Sunday, February 22, 2015

Breaking in New Technology

Over the years I have worked hard to maintain a competitive edge in whatever is I am doing.  Whether it's producing sales for work, losing weight to beat out father time, or just competing in the outdoor industry, I always attempt to stay on top of my game.  I have always tried to maintain my own equipment, tried to understand the equipment that others are using, read as much as I could, and find out what others are reading.  When it comes to fishing, I don't think there will ever be anyone out there that knows it all, I know there are a lot that know a little about everything and then there are those that know a lot about few things.  I like to classify myself in the latter, I have worked hard, read a lot, failed a lot, and succeeded a lot when it comes to competing in the fishing world. And this year, I have chosen to take a path that will only strengthen my skills, abilities, and knowledge, but refocusing my efforts in the freshwater world.
After a few freshwater tournaments, it didn't take me long to realize that I was going to be carrying a lot more gear than I did in saltwater and making the move from  the Hobie Outback to the Hobie PA 14 was going to be a necessity if I was going to battle mother nature offshore in the 180,000 acre lakes that were in my plans for the future, on top of the addition of the Power Pole Micro Anchor for shallow water anchoring while chasing spawning bass on flats, I also knew it was time to step up my electronics. 
I have been looking at the Lowrance HDS system for several years now, and besides being on the upper end of an expensive conversation, The previous HDS packages required a head unit, two transducers, and another modem style unit that would go below the deck.  Well having anything below my deck made me nervous, so for years I have only drooled and dreamed, that is, until this year.  Lowrance recently released their new HDS Generation 3 units that have everything needed for Chirp technology, Down scan imaging, and Side Structure Scan.  With the release of the new unit and no need for a below deck modem, I knew this year was the year to take the plunge.
Friday evening I picked my Hobie up from the Back Packer of Baton Rouge, my Lowrance HDS Gen3 from Cabelas, and had a Micro Power Pole from previously winning an IFA event.  When I made it home it was all I could do to unload everything and get to rigging. 
I started with the Power Pole, which was an extremely simple installation with only one hole drilled for the wire, which will eventually be eliminated with their expected rechargeable plug and play battery to be released this spring.  After the Power Pole, I moved onto the transducer installation.  With the Lowrance Ready pocket below the Hobie, the first transducer install was a breeze, and the second transducer, the one for side structure scan, turned out to be fairly simple too.  I was able to mount a swing arm to the new octagon style rail that Hobie has created for their 2015 models without any work at all.  Hobie makes a RAM ball that attaches to the new Hobie Rail with the simple click of a lever.  From their I drilled one hole for the wire to make its way to the front of the yak where the head unit was installed.
After everything was mounted and water ready, it was time to hit the water.
I took just over an hour this morning on the water to get acclimated with the unit, I spent more time working through the different pages and overlays than I did fishing.  Learning how to use the side structure scan can take some time getting used too, but once you get it, it's AMAZING.  To be able to see brush piles, blow downs, boat docks, and fish over 100 feet to the left and right of you is absolutely mind blowing.  I discovered things under water today that I would have never imagined were there, I even landed two bass on the new Rockport Rattler Football Head Jig that I saw on the screen suspended over a structure prior to even picking the rod up. 
I actually sent a picture in a text to someone to show them the clarity of the unit, and the fish that I could see, next cast, I actually landed one of those fish.  It was an eye opening experience.  When you see something under water to your left or right, just touch the image on the screen and it will actually tell you how far away the image is from you and how deep.  I even tested it around structure like docks that I could actually see so I could confirm the relation to what I could visually see verses what I was seeing on the screen and it was spot on.
While 99.9% of my saltwater fishing has been using the elite series Lowrance units and has served its purpose with amazing images and great contours and depth ranges, I am confident that this HDS Gen 3 unit is going to do for me in freshwater, what DSI did for me in saltwater, just with a lot more clarity, a lot more coverage, and a lot more confidence for what I am looking at.
Dock Post & Brush Pile
To me, depth finders are a lot like kayaks, boats, reels, rods, and lures, they all have a place, and you just need to figure out where it fits for your style of fishing.  For instance, when I am in my Hobie Outback fishing the IFA or Paddle Palooza, I will be using my Elite Chirp unit, but when I am traveling the country fishing the KBS and KBF, I will be using the HDS unit. Bass relate more to cover than specs or reds do, and I feel that in order to maintain that technological edge, this unit is priceless for the waters and game I will be using it for.
Let me clarify something, I am no professional by any means and I in no way know everything there is to know about depth finders, but if I can figure out what I am looking at on my first trip out, I am fairly confident that most can do the same.  Another topic is brand, Lowrance, Humminbird, and Raymarine, which one do you get, what's the best one, what's the most cost effective one? Well, just like gear and yaks, they all have their pros and cons, and if I was to share everything I have learned over the years and specifically most recently, this entry could go on for days.  The best thing I can suggest to anyone looking for a depthfinder is figure out your price range and then add a couple hundred bucks to that, and then most importantly, spend some time with the unit, visit Cabelas and play with the unit in live mode and demo mode, and visit them 20 times if you need too, and finally get the unit you are interested in on the water.  Find some people that have what you are interested in and tag along with them, have them walk you through the steps, screens, and ease of use and figure out if it's exactly what its cracked up to be. YouTube is another invaluable tool, there are so many demonstrations on different units on YouTube you could sit there and watch for hours, heck I even popped one up while I was out on the water today.  These units do more than I will likely ever need, but it's nice to have those options available if I ever step up my game again.  Most of all, every unit out there by a reputable company is a good unit, they show more detail today than we ever dreamed about 10 years ago and I am confident that the technology is going to continue to progress for years to come. I hope that this is helpful for anyone in the market for some underwater technology.
Images were taken with my phone, so I apologize for the graininess, I also blew some of them up so they were easily viewable.

