Monday, April 13, 2015

The fish catching-est lure I've ever owned...

I bought a new type lure a few months ago and although it's design has been around for ages, I personally have never used one. I discovered this lure while researching for an upcoming tournament I had entered. Every article about the lake I would be fishing mentioned this particular bait. The lure is a "blade bait", simply a piece of steel, a molded lead body and a couple of hooks. It is actually an ugly lure compared to the choices offered in tackle shops these days. It has no intricate detail, as a matter of fact it resembles something of a spaceship from a 1950's SciFi movie rather than a real fish. At first glance I was turned off by the "blade bait" but at $3 I decided to try it and if it did not work there would be no big loss. The following day I loaded my Jackson Big Rig up and headed to my favorite fishing hole. This fishing trip was solely to test my new lure and to go about it I had a sort of scientific method I would use. I had formed a hypothesis, which was ...there were several lures already in my box that would do the same thing as my new bait and probably do it better. The two lures I would use to test against were tried and true fish catchers. One was a very popular lipless crankbait and the other was an equally popular lipped crankbait. Both of these baits are much more life-like than the "blade" I would be throwing. I started out fishing with the lipless crankbait and after an hour I had caught quite a few white bass. Next was the lipped crankbait and it was a little less effective with only about half the number of white bass caught. Now for the real test...I tied on the "blade bait", cast it out and caught a fish. For about the next 30 minutes I caught white bass on about 80% of my casts, at the end of the hour I had an answer to my hypothesis. With twice as many fish including 3 very nice largemouth bass caught, I was a believer in my rediscovered old school bait. Since that day I have caught largemouth bass in the 5 pound range, walleye, stripe, crappie, smallmouth, gar and a big buffalo. This blade bait is a great lure for scouting water, you can fish the entire water column at different speeds. It can be thrown and worked like a jig or lipless crankbait and jigged vertically for suspended fish or those hugging the bottom. The blade has a tight, powerful wiggle that drives fish crazy, plenty of flash and enough weight to make super long casts. It is not species specific but if there are fish in the area that eat shad you will more than likely find them. With that being said, the blade bait can cause a couple of problems. It's hooks easily get caught in your rod's eyes and it is heavy for it's size causing it to be prone to snagging bottom but at 3 bucks the payoff is nice. I now have a box dedicated to blade baits and keep one tied on one of my rods, I usually start the day fishing with it and use it as a verifying tool...when I am not catching anything on another lure I will throw the blade just to make sure there really isn't any fish around.

The only time I've ever seen a building as beautiful as nature...

In December of 1990 I was 21 years old and stationed at Buchel Air Base Germany, my friend asked me to go with him to check out Burg Eltz...all I knew was I'm going to see a castle. We drove about a half hour , parked in a gravel parking lot and set out on a trail that led down the side of a mountain. It was snowing and the ground had a light dusting on it. I'm from Silver Creek, Ga and I'd seen plenty of woods, snow and gravel parking lots but when we rounded a curve in the trail and I looked off into the valley I was treated to one of the most beautiful sites I could imagine ... Behold "Burg Eltz"

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Polar Vortex is coming...let's go play!

