation.  He released it and we got back to fishing. 

                My Dad caught several more bass on live bait while I struggled for a bite.  I tied on one of my favorite baits, a lipless crankbait and threw it near a laydown.  It bounced off of a stump and I thought I snagged some timber, but a big head shake proved my bait was inhaled by something huge.  The surface erupted with a massive splash and I instantly knew that this was a gigantic bass.  I carefully worked it to the boat and grabbed the fish.  When I sat the fish in my lap, I was utterly speechless.  I knew right away this was a new personal best.  The bass measured 25in and weighed about 10lbs.  After a bunch of pictures I released the beast back to the lake and kept fishing. 

                The nice bass kept on biting with my Dad and I both catching several more bass over 18in.  The bite slowed down after a few hours and we were ready to head back in when my Dad made his last cast.  He pitched a live bait into a large brushpile looking for another big bass.  His rod doubled over and his drag started screaming.  He locked up the drag attempting to pull the big fish out of the brush. Fortunately, he got the fish to turn its head and it swam away from the brush.  We both hoped that it was another big bass since it was fighting so hard.  After a good fight the fish rolled on the surface and to our surprise it was a big channel catfish.  My Dad landed the big cat and we knew it was over 30in, the minimum for citation.  The catfish ended up being 33in and my Dad’s second citation of the day.  He released the cat and we called it a day.  The hot baits were lipless crankbaits in red craw color,  PTL Bull Nosed Jigs, and live bait.   

Also this winter at Appomattox River Company, its Meet the Prostaff.  Several of PaddleVA's prostaff will be speaking about winter time fishing here in Tidewater.  I will be speaking about Wintertime bassin on January 15! For more info click here...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Skinny Water Redfish!

Hard fighting 27" Redfish

Sciaenops ocellatus has a lot of different labels up and down the East Coast: red drum, redfish, puppy drum and channel bass, just to list a few.  I usually refer to them as pups and they are my favorite target from early June through October in southeast Virginia and coastal North Carolina.  Red drum can get huge with several over 50 inches caught in Virginia every spring, but pups usually average from 20-30 inches and they are readily available and hungry.
"Say Ahhhhhh"

   Pups are usually cooperative and will readily take natural and artificial baits.  They can range from structure (bridges, pilings, wrecks and rocks) in deeper water all the way to a few inches of water on the flats.  Sight fishing the flats is my favorite way to catch these great fish.  Nothing matches the feeling of putting your fly or lure in front of a hungry pup, watching him take it and then peel drag as he runs across the flat.  Here are some tips for targeting pups on the flats.

This big 29" Red was in only 1 foot of water
Conditions: The biggest thing I need to target pups is moving water.  I will fish both the incoming and outgoing tides.  On the outgoing tide I like to fish creek mouths and rips where pups will ambush bait.  On the incoming tide, I will follow the water as it floods the grass beds and the pups head in looking for food.  To sight fish you want very little wind and clean water.  This doesn't happen that often, but when it does you can pick out individual fish or whole schools.  When the water is too murky or choppy to see fish, I will look for pups pushing water as they chase bait.  It seems on TV that most of the shows can find pups tailing, but I hardly ever see tails.  Usually I just see the moving water or a discoloration where the fish have stirred up the bottom.

Standing in the Cuda allows me to see a big school of Reds

Tackle:  For pup fishing I like to keep my tackle pretty light.  I use both bait casting and spinning tackle for pups.  My favorite bait casting rig is a Diawa Tatula on a Shimano Clarus fast action rod in 6-12 lbs.  I primarily use this rig for plugs and jigs but I will also use it with live bait, especially if I am using a popping cork.  I use my spinner to throw soft plastics, lighter jigs and free lining live bait.  My spinning rig of choice is a Shimano Saros 1000F on a Shimano Terramar with an extra fast action rated for 6-15lb test.  I use braid on all my rigs (usually 20lb) and always use a leader.  Since I prefer to sight fish in clear water, I use flourocarbon from 15-25lb depending on the conditions.

