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Tournaments

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I finally got the chance to take my first trip in the new Cruise FD from Jackson Kayak.  The fishing was not that great, but it was a good chance to put in a full day in the new boat.

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I fished BCKFC’s Minimalist Challenge, the first tournament of their annual tournament series.  My drive to compete in tournaments has all but disappeared, however, they do provide great opportunities to see old friends and force me to get out on the water.  It’s not that I don’t like to fish any more, it’s just that my priorities have shifted now.  Thus, the lack of posts you see here.  I’m still documenting my trips, but I take far fewer trips than I use to.

Back to the tournament – it has been a bitterly cold winter for our part of the country.  Leading up to the tournament we had a few consecutive days below freezing with snow/ice on the ground, which is unheard of down here.  While the air temps rebounded by tourney time, the water temps did not, so finding fish was going to be a chore, especially for someone as stubborn as myself who refuses to run a depth finder.

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It was a chilly, but beautiful start to the day.  I’ve mentioned it in previous years, but the Minimalist Challenge is a pretty unique tournament in that it is a shotgun launch where every competitor receives the same bag of baits to use and launches at the same time.  The tournament this year, as in years past, was based out of the public launch in Leeville, a launch I’ve had mixed results fishing from.

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With patchy skies and cold water, sight fishing was going to be spotty at best, but that’s how I like to fish so I stubbornly continued my ill-fated pursuit.  The north winds of the strong cold front the week leading up to the tournament combined with the low tide had the tide way out, like 1.5 feet below normal, which meant lots of shallow areas that normally weren’t shallow.  If water temps had been normal this would have been awesome for me and put lots of fish on the flats, but it was the opposite, fish were huddled together in the deepest, warmest water they could find.  I tried to fish some deep spots, but without luck.  My only hope was for the sun to pop out and hopefully some fish would return to the flats during the warmest part of the day.

I enjoyed the new Cruise FD that morning, pedaling provided a whole new dimension to kayak angling.  I covered ground a lot quicker than I had previously, which expanded my range.  The boat was fast and nimble and I put the flex drive to the test running up on a lot of shallow flats.  Somewhere along the way I snapped off a fin on my propeller.  I really don’t know when it happened, I just noticed a different pitch while pedaling so I pulled it up to take a look and there were only two fins.

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Thankfully, it really didn’t seem to slow the boat down any, I was surprised at how well the boat moved on 2/3 prop power.  I need to be a little more cognizant of the drive, the thing is not bomb-proof.  It wasn’t kicking up as readily in the soft mud so I was often pedaling until I realized I wasn’t moving, which may have been a contributing factor to the break.  I’m not used to having a moving prop in the water below me, I’m still very much a newb with a pedal drive so I’m sure the prop break was more user error than anything.

After speaking with a few folks at Jackson the propeller fins were designed to be the first things to break when the drive is stressed, thus protecting the internal gears and allowing for a cheap and easy fix to the unit rather than a super expensive one.  This is the first time I’ve had to go through the warranty process on Jackson’s website, but it was a quick and easy online form.  I had a new fin at my door later that week and it took all of five minutes to pop out the old one and put the new one on.

Back to fishing – activity was very minimal that day.  I didn’t see a ton of bait or fish movement at all.  I tried deep holes in bayous, drifted flats in big bays and everything in between.  I pedaled over and spooked a small school of reds staged in front of a cut and was never able to get a bite out of them.

Later I was drifting a flat in front of a cut that another angler, Nick, was fishing in.  He actually hooked up with a red as I was passing.  He told me he saw another and told me to come try to catch it.  I was a little hesitant with it being a tournament, then he told me that was his third red on the day (we could weigh a max of three reds for the tourney) and I felt a little better about crowding his spot.  Sure enough eventually we spotted the big red who seemed to be holding in the deepest part of a tiny marsh cut, he would spook, but then circle back around.  He was probably stuck in there because of the shallowness at the mouth of the cut.  I made a few casts to him to no avail, then put one right under his chin, saw a little movement, felt a little weight and set the hook.  A short while into the fight it was evident I wouldn’t be weighing him in the tournament because he was too big.

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The bait wasn’t even in his mouth when I brought him in the boat, I hooked him right under the chin.  Fair hooked or not he went 30.5″, which is par for the course for me during Minimalist Challenge – I never do well in this tournament.  I was happy to at least boat a fish on a day when it seemed like I was destined for a skunk.  I thanked Nick for letting me catch that red then moved on, letting him have that little cut to himself.

