Saturday, September 27, 2014

In Search of Backyard Trout

  Every year around the beginning of fall the speckled trout start their transition back into Lake Pontchartrain, and every year I am anxiously awaiting their move to the extreme west.  At least far enough west for me to be able to check my daughter out of school early, hit the water, and come home with a bag full of vittles.
About 3 weeks ago the trout started showing up in the Lacombe area, and while they are there, they aren't piled up yet.  This past week, the bait fish started making appearances on the Mandeville lake front, and the Jacks have been exploding off the banks of the sea wall.  So at this point, the trout have made it into the Rigolets, into Lacombe, and now into Mandeville, the next stop on the trout train should be the Causeway and then the Tchefuncte.  If we continue to get some east winds blowing the salt water west, and some north winds keeping the north side of the lake clean, it shouldn't be long before my after work "honey holes" start paying off.
So, this weekend I decided to call a few friends and go test the waters inside and around the Tchefuncte River.  This area is only 8 miles from my house, and less than 4 miles from my daughters school, so you can imagine why I get excited around this time of year.  Friday I grabbed my girls off the bus and headed to the lake front to check the water clarity and to see if I could taste any hint of salt near the launch, and of course to let my girls climb dirt hills and have rock throwing contest.  Unfortunately the water tasted like it just came out the tap, but that doesn't always matter, its not like my taste buds are a scientific salinity tester, the trip was planned, the wind was right, and my hopes were high.
As 5 a.m. rolls around, Craig shows up at my house and we head south.  We are met at the launch by Mike, also known as Ole Yeller, or lately you might as well call him James bond, because he's been missing in action for nearly a year now.   We unload and start beating the banks and drop offs of the Tchefuncte River while keeping our headlights pointing toward Lake Pontchartrain.  As we are working top waters of every sort, and jigs of many colors and weights in the darkness, I finally get hooked up.  Not really a hook up, I thought I had some grass hung on my Skitterwalk that turned out to be the runt of runts in the largemouth bass world.  A few minutes later, Craig lands another bass in the pound range, and at this point, I knew it was time to move into the lake.  After all, we are in search of speckled trout, not green trout.
As we make it into the lake, the sun begins to fill the sky with an awesome show, the wind is calm, the air is cool, and the water is in the mid 70's.  Fish or not, this was going to be an awesome day.  We made our way off the shore line, on the shore line, around sunken cypress tree stumps, and petrified blow downs where everywhere.  It was a place that would make your skin crawl if you were running an outboard motor, especially being the water clarity was in the 4-6 foot range and you could see every shell and twig lining the lakes floor.  I can't remember the last time I saw the lake this clear in September.
I was finally blessed with a blowup, that I mistook for a giant spec, on my top water, and when the beast finally showed, it was a healthy 32'' red.  Even though we hadn't been there long, this fish definitely revived the group and we all got refocused on the task at hand.
The day continued slow, but thankfully we were all able to land fish, bull reds, rat reds, and bass, but no trout.  The good thing is that the conditions are getting right.  It's just a waiting game right now, but when the specs show up, you can bet I will be there.
Specs around the Tchefuncte can be finicky, they will show up in groves and in good weight numbers, but then as quickly as they show up, they will disappear, and they won't be back again until next year.
I couldn't have asked for a better crew to spend time on the water with for my first fall outing, great sunrise, cool weather, we all landed fish, and we all shared a few laughs throughout the morning.  And on top of it all, we were loaded up and back at the trucks for 9 a.m. and headed home to spend time with families.  So if you're looking for weights and numbers on the North shore, get ready, because timing is everything, and that time is getting closer every day.

