Monday, June 26, 2017

CBBT Part 4 - Chum Bucket Action

Of course, our last day out, a half day really, turned out to be the best day weather wise.  We decided not to get an early start so we could rest up for the long afternoon ride home.  Yet, we still got on the water for a few hours and gave the big fish one more shot.  Light winds resulted a calm Bay, like a sheet of glass, making for a pleasant ride to the spot where we had some action the day before prior to the thunderstorm chasing us off.

When we arrived, it was slack tide again, similar conditions to the day before, but with much less wind.  After anchoring, Steve and I prepared the bait, set up the chum bucket, baited all of the rods, and cast them out out.  This time, I set up my extra heavy baitcasting rod and reel with a bottom rig.  Basically, the set up was simple, a large egg sinker, a bead, a swivel, leader material and a large enough hook to bait up almost an entire bunker minus the head and tail.

We set up rods with cut bunker, live eels, crabs and clams with the hopes of landing a big drum or cobia.  The previous year, Steve and Rodger only caught one fish on their last day right before wrapping it up, and it was a huge bull red.  So maybe today was our day.
My buddy Rodger with a bull redfish caught a year earlier on the last day of their trip.  We hoped for similar results.
I really liked the casting distance that my set up provided, not that you really needed it, but maybe it worked out in my favor.  Regardless, it didn't take long for my first bite.  I had the baitcasting reel in free spool and the clicker on.  The line stripped off the reel for a few seconds as the clicker notified me of the action.  I immediately grabbed the fishing rod out of the rod holder, turned off the clicker, engaged the reel, reeled in the slack, felt the fish as it chomped on the bait, and set the hook hard a couple times.

The fish took off on a nice run, but I turned it after about twenty seconds and gained back the line that it took.  It had to be a shark or a ray based on how it fought.  The fish bull dogged back and forth as I brought it to the boat.  After I gained enough line and brought it to the surface, we saw that it was a small shark.
This toothy critter was my first fish of the day.
These sharks aren't the prize that a cobia or drum would be, but it's always fun to catch bigger fish.
Steve netted the shark, then we took a few pics and released it carefully.  I baited my fishing rod with a live eel to see if I could coax a cobia to bite, and tossed it out to the same spot.

After my cast, I grabbed Steve's light tackle bottom rig, tipped the hooks with a couple strips of FishBites, and dropped it over the side to catch more live bait.  Sure enough, I got bites instantly when the rig hit the bottom.  I quickly caught two fish that were perfect bull redfish snacks and added them to the live well.

No sooner than that, the clicker sang off my reel and I scrambled to tend to the bite.  I reeled up the slack and felt the fish, set the hook and fish on!  The fish ran a bit, then I pumped the rod to gain line, got it near the boat and, without seeing what it was, the fish made a run and came off the hook.  We had no idea what it was, but because of the way it fought, it was most likely another shark.  I baited the hook with another eel and tossed it back out.

I tried to catch more bait fish, but before I could try for more bait, I had another bite.  There simply was too much action to try to get bait fish.  I scrambled again to tend to my fishing rod, felt the fish and set the hook.  This time, I had him.  After a nice fight, Steve netted another shark for me.  I thought to myself, I could enjoy this all day!
I could catch sharks like this all day and have a blast.  It's not the type of fishing that I do often, so I thought that I'd make the most of it.
Before I could add another eel to my rig, Steve hooked up and fought another big fish.  It was my turn to net a big fish for him.  We saw that it was another shark as he guided it to the bag and I lifted it into the boat.  He unhooked it carefully and posed for a picture.
Steve's first shark of the day.  Notice how nice and calm the water is in the background?  Of course it was like this, it was our day to leave early!  But, we'd take it!
We managed to boat a dozen sharks before deciding to pack it up and head home.  We didn't catch any drum or cobia the entire trip.  Of course, Steve was disappointed in the fishing.  This was actually the earliest in the year that he'd fished the CBBT area, and he wasn't keen on returning to fish here again before the opening of cobia season.  We did have a great time, however.  I caught several new species to add to my list in addition to catching some big fish, albeit small sharks.
Another small shark, perfect size for taking a picture.  You still have to be careful with these small ones and watch that they don't bite you on the release.
Steve with a nice size shark, one of a dozen that we caught that day.
I think that we could have caught these all day.  This was the last shark that we caught before we wrapped things up and headed home.
We're gonna need a bigger boat.  Sorry, I couldn't resist.  
As we rode back to the ramp, we had another pretty close encounter with a large pod of dolphins.  Steve cut the motor and drifted toward them.  We tried calling them close to the boat, but this time, they had no interest.  They didn't seem to be in the playful mood like they were a few days ago.  On that day, they were jumping out of the water repeatedly.  We think that this time, they were feeding, because it seemed like they were moving in different directions, not heading from one spot to another.  Still, it is always a treat to see them, in my opinion.

To wrap up our trip, we managed to catch a couple hundred sea trout, about fifty kingfish, some croaker, a few toad fish and small sea bass, a few pigfish, one flounder, one sheepshead, and perhaps a couple species of small sharks.  Although we didn't get any redfish or cobia, we still had a good time.  We caught eighteen sharks.  How often do I get a chance to do that?  Almost never.  This was a new experience for me.  Although I've caught small sharks in the surf before, I've never caught them like that with this much regularity.