I tried to find a similar cut holding fish, but didn’t run into any the rest of the day that were holding fish.  I did hook one other fish while drifting a flat when I threw my bait on top of a black drum foul hooking him.  Thankfully he pulled free before I was able to land him.

Fishing had been tough and I had covered a ton water, so I headed back to the launch with nothing to weigh, but at least feeling accomplished for having explored some new water thanks to the new Cruise FD.

 

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For the last few years the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club and Massey’s Outfitters have gotten together and offered one of my favorite kayak fishing events, the Massey’s BCKFC Fish Pics Tournament.  It’s an 11 month long CPR style (catch-photo-release) tournament that starts on Jan 1st of each year and is free to members of the BCKFC.  It has two divisions, one for conventional tackle and one for fly fishermen, and each division winner is awarded a kayak at the end of the year.  You heard that right, a tournament with essentially free entry awards two kayaks!  Other awards are also given out for the biggest fish in each category – redfish, trout, bass, and flounder.  I love this style of tournament because now every trip becomes a potential winning trip.

Last year I started off hot, catching some big redfish in January.  This 42.25″ red was good enough to land me the award for biggest redfish in the conventional tackle division.

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In the fly division, I took home 2nd place overall with the help of a 35.5″ redfish also caught that same day in January.

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My bass and my trout weren’t the biggest, but they were enough to eek out a 2nd place finish.  They were both caught during my week long stay in St. Bernard in October.

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This past year was the most participation that the tournament has ever seen, which was around  40 people total, so as you can tell, it didn’t take much for me to place.  It’s a shock to me that more BCKFC members aren’t taking advantage of this opportunity and submitting fish from their trips.  Maybe this year the tournament will see even more growth.

For more information on the Massey’s BCKFC Fish Pics tournament or to start competing, sign up to become a member at www.BCKFC.org.

Fished my first tournament abroad last weekend and headed over to Dauphin Island to compete in MBKFA’s Bagwell tournament.  The Bagwell isn’t all that different from BCKFC’s Paddlepalooza or Fall N Tide, except that instead of a traditional slam category, they have a super aggregate category in which you can turn in one slot red(16-26″ in Alabama) and any combination of four trout or flounder for a five fish stringer.  It places more emphasis on trout, which in Alabama is not a bad thing, as it is an inshore area that has been known to produce big trout, and more consistently than southeastern Louisiana.

In preparation I spent some time scouting Google Earth, but really relied on a fellow Jackson teammate from the area, Justin Seiffert, to impart whatever local knowledge he could to a Bama rookie like myself.  The plan was to maximize my time on the water (always my strategy with any “go anywhere” tournament) and fish the west of Mobile Bay, hoping to catch my redfish, trout, and flounder all out of one launch spot.

I launched in the dark early Saturday and was greeted with a nice sunrise as I made my way across a bay.

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As I got to my destination I started out by throwing topwater while the sun continued to rise.  I missed a decent trout early on, but managed to connect on the next one, and at 16.5″ it was a fair start to the day.  I continued to throw the topwater, but the action was very inconsistent, I switched it up with a swimbait and caught a 14.5″ trout targeting a small area of slick water.  I alternated between the topwater and the swimbait and missed one really nice fish on top that was truly a heartbreak, it was a brief fight but in that short time I could tell it was a good fish.  A few good, slow head shakes later and my line went limp.  It was a bummer to miss those few fish as I could have had my four trout that I needed, but I only had two.

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I fished my way down the shore and finally made it into a small cut that headed into the marsh interior.  One cast into the cut and I was connected with my first redfish.  He was a keeper at 20″, I knew I’d need an upgrade, but Alabama lets you keep three slot reds, so he went in the fish bag.

Unfortunately after that fish everything went quiet for me.  The action slowed down big time, despite how nice the water looked.  I finally hooked up with another fish as I saw a nice red heading my way, cruising down a shoreline.  I made a good cast with the swimbait and he pounced on it.  Immediately I knew it was too big to keep, but he made for a fun fight anyway.

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He ended up topping the 30″ mark and after a few pics I lowered him into the water and sent him on his way.

That would be my last fish on the day, but I continued to cover some really pretty water.  From healthy interior marsh to grass covered flats with good water clarity, the spot I chose to fish seemed like a good one, I just didn’t produce the results.  I think it is fair to say that the redfishing comes a bit easier in Louisiana.