My Diawa Tatula cranking down on a nice pup 

            Pups are awesome on the fly and I never hit the flats without a fly rod.  If I only have room for one I will carry my 8wt with a floating line because it is a great all around set up.  However, there is nothing more fun than sight casting to a nice pup with my 6wt.  A quick strip set and hang on!

Having fun flyfishing on the SUP! Photo Credit: Richie Bekolay

Baits:  Pups are opportunistic and will eat almost anything in their environment.  Shrimp, crabs and small fish are all part of their diet and all will catch fish.  My favorite live bait is a finger mullet about 4 inches long.  Free lined or on a popping cork, it is hard for a pup to resist a mullet that has wandered away from the school.  Mullet last a long time and you always have a shot at a big speckled trout or flounder if you have one on your line.  Everything eats mullet!  I always use circle hooks when I use bait.  The size seems to differ a lot between hook companies, but I usually use a 2/0 or 3/0. 

Landing a pup that nailed a live mullet

            If I am throwing artificial, I will throw a mullet imitation.  Topwater lures like a Rapala Skitterwalker or a Heddon Zara Spook will trigger explosive strikes when worked with a “walk the dog” retrieve. Lipless Crankbaits have quickly become one of my favorite baits.  I can cover a large flat really quickly, and the noise this bait makes draws fish in from distance. Another great mullet imitation is the Live Target Wake Bait.  This is my Dad’s favorite pup lure and he consistently catches pups all season on this lure (All of these baits are also great speck lures.).  Soft plastics like the Powerteam Lures Swinging Hammer and the JP Hammer Shad are great sight fishing baits because you can use them with a subtle presentation that will not spook fish in very shallow water.  These baits are super versatile and can be fish weightless, on a keel weight hook, a spinnerbait trailer, or on a jig.

Top to bottom: Lipless Crankbait, Skitterwalker, PTL Swinging Hammer, Wakebait, Swinging Hammer on a Spinnerbait 

            If I am using the fly rod most clouser or deceiver patterns will work if the pups are feeding on baitfish.  One of my favorite patterns for sight fishing is a crab or shrimp pattern.  These flies can be worked slow or fast and a hungry pup will not pass one up.

My personal favorite crab, clousers, and deceiver patterns

Additional tips:  Sight fishing can be tough.  A good pair of polarized sun glasses is a necessity if you want to see pups below the surface.  Binoculars can also help you find pups moving water at a distance.    If you can stand in your kayak you have a huge advantage over someone sitting on their butt.  The higher you can get your eyes, the further you can see.  My favorite platform for this type of fishing is my Jackson SUPerFISHal stand up paddle board.  When I am standing on my cooler on the SUP I can see fish at a much greater distance than when I am sitting on my yak.  In shallow water you have to be quiet, try to minimize any movement that will cause noise.  I always stop away from any area I plan to fish and do all my rigging and get everything organized before I move on to the flat.

Standing on the SUP is my favorite way to catch reds

            Pups are great fish and they are prowling the flats of Virginia and North Carolina right now.  Get out there and get in on some great fishing. 

When the action is hot you can even get a double header!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Quick Trips for Big Bass

22in Citation Largemouth 

Summer has rolled into the Tidewater region and it is HOT.  To beat the heat, a quick late afternoon trip down to the local lake can put some quality bass on your line.
A double header of nice bass caught on jigs

I keep these quick trips simple, bringing only a few rods and a few tackle boxes.  The rods I bring will be rigged with: a jig, a Texas rig, a popper, and a lipless crankbait.  These four baits will always produce summer bass no matter where you fish.

