Thursday, September 17, 2015

Blitzkrieg on the Flats

pr. bliss-kreeg
German for "lightning war"

I recently spent a week alone on the gulf coast of Florida. My reason for being there was an inshore fishing tournament that I didn't do so well in but the pre-fishing days leading up to it was full of many awesomely unique experiences. I saw manatee, eagles, sharks and...tarpon.

Tarpon were not a target species in the tournament so I really wasn't geared up to tackle the "Silver King" of the flats but when you're fishing and you see one of these bruisers surface, well, you're gonna try and catch it.

This particular day, I had launched my kayak before daylight, paddled a mile down the shore then a mile out in the bay...twice, fishing the whole time with very little luck. On my paddle back through the mangroves that evening some ibis' had flown in to roost ,so I eased over, admired them and took some pictures then continued my paddle in. As I entered a small bay like area I noticed some surface activity, it looked to be a small snook feeding on finger mullet then I saw it...the back of a fish breached the water. At first I didn't know what it was but another one breached showing the unmistakable dorsal fin of a tarpon.

The peaceful float back to camp just got put on hold. You see, I've grown up reading about or watching folks like Lefty Kreh, Stu Apte, Flip Pallot and later José Wejebè chase these fish on TV and in magazines. It would be an understatement to say that catching one would be anything less than a dream come true and here was my chance. I knew immediately that I was severely under gunned with my inshore rigs spooled with 15 pound test but I wasn't going to pass up this opportunity.

First, I tossed a jig, then a jerk bait with no takers. I then grabbed my rod that had a mirro-lure walk the dog type topwater plug on it and made a long cast. Walk the dog refers to the action the lure makes when you twitch the bait while reeling. When done properly the lure will dart from side to side mimicking a wounded baitfish. I want to add that I've caught bass and striped bass on topwater lures before and they both possess the ability to create an impressive strike but what I was about to experience makes those strikes look like pure amateur stuff...after 6 or 8 twitches I was about to be baptized into big boy fishing. The hit was so violent that it startled me. I set the hook and the lure came wizzing by my head. The fish disappeared for a few minutes then I saw one breach again...same as before...long cast, twitch twitch twitch and wrooosh!!!! The fish rolled on my bait without a hook up. 3's a charm right? When I saw another breach, I made the cast and started my retrieve...twitch, twitch, twitch. This time the fish came from several yards behind my lure. I watched it's wake  and anticipated the strike...WROOOSH!!! This strike had all of the anger, attitude and precision of a blitzkrieg. I set the hook and I had him. It probably lasted only a few seconds but the fish stripped line like my reel was on free spool then it did what tarpon are so famous jumped, twice! It looked to be in the 20-30 lb range and eventually threw the hook, this creek chub fisherman from the hills of North Georgia raised his first tarpon all by himself while in a kayak. It was the most intense bit of raw nature I'd ever witnessed on the other end of my line. It made up for my poor showing in that Sunday's tournament and while I may not enter another saltwater tourney, I will most definitely go back to E.G. Simmon's park with a plan...not to raise a "Silver King" but to get my hands on one. Peace

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

"Enter Sandman"

I'm a forty six year old man, I'm supposed to be past the age of excitement, I'm definitely past my prime and with one foot in the grave but there are a few things get me fired up...Georgia Tech Football, my annual backpacking bow hunt to Swallow Creek WMA and kayak fishing. The latter, Kayak Fishing really stokes that fire. I love the quietness of paddling, the skill test of catching finicky fish, the challenge of battling  behemoth saltwater fish and fishing tournaments...I really love the competition of a fishing tournament.

There are a few things I'm above average at...being a father and a husband but they don't have competitions for that but I am also a decent fisherman and fortunately there are fishing tournaments.

Fishing tournaments are a non-contact sport and at the captains meetings or at weigh in we are a brotherhood but that time on the water in between is when the competitor is uncaged. Most contestants have prepared religiously... Map study, countless hours reading about the water to be fished, fish patterns, we then pre-fish the area which is no less than a scrimmage. We time to the ramp, ramp to the weigh in, ramp to point A, A to B etc... It's not just about catching fish, you have to be efficient, you have to take the wind and weather into count...its as much about strategy as it is about the actual fish. Granted, you're not going to win if you don't get on fish but odds are you're not gonna win if you paddle out without any sort of plan.

I love the preparation almost as much as my time on the water. Twice this year I've taken a weeks vacation just for a fishing tournament. I did all of my research about the fish and the fishing area in the months leading up to tournament week, I travel to the location and test my theories. I rule out each one, I'll paddle miles each day, make hundreds of casts, tie on countless lures until it looks good. Sometimes "good" isn't really good though. Sometimes the plan ends up being one that arises from the pre-fishing failures instead of sucesses. I've went into more than one tournament only knowing what the fish weren't biting and where they were not at. I actually won a tournament with only that information. So trial and error plays a big part but gut instinct is also important. That gut instinct comes from experience fishing, knowing what they're probably eating, where the bait is at and when they'll be feeding on said bait.

As you can see, a lot of time is put into preparing for a fishing tournament so the potential prize must be large...not hardly! A weekend club tourney will pay out according to the number of entries. On average, at least in my area, we'll have 15-25 fisherman with the winner getting 150 bucks...definitely not enough to pay the bills but this year there is a bigger picture. Chad Hoover and the guys at HOOK1/Kayak Bass Fishing have organized a tournament series that pays off in a big way. Four tournaments that will net the winners somewhere around 85 grand combined, maybe more. Then the mother of them all...the  KBF National Championship which is only open to people who've qualified through the open tournaments or through their local club. If you're good enough to win that there is a $20,000 check with your name on it.

That's why I fish tournament's, I like seeing where I stand amongst the ever growing field of competition. I like the idea of being able to pay my house off by fishing, I like having a I said earlier, I'm forty isn't supposed to be exciting anymore but this puts a spring in my step as well as many other kayak fisherman across the country. It turns our beloved hobby into a something spectacular several weekends out of the year. It is attempting to put what I consider the greatest outdoor hobby on a much needed pedestal.

I'm lucky...I have a wife that gets it. She see's my passion, she knows she is married to a fisherman.

I'm leaving for a week to go fish a tournament in Florida, alone. If I place in the top ten it'll greatly improve my chances for that National Championship ticket. You may think she would have some animosity towards me going to "the beach" for a week without her

She's only said, "Kick some ass."

 She gets it!