I really appreciate Steve's hospitality and expertise.  He made sure that I had a good time and caught fish.  He's not only heck-uv-a good Captain, but also a good friend.

To view CBBT Part 3, click here
To view CBBT Part 2, click here
To view CBBT Part One, click here


Friday, June 23, 2017

CBBT Part 3 - Fish or Cut Bait?

Or rather, Fish or Cut Get Bait?

Several ships made of concrete were sunk to form a break water for the ramp at Kiptopeke State Park.  I'll touch on the history later.  These pelicans were all lined up waiting for me to take a picture, but I was too slow.  Actually, I caught them flying off and I think that the picture turned out even better!
The third day of our trip was slated to be a full day of fishing.  We woke up early, were well rested, and stoked to get out on the water.  The wind forecast was also good for the start of the day, while predictions for afternoon thunderstorms loomed.

We headed North into the Bay to set up baits for bull red drum and cobia, stopping at another spot where Captain Steve had success in prior years.  This spot was cool because it was where a shoal meets a channel edge.  Surely, big drum or cobia would prowl there.  In addition to the baits that I mentioned in my last post (cut bait, live eels, and blue crabs), we added clams to the mix in hopes of picking up a big black drum.  We heard reports that some folks had been successful taking bull red drum and black drum on clams the day before.

When we arrived at the spot, it was slack tide.  And, the current seemed to be moving in a direction that we weren't anticipating.  We weren't sure if it was the effect of wind or what was causing it.  But, we set up anyway.

The first bite came on the live eel rig.  The line was slack, but we forgot to put it in free spool.  An apparent rather large shark grabbed the eel and bit the leader off on the first run, causing the reel to double over and then slap back like a huge spring.  If someone was standing there, they might have had a black eye!

It didn't take long for another bite, this time on one of the spinning rods that dangled cut frozen bunker.  The rod doubled over while in the rod holder while line peeled off the reel.  Steve set the hook hard and the fight was on.  After a couple runs, Steve had a shark subdued at boat side and I netted it.
Steve with a small but feisty shark.  I think that this might be a small dusky shark based on the smaller dorsal fin and the position of it being further back.  If anyone knows for sure, please comment and let me know and I'll edit accordingly.  Thanks.
Within minutes of him releasing his shark, line peeled off of the the baitcasting rod and reel with the live eel.  This time, the reel was in free spool with the clicker on.  I engaged the reel and set the hook a couple times, and fought a small shark to the boat.
I suspect this may be a dusky shark too because the dorsal fin is pretty far back behind the pectoral fins.  I'd know if I could pull out a tooth, but I'd like to keep my fingers, thank you.  Anyone that knows, please feel free to comment and I'll edit accordingly. 
Here's the business end of that last shark.  
After the first two sharks, Steve wished that we had some live bait for our live bait rod.  I heard about a product called "Fishbites" while researching fishing reports for this trip, so I picked up a pack at the local tackle shop.  The reports were saying that the bloodworm flavor worked well on spot and croaker, which are ideal bait fish for both cobia and red fish.  I was a bit skeptical, I admit, but, anything is better than dealing with bloodworms, in my opinion.

So, I took Steve's light tackle bottom rig, pulled out a strip and cut two small pieces about an inch and a half long off of one of the strips, then threaded them on the hooks.  I dropped the rig over the side of the boat, not expecting much, and no sooner than the sinker hit the bottom did I have a bite.

I set the hook and brought in a couple baitfish, two at a time.  On the next drop, two more.  It was clear that Fishbites work well and can catch multiple fish.  To me, they seem like the perfect substitute if you don't like using blood worms.   I'll continue to test them out to see what species I can catch with them and follow up with a report in the future.
I was very happy to confirm the positive things that I read about Fishbites.  I've had success with Gulp in the past, but this works very well.  I look forward to using it in the future.  Be careful that you don't mistake them for bubble gum!
After a while, the Fishbites pieces turned gooey and all that was on the hook was the mesh that the Fishbites material were molded on to.  I just left it on the hook after I added more Fishbite chunks, and it had no negative effects on catching fish.  I simply cut them off once we were off the water and disposed of the mesh pieces properly.

So, the problem we ran into after that, and it was a good problem to have, was that just as I'd try to add live bait to the livewell to catch monster fish, a monster fish bit on one of the big game rods.  I had to scramble to reel up the baitfish rod and get it out of the way.  Sharks, bull reds and even more so, cobia, cause a ton of mayhem around the boat.  It's important to keep the boat deck clear of gear so you can fight the fish and clear lines quickly without getting hooked in the leg or something.  I guess the theme here is not really "Fish or Cut Bait", but rather, "Fish or Get Bait"?

These smaller sharks put up a good fight and will make a run or two, but nothing like the fight from that first night.  Still, it was fun catching three foot sharks.  They weren't our targeted species though.  We wanted big reds or cobia, and so far, no action from them.

We both caught several sharks and thought that this new spot was a good one.  Steve said that we have to go through the sharks and rays to get to the drum and cobia, that our arms and shoulders would get a good workout.  If your baits are attracting sharks, sooner or later, cobia and drum will show up.