Until Next Time,
Stay Safe & Catch1

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bass'n Harbuck Heaven II

As many of you know, I grew up on the Tchefuncte River since around 5 years old.  I used to catch catfish off the bank behind the house, ran drop lines and trot lines with my dad and brother before school, and even learned to use a fly rod at an early age for when the bream were bedded up, but nothing ever got my blood pumping like bass fishing.  I was a worm throwing machine at an early age, by 9, I was allowed to run the flat boat alone in the rivers throughout St Tammany Parish, and if it was in reach of my 6 gallon gas tank and 6 hp Evinrude, than I was there.  During summers I fished almost every day, at least when I remembered to charge the trolling motor battery from the day before.  And believe me, carrying a full size boat battery almost two acres from the boat slip to the house was no fun at all. 
Today, I spend most of my time in saltwater chasing trout and redfish, and every once in a while I get to journey south and chase Tarpon and Snook, and with all the great saltwater fishing around me, I still find myself thinking about bass fishing.
So when an invitation opened up to attend the final day as a bass fishing event on Lake Fork in Tx, I turned into a giddy little kid.  The event is taking place in November, and I have a lot of preparation to do. I haven't competed in the bass world in over 15 years, and based on the lures and techniques I've been reading about, a lot has changed.  I was so excited about this event, I even wiped off a couple of planned saltwater events, talked to my wife and made promises of weekends at home if I could go, I even cleaned up my dresser in the bedroom, and that's a big undertaking for me. 
I started google searches, wiping the dust off of old BASS Magazines, and circling lure choices in catalogs, when it all of a sudden hit me, all the knowledge in the world and fancy baits in the box won't do me any good if I don't start preparing myself mentally and physically for a change in technique and presentation.
So when I got an open invite to fish some good bass waters in north Louisiana, I jumped on it.  I was able to go three weeks ago, and it was a blast.  And thankfully for work, I was able to go again this week, with Adam Harbuck.
Adam brings me to a place I have nicknamed Harbuck Heaven, my first trip I landed a lot of fish, but one of them made the 4 lbs mark and another the 6 lbs mark, and landing fish like that in unchartered waters is like heaven to me.
But the trip this week didn't yield the same results.  We were fishing the day following a cold front, temps had dropped, water temps had dropped, we had a stiff 15 mph wind, and sunny skies. 
I had a feeling the bite was going to be off and the fish were going to be finicky during early evening hours, and they were.  I chose to fish a jig and pig, because I know its tough for bass to resist when worked right.  It's also an old favorite of mine and I wanted to make sure I could get the feel back for a soft strike on a falling lure with slack in the line, that, and I know jigs catch big bass.  The area we were fishing is full of grass on top and on bottom, its also covered in a lot of tree tops and hidden stumps.  I worked the jig every which way I knew, I drug it, jumped, bumped it, even worked on digging it in when I hit grass patches on the bottom.  It didn't take long to get a fish on, but it did take a couple hours before I was able to recognize the structure I was working the jig in to. 
Adam "the trainer"
I finally figured the bass were holding tight to structure, they weren't at all on the edges, I had to drop it on stumps and crawl it off, in the middle of tree tops and then over sunken branches, and when they hit it, they just nudged it, but it was enough to either see the line flicker or feel that ever so slight bump.
As the sun went down I made some moves on my lure choices, I caught a couple of bass on a home made contraption I named the Womper Stomper, and it worked great on surface grass beds as daylight fell.
I then moved to one of my all time favorites, the black spook.  The only problem with finding a black spook is that Zara doesn't make them anymore. But fortunately I told Adam about this a few weeks back, and when I arrived, he handed me 3 of them that looked like they just walked out of the processing plant.  Adam actually found a bunch of discounted spooks on sale, sanded them down, painted them, and customized the eyes, and I gotta tell ya.  They are awesome.  First cast landed a nice bass, second cast I had a bass knock the spook 3 feet in the air, 5th cast another bass, and this continued until it was too dark to fish and mosquitos where too thick to breath. 
Working this spook took a little bit of change, it wasn't that normal walk the dog approach that I would normally take for trout or reds, but I had to work it erratically, and so much that at times it looked like I was working a popper.  It seemed that the harder you worked it, the harder the bass would attack it.  It was yet another lesson re-learned, that I had filed way too far back in my fading memory.
This was a great trip and I thank Adam for all he's doing for me up in Shreveport, he doesn't know it yet, but he has become my silent training partner for the Tournament of Champions event in November.  I can't think of another way to get back into the groove than fishing with someone of Adam's caliber.

Until Next Time,
Stay Safe & Catch1

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sometimes a Plan is just a Plan....and NEVER a Guarantee




