Saturday, April 28, 2012

It's Been an Exciting Couple Months: Part 3- Richmond Shad Run

Every year in mid to late March, the Shad and Herring make their annual spawn run up the James River all the way to the fall line at Mayo Island in downtown Richmond. Striped Bass come up right behind them for their spawn too, so this is an exciting time for Richmonders that fish. Both Shad and Stripers can be caught from a boat or kayak, as well as from shore or the 14th Street Bridge. There are Hickory Shad and American Shad, as well as Blue Back Herring and Alewife's available, but this year the Hickories were the only available to harvest.

                                                             Paddling up from the public ramp at Ancarrow's Landing

There are times the shad are so thick, you can feel your 1/4 oz weight bumping over their backs as you retrieve your spoon. This year was no different, just early, as is the beginning of every other fishery due to our abnormally mild winter. The Shad run only last a month or so, which means every bit of free time I had for the next 4-6 week would be spent on the James. We don't call them poor mans tarpon for nothing. These fish put up a great fight on light tackle and can jump 4' out of the water- this year I had one jump clean over the yak from port to starboard.
                                                                                      photo by Rob Choi

The river also grows thick with catfish during this time. I generally anchor up, drop 2 lines off the stern with fish-finder rigs and bait, then cast gold spoons and shad darts. The action is constant during the peak of the run with Blue Cats in the 18-30" range taking your bait as soon as it settles on bottom, and shad biting every cast once you've got them dialed in.

     This year, a local kayak fisherman put together a small tournament, the MS Shad Shootout, to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It was a fun day on the water and great to see some fishing buddies make the drive up from the beach.
We had decent weather and the Shad were biting, but not like they had a couple weeks previous. The winner was determined by the total length of any 2 shad and 1 catfish. I ended the day just an inch and a half out of third place. Congrats guys!
                              1st place: Brian Whayland(center)  2nd place: Tom Vanderheiden(right)  3rd place: William Ragulsky(left)
     A friend of mine had never caught a Shad, or fished from a kayak, so while the fish were still biting I was able to get Matt out on the water with me. I was a little concern taking him out, since the river has a pretty strong current just below the fall line, but I gave him a brief safety lesson prior to hitting the water and he did great. He is an avid bass fisherman, competing in the FLW Tour, as a co-angler, but I think he's hooked on kayak fishing now and wants to buy older Malibu X-Factor.

                                                                                   Matt's first kayak catch!

     The Stripers come up and feed hard on the Shad and Herring while staging for their own spawn, and can be caught on livebait, cutbait, and artificials. The potential for a citation is always there, with fish over 40" consistently being caught from boats and the bridge. This was the first year that I set out specifically targeting the Stripers, but I had been given a few pointers by a fishing buddies who had caught 20 or so fish the day previous, and I felt confident I could get on 'em. I used a Sabiki rig to catch some small Hickories, and after double and triple checking to be sure they weren't Herring or Alewife, I hooked the fish in a manner similiar to how you would bridal a bait for Marlin, going in ahead of the dorsal, just under the skin on the back, and out just behind the head. I only had one bait, after giving a couple to my buddy, but one was all it took, and within 15 minutes my clicker started screaming. I could tell right away that this wasn't a catfish, and quickly got a glimpse of the fish. He was no giant, but I was still stoked.
                                                                             My first hometown Striper @ 27"

That was the only Striper we picked up that day, and I wasn't able to get back out after them before the bite slowed. The Shad made their way back downstream and the Striper fell in right behind them, so my attention has turned back to the Salt. With good reports of Flounder, Trout, and Redfish, as well as Bluefish and big Croaker, I'm itching to get down to the inlets and tear 'em up. Until then... Tight lines!

Friday, April 27, 2012

It's Been an Exciting Couple Months: Part 2- Stepping My Game Up

The first kayak I bought was a Malibu Stealth 12. I had paddled a couple other boats, but I was impressed with the layout of the Stealth. Over the next few years I acquired 3 more Malibu Kayaks, consisting on another Stealth 12, a Stealth 14, and an X-factor. I stand behind these boats and truly believe they are one of the best fishing kayaks available on the market. That being said, when I decided I wanted to look for sponsorship and join a pro staff, I wanted to do it for the right reason- to represent a brand that I believed in, and naturally Malibu Kayaks Pro Staff was top of my list. I contacted Tony Hart, the new Pro Staff coordinator, introduced myself and filled out the application. I had a couple good friends put in a good word for me,  and a couple weeks later, I was offered, and gladly accepted a spot on the Malibu Kayaks Pro Staff!

 I am lucky to be part of this great group of fisherman, and  to have the chance to work with Malibu to better their brand and the sport of kayak fishing. I'm going to make the most of this opportunity look forward to becoming even more involved in the kayak fishing community.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

It's Been an Exciting Couple Months: Part 1- Fishing in Paradise 3/12/12 - 3/21/12

     I've been putting off  writing a couple post for way too long now- sorry guys. The last couple months have been super busy- work has me out of town 1 week a month with no end in sight. Aside from that, there have been a couple major events in my life, but as usual I squeezed fishing in wherever possible. I can't remember all the details , so the following is one of a couple brief posts to get me caught up:

     A  couple days after my last post, my girlfriend Kamaron and I flew out to St. Thomas for her oldest brother's wedding. We had made plans to get the a week early to we could enjoy and explore the island and all it had to offer. Top of the list was fishing, so before we left I had booked us a guided kayak fishing trip for the Silver King, as well as a spearfishing trip, and an offshore fishing charter! I packed a few things to take with me...