Last year a close friend of mine and I had been planning a camping trip for some time. We both had done a ton of research on a lake high in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina and we were stoked and ready. Our plan was to go to Lake Nantahala, load our kayaks with camping and fishing gear for 3 nights on an island in the lake. This lake has intrigued me since the 90's, that's when my brother gave me the book "Trout Fishing Southern Appalachia" by Jimmy Jacobs as a Christmas gift. In it Mr. Jacobs mentions that Lake Nantahla has Kokanee salmon and he explains that the state stocked them as forage for the other predator fish in the lake. Since reading that book I have dreamed of catching those salmon and cooking them over a fire...we were set to go and January the third couldn't get here soon enough. If you don't know, part of the waiting game for any fishing or camping trip is watching the weather,as a matter of fact, it's probably the most important part of the trip. As my long weekend got closer the weather forecast was getting bad. The lake sits at over 3000' in elevation and an arctic blast was bearing down on the southeast. Temps in the negative numbers with a wind chill of minus 20 and up to 8 inches of snow were being predicted for Topton NC, the closest town to the lake and that's at the bottom of the mountain. God only knows what the top would get. We still contemplated going but I had to be back to work on the following Wednesday and any warmup wasn't expected until the folowing Thursday. With that information and a risk of being snowed in on a mountain top lake that is a virtual ghost town in winter we started brainstorming for other options...we were going into the woods, no matter what the weather channel was saying, we just had to decide on the place. We both had different systems we used for camping, I sleep in a hammock and Sherill uses a 1 man bivy tent. Neither of us had ever tested our gear in this type of extreme cold weather that was forecasted and this was going to be our only chance to do it without having to drive to a more traditionally cold state like ...Maine. As 3 January 2014 closed in on us we settled on leaving our kayaks at home and hiking into Ellicot's Rock wilderness area. This place is in the extreme northeast corner of Georgia and has the Chatooga river running through it...a world class trout stream. It was still going to be cold but the snow band wasn't supposed to travel that far east. We would camp on the South Carolina side of the river about 2 miles in, which would put us about a mile south of the spot where Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina all meet. This spot is marked by a rock that has the longitude and latitude chiseled on it by John Ellicot, the government surveyor that mapped these states borders back in the early 1800's. I discovered this river also while reading the book, "Trout streams of Southern Appalachia". I'm very familiar with this awesome place and have hiked in, fished and camped there a dozen or more times. The river holds a healthy population of stream bred brown trout and the setting reminds me of an ancient medieval forest with giant hemlocks a hundred foot tall. On the third of January we drove to the parking area for Ellicot's Rock, loaded all of our gear on our backs and hiked in. The weather was actually nice with temps reaching 50 degrees but we knew what the weatherman had said and we set about gathering more firewood than we thought we'd need and getting our shelters set up. This was a fun fishing trip on the surface but at the heart of it was a test of our equipment and second...our own skills as woodsmen. If disaster struck we had an easy out which was a shor hike back to the car but that was only a last resort. On day two we woke up to cooler temperatures but nothing abnormal, we ate breakfast and set out alone to fish. By mid afternoon the temps had dropped drastically into the 20's and by 4 o'clock my fishing line was freezing on the spool and the 3 fish I'd kept were frozen solid. Back at camp we had built the fire ring up on one side so it would reflect the heat and skewered our fish on sticks to roast over the fire. At 8 pm that night I set my phone a good distance away from our camp so I could get an accurate reading on it's built in later read 8 degrees. This cold front had a name and we soon would realize that "Polar Vortex" perfectly described what was in store for us. As I mentioned earlier, I sleep in a hammock and I had little information on if it could be set up for a comfortable night's sleep in these bitter cold temperatures so I used what I thought would work. First, I chose a spot right next to one of those felled giant hemlocks. I decided on the south side of the trunk, shielding me from the north winds. When hanging my hammock I made sure to place it very close to the ground, so close that when I was in it there was only about 6 inches between me and the ground. Inside I placed my thermarest pad and one of my two sleeping bags...a 0 degree bag, on top of that for added insulation, the other bag with a 20 degree rating, would be what I would sleep inside of while wearing fleece long johns, wool socks and a wool beanie. I could shed these clothes if it was too much but it would be hell having to get up to put them on if needed. That night it was brutally cold and I heard wind make the most eery sounds as it blew down the gorge we were camped in, it was high pitched almost like a whistle and at 3 a.m. I woke up and had to pee...I didn't want to get up because I was actually comfortable and had been sleeping like a baby, now I had to get out into the coldest weather in 50 years. I made quick work out of this dilemma... I was out, relieved and back in at a record time. I noticed Sherill snoring and thought of it as a good thing because it meant he wasn't frozen to death and his sleep system was working also. We awoke to a sunny 2 degree morning, broke camp and headed out. The trail hugs the river almost the whole length of it and it had been so cold that slush was flowing in the bend of the river, over half of it was choked with ice. Back at the parking lot we were happy to be back in a warm car and headed for home but I believe we were most excited that with our trip's success, because of our planning and equipment we pulled this adventure off without feeling any ill effects from the weather. We knew for a fact that in a worst case scenario we could handle extreme cold temps...even a "Polar Vortex".