Looking off to the West, we noticed a thunderstorm heading our way.  After checking the weather radar, it was a small but fierce looking storm, one that we could run away from and fish somewhere else.  Of course, it was the only storm at that time in the state of Virginia, and it was heading right toward us.  We had to give up this spot and outrun the storm en route to another fishing spot.

We successfully outran the storm and headed back toward the boat ramp to fish around the sunken cement ships.  As we looked back to the North afterwards, the storm pounded our previous spot.  Even as far away as we were, the lightning made me nervous even from that far away.

We decided to drift around the sunken cement ships that act as a breakwater for Kiptopeke State Park for flounder and anything else that would bite.  Both Steve and I put out our flounder rigs and I caught a nice keeper summer flounder on the first drift.  I rigged mine with a chartreuse Gulp mullet while Steve's tandem rig hooks were tipped with squid and the other with Gulp.
This was a nice keeper flounder, caught on our first drift, but turned out to be the only flounder of the day.
Nine cement ships were sunk a few years after World War II to serve as a breakwater for a long since gone ferry.  They once served as cargo or training vessels for the military, but now protect Kiptopeke State Park and the boat ramp from bad weather.  These ships provide fish holding cover for flounder, tautog, sea bass, and many other species.  You can feel the history in an eerie sort of way as you drift by them.
After four or five drifts with no further action, we concluded that the flounder fishing really hadn't turned on yet, so we headed to the bridge to fish the pilings again.  We fished those areas hard and caught all three species of kingfish as well as a bunch of undersized sea trout.  This time, I used two jigheads with Gulp mullet in tandem.  Eventually, like the day before, the sea trout bit the tails off of the Gulp baits, and they worked even better without the tails.
Small weakfish, or sea trout, like these dominated the jigging catch around the bridge pilings.
While we jigged, a school of snapper bluefish broke water, and birds dove all around us.  Of course, who can resist tossing a jig into a school of breaking fish?  We caught several bluefish until the baitfish school moved away along with the predators.  Several boats followed them, but we opted to jig the pilings.

After a while, we noticed other boats anchored up along he West side of the bridge.  One of them landed a small cobia and a couple stingrays.  We tried bottom fishing near the bridge but after an hour with no luck, we moved off again to fish other pilings.

Meanwhile, the area became very cloudy, temperatures dropped significantly, and the winds picked up.  We were both dressed for 80 degree temperatures and were both chilled to the bone.  Even though the fish still cooperated, we were shivered uncontrollably with no spare clothing on the boat.  I guess that shivering also puts more action on your lure while jigging, so maybe that kept them biting!

We both considered a move to another spot, but noticed the clouds out to the West looked ominous.  I checked the radar, and sure enough, a strong line of thunderstorms were moving fast to our area, with no place to run this time except off the water.  We didn't mind that we had to head back because we we felt cold anyway.

We arrived at the ramp and pulled the boat out just in time before the heavens opened up while lightning flashed in the distance West of us.  I don't mind fishing in rain, but no way do I want to be on the water with lightning around.  The weather service called for thunderstorms all evening, so we were done for the day.  We decided to work on a plan for the next and last day, grab a bite to eat, and get some rest so we could get an early start the next morning.

Stay tuned because in the next article, I'll disclose the events of the next and final day.

If you missed CBBT Part 1, please click here
If you missed CBBT Part 2, please click here
To read CBBT Part 4, click here

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

CBBT Part 2 - A Day for Jigging and Drifting

The second day of our trip started out much better from the weather standpoint.  The morning started off with bluebird skies even though the wind and waves were much more tolerable.  We decided to start off by drift fishing for flounder around the bridge islands and jig the pilings for whatever fish were willing to bite.  The goal was to catch a variety of species but still have a shot at a big drum or cobia, because they hang around the bridge structure too.

The North end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel where it connects to Fisherman's Island.
Captain Steve hooked me up with a flounder rig and I tipped it with a chartreuse Berkeley Gulp mullet.  Steve had a dual rig, one of the tails was tipped with a Gulp mullet and the other with a strip of squid.  We did several drifts around the fourth island without any luck.  We decided to cast and jig around the island for anything that was willing to bite.

Steve had a bottom spreader rig ready to go and loaded it up with strips of squid, while I tied on a jig and Gulp mullet combo.  I had a few bites but the fish bit the tail off my lure, then I hung up on the rip rap.  He started off with a bang, catching four species of fish right off the bat.  His first four fish were an oyster toadfish, black sea bass, a pigfish, and a northern kingfish (not necessarily in that order).  Toadfish are ugly, nasty creatures, but his was the biggest one that I've seen in a long time.  Almost all of those fish were caught while I was tying on a new jig.

Steve with a big fat ugly nasty oyster toadfish!
His next catch was a small black sea bass.  These guys can get up to about nine pounds.
And a pigfish, pretty enough to put in an aquarium.
Then I finally hook into a monster sea bass, all of about four inches.  Another fish worthy of an aquarium!  We needed big fish.
We jigged around the island and caught some small sea bass.  My jig and Gulp combo was drawing attention, but from small fish that ripped the tail off.  So, I tipped the jig with squid and began hooking up on these bites.  But, this wasn't what we were after.

