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!