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I headed back to the launch and got packed up.  I was pretty hungry at this point and was really looking forward to the crawfish boil that the MBKFA guys were planning on doing at the weigh-in.  Although I knew my fish wouldn’t sniff the leaderboard it was nice to know there would food and drink waiting for me when I got there.

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The MBKFA crew put on a first class event and although I didn’t take home any hardware I had a great time on the water and at the weigh-in.  It was good to see Justin rewarded for his efforts with a third place flounder.  I wasn’t the only Louisiana angler along for the ride.  Tyler Drude took home first place redfish and his buddy placed in the redfish category as well.  Brendan Bayard took home first place trout with 5+ lb stud caught on the East side.  That’s where all the better trout came from as the overall winner, Nick Creamer, had five solid trout pulled from that way too.

Big thanks to Justin on the solid advice and to MBKFA for hosting the tournament, really enjoyed fishing and hanging with you guys.  There is some really pretty water south of Mobile that I’d like to explore a little further.  I’ll have to make a conscience effort to start bringing the kayak on our Alabama beach trips, now that I have some clue as to where to go.

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It has been a short while since I’ve fished in the kayak and was able to remedy that this past weekend.  I didn’t make the decision to fish until mid-week as I was weighing my options between the Zapp’s International Beerfest and BCKFC‘s Redfish Rumble.  I finally decided to fish since the weather forecast looked decent enough and after all the rain we’ve had I was really itching to get out.

That initial weather forecast called for 15 mph winds and as any veteran saltwater angler can attest, you can add 10 mph to that when fishing the marsh, so by that logic the forecast was spot on.

I woke up at 3:00 am, hit the road by 3:45 am and was on the water no later than 6:00 am.  The tournament started at 5:00 am, but the sun didn’t rise until after I launched, so I wasn’t bothered by my late start.

The tournament objective, which is one that I really like, was the heaviest combined weight of three redfish and one bass.  Having this style of tournament in St. Bernard Parish makes this format achievable as there is seemingly endless amount of water where you can catch both redfish and largemouth bass.

As is typical for any tournament my original plan was scraped at the last minute as the steady N to NW winds really put a damper on where I wanted to head.  So I hit up plan B, an area I’d never fished and only looked at on Google Earth, but looked like somewhere I could do well and maybe even get some protection from the wind.

I started my day paddling into the wind, stopping to blind cast at points, islands, and cuts.  I picked up a mid slot red doing this on a weedless Zoom swimming super fluke jr. (that’s a mouthful).  There is so much submerged vegetation in St. Bernard Parish that fishing weedless baits is a requirement and this is one I like to throw in the grass.

Eventually though I was getting tired of pulling grass from my “weedless” jig head and tied on the smallest gold spoon I had, which I believe was a 1/16th oz Johnson Silver Minnow, though it may have been an 1/8th oz.  The idea for going with the small spoon was that I wanted to swim it over the grass, I really didn’t want it to sink too far and redfish love gold spoons.  The area I was in didn’t have the big grass mats that went all the way to the water surface, but the bottom was still covered, leaving varying depths of clean water on top.

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Soon enough I picked up a 13.25″ bass blind casting with the spoon, which was a welcome addition to the fish bag.  I spent the next two hours or so trying to emulate my early success, but having no luck.  I decided that conditions were good enough for me to to stand up and try my luck sight fishing.  The cloudy skies that we had in the morning had parted.  The water clarity was very excellent where I was at.  The only negative was the steady wind, which was something I thought I could work around.

After another two hours of not seeing or even spooking redfish I was getting pretty frustrated.  I  knew that I had to start heading back toward the launch soon as I was miles away and two fish just wasn’t going to cut it, so I sat down and began to come up with another strategy as I let the wind blow me back where I came from.  By the way, I should mention that at this point, I was under the impression this is a five fish stringer tournament of four reds and one bass, so my bag seemed that much worse than what it actually was.

As I’m seated, speed drifting through a pond thanks to the wind, blind casting my gold spoon wherever looked good, I see a flash of red just below the surface some distance off.  I knew exactly what it was and headed that way.  As I stood up I could see it was two reds cruising through the pond, making their way toward me.  I made a cast past the fish and pulled it at back at an angle toward them, in a flash one of the reds saw and attacked the spoon. With no time to react I never got a hook-set in him and the spoon was spit.  I was lucky because he didn’t spook either, just kept moving along, and I put another cast in front of them and this time got a solid eat.

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I could tell during the fight that it was a solid fish.  It was too solid of a fish, at 28.5″, he was 1.5″ over the slot and no good for our tourney.  I tagged him and sent him back into the water to give someone else a thrill, a little disappointed he was too big.

