Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Green Light for the Gulf

Take a kid and put him in front of a candy store. The biggest, baddest, most awesome candy store he's ever seen. He is thinking of one thing and one thing only...

"how in the h-e double hockey sticks am I going to get into that store?!"

 Well, I am that kid and my candy store is the Gulf of Mexico.

Uncle Sam recently relocated my family and I to the Florida panhandle to fulfill the continuous mission of the US Air Force. As you could imagine, moving a family of 3 from one state to another is no easy task. The house was filled with boxes upon boxes which meant that there was plenty of work to be had. Being the very lucky husband I am, my wife knew how bad I wanted to get out and that I just wanted to take a little break. I got the green light to join my good buddy, Marty Mood, for my first voyage into the Gulf of Mexico.

The plan was to try and catch some bait, then troll around a couple spots, and drop baits over structure. I didn't care what the plan was, I was in the gulf and that was all the mattered!

Finding bait was simple, catching them was a different story. Threadfins and cigar minnows were all around us but most of them wanted nothing to do with our sabiki rigs. We brought out plenty of frozen cigar minnows so we didn't waste a ton of time going for lock-jawed bait.

The first thing that I couldn't help to notice was how flippin' clear the water was. I was floored that I could see the bottom in 30 feet of water. We trolled to the first spot without any action on the trolling rods. Now it was time to bottom fish. I dropped a frozen cigar minnow tipped circle hook on a fishfinder rig straight to the bottom. I had bites almost instantly, but it felt pretty small. I lost a few baits before I hooked up with my first red snapper. Even though he was on the small side, he still put up a pretty good fight for the size.


The majority of the bites were little stuff and Marty made the executive decision to move on and try another spot. Instantly we could see suspended fish in 20-30 feet of water. We could not only see them on our electronics, but with our eyes as well. Mangrove snapper and small cobia were hanging out below and Marty tried to fire them up by throwing out chunks of bunker and cigar minnows.

Once the fish were feeding on the chunks, we added chunks to weightless circle hooks to mimic the chum. Problem with ultra clear water is that enticing these fish to eat your presentation can be a little bit tougher. Tough or not, it wasn't long until Marty hooked up with a strong mangrove snapper!

I was up next after Marty's snapper. This time, I hooked up with a small cobia. Too bad he wasn't 30" bigger.

Problem with chumming is that you're pretty much ringing the dinner bell for the sharks. We were wondering what happened to the fish and the activity, but it was pretty clear when multiple 5+ foot sharks were swimming under our kayaks. Oh well, time to move on.

We saw birds working pods of bait as well as other fish busting up bait on the surface. It was pretty evident that there was plenty of action to be had. As you approached the schools of bait, you could see bonita and blue runner chasing the bait clear out of the water. I tied on a Yozuri Crystal Minnow and instantly hooked up with a fun fighting blue runner.

The bait and birds were moving farther out, but the nasty storms were moving in. We had been watching the radar all morning and we knew these storms were bad. Instead of heading farther out, we decided to troll cigar minnows on duster rigs and make our way back to the beach.

I was hooking up with cobia after cobia, but they were all between 24" - 30". You can't complain about catching a half dozen cobia from a kayak. Once we moved on from the small cobia, we saw more fish busting bait. This time it was mahi...teeny tiny mahi.

We got back to the beach without getting slammed by mother nature. It felt good having my first gulf trip under my belt. I learned a lot but still a lot to learn. Having friends and fishing partners like Marty help shorten the learning curve big time! I feel very fortunate and grateful! Marty said it best, "Today was REALLY slow for the gulf, but a slow day out here is still pretty good." Slow, haha! I can't wait to see a good day.

Well, one thing is for certain. This emerald water is going to be seeing a lot of Richie Bekolay! Be sure to check back as I'm sure it won't be too long before another adventure is logged.

~See ya on the water!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Grand Finale

Meriam-Webster defines "grand finale" as:
a very exciting or impressive ending of a performance or show.

This day was very bittersweet for me as it was my last day of fishing in Virginia since I'm moving to Florida. Feelings were mixed; ups and downs, happy and sad, excited and deflation, etc. For months I had mentally put off the inevitable "last day" of my personal fishing tour in the Chesapeake Bay. My time in Tidewater Virginia was up and I had one more chance to experience the blessings that the Bay has given me many times over!

Instead of scouring the flats in search of my favorite combination of speckled trout and redfish, it just made sense to give the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel the ole' college try. Joe Underwood, Kayak Kevin, and myself hit the complex with sheepshead and spadefish as the targets. I've landed numerous quality speckled trout and plenty of slot sized redfish, but I've yet to tangle with a quality sheepshead. As Joe knows, I would pick the flats over the bridge pretty much any day of the week. I have not spent much time going after big sheeps like many others have. You can't complain about not getting a nice sheep if you don't go after them. 