We moved on to other pilings.  I threw a Savage Gear Real Eel in hopes of a cobia bite at the pilings with no luck.  At each piling, after a few casts with the Real Eel, I jigged a Gulp mullet at anything that would bite.  I was hoping to catch a tautog, but no luck with them.  Meanwhile, Steve tossed a bottom rig with peeler crab as bait.  He scored a nice sheepshead that was about nine pounds or so on the peeler crab.

Steve caught this nice sheepshead on a peeler crab and saved it for the table.
Sheepshead teeth are almost human like.  This guy could use a little brushing and flossing!  Notice the pharyngeal teeth on the roof of their mouth.  They're on the bottom jaw too, perfectly designed for crushing crabs, shrimp and shellfish.  
Meanwhile, I caught a bunch of undersized weakfish, or sea trout, one after another on my jig/Gulp mullet combo.  They'd bite off the tail, so I'd add a squid strip and kept on catching them.  They were pretty good at ripping the squid from the hooks, so I got lazy and decided to just toss in the jig/Gulp without the tail.  Guess what?  They hit it just as well, if not better!  I think that the tailless jig got to the bottom quicker to more fish.  Steve switched to his light tackle bottom rig and was catching them two at a time.

Steve caught weakfish and speckled trout on his bottom rig two at a time while I caught them just about every cast tossing a tailless Gulp mullet.
I caught a few new species for me on this trip, speckled trout (aka spotted sea trout), northern kingfish and southern kingfish.  I've caught weakfish (or sea trout) before, but never the speckle trout ones.  Unfortunately, I failed to get a picture of the speckled trout.  All of these fish bit all afternoon, giving me easily 100 fish for the day in the count.  It was quite fun.

The northern kingfish was a new species for me in addition to the speckled sea trout.  You can distinguish these from southern kingfish by the black bars along the body, while the southern kingfish are bronze on the back, faint bars with a white belly.  To further confuse things, the gulf kingfish, pictured below, look like southern kingfish but lack the bars.  All three have a single barbel on their chin.
I think that this is the gulf kingfish.  I'm pretty sure that we also caught southern kingfish too, but I don't have pictures of them, but they look very similar to this fish.  Both species are new catches for me.  I advise against not lipping them as they have pretty small but sharp teeth that cut my thumb.  The cut wasn't bad, but enough sting to remind me not to do it again.  I learned the hard way.
I've since been reading up on how to catch "togs" because I didn't have any luck with them on this trip.  I wasn't far off by jigging for them, but live bait is probably going to be a necessity, using sand fleas, peeler crabs, Asian crabs, or green crabs (fiddler crabs).  Maybe next time.

Although we didn't catch any flounder while drifting, we still had a lot of fun jigging with bites almost every cast at one point.  We wound up both catching a ton of sea trout mixed with all three species of kingfish, and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening trying for cobia and redfish.

We set up at Steve's first spot, where we'd caught the shark the night before.  Everything seemed right for that spot.  The tides were moving the right direction but not too strong.  The wind was finally not a factor.  We had fresh baits out there, including some of the fish that we caught jigging that can be used for bait.  However, the fish had other ideas.  We fished almost two hours without a bite and were going to make a spot change when thunderstorms started to move in.

We decided to head back to the ramp, take out, go get a nice dinner at a restaurant and perhaps a drink, and get a good night's sleep.  The plan was to get up early the next day and target the big fish early, then drift for flounder in the afternoon.

We caught a lot of fish, but the only keeper size fish all day was the sheepshead.  Steve couldn't believe that we didn't even pick up a shark or ray.  Maybe if the weather would have let us fish to the evening bite things would be different.  But not this time.

If you missed CBBT Part 1, please click here
To read CBBT Part 3, please click here


Monday, June 19, 2017

CBBT Part One - Night of the Shark

CBBT, aka the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  The acronym is quite well known around the salt water angler community because of the fantastic fishing to be had there.  Not only does it have a variety of species that are willing to bite, the CBBT is also known as a world class striped bass, red drum, black drum and cobia fishery.  My friend Steve Kelley showed me the ropes at the CBBT in hopes of putting me onto one of the giant bull reds that were showing up a couple weekends ago.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT)
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, or CBBT, is a 20 mile long twin toll bridge and tunnel system that connects Virginia's Eastern Shore to Southern Hampton Roads, crossing the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay at the Atlantic Ocean.  From an angler's standpoint, this is a massive fish holding structure.  There are hundreds of pilings and four rip rap islands that hold fish and provide current breaks.

Also around the area, there are many well known shoals that provide habitat for bait as well as fish holding structure for the many large fish that inhabit the area.  In addition to that, there are plenty of shallow backwaters, creeks and coves that provide productive fishing for sea trout, bluefish, puppy drum, flounder, and a whole host of other species.  We only had a few days to fish, and to cover all of what we wanted to do proved to be a bit of a challenge.

You want to catch trophy fish, but at the same time, there are so many opportunities to catch a wide variety of species.  Both concepts appeal to me.  But do you jig for variety or target trophy fish?  Drift for flounder or anchor for redfish?  Lures or bait?  Fish or cut bait?  We had a limited amount of time but we still did a little of everything.  We had a great time even though the weather struggled to cooperate with us early on.