Our fishing guide for the week was Capt. Rick of Swashbucklin' Tours. He is a great guy, very knowledgeable, and was able to accommodate the kayak fishing, spearfishing, and offshore fishing that Kam and I wanted to do. The plan as to target resident tarpon in a salt pond surrounded by mangroves. We met up with Capt. Rick early and hit the water with bait busting and birds diving on them 20 or 30 at a time.

Tarpon were rolling and jumping everywhere, and a couple were pushing 80 lbs. We fished the incoming tide in the front near the inlet, then followed the birds back to the pond.

Those boats belong to local fisherman, who keep them anchored in this protected pond. Fish were everywhere, but they didn't like anything we tossed at them. Kam and I fished hard for 5 hours, with only one short strike.

We packed it in and headed to a different bay, to hop on Capt. Rick's boat for some spearfishing. The snorkeling down there is incredible. Coral reef is everywhere and covered in fishes of all sorts. We motored out to an island a mile or so offshore and anchored just outside the reef. Kam and I both speared fish including Parrot Fish, a species of Triggerfish the locals call Bastard Old Wife, Cero Mackerel, and a Lionfish.
 We sent the fish home with Rick. Although edible, they're not highly regarded as tablefare, but he knew some locals that were living in poverty and would really appreciate the meal for their kids. We had a couple beers with Capt. Rick and confirmed our plans to go offshore a couple days later and headed back to the condo.

We met Capt. Rick a couple days later in Redhook for our offshore charter aboard the Bluefin II, on which he is the first mate under Capt. Don, who built his boat. The offshore fishing reports had been hit or miss, as it was still early in the year and the water was still a little cold, but there were Mahi Mahi, Blackfin Tuna, King Macs, and even a White Marlin caught in the week or so previous, so we headed out with high hopes.

 We trolled for a couple hours before we got our first bite, which was Kam's to land. She did a great job working the fish in, and commented how suddenly the fish felt twice as heavy, then went slack and she thought the fish had thrown the hook.
Moments later the fish surfaced, Capt. Rick gaffed it, and Kamaron had caught her first Blackfin Tuna! The additional weight she felt was a big Barracuda trying to steel her fish, luckily all it got was the tail.

We reset the lines and continued to troll the area. The bite remained slow. Although I did see a couple peanut Mahi come in and check out our spread, but they must not have liked something since they wouldn't bite. It was another couple hours before we had another bite, and finally it was my turn to sit in the chair. I
 was hoping for another Blackfin, but after a short fight I brought up a Barracuda.

That was it for the day. Shortly there after we headed back to shore, where Capt. Rick cleaned our fish and we had a chance to hand-feed large Tarpon under the docks.

     That evening our accommodations moved from St. Thomas to St. John, for the wedding. We were staying at the Westin, which had a large concrete pier and dock for their ferry. When we arrived, a charter captain was dropping his guests off at the hotel and cleaning the fish they had caught . Again there were a few large Tarpon, a bunch of snapper, and even a large grouper feeding on the scraps, which got me excited, and plans were made to fish the next night. I had the fillets from Kam's Blackfin, so the next evening I clean them up a little and trimmed some scrap off to use as bait.... that's right- I'm using tuna as cut bait, but first we ate some of the Blackfin for dinner.
 As soon as we were finished, it was down to the dock for some fishing. Immediately I started chumming with some bits of bait to get the fish fired up and feeding
 I quickly hooked into a smaller tarpon(36") I could see cruising the light line created by the dock lights. The fight lasted less than 5 seconds as he dove down, then came shooting up 3' in the air. In my excitement, I forgot to bow to the King, and he spit the hook right out at me. My heart was beating 100mph and I was all jacked up- it was AWESOME, even if I didn't land the fish. We caught around 20 snapper afterwards, mostly smaller fish, but I was supprised by how strong these little guys were.
There was one bruiser mixed in the bunch that sent my drag screaming and tried to run under the pier, but I was able to thumb the spool, get the rod tip down and turn the brute around. Unfortunately, Kam was at the bar getting a couple drinks, so I never got a picture, but he was easily twice the size of the others. I sent the fish home with an employee who was extremely grateful. I only had a couple hooks with me, and after we both had our hooks swallowed and were forced to cut them off, we called it a night.

    We only had 2 days left in paradise, and one was taken up by the reason we were there, her brother wedding. There was something very important I had to do, but the right time had not yet presented itself. The following evening I asked Kam to go for a walk on the beach so I could smoke a cigarette, since you weren't supposed to smoke anywhere on resort property.

A couple groups of people were walking down to the end of the beach, so I smoked slow to allow them time to reach the end and turn around. As she turned to take a picture of the sunset, I pulled out a ring and got down on one knee. She said YES!
                                                            I did a good job picking the ring from what I've been told...
                                                                                Me and my beautiful Fiancee!

We decided to keep the engagement a secret until after her brother's wedding, as to not steal their glory. The wedding was the next day on the beach at beautiful Maho Bay, an absolutely pristine beach with emerald green water- words just don't do it justice. The ceremony was short and sweet, but as beautiful as the surroundings, complete with steel drums, baby barracuda cruising the shoreline, and pelicans diving on bait.

We headed home the following morning to return to normal life(work), and announce the good news to our friends and family. Kam already has most of our wedding planned, which will be on the sand in Wrightsville Beach, NC and be fishing themed! I'm a very lucky man to have a lifetime fishing partner like her. Love you Kam!