My jig of choice is PowerTeam Lures (PTL) new Bull Nosed Jig in either Natural, or Susky Slayer with a matching Craw D trailer.  I throw this around all types of shallow cover and catch a lot of big bass on the jig. Since I'm throwing this into cover I like to use a heavier rod and 20lb test braided line.  The braid adds sensitivity and allows you to feel the softer bites.
A Mouth full of Jigs

Everybody knows that the Texas rig is one of the most popular rigs in bass fishing. the reason why is because it catches fish, a lot of fish.  My Texas rig combo consist of a PTL 1/4oz tungsten weight and a 3/0 EWG worm hook.  As far as plastics go, my personal favorites are: PTL Sick Sticks, 6" Gators, 7" Tickelers, and 10" Ribbon Hinge Worms.  I pitch these baits in shallow brush piles, and also hop the Ribbon Hinge worm around long main lake points.  I will use a little lighter rod than my jigging rod, but will keep the 20lbs braid for the sensitivity.
Working a point with a Texas Rig
My favorite bait to throw during the summer is a small popper.  These baits will always produce hits during the summer time.  My favorite popper is Lake Fork tackle's Magic Popper.  This bait walks the dog like a stick bait, and splashes like a bait fish.  I throw this bait on a light spinning rod for accuracy, and I target shady over hangs, and skip it under docks.  as it gets later in the day I will throw it over shallow ledges and across large flats.
Bass caught on a popper
My final rig is a lipless crankbait.  This is one of the most versatile baits in my tackle box.  I can burn it across large shallow flats, or hop it down a deep point, and everywhere in between.  My favorite way to work this bait is throwing it over shallow submerged structure such as, brush piles, standing timber, grass, rocks, and points.  The lipless crankbait I throw most often is the Strike King Red Eyed Shad.  This bait gives off a lot of vibration and attracts bass from a long way away.

Nice bass couldn't pass up a Red Eyed Shad

The weather may be hot, but so is the fishing.  So get on the water and get in on the action.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Vacation Bassin'

Double header on PTL Hammer Shads

Everybody knows that Florida holds bass, really big bass.  So when I found out that my family was going to Disney World my eyes lit up knowing that there was a good possibility for getting a new personal best bass while on vacation.  Since we were going to Disney I couldn’t bring any of my kayaks, but it turns out you don’t need one down there because bank fishing works just fine.  I packed up all of my PowerTeam Lures soft plastics and all of my hardbaits and frogs, as well as my heavier bass rods and saltwater reels to power big bass out of grass. 
After a smooth drive down we arrived at Disney World and checked into our hotel, I asked the front desk where I can fish.  They pointed out a few small lakes that I could fish in, and said that it is rare for people to come to Disney and ask about fishing, which meant that these lakes do not get a lot of pressure.  On the first morning my Dad and I woke up at 5 and hit the first pond. I had an assortment of poppers, skitterwalkers, and softplastics rigged, because I wasn’t sure what to expect.  On my first cast with a popper, it was smashed by a chunky 18in bass. 

  The action continued throughout the morning catching a lot of nice bass with several over 18in.  As the bite was beginning to slow I started bombing a lipless crankbait out towards the middle of the lake where some bait was busting.  I was retrieving the bait back with a stop/start cadence when it was smashed by a big fish.  Shortly after hooking it, the fish jumped and I saw that it was a monster bass. After a good fight with several more jumps I landed the beast.  I knew right away that it was the biggest bass I had ever caught.  It measured out to 23in and weight about 8lbs. 
23" 8lbs Hawg!

The rest of the week was awesome catching nice bass every time I went out.  The lakes I fished were all different and contained all types of cover.  One lake was fairly bare only containing a few choice brush piles and bridge pilings that would hold fish.  The hot baits in this type of lake were lipless crankbaits and PowerTeam Lures JP Hammer Shads.
JP Hammer Shad produced several nice fish

  The rest of the lakes I fished were very shallow and were filled with hydrilla.  Swimming a JP Swinging Hammer weedless through the grass always produced some nice fish. Also Texas Rigged Baby Bass Sick Sticks, and June Bug 6" Gators caught a lot of nice fish. 
Nice Bass on a Sick Stick

 Since there was so much grass, another big fish producer was fishing R2S Dahlburg Diving frog.  These are the most realistic frogs on the market and catch some BIG bass.  I caught several 20”+ bass on these as well as my 2nd biggest bass of the trip at 22.5” and about 7lbs. 
22.5" 7lbs Pig caught on a frog
If you are planning a trip to Disney World, pack a few rods and a couple packs of PowerTeam Lures and go catch some big Florida PIGS!!!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Finally Back in the Salt...