Our first day was a travel day, with the plan of fishing the evening bite into dark exclusively targeting red drum and catch/photo/release cobia.  The season for cobia hadn't opened yet and was a couple days away.  But when we arrived, we found high winds that blew from the West, the wrong direction for the side of the bridge that we planning to launch, making the Bay and ocean too rough for Steve's boat.  So, we decided to grab a bite to eat and relax at a local watering hole until things calmed down.

After a couple hours, the winds eased up somewhat, at least to the point where the white caps weren't so large and frequent.  We scrambled to get the boat launched to get on the water because we were chomping at the bit for some fishing time.  We headed out to one of Steve's favorite spots, actually one of those "spots within a spot" where he's had good success catching bull red drum in the past, anchored up, and set up in hopes of catching a trophy.

Although bait fishing wasn't new to me, this was a different game, on a larger scale.  Captain Steve Kelley, a title well deserved after putting me and my other friends on trophy fish in the past, expertly and quickly had the lines rigged with several tempting offerings for these trophies.  Just to be clear, Steve isn't a professional fishing guide by trade, although, with his experience fishing this area could result in such a career.  The title Captain pertains only to his experience in fishing these waters along with being the boss on the boat.
Captain Steve Kelley shows us a fish that he teamed up with my buddy Rodger to catch in June of 2016.  This was the type of monster fish that he hoped to put me on this trip.
First, he set out the chum bucket so that the tidal current would send scent and small chunks of bait away from the boat, attracting baitfish and predators alike, drawing them closer to our baits.  Then, he set up the rods one by one, organizing them by the amount of line out and distance to the chum bucket that he preferred.
Steve setting up the chum bucket to attract baitfish and predators alike.
One rod was rigged with a live eel to tempt a hungry monster cobia.  Another two rods were rigged with half of a blue crab to attract monster red drum.  Another rod was rigged with large chunks of frozen bunker, almost the entire fish minus the head and tail.  Both cobia and bull reds will readily engulf cut fish.  The last rod is usually rigged with live bait, preferably bunker, croaker or spot, all of which cobia and bull reds would devour.  However, the bait shop was out of live bunker when we stopped by.  We'd have to catch the type of live bait that we'd need.  We hadn't caught any live bait yet, so Steve baited up another large chunk of frozen bunker on that rod.

After about twenty minutes or so, Steve caught a small sandbar shark, about two and a half feet long or so.  While trying to release it at boat side, the shark shook his head a couple times and bit through the leader, saving Steve the trouble.

Shortly after that, a large pod of bottle nosed dolphins showed up.  Of course, the kid in me called out to them and clapped, and they came to the boat.  Steve inadvertently cast out one of the lines in their direction, not knowing that they had moved that close to the boat.  A few dolphins porpoised nearby right as he sent off his cast.  Just as he cast and saw them, he yelled out, "Ohhh no!  I didn't mean to do that!"  Bloozsh...the bait hit the water and the dolphins scattered.  So, our close encounter with the dolphins ended just that quick.

It was just as well, because Steve thought that they may chase fish away.  So, for the rest of the trip,  I refrained from doing that again while we were fishing.  Still, he thought it was pretty cool that we could call them in like that.  I guess I was having visions of the old Flipper TV show from when I was a kid!  I caught the whole thing on video.

Sorry about the poor video framing.  It was tough to just stand up due to the wave action much less trying to film a video with an iPhone.  It was all that I could do to keep from toppling overboard.


After an hour without a bite, the wind calmed slightly, although it was still pretty rough, we decided to haul everything in and try another spot.  Since the tide was going out, perhaps the other side of the bridge would be more productive?

So, we set up on the Atlantic Ocean side of the bridge.  However, the spot that Steve wanted to fish was very rough due to high winds and extreme tides, so during the tide change, the current was much too strong.  This made for rough seas, but more importantly, made it difficult for our baits to hold bottom.  So, after an hour of waves beating the heck out of us, we moved back to his original spot.
As you can see, it was quite a bit more rough on the other side of the bridge, and the current was ripping through there.  We couldn't keep our baits on the bottom.
The tidal current was ripping on the ocean side of the bridge.  Here you can see Virginia Beach in the Background.  I guess Portugal was to our East.
We set up our baits again at Steve's original spot and got the chum bucket going again.  The sun set and the winds died down a little more.  All we had to do was relax, enjoy the sunset, and wait for those monster fish to bite.
After we set up again on Steve's favorite spot, the wind and waves eased up a little bit, the sunset gave us a sense of calm where we could sit down, relax, and wait for that big fish bite.
After a half hour, Captain Steve yelled out my new nick name, "Hey Chum Bucket, get that chum moving!"  So, I crawled to the front of the boat and gave the chum bucket rope a good many yanks and shakes.  Actually, on previous trips, he dubbed our friend Rodger that nick name, so I guess in my case, it was more of a Captain's order than a nick name.  Either way, I'd been called worse and obeyed the Captain's order.  Throughout the trip, when we were bait fishing for monster fish, that was my job...chum bucket man.
Here's Chum Bucket aka my buddy Rodger trying to hoist up a monster bull red drum that he and Steve caught last August.  Earning the nickname "Chum Bucket" may have helped lead them to this impressive catch.
By now, darkness set in and it was a beautiful yet eerie night.  Things were quiet as we relaxed and waited for action.  The only thing we had to do was check our baits now and then and replace what the bait stealing crabs and smaller fish robbed from us.

