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!!!