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Just waiting on time and the weather.

I love saltwater fishing; so much that I'd live on the coast if I could fish everyday. In the past few years we have vacationed at Ormond by the sea.I've made friends with an elderly man in the little beach side community we rent in. He was born and raised in the area and if you can catch him before "toddy time" he is full of great stories and very useful fishing knowledge. On our first trip he let me know that if I paddled off of the beach, there is a ledge about 3/4 of a mile out and the fish generally hang out there. A few mornings later the mighty Atlantic was as calm as a lake and I ventured out...sure enough, the ocean floor dropped from 35 to about 60 feet and not long after I passed the drop off a fish bit my blue runner that I was trolling. After a long run I turned the fish and he jumped, it was a big king mackerel. The king broke me off shortly after but after that experience catching a big pelaegic fish out of my kayak is they carrot that is dangled before me. My friend told me that this ledge is one of the few nearshore structures in the area and that is why it holds fish. Well, this sparked my attention and I hit the internet searching for any wrecks or reefs within paddling distance. For your information, a fishing forum is not the place to find any unpublished coordinates for wrecks or reefs but a scuba diving site, let's just say they aren't as tight lipped about the subject. The dive site I was reading gave me just enough info to get the name of a dredge barge that sank in the late 1800's one mile offshore. With this ship's name I was able to find not only the coordinates but also an in depth article and several YouTube videos of the actual wreck. In the videos I could see a plethora of bait, kingfish, snapper and some giant Goliath grouper. Ironically around the same time I was researching that wreck, Florida Sportsman magazine published an article about offshore freshwater springs in the gulf. Several captains make a living off of fishing these odd natural occurences in the right seasons. I did a Google search for underwater offshore springs in Florida's Atlantic and bingo, I had some info. I started reading a USGS report on the"Florida Aquifer" and about 50 pages into it is a bit of information complete with pictures, coordinates etc. of an undersea spring 3 miles offshore in 80' of water.It is also in the general area of the wrecked barge I mentioned earlier. They reveal that the width is 120' and the additional depth is 40' making the overall depth 120'. Structure like this are magnets to fish, big fish and when I think of these discoveries I get sort of giddy. One day I will paddle out and fish both of these spots but I've made a promise to myself that it won't be a solo trip for obvious safety reasons. I've got a very good idea that one or more of my kayak fishing buddies would do this adventure in a heartbeat and when the available time, weather and ocean conditions all line up with the stars we'll go and it will be awesome. Peace

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The greatest fishing story that I'll ever tell...