After a few months of freshwater fishing, and seeing reports of reds and specks being back in the bay, I finally loaded up the Cuda and set out for the saltwater.  During the winter I did some research and found some new spots I wanted to try and sight fish for reds.  My Dad and I launched at 6AM and set out.  The first spot I hit was the mouth of a large creek with a few grass flats in front of it.  The tide was outgoing, so I beached the Cuda and waded around the mouth of the creek.

  I caught a few small specks and a flounder, but I couldn’t find any reds.  Once the sun was high enough for sight fishing I stood up and started stalking the grass flats looking for reds.  

It didn’t take long for me to find them.  I pitched my mirrodine in front of the biggest fish and after a few twitches in front of his face it was game on!

 The fish made several drag screaming runs across the flat and put up a good fight.  Once I landed it and took a few pictures it swam away in good shape.  I kept looking for reds while throwing my Mirror Lure mirrodine hoping for a bigger speck.

 I saw some bait busting on the surface and cast in that direction. As soon as it hit the water it was nailed by a houndfish that flew out of the water.  These fish are a nuisance because they will normally snap your line and take your $15 lure, but they fight hard and jump like crazy.  This houndfish was about 3’ long and was real cool looking. 

  After the houndfish I was back looking for reds.  I found several more either in schools or singles on the flat, all of the fish I caught were in the 20”-25” range.  

The wind started picking up and made sight fishing hard, so I called it a day.    The fish were real skittish and several refused baits.  Normally when fish are skittish I switch to soft plastics, but they did not work at all.  The mirrodine fished slowly was the only lure that produced for me.  My Dad had success with a Live Target mullet wake bait.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Getting Jiggy with It

Nice bass that fell for a shakey head

Now that the spawn is over and the temperature is rising it’s time to start jigging for post-spawn pigs.  Over the last few weeks I have been having some incredible days on the water catching over 40 bass on some trips, mainly using slow jig presentations. 

The two styles of jigs I use are a small finesse jig and a shakey head jig.  The small finesse jig I prefer is a Booyah Boo Jig in a 3/8oz.  This paired with a PowerTeam Lures Craw D’oeuvre trailer is deadly. In clear water, natural colors like brown and tan work best, and in stained water, black and blue is the way to go.  For my rod I like a 10-17lbs bait casting rod, and a Diawa Tatula bait casting reel.  My line of choice is 20lbs braid, and a 15lbs fluorocarbon leader. 

My shakey head set-up is a light spinning rod and reel spooled with 15lbs braid, and 10lbs fluorocarbon leader.  I use a PowerTeam lures 1/8oz Pea Head, and a 7” Tickler.  The most productive color is junebug for both stained and clear water.  If that doesn't work however, the switch to a green pumpkin red flake. I fish both of these jigs in the same locations on the lake.  

Since this is the post spawn, most of the big females are on bars and ledges located near spawning flats.  Most of these ledges are in 9-12ft of water.  I will throw my jig up on the top of the bar and hop it down.  If there is a bend in the ledge, it will normally hold more fish.  The shakey head will normally catch more fish, but the finesse jig will produce the more quality fish. 
20" bass caught on a jig
This jig pattern will continue to produce throughout the late spring and into the early summer, so go pick up some jigs and catch some pigs!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Product Review: PowerTeam Lures Bass Attack Pack

Now that the water is warming up and everyone is dusting off their kayaks, it’s time to start restocking your arsenal of freshwater soft plastics.  Since there are thousands of different shapes, sizes, and colors to choose from, deciding on what you are going to buy can be tough.  However, if you are looking for a good quality soft plastics kit to get you started this season look no further than the PowerTeam Lures Bass Attack Pack. 
I bought this kit and decided to put it to the test against winter and prespawn bass under numerous weather conditions and on several different lakes to see it this kit would pass the test, and let me tell you, it did and with flying colors!