Kevin had the spadefish dialed in so we headed to that spot to start off. I would drop down a fiddler crab to the bottom for sheeps and then switch to a clam tipped jig for spades every few pilings. I alternated back and forth to break up the monotony and to cover most of the piling. It took less than an hour when I felt "weight" on my spadefish rig. As I set the hook and felt the immediate drag screaming run to the bottom, I knew it was not a spade, but a "spadefish surprise" (coined by Kayak Kevin).

Photo Credit: Joe Underwood
I felt the fish get on the other side of the piling, bad news! Instincts kicked in and I immediately put the reel in the freespool and chased the brute to the other side. Lucky enough, the fish was there as I reeled up the slack. This time, I was able to get it out in open water and away from structure. I had to go a little bit easier on the sheep since I was using a medium heavy All Pro SMG rod with my Curado spooled with 30lb braid and 20lb fluorocarbon leader. After multiple heart pounding runs, I leg swept in a 23" sheepshead.

Photo Credit: Joe Underwood
Photo Credit: Joe Underwood

After the welcomed surprise, it only made sense to go after spades. Inch for inch, pound for pound, spadefish have to be the toughest fighters out there! The jackhammer fight is pure awesomeness. Once the tide slowed down, the bite picked up!

Spades ranged from 8" - 14". Kevin got the nicest one of the day at 14". 

Joe, Kevin, and I had a blast feeding and catching spade after spade. You curse them one minute, and love them the next. Once the bite slowed down, it was time to paddle in and call it. Man, what a great way to end my time in Tidewater.

My mind was going through all the fantastic fishing memories of Virginia with every stroke of the paddle. I was wearing a smile that was hiding a little bit of sadness. I started kayak fishing in Virginia and have met some truly amazing people along the way. I will admit, part of me will always call Virginia my 2nd home.

Well, that's that! The Virginia chapter is closed as I start a new one in the Florida panhandle. I want to end this by thanking everybody that I have had the privilege to learn from during my tour in VA. I feel pretty lucky to have fished with some of the most talented anglers in the country as well as the nicest guys you could ever meet. I will make sure to pay it forward during my journey in Florida. I'm sure it won't be long before find myself paddling in the gulf. Until then...

~See ya on the water!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Grass Flats Redfish

Over the last couple of years, the redfish bite in Virginia has been nothing short of phenomenal! Last year showed great promise for a strong redfish population throughout the Tidewater region. The main difference in last year and this year is that larger overall average size of fish. Plenty of mid to upper slot sized drum are roaming the shallows in singles, pairs, all the way up to schools of 100+. I'm sure we can all agree, BIGGER is better!
"That's what she said!"
As usual, I hit one of my favorite spots in search of grass flats redfish with my good friend and fishing partner, Joe Underwood. Like I have said in the past about this spot, I know it like the back of my hand! The tide was coming in at sunrise so I knew what flat I wanted to hit first. Joe and I scratched out a plan and felt pretty confident that it would work.
We stopped off at a little point with current moving through to throw a few casts, like we normally do at this spot. Like clockwork, Joe picked up a nice trout on topwater, with me following up with a little striper. As we moved on to our first flat, you could see pods of bait everywhere as far as you could see. It was amazing!
Picture a shopping mall parking lot full of cars, and a certain cars alarm starts going off. You focus all of your attention on the loud noise and find that car.

Well, that was what it was like on the flat. The cars were the bait pods and the loud alarm was the schools of redfish reeking havoc on em...Yeah, it was heaven!

This 25.5" redfish pounded a PowerTeam Lures Swinging Hammer.

These fish were schooled up by the dozen and out to destroy everything in their path! They made it simple for us.
We hear them, we see them, we cast to them, we catch them, we repeat...
26.75" red

Joe had the hot hand of the day. He was doing more fan casting while I was hell bent on doing close quarters sight fishing. I have a crazy addiction of hunting down fish without alerting them, and making my presentation in a stealthy manner.

Bait of the day was the PowerTeam Lures Swinging Hammer. This lure has an over sized paddle tail which throws a lot of water around as it swims through the water. The low frequency combined with strong vibration of the Swinging Hammer calls fish in from afar. Pretty much, it's one bad@$$ paddletail and I WON'T fish for redfish without it.

If you find some time, do a little research and find yourself some grassflats near big water. I'm certain that if you find healthy grass, you will find some bait, which means you will find the redfish. Grab some medium tackle and an assortment of PowerTeam Lures and get ready to have a blast!