One of my best friends, Chris Goodwin suggested that I post this story on my blog ... Eight years ago I bought my first kayak. It was an 11 foot el cheapo and it was second hand but man I was in heaven. I took it on vacation to Cape San Blas and I had grand plans of catching redfish in the bay and kings in the gulf. This particular day I had been over in the bay and had some decent luck but made it to our rental by 10 so I could spend some time with Amber. Around 2 ish she decided to head up to take a nap and turned me loose to fish. I decided to go off the beach and try my luck with the king mackerels that I knew were swimming around, just waiting for one of my baits. I launched clearing the small breakers and caught a few blue runners on a sabiki, hooked one onto a rod I had a king rig attached to and started trolling. A king rig is a short piece of solid wire leader usually around 25-40 pound test with two treble hooks a few inches apart. You hook the baitfish in the nose and the back, toss it out and let it swim around, hopefully drawing the attention of a nice king. I was alone so I only went a short distance out...maybe 300 yards. There was no wind and I was just drifting along with the current watching my line when that most awesome sound on the planet broke the silence...a screaming drag. I let the fish run for a while then set the hook. It seemed heavy and put up a nice fight for a little bit but then gave out. I suspected a shark and that's what it was. He was was a blacktip about 2.5' long and the closer it got I could see that he was foul hooked in it's side. I normally cut my leader because I am afraid of the "what can happen will happen" thing. Its been my experience that's usually the soup du jour for me. But hey, the hooks are clearly away from it's mouth and I can save me $3.50 by tiring this little fellow out and use my pliers to pop the hooks out. While I was letting the small blacktip tire out on the end of my line about 15 yards away, he was drawing the attention of something even bigger and more hungry than he was.I was about to finish reeling him in since he was on the surface and an almost atomic explosion erupted. The small shark was engulfed by what seemed to be a whirlpool but had a large shark under it. When I say large I want to add that this booger was impressive. I guesstimate 8' and thick like a bulldog also he was completely in control. My line went limp and for moment I sat wondering what had just happened. I lifted my rodtip and noticed that something was still on my line. I started to reel it in, noticing it had no fight, the half eaten front third of my little blacktip came drifting towards me with half of its guts hanging out of it. I was still in amazement when big boy came back for the rest of his meal. This time he got all of it including the hooks. Now the drag is screaming in a most superb way, my kayak is starting to move with it and I'm ready to go back in to the house for a turkey sandwich and a ginger ale. I put an end to this nonsense quickly by tightening my drag all of the way and pointing the rodtip at the fish...snap, the line broke. I reeled in my slack line placed my rod in its holder and slowly backed the hell away. When I determined I was far enough from the area I picked up the paddling pace and got the hell out of Dodge. Once on the beach I drug my boat up to the house, gathered my tackle and went inside. Amber was sound asleep but woke up asking why I was back so soon. I told her the same story and her response was, "that's awesome, how many people get to experience that?" I agreed but added that I'd be happy if I never see it again. I learned a good bit of info from that experience. First...just cut the leader, it'll rust out in a matter of days and $3:50 is , well, just $3.50. The second is, after catching a fish don't dangle your hands or feet in the water because there is a good chance something bigger is interested in all of the commotion. Third...a big bull shark is an impressive beast, think Drago from Rocky 4. Lastly I learned that I am not the king of the hill when I paddle out into the blue and I need to act accordingly. I still go offshore, much farther than that trip. I love every second of it but I'm smarter and my mind is open to "whatever can happen will happen" and I try to plan for the rarest situations. Have fun out there but be prepared and be safe. Peace

Just a normal day around here...

Today I start back on my regular work cycle. I'll work a string of 7 midnights, off 2 days, 7 evenings, off 1 day, 7 days and have another long weekend. I, like everyone else I work with dread that first midnight shift. I handle that dread usually by making the most out of my day. I usually go fishing and I did exactly that today. I didn't catch anything big but I had several positives that happened. I caught a bass on a bait I was less than confident about. It's called a Doomsday Turtle and it is simply put, a rubber turtle. The creator told me that bass hate turtles and will strike at one even if it isn't hungry. The bass inhaled the lure like a piece of candy and made me a believer. The next positive or should I say interesting thing that happened was a small flock of redhead ducks were feeding in the back of a cove. I got too close to them while fishing and they flew off but not without making a couple of flyovers. Each time they passed over the back of that cove they'd drop 8-10 piles of crap exactly where they had been feeding. I have no idea why they did this and I'm definitely going to research it. The next thing was I had the pleasure of meeting two different kayak fishermen , we shared some fishing stories and I invited them to check out a local kayak fishing club called Reel Krazy. This was the second time in 3 days I've had the pleasure of sharing stories with a fellow kayak fisherman. The last and best thing that happened was I met a 75 year old man named Mr. Day. He is an avid trout/fly fisherman and he invited me to the next Trout unlimited meeting. I feel almost ashamed that I'm not already a member of TU but Mr. Day said a number of positive thing about this group and I've had first hand experience with the work they do on many of our North Georgia trout streams. Mr. Day was also interested in my kayak and asked a lot of questions ranging from rigging to the fish I'd caught out of it. I tried to get him in a boat because any angling group could benefit from a man with his wisdom. Like I said, It was just a normal day around here. Peace