How many times have you heard someone say, "He only catches fish because he has a honey hole" or "I've never caught that many because I don't fish waters that are stocked with fish", or even "He only wins tournaments because he has more time to scout than I do" ???
Well, I have heard these and a lot more mumbled and whispered throughout crowds and one offs over the years, and let me be the first to tell you, just because you work hard to find them, are fishing in "stocked" waters, or have a  so called "honey hole",  doesn't always mean fish will end up in the box.  Sometimes a plan is just a plan, and if you don't, or can't, execute in a manor that the fish are interested in, than no matter what gimics, locations, or honey holes you have, its not going to matter.
I learned this lesson, yet again, during the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club's Golden Meadow Smackdown this past weekend.
Over a couple weeks time frame, I made three pre-fishing trips down to the tournament area. 
The first trip I wanted to venture into new waters and explore some areas so far south, that I knew I wouldn't run into any other anglers and I wouldn't have to compete for space.  And while it all looked good on the map and when I reached my destination, I couldn't land a redfish to save my life.  It was a trip where every time I crossed a point or grass bed and expected to see tails everywhere, I would end up landing a trout.  Don't get me wrong, I love catching trout, just not when I am trying to catch reds in preparation for a tournament.  I threw, jigs, matrix, vortex, live target, skitterwalks, inline spinners, corks, and even gulp, but no matter the location or the lure, trout was all that was coming over the edge of my Outback.
2nd trip was planned with a known favorite on the BCKFC circuit, Steve Lessard.  We fished waters that we both knew somewhat well, but we decided to call it a "fun" trip and not a pre-fishing trip.  Yeah right, when your with someone of Steve's caliber, you want to do anything you can to outperform him, to help add a little nitrous to the confidence tank.  Well the water was about 4 feet high, storms were brewing all around us, we were following two other yakkers into the same vicinity at times, and like the week before, the redfish weren't there, at least not for us.  I think I landed 3 and only one was a keeper, while Steve, I believe landed 3 or 4 with 2 keepers.  We did manage to land some solid table fare trout, so it wasn't a bust, that and we somehow survived the lightening show that took place around us and on top of us at times.
Trip 3 was a doozy....I teamed up with Craig Brown, and together we both managed to talk ourselves into fishing from one town to the next, little did we know we would end our trip 13 hours later, and 22.95 miles for the day, and believe me when I say we fished every nook and cranny along the way.  About 4 hours into our trip, we found the "honey hole".  I pulled up a 26 and 3/4'' red tailing, turned the corner and picked up a 25.5'' red, turned the next corner and there was a school of 4 reds all in the 25-27'' range.  I yelled over to Craig and told him, "this is it, this is where we are going to start tomorrow, we aren't passing go, we aren't exploring, we will be sitting right here when the sun comes up."  It was the cleanest water either of us had seen in weeks, and it was full, and I mean FULL of tournament sized fish.  Now that we have found the reds and figured out they were aggressively hitting dark spoons with chartreuse trailers, a newly designed lure I made and tested, now known as the Womper Stomper, and inline spinners we both had a high level of confidence for the next day, tournament day. 
From here we continued south to Golden Meadow in search of more red fish, but keeping our focus on the trout, as having 5 reds and 3 trout for the weigh in would yield an extra pound to your total.  We found deep water, skinny water, winter holes, and a lot of areas that were new to both of us, and during this excursion we found trout.  It wasn't schools of trout, it wasn't easy pickings, but it was what we were looking for, I think one of my 16" trout even pushed the scale over the 2 lbs mark, they were chunky trout, perfect for the weigh in, but we had to work for them.
As we finally made it to our pick up location, I ended the day with around 15 trout and around 10 of them being solid weighing trout, and I tagged and released 14 red fish, with 6 of them going between 26.25'' and 26.75'' and most of the others were in the 22-25'' range, it was a solid hard fought day.
Tournament Day
We altered our routes the night before to avoid the long trek of launching and picking up from different locations, we rigged up with all the right things that worked the previous day, we were sitting in our yaks at the launch at 4:30am with our feet kicked up and drinking coffee.  We had grins, we had jokes, we welcomed other anglers coming to the launch spot, we watched the duck hunters race off in the darkness, we had a pre tournament party of sorts.  I  couldn't help but remember that a week earlier I was stressed out about this tournament because I hadn't found fish in the two previous trips, but now I was sitting down with a grin from ear to ear, because today, I knew where the fish were, what they were biting on, and the how big they were. 