~See ya on the water!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Time Crunch Meat Haul

Is it me, or does it seem like time goes by faster and faster with the passing of each and every day?
Right now, the stress of the big move down the coast is pretty strong. I'm not going to get into details about it, but all I will say is that I can't wait for it all to be over with! With that being said, my job is experiencing a lot of changes in personnel. People are leaving and people are arriving. Old faces are being swapped out with new ones and the element of "change" is first hand. On this day, we were celebrating a co-worker's "going away breakfast" which pushed out my scheduled time for getting on the water. I planned on launching around sunrise, but the going-away took priority. The winds were forecasted to pick up around 11:00 so my window of nice weather was not open very long.
I was under a time crunch!

  My mission was quite simple:
Sight cast to redfish and haul em' back to the house for dinner!
The spot that I last tore them up in was a lot dirtier than the previous time. I saw a couple of reds, but only after I spooked them due to the bad water clarity. I hit another spot only to find the same thing; no fish and muddy water. Time was ticking and I needed to get on fish...FAST!
I decided to try out a huge flat that I have never fished before...

I was only standing for a minute or two when I came across the first school of around 10-15 fish. I knew that it was game over when I tossed out my texas rigged PowerTeam Lures 3.6 JP Hammer Shad. I threw at the outer edge of the school and made the bait dart erratically. It was awesome watching 2 fish fight for the lure.

Last trip, I noticed that most of the baitfish were very small. I used the 4.8 Hammer Shad and some fish would not jump on it like I hoped. I still caught plenty of fish, but I had the feeling that the 3.6 might entice them a little better. This trip, I packed a lot of 3.6's in different natural colors. I matched the hatch perfectly.

By the time I landed the first fish, the wind had already picked up and was continuing to get stronger. It was to the point that I said, "To hell with it", and decided to make my way back to the launch. Since the wind was blowing in the direction I was headed, I just stood up and scanned the flat. It was tough to see with the chop and grass, but I could see almost everything under the surface. The water was a little cleaner but it was still tough to see. No joke, the Maui HT lenses on my Maui Jim Peahi's made the difference in dissecting the the flat. Without a quality pair of sunglasses, sight fishing would have been impossible!

Now comes the time when it was daja-vu of the Eastern Shore. I was moving along the flat when I saw a disturbance coming straight at me, and it was not small. The surface ripples were different so I knew it was something. I was finally able to see below the surface and saw little red logs...everywhere!

Instincts kicked in and my 3.6 JP Hammer Shad was out and instantly in a reds mouth! I loosened the drag, put the rod in a rear rod holder, and grabbed another rod with a 4.8 JP Hammer Shad. At this time reds were everywhere! This was a school of 100+ fish, easy! I saw about 6-10 reds all excited with my fish that was hooked up. I threw the 4.8 about a foot or two behind my other fish and hooked up instantly! 


I wanted to keep at it but maintaining good boat position was impossible with the strong wind. It was pretty much pointless to stay out. When it was all said and done, I had my limit of redfish on the stringer. The time crunched meat haul was a success. Gotta love it!

~See ya on the water!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Kokatat Destination Collection Review

As kayak anglers, we are closer to the action which means closer to the water. When you made the choice to paddle a kayak you indirectly accepted the fact that you're going to get wet. Face it, it's inevitable! Along with getting wet, we also feel the effects of the sun, which is putting it lightly. Most of us know that the sun's rays reflect off the surface of the water and pretty much bake the poor paddler that was not prepared for it. So, to say that quality paddling apparel is important to kayak fishermen would be a total understatement!
The purpose of this review is to give the kayak angler some insight on the Destination Collection from Kokatat. We will talk about; overall design, features, and if it is worth owning. At the end, I will sum up my thoughts and grade it on a 5 star scale like I do for all of my other reviews. 