All of a sudden, the rod with the live eel doubled over, the drag screamed and line peeled off the reel at a high rate of speed.  Steve was closest to that rod, so he picked it up and set the hook hard several times while reeling at the same time, and then he handed the rod off to me for the fight.

This type of fishing is a team effort anyway, so no matter who sets the hook or fights and lands the fish, it's our fish.  Technically, it was his spot, his rigs, he set up the baits, he did everything, so really, they're all his fish (at least from the point of view of me giving someone the most credit to catch one).  I'm just happy and lucky to participate in the experience.  That said, Steve's goal was to provide me the experience of landing a big bull redfish or cobia.  This time, was it a monster cobia?

So, I fought the fish.  And, I fought it some more...and more...and more, all the time without knowing what was on the other end of the line.  It seemed like forever, but after about fifteen minutes, and bull dogging a few times under the boat and toward me around the motor, it finally surfaced.  It wasn't a big cobia, rather, it was a shark.  It was a nice size shark, but still not a cobia.  Still, it was a good fight.

But, it was a fight that wasn't quite over.  Once the shark took a gander at the net near its nose, off it went on another run, peeling line off the reel again.  I fought the fish for the next ten to fifteen minutes.  I pumped the fishing rod up, then reeled down to gain line, over and over.  Near the end of the fight, my fingers, hands and forearms cramped in pain.  But, I was determined to boat this shark, and a few minutes later, the shark made it to the surface again where Steve successfully applied the net and put it in the boat.

It was just small enough that we could bring it on board the boat, but a little too big for me to hold for a photo, so we left it in the net for the picture.  After all, I'd like to keep both hands attached and avoid a trip to the hospital.  These sharks can bend around and reach their tail with their mouths.  So, you have to secure both the head and the tail while holding them or you risk being bitten.  If you can't do that, find another way to get a picture.
Based on the size and the position of the dorsal fin, we think it was a sandbar shark.  Later, after seeing this picture, I noticed that the shark's position was kind of precarious.  I'm glad it didn't lurch forward for a bite.
Steve knew it wasn't a cobia by the way it fought.  According to him, usually, cobia go crazy, jumping and taking you around the boat, fouling any lines or anchor rope that haven't been cleared.  The key when you hook a giant cobia or red is to clear all of the lines and release the anchor.   The anchor is tied to a buoy so you don't lose it.  If you hook a giant fish, you can release the anchor and chase the fish rather than have a fish like that strip all of the line off of your reel.  After a fight is over, you can always motor back to retrieve your anchor line and set it again.  This shark basically kept to one side of the boat, even though it bull dogged directly under the boat a few times.  It's amazing how strong a shark this size is.  I can't imagine fighting an eight footer.
Steve posing with the same shark.  He did pretty much everything to catch this fish except for the fight to the boat.
Not long after we caught that shark, the tide ripped past us along the shoal, making it tough to keep the baits down and, as a result, the bite slowed.

We had a long day due to the long travel, had to deal with rough water, it was past midnight, and we were dead tired so we decided to call it quits.  We sped back to the ramp, pulled the boat out, and went back to the motel.  Despite the late hour, Captain Steve became master chef, as he cooked up a delicious steak and grilled veggies dinner on his portable grill for the both of us.  This was quite the midnight treat after treating me to a day of fishing.  How many fishing guides or fishing buddies would do that for ya?

We would rest up and look forward to hitting it hard the next day at the crack of dawn.  We were stoked, having much anticipation for big fish to come for our first full day of fishing on the trip. Because of that, getting to sleep wasn't as easy as I thought it would be even though I was exhausted.  The weather forecast looked a little more promising.

More of this story to come...please stay tuned!

To read CBBT Part 2, please click here


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Camping, Fishing and Good Friends

Sometimes it's nice to just get away.  This time, my good friends Rusty and Donna invited our mutual friend Terry and I for a camping/fishing trip a few weekends ago to fish the mighty Chesapeake Bay.  Our fishing goal was to target the last few remaining jumbo striped bass but the main goal was to fish, hang out and have fun together.

Now this isn't the type of camping that I spent most of my life doing.  Throughout my younger years, I sought more primitive and remote camping experiences.  Even sleeping under a tent was considered a bit wimpy among my peer group.  Sleeping under the stars in a sleeping bag under certain conditions was wonderful experience as long as conditions were right.  That was when my youthful body could take sleeping on the hard ground and other things nature threw at us.  Now-a-days, I can fully appreciate the full comforts of home especially after a tough day on the water.

This wasn't the type of camping that I grew up doing, but let me tell you, it's comfortable, relaxing, a lot less painful,  and a heck of a lot of fun!  Here's Terry checking out the campsite.
No, this camping was much more luxurious, more like staying than camping.  But, man, let me tell you, my old aching bones really enjoyed it.  Rusty's daughter, Crystal, was kind enough to let Terry and I occupy their spacious beautiful trailer with all the comforts of home, including a big screen TV, sofas, easy chairs, a kitchen, you name it.  Rusty and Donna's trailer was even more luxurious.  There is something to be said about staying in comfort, especially after a rough day on the water when you still have wobbly sea legs and muscle aches from muscles that aren't used to choppy water.