As the 5:00 hour rolled around, Craig and I turned on our lights, pushed off the rocks and began our 1 hour paddle through the darkness to our "honey hole."  About 2 miles into the trip I realized I had forgotten my glasses, kind of an important thing when most of your cast are based on site and not blind casting.  So for the next mile or so, I started to visualize the area and adjust my strategy around blind casting. We ended up reaching the grounds a little earlier than expected so we decided to hit an area outside of the honey hole where we landed some trout the day before in hopes of knocking our three trout out early.  As Craig stayed within seeing distance slinging topwaters for trout, I eased over to an island that I could see redfish splashing and tailing in the reflection of the water as the sky was just beginning to light up.  First topwater cast, fish on, and he was a brute, as I calmly got the mid 20'' red yak side, the hook  came right out, and he swam away.  I was disappointed to say it nicely, but I knew I wasn't even to the hot spot yet.  Two cast later, I hooked another weighing red and lost him halfway to the yak. Now I was aggravated, but because it was still early, I tried to keep my cool.  I made one more cast into the cut of the island and fish on, it ended up being just under 27'' and almost 7 lbs. 
I made one circle around the island waiting on the sun to get higher and as it did, I made a mad rush to the hot spot. When I pulled up there were fish everywhere.  The wind was calm, the water was clear, the tails were high, the fish were in schools of 2-5, and I knew, it was all or nothing at this point.  First cast landed me a 25'' red and in the bag he went, I now had two solid reds in the bag, the rest of the day was going to be easy, so I thought.
All of a sudden I had two reds turn away from my topwater, I was surprised to say the least.  Then another red ran from it, and now I was rethinking things.  I grabbed the spoon, that dominated the day before, and the next four tails I threw at, resulted in reds running away like an elementary school boy being chased around the playground by a girl, but I still wasn't worried.  When all else fails and red fish are nervous, a fluke always does the trick.  Then I saw one, about 30 yards away working a bank line, I pedaled over, laid my fluke in the weeds, eased it off the bank, and settled it right in front of the nose of this beast, and YEP, he ran off too.  This happened several times.  I was now completely confused, it seemed as if the higher the sun got, the more skittish the reds got.  They were still exploding on bait, and they were still moving around, but as the wind began to create some ripple on the water, they were moving into the grass and off the points.  After chunking everything I had, I finally resorted to my trout faithful, a jig head and Matrix Shad.  And while it worked wonders, the big fish had moved on.  I ended up pulling 10 reds off of points and out of the grass and unfortunately every one of them ranged between 16 and an 8th inches to 16 and a quarter inches.  I even pedaled a mile or so south where I landed some hogs the day before in the heat of the day, but it only yielded small reds too. 
As I made my way back to the hot spot, Craig showed me one of the reds in his bag, I was speechless, seeing the gut of that 8 lbs slot red was awesome, but deflating all in the same breath.  At this point I decided to tuck my tail and head toward the launch, and on the way, I was able to land a couple trout, one of which I got to weigh, and a few more reds, but they were the same size 16 inch ones I had been catching.   As I loaded everything up, Craig made his way in and he was also disappointed in his total bag, he had a limit, but it wasn't anything comparable to what we did the day before.
The weigh in was great, with nearly 30 people making the weigh in, it was nice to show off some of the new advances the club had made.  It was our first weigh in with the new custom BCKFC weigh in tent, and the new high end LCD crowd display weigh scale, we were definitely taking it up a notch as a club. 
Finishing in the top was 1st Jonathan Craft with a giant 33.7 lbs bag, 2nd Steve Lessard, 3rd Clayton Shilling, 4th Randy Robichaux, 5th Travis Johnston, and BIG FISH Craig Brown with an 8.02 lbs slot red.  Special congrats to Jonathan for his first BCKFC 1st place finish, and to Travis for his first time weighing his way into the money.
This was a great event that yielded many lessons for me.  I have replayed this tournament in my mind 1000 times since weigh in, and have even lost a little sleep over what I could've and should've done that would have enabled me higher than an 8th place finish.  And the best all around answer I could come up with was, a plan is just a plan, and no matter how good the waters may be, or how high the fish may be piled up in an area, you have to bring your A+ game.  I thought that because the waters were so good, and the "Honey" in the hole was so thick, that we could have been blind men throwing hot dogs on a noose and we still would have had 30+ lbs in the bag.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, I didn't mentally prepare as I usually do, I didn't have a back up plan, and I didn't have a back up plan for the back up plan, I hadn't visualized every cast or catch in my mind the night before or during the pedal out, all I had was hope and expectations.
The one thing I can say for sure, is that this won't happen again.  While putting in the time to find the fish was a long road, in the end, it was only half of the equation, and performance was the other half.  Performance that I took for granted, and it cost me.  Lesson learned, to me, and to those out there that think the guys that always win, only win because they have a honey hole. You might just want to rethink that process the next time you feel the need to make a comment about it.  Because I have the skills, and I HAD the "honey hole", I just didn't put the two together on this day.  And as I have said for years, it's not all about the location, its more about the angler.
Until Next Time,
Stay Safe & Catch 1