Until Next Time,
Stay Safe & Catch1



Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sometimes you have to change direction to increase your speed.. Kayak Bass Series, Astor, Fl
As the 2014 year was ending, I took the time to look back and evaluate my achievements for the year.  And while I was a contender in many events, I was especially pleased with the people around me that I had helped, encouraged, or motivated throughout the year to keep moving forward in the industry.  I wrote blogs, magazine articles, radio interviews, and even did a few TV shows, but what I noticed at the end of it all was that I rarely took the time to increase my own skills.  Yes, my knowledge increased with every trip on the water along with every conversation around kayaking and fishing, but while my knowledge was increasing, I felt my skillset was becoming stagnant.  I had become accustomed to chunking lures and not placing them, making long cast that weren't accurate, using more topwater for the explosive excitement rather than a plastics finesse approach, and I began focusing on numbers of cast and retrieves rather than the quality of them.  Heck I even dubbed a jigging style the "Pontchartrain Prance", due to the erratic jerking nature of the jig, which usually ends up hooking the fish just from the jerk rather than feeling the subtle strike. So, with all of this weighing on my mind, I knew it was time to balance out my arsenal, and the best way I could come up with to accomplish this transition was to take a step back in time and put my focus back on freshwater fishing, largemouth bass specifically.
Well, this past week I was able to attend the first Kayak Bass Series that took place in Astor, Fl on the St. Johns River system.  The series is a compilation of 6 events spread across the country in FL, TX, AL, AR, KY, and PA, ending with the KBS Classic at the end of the season, location TBD. Needless to say, each event is located on a body of water that has the potential to land you a double digit largemouth, and to me, that's a major attraction.  My entire life I have always heard of the giant bass that come out of Florida, heck my dad even has a couple double digit bass from Florida hanging on the wall, so this event was one I wasn't going to miss.
With vacation time on the books, I finished up work and headed straight home to load up my gear, my Hobie Outback, and all essentials needed that I had been collecting over the last two months.  I ended up leaving the house a little after 6pm and headed straight to Pensacola to pick up my road warrior partner Matthew Vann.  After nearly 11 hours we made our arrival into Astor and went straight to my launch site.
I was planning on spending every waking minute I had dissecting the eel grass, lily pads, grass mats, and ledges that Lake George had to offer.  The only problem with this plan was the wind.  As I hit the water alone that morning, I was welcomed to 2 foot breakers in my face, and with a 3 mile pedal to my starting point, I knew I was in for a wet ride.
As I reached protected waters, the hunt began, everything looked fishy, flooded reeds, dollar pads, eel grass, timber laydowns.  Every direction I looked I knew there was a fish there, but after 12 hours on the water, I ended with one striped bass, three missed strikes, and one blow up on a fluke.  I punched grass, jigged my pigs, dug my cranks, spun my spinners, and worked as fast and methodical as possible, but in no way had I figured anything out.
At this point, I was still excited at the opportunity ahead of me, I knew there was still a chance for big fish, and I knew they were out there, I just had to find them before time ran out. 
The next morning I decided on a long run that began before daylight.  This was the day that it had to happen or tournament day was going to be a flop.  After hours on the water, and double digit miles covered, more cabbage grass clogged canals than I have ever experienced, I was whooped, and not only whooped, but I had only landed one largemouth, and it was a small one. 
With hopes still high, we decided to visit local bait shop owner and guide for more than 20 years.  He informed us that with all the cold fronts and water temps in the 50s, that the fish had turned completely off.  He made mention that the day before he took a client to 12 locations using live bait, and didn't catch a fish until his last stop.  He then dug into his mind of knowledge and made a suggestion to us to get away from the creeks and lakes and focus more on the spring fed waterways where the water is warmer.  Seems like a no brainer now, but being the springs are salty, we never even considered getting close to them.  So with new knowledge, and time ticking away, we made a mad dash to yet another new launch location.
As we arrived, I immediately made a mental transition, I didn't know where I was, I didn't research it, and I had never seen this area on a map, so with that being said, I made the commitment to work slow and methodical rather than run and gun, and it worked.  Within an hour I was holding a solid 4-5 lbs bass in my hand, and then 20 minutes later another one, an hour later I got one yak side that would have likely touched the 8 lbs mark, but I pulled the hook as I was grabbing the net.  I immediately called Matthew on the phone and said we found em and it's time to go.
Now, at the captains meeting there were a lot of stories running around, some were of skunks, some of 10 pounders, and some of a boatload of midrange fish.  It seemed that a handful of people found the fish, and a crowd of people hadn't, there was a large split.  Some people were catching giants punching grass, while others were landing decent fish cranking and worming docks, my pre-fishing yielded poorly in both the grass and around docks, but I was able to find them staged up on wood structure in warmer water.