The bay was a bit rough when we took to the water in Rusty's boat, but we tossed out tandem bucktail rigs with varying weights so that you could cover different depths.  We put out four rigged rods and set them in his standard rod holders.  He didn't have outriggers or planer boards that allow you to get out the maximum number of rods and cover more water, but we had enough tempting lures out there to nail a big rockfish (as they're known in the Bay area) if one passed by them.

After about an hour of trolling around, a couple naval vessels approached us and asked us to leave the area so that they could conduct target practice.  I've fished with friends in this area for years and this is only the second time that we've been run out of the good fishing hole.  Their target area covers nearly all of the good spots along the eastern channel.  So, we had to make the most of a tough situation.

After trolling through less than productive areas, and with the wind picking up leaving the Bay choppier than Captain Rusty likes to fish in, we pulled in our rigs and headed back in.  But we couldn't get skunked, so when we moved into more protected waters, we tossed some jigs and found some willing smaller stripers to get some fish under our belt.  We tried crankbaits and jigs, and this time, jigs were the ticket.
Here's Terry after catching a small but feisty rockfish.  They're a lot of fun jigging for them on light tackle .
Let me say right now that Rusty's wonderful wife, Donna, is quite the fisher.  She ties up rigs, baits hooks, and captains the boat like a pro.  It's almost like being on a charter boat!  She likes to catch fish also, and is very good at it, but she seems to enjoy making sure everyone else has a good time equally as well.  Not only that, she also cooked several breakfast and lunch meals for us, spoiling us every step of the way!  Kind, considerate, putting others before herself...it's just the way that she is.  With friends like Rusty and Donna hosting you, how could you not have a good time?
Terry boats another striper while Donna controls the boat with Rusty jigging in the background.  
But this time for lunch, since the Bay was a bit rough, we headed off the water to a stuff ourselves with all you can eat crab legs at Captain Pat's Seafood restaurant in Lexington Park.  What a meal!  After that, we "camped" while watching an NBA playoff game on their big screen TV.  Now, that's camping!!!

The next day, the wind died down and we put in more fishing time, this time jigging for stripers around a couple inshore points.  The bite was pretty good for the most part, and we caught a couple "keepers" but released them to fight another day.  Most of the rockfish that we caught were undersized, but are feisty on light tackle and are a ton of fun.

At one spot, you couldn't really jig the bottom, otherwise you'd snag a cow nosed stingray and man, did they put a strain on your tackle.  We tried to net one and when it saw the net, it took off for the open ocean with my drag screaming, and actually broke my old bass jigging rod!  It was OK though, that old Cabela's rod served me well for over 25 years and caught many fish.  I replaced it that night at our next trip to town.  At that spot though, you had to work the middle of the water column to the top to catch the stripers.  From that point on, if we snagged a ray, then we just broke it off.  After all, jigs are cheaper than rods!

We put in several hours on the water and caught good numbers of fish, but thunderstorms were moving in so we headed back to camp.  No problem, because after a brief nap, we all headed out to the Tiki Bar at Solomon's Island for some relaxation.  Grill Sergeant BBQ is right next door, and they combine to provide music, good food, drinks and relaxation.  The only problem was that it was outdoors and a thunderstorm moved through.  We were protected from the rain, but the lightning made it a bit spooky, albeit beautiful.  As the storm passed, we enjoyed a nice sunset mixed with light rain and lightning in the background.
We had a relaxing evening at the Tiki Bar while eating BBQ and watching the thunderstorm pass, completed by a beautiful sunset of Solomon's Island.
The next day, we had planned to fish all day but a front moved through and the Bay was very rough due to high winds.  So, we packed it up after Donna's delicious breakfast and we headed home.  Thanks to Donna and Rusty for being such gracious hosts, and for Crystal and Christian for allowing us to stay their beautiful trailer.  We had a wonderful time.

So, it's not always about fishing, sometimes, it's the overall experience that brings joy into our lives.  This trip had all of that!


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

In, Under, and on Top of the River

After my last two blog posts about underwater photography and fishing buzzbaits, I couldn't wait to get out and try it all again in one trip.  What better a place to do that than our favorite summer wading spot?  My friend Rodger and I put in a full day of fishing and had a blast.  For me, it was all about the experience, not just numbers or the size of the fish (although bigger fish would have been more than welcome).
I love wade fishing the river in the summer.  We had gin clear water and bluebird skies to deal with, but the fish cooperated for us.  I had a great time.
The weather conditions weren't optimal for fishing, and as I later found out, not optimal for viewing certain species underwater either.  A cold front moved through the night before, and we had bluebird skies with a slight breeze, with air temperatures in the upper 80's.  That isn't a problem for wade fishing for smallmouth bass, but combine that with very low gin clear water, and it seemed that all of the fish were very spooky, including those that I wanted for my photo op.

I started off in the morning with a Heddon Baby Torpedo and after about thirty casts or so, decided to switch to a more finesse approach.  My buddy Rodger started out finesse fishing by tossing a small plastic worm and already had several fish under his belt by the time that I adapted.  Following his lead, I opted for the finesse approach and offered them the same four inch plastic worm, a lure that even skittish smallies will bite in our local river with such tough conditions.