The Bass Attack Pack comes in two different color options: lighter blues/browns and darker browns/greens/junebug colors.  I chose the darker kit based on the water color I normally fish. The kit includes each of the following:  6” Gators, 7” Ticklers, 5” Sick Sticks, 3.5” Food Chain Tubes, and 3.5” Craw D’oeuvres.  It also includes terminal tackle like: Pea Heads, Tick Shakes, FCT Tube Heads, and 2/0 EWG Hooks.  Hog Tonic capsules are also included in the kit. 

6” Gator
The Gator is a lizard style soft plastic.  These baits can be killer during the spring time while the bass are spawning.  A lizard looks like a salamander which is a natural predator and bass won’t hesitate to attack one near a bed.  I have had success pitching a Gator on to a bed, but my most successful method has been a Carolina rigged gator.  For those who don’t know what a Carolina rig is, it is normally a ½-1oz. egg sinker that is above a swivel. On the other end of a swivel is 2-4feet of 10lbs fluorocarbon leader.  Slowly dragging a Carolina rig with a gator near a spawning flat will drive the big females crazy. 

18" Bass on the Gator 

7” Tickler
The 7” Tickler is the perfect worm for shakey head fishing.  This bait rigged on one of the Tick Shake heads is hard to beat when the fishing gets tough.  On days after a wicked cold front has moved through, this may be the only bait that catches fish.  I like working this bait over long main lake and secondary points, as well as on ledges.  The key to using this bait effectively on slow days is to work the bait extra slow.  Most of the time I won’t even move the bait once it hits the bottom, I will only shake it.  Even the most finicky bass will be tempted to eat this worm and don’t let the size fool you; I have caught bass from 10in to 20in on this bait.
An early prespawn bass couldn't resist a 7" Tickler 

5” Sick Stick
This bait is by far my favorite out of the kit. The 5” Sick Stick is a soft stick bait style plastic that will catch bass any time of year under any conditions.  I have fished it in so many different ways and have caught fish every way I have tried.  If I had to pick one way to fish this though it would be weightless on one of the EWG hooks that comes with the kit. This rig will catch bass of all sizes, all year.  The retrieve is simple; just throw it out and let the bait sink, then use a jerk, jerk, pause cadence to bring it back in.  Vary the length of the pauses, depending on the water temperature.  The colder the water the longer I pause.
One of many bass caught on a Sick Stick

3.5” Food Chain Tubes
The Food Chain Tube is an excellent bait for bedding bass in the lakes around Tidewater VA.  I will rig the Tube with the FCT Tube heads that are included in the kit.  I use this bait when sight fishing for Largemouth’s guarding beds.  I will pitch the tube directly on top of the bed and let it sit there until it gets the fish’s attention.  Once the fish locks on to it hop it a few times.  This should drive the fish crazy and make it eat the bait. With the hook being exposed, it helps with hook ups too.
 Spawning Bass can't pass up a Tube!

3.5” Craw D’oeuvres
The Craw D’oeuvres are the most versatile bait in the kit.  You can Texas rig them, Carolina Rig them, jig it, use it on a shakey head, or use it as a jig trailer.  I have caught fish using each of these methods, but using this bait rigged on a Tick Shake has produced the most fish.  During the late winter, and early spring, this produced some of my larger bass fish.  Slowly hopping this bait along the bottom mimicking  a crawfish produced the most action. 
Big Winter time Pig on a Craw D
Add Ons:
Even though the Bass Attack Pack is ready to fish now, I have added a few pieces of terminal tackle to fully equip it.  Some of these things are: Bobber stoppers for Texas rigging, some bigger worm hooks, and a few bullet head weights in assorted sizes. 
The PowerTeam Lures Bass Attack Pack is an awesome kit that is good for beginner and experienced fisherman alike.  You can pick up a kit at Appomattox River Company and on their website. 

Spring is here and its time to go out and catch yourself a HAWG!!!