Kokatat's Destination Collection of apparel is made for paddlers, by paddlers. What I mean, "made for paddlers" means that each piece of clothing is tailored towards the paddler. As kayakers, we don't sit still and drive our 250hp engine from spot to spot. We are constantly moving and hardly ever just sitting still. Kokatat understands that fact and designed each piece of Destination apparel with a paddling specific design.
First up is the Paddling Shirt: MSRP $90.00.  The shirt is a long sleeve, full zip, lightweight top. This top is loaded with features! One of my favorites is the vertical shoulder vents. The slightest breeze will flow right through this shirt keeping the paddler as cool as possible. The waist has an integrated bungee which allows the paddler to tighten up the waist so the top won't ride up the back and bunch up. When paddling, you won't feel any restrictions or tightness at the top of your paddling stroke. The arms are loose and very comfortable. You will also notice that when you get water on the material, it won't soak in like a cotton t shirt. It will naturally bead up like a waxed car. Lastly and probably most importantly, the material is rated UPF 30+ which means the sun's harmful rays will not harm your skin underneath.
Comparing this top to many others that I have used in the past, this one is my favorite. The overall comfort and functionality of Kokatat's Paddling Shirt is what I love the most. You can't help but notice how comfortable the shirt really is until you put one on.
Next up is the Paddling Pant: MSRP: $80.00. These pants have similar features as the Paddling Shirt; UPF 30+, zipper fly, lightweight, and quick drying. Lightweight and quick drying are the two immediately noticeable features. Water will bead up on these pants and does not want to soak in. I have done tests where I poured water on my pants and waited for the water to soak in. It took more than 3 minutes before my leg even started to feel the slightest bit of moisture. Most people know that having a pair of paddling pants that is loose in the crotch is a blessing! Of the hours I have spent in these pants, I have never once felt any discomfort.
Overall, I could not be more impressed with these pants. Like the Paddling Shirt, these pants are incredibly comfortable. I have even put them on around the house just because of how comfortable they are. I can honestly say that I don't think you will find a nicer pair of paddling pants!
Water beaded on the Paddling Pants. Photo taken after 3 minutes of water application.

Last but not least is the Surf Trunk: MSRP $50.00. Following suit like the previous shirt and pants, the Surf Trunk is lightweight, quick drying, and features UPF 30+. These shorts have a lacing waistband along with a button fly. The Surf Trunks are very comfortable with the loose inseam. The material is very soft and just like the paddling pants, beads water on the surface instead of soaking it in. You can tell that these trunks are high quality when you put them on. One feature that I like is the zippered, self draining pocket on the leg. The pocket even has a key lanyard so you can secure a key along with keeping your ID on you at all times.

I have replaced my all of my previous board shorts with the Destination Surf Trunks. Once again, Kokatat nailed it on these shorts. The Surf Trunks are a quality piece of apparel through and through!

Alright, that pretty much sums up my experience with the Destination Collection from Kokatat. The collection does consist of much more such as headware, hand covers, along with other styles tailored for either men or women. If I had to guess, I would imagine that everything else is very similar in features and overall performance.

After hours and hours of use, I would rate the
Destination Collection...
5 out of 5 stars!
Just like all of my reviews, this is strictly from my own experience and my opinion. I logged many hours wearing this line in all sorts of weather conditions before I formed my opinion. Just like anything else, if I use something consistently, I stand by it 100%!
Believe me, it was hard giving a review a perfect rating! I seriously sat there and tried to think of something that I considered a negative or a drawback. I couldn't do it. There is really nothing that I can say is a downside or a negative. The Destination Collection screams quality and I would HIGHLY recommend this lineup of apparel to anybody! Try it out, you won't regret it.
~See ya on the water!

If you're in the market for a new PFD, or just want to read a quality review about something that you may want to consider in the future, check out the review of the Kokatat Bahia Tour PFD by Rob Choi from Angling-Addict.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Little Break

What do you do when both the weather and work schedule give you a little break?
 I know what I like to do!

Beggars can't be choosers!
That's an old saying that can apply to anything. If you have a busy schedule filled with work, kids, honey-do's, and everything else thrown in the mix, than this saying probably applies to you. Take all of the above and combine the constant pouring of love from Mrs. Rain Goddess, it may be a little difficult to find time to get on the water.
With a few hours to burn and the Fishweather app not looking all evil and red, it just made sense to paddle some plastic. The sun was high, the tide was going out, and the winds were non existent. I hit one of my favorite spots with one mission...Sight casting to redfish.

The drag on my Stradic Ci4 was screaming within 10 minutes of searching. I expected that since I know the spot like the back of my hand. The beauty of doing hours and hours of homework is that you can have a spot that you don't have to waste time at. The redfish were everywhere and they were hungry. A lot of singles and doubles, and some schools of 20-30 fish.
I only used one setup the entire time. For shallow water flats, I like a texas rigged PowerTeam Lures 4.8 JP Hammer Shad on an 1/8oz screw lock EWG worm hook. This combination is straight up deadly on skinny water redfish. The texas rigged Hammer Shad glides and darts naturally and will not hang up or catch any grass. Being weedless makes this tactic one of the deadliest ways to trigger a strike from a redfish!

Those unplanned 1-2 hour windows can be a lot of fun. Sometimes a guy will have no idea if and when he gets the opportunity to sneak away for a bit. If you don't use the little breaks in the schedule and weather to get some pullage, you may find yourself reading about it instead.

~See ya on the water!