My first spot fishing the worm was stacked with bass, so it didn't take long for my numbers to catch up.  At one point, I was able to catch them within a rods length of me and actually watch my worm bounce along the bottom and see the bass swim up and gobble it up.  The water was so clear that the fish would close in from about ten feet away on my lure!

It is amazing at how good their senses are.  As soon as the lure made the splash, their lateral line combined with keen eyesight allowed them to hone in for the attack from quite a distance away.

The river bottom, picture taken underwater from about waist deep.  The water was gin clear.
Here is the same spot with the picture taken above my waist with the camera out of the water.  Notice how clear the water is.  The only blur coming from water drops on my camera lens.
After catching a dozen or so bass, I started my underwater explorations, searching for good pictures of darters, minnows and anything else of interest.  However, even the little fish were spooky, and it was difficult getting close to the ones that I could find much less getting a good picture without scaring them away.  I did manage to get some pretty cool photos though.

This darter posed for me briefly before I spooked it.  I'm not sure what kind of darter this is.
Edit:  This is a female rainbow darter, Etheostoma caeruleum.
Here's a closer look at the darter from above.  I can't identify it from this picture.  Greenside, tessellated, and rainbow darters live in this watershed.  What do you think?  Edit:  Since identified as a female rainbow darter, Etheostoma caeruleum.
Here's a closeup of a greenside darter from yesterday's trip.
I think this picture is cool in many ways.  I love the surface reflection of the bottom on the waters surface.  the minnows feeding in the foreground are cool, but notice the predator in the background?  This 7 inch largemouth bass would dart in to attack the minnows every now and then.  There were a couple redbreast sunfish hanging out with it waiting to gobble up any morsels leftover from a successful attack.
I was able to snap a picture of this juvenile redbreast sunnie holding in the current, waiting for the current to deliver a tasty meal.
As the same sunfish turned down river, a school of minnows moved in to feed.  I'm not sure of the ID of these minnows.  Anyone know?
OK, changing gears again back to fishing - both Rodger and I caught a bunch of average sized smallies and took a lunch break at a local Mom and Pop joint, where we ate delicious but inexpensive food washed down with some cold beverages.  The atmosphere sports game mounts of all kinds, sporting memorabilia, and other things local to the area.  After eating and relaxing, it was tempting just to stay and watch football or racing, but we persevered through that laziness, mustered up some energy and headed back to our spot for the evening bite.

While the sun was still up high, Rodger and I found some worthy holes down river and let the plastic worm do its thing, tempting bass to bite consistently.  The problem was that the river was so low, that finding spots deep enough to hold fish was tough.  They weren't normally where you'd find them.  But, when you found a good hole, the fish were stacked in there.  When wading, it takes time to find those holes, not like in a boat when you can run and gun to them.  It takes time for old farts like us to wade from one spot to another.  I tried topwater off and on with only a couple slurping hits, but no fish hanging on.  While the sun was high, the plastic worm was the ticket for the majority of the time.
Here's Rodger with a willing smallmouth that inhaled his plastic worm.  Underwater photography is great, but remember to do what I didn't do, wipe off the water from the lens before taking a picture of your friend with a fish!
After searching for those productive holes while wading down river, we realized that we'd better start heading back as the sun edged over the adjacent Western hill so we could find our way back.  Of course, when you head back, you have to wade and fish your way back, stopping when the fish dictate.

Wading up against the current takes time, and on that day, it proved to be taxing on my old aching legs.  For some reason, the fish stopped biting my plastic worm.  Either Rodger and I sore-mouthed the fish in those productive holes or the fish wanted something else.  I decided to make things easier on my bones by wading to the other side of the river to very shallow ankle deep water and wade back.  I tied on a buzzbait to cover more water and maybe catch a few fish along the way.

While working that ankle deep water with the buzzer, I had a hit and a fish on briefly, but it spit the hook.  I thought that was encourage, so I kept casting.  A few casts later, as the lure hit the water, I saw a wake heading from about twenty feet away toward my bait and became very excited.  The fish nailed my buzzbait and took off.  I thought it might be a big fish, but after I turned it, I realized that the fish was a little bigger than the average for the day, but not by much.  It wasn't the size of the fish that got me fired up, but how far it came to hit my lure.  Prior to that, I can't recall a bass charging in from that far away!  It was an exciting moment though and I realized that the topwater bite was on, finally.
Here's a picture of the bass that made the wake in shallow water, charging from about twenty feet away to attack the buzzbait.
I managed to catch seven more bass on the buzzbait as we headed back to our take out spot, finishing with 41 bass for the day.  I fished about 70 percent of the time, with the rest of the time spent trying to get some decent underwater photos.  But, that's pretty productive anyway!  Rodger finished with 50 plus bass along with a few big sunfish.

All in all, we had a really fun day.  Even though it wasn't the topwater bite that I've been craving, I was able to accomplish two things with this trip, some topwater action and getting a few good underwater photographs.  I can't wait to do it again.  Good fishing, cool underwater wildlife to observe, good cheap food and drink, and sharing it with a good friend.  That makes for a memorable day!