As the morning of the event came around, I knew that the fish weren't going to be active in my area until at least 10 a.m. when the sun got high enough to warm the banks near the wooden structure the fish were on the previous day.  The winds had shifted over night, and around 11a.m. they were supposed to shift again and get up into the 15-20 mph range, but where I was, the wind would only produce current and that was a good thing.  If the weather man was correct, with the sun high and the wind howling, my bite was going to happen in the last 3 hours of the event. 
10:11 a.m. I got my first strike on a custom made whooly booger, he wasn't a giant, but it was a fish. I quickly got him on the board, took my picture, released the fish, and got back refocused.  Around 12:00 I landed my next fish on  Bad Boy Jig & Pig in black and blue, only a quarter inch bigger than my first fish, but one more closer to my limit.  With the bite being extremely slow and sporadic, I knew that if I could land my limit, I had a good chance of ending in the money.
Then around 1:30 it happened, as my jig was sucked up by a bass, I reeled down on her and set the hook with all I had, but what I heard was heart breaking, with every inch of hook set, my drag let line out.  As the fish bowed my rod into an inverted "U" I knew I had a big bass, but I also knew she wasn't hooked as well as I wanted her to be.  She tore off to my right attempting to go deep, and as I was able to turn her, she eventually wore down, as I grabbed the net, she calmly surface a foot from the side of my Outback and rolled on her side like she had given up.  I was grinning from ear to ear looking at what appeared to be a 24-25" bass when all of a sudden during her roll over of defeat, the lure came right out of her mouth.  I can't begin to explain the disappointment I went through over the next few moments.  In fact it was so outwardly displayed that the bass boat across the river from me cranked his motor and sped off.  I have never felt so defeated as I did during that moment.  In saltwater fishing I usually just blow it off because I know there are likely several more chances throughout the day to land a monster, but in the bass world, especially during a tournament, those opportunities don't knock that often.
Once I gained my composure, it wasn't 2 cast later I had another strike, and then another one, but I wasn't able to hook up with either.  I spend the next hour working this 80 yards of timber with everything I could.  I threw spinners, swim jigs, cranks, craws, whooly boogers, but it appeared that the bite was only going to be hot for 10 minutes of the day, and while I had the chance, I blew it.
When Matthew caught up with me, it was time to head to the truck.  While we crossed the lake toward our launch area, I uploaded my pictures through the IAngler free app and submitted them to the TD while on the water.  As we both pedaled with a 20 mph cross wind, I could see a lone willow tree off of a point of land about 300 yards down the shoreline.  On one side of the willow was a howling wind and on the other was a calm cove,   I made an immediate 90 degree right turn and B lined to the tree.  As I approached I laid the softest flip I could right through the split trunk and as the Jig hit the water, it began to swim off to the right, I immediately set the hook, with a tight drag this time, and out came a bass, flying toward me like a kite, I reeled my Reel so fast that the fish barely touched the water again. As I got my final picture of my limit fish submitted in the IAngler App, I couldn't help but sit back, collect my thoughts, and thank my youngest daughter Payton for all the prayers she sent up, the two prior days, that her daddy would do good on tournament day.  It was an appreciation and fullness that I hadn't experienced in a while, and it was awesome.
Minutes following my last fish, Matthew and I loaded up the Hobie's and headed to the weigh in.  My mind was racing, did the previous nights cold front disrupt everyone's expectations, did the 3 different wind shifts cause some anglers to abandon their plan, was a 13.5" average even respectable given the tough conditions we were all faced with?  The easy answer, yes it was.
Turns out that with 56 registered anglers, only 10 of those landed their bag limit, and with payouts going to the top 8, I ended up with 40.5" and a 7th place finish.  Now, I am never disappointed on whether I win or lose a tournament, my goal is usually just to be a contender and try to make the top 10, but given the poor pre-fishing I had, new waters, non optimal conditions, I was more than excited to finish 7th.
Overall the Kayak Bass Series run by Robert Field was a great event held at a great fishery.  I got to fish against some of the best in the kayak industry, I got to fish next to, deer, manatees, ducks, alligators that are a lot bigger than La Marsh gators, and even a snake so large I'm confident it could have crushed me and the kayak and ate us both, not mention cross a ferry that had me wanting to put a PFD on. Simply said, it was an experience that I will long remember and I can't wait for the next one that will be taking place February 28th on Sam Rayburn in Texas
Special congrats to the top money winners, in order, Jason McRae, Andrew Mixon, Drew Gregory, Stephen Nesler, Joseph Harrick, Jason Broach, and Christina Weber.

Until next time,

Stay Safe & Catch1