As I’m releasing him though I glance up into the area you see above in the picture and catch another flash of red.  What are the odds?  I move up a little bit and tuck myself along the right bank once I realize it’s not just one fish but a few reds moving through the cut.

I make a cast in front of that group and pull out a 24-25″ fish that went somewhere around 5-6 lbs.  I’m feeling a bit more optimistic at this point – I went from seeing no activity to seeing two different groups of redfish in a matter of minutes.  I was a little nervous about time as my alarm to start heading back to the truck had already gone off, though it was set pretty conservatively in the first place.  So I set another alarm for when I absolutely had to start heading back and kept fishing.

I drifted my way through that cut and into another pond, at this point I was in full blown sightfishing mode as that’s how I spotted the last two fish I caught – I just happened to be seated at the time.  It didn’t take long to see another fish, who was just chilling on top of some thick grass, I actually thought he was over the slot when I saw him but decided to try and catch him anyway as I’m always down to fight a big fish.

After an accurate cast with the spoon and an awesome eat (so cool to see the whole process in crystal clear water) I got him in the boat and put him on the board – a hair over 27″.  I was stoked, but knew he had to shrink a little for me to be able to use him.  I didn’t have a whole lot of ice in my fish bag so I was going to have make sure to get a fresh bag when I got off the water.  I threw him in there and hoped for the best. (For anyone not familiar, fish put on ice will shrink as much as 1/4″.)

At this point I’ve got three reds and a bass, exactly what I need to weigh in, but for some reason I still think I need four redfish so I keep press on.  At some point during the next thirty minutes I reach a point of clarity and remember I only needed three reds which is precisely what I had and suddenly relief sets in.  Still though, the first redfish I caught was not a stud by any stretch of the imagination so I kept fishing.

I farmed it on the next pair of reds I saw and was kicking myself big time since time was winding down.  I soon made it out of my nice crystal clear water and into the dirtier water that was found closer to the launch (I was still drifting back to the launch).  Luckily for me soon after hitting that dirty water, I spot the faint colors of a red in a shallow pond and made another good cast and fooled him to eat.  It was a near clone of my earlier 24-25″ fish and I was happy to put him in the bag as an upgrade from the early redfish.

I was feeling good at this point, not because I thought I would win, but because I accomplished what I had set out to do – put four mid to upper slot reds and one bass in the bag.  It took all day to do it and was a lot of work in the wind, but I was glad I stuck it out.  I headed back to the launch and heard my alarm go off just as I began pulling the Kraken out of the water.

About the Kraken – I was really pleased with how well the boat did in the conditions I fished in on Saturday.  I went further than I thought I would be able to and was able to fish some really incredible water because of it.  I did it without complaint too –  I spent far less time bitching about the wind and more time fishing and there is something to be said for that.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again the combination of speed and stability in the 13.5 is impressive, I’ve never seen another boat quite like it.

The weigh-in was held just up the road in Meraux at the Meraux Tackle Box, where the owner went out of the way to make us feel at home with a great big tent set up out back.  He runs a good shop too with a great selection of baits for fishing down in St. Bernard.  I’ll be back for sure next time I fish down that way.

Out of the 91 folks registered, 30 showed up to weigh fish and no one had more weight than the first person in line.  Rick Dembrun, a fellow Jackson teamer for Massey’s Outfitters, fellow Kraken 13.5 paddler, and a local to the area, set the gold standard at 24.65 lbs.

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My big red that I was slightly nervous about on the water wasn’t even that close to being 27″ when measured by Todd on the official board.  I must have been overzealous when I measured it on the water, so I was happy to retain his 8+ lb weight and come in 2nd at 21.07 lbs, the pic above is my four fish at the weigh-in table.

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I really didn’t expect to come in 2nd when I was on the water, I always assume everyone else did better than me when I’m out there, but it was pretty evident at the weigh in as folks trickled in that it was a tough day for most and 20 lbs was holding steady.

To round out the top 5, my friend Steve came in 3rd with 18.04 lbs, Michael Ethridge was 4th with 17.98 lbs and Kalon Johnson was 5th with 14.41 lbs.  There were two side pots for the tournament that you could sign up for $5 each – big fish and leopard red.  Big fish went to Wayne Lobb with a monster 8.41 lb slot red.  Leopard red went to Kevin May with 10 spots.  I declined entry into both and almost made a mistake as my big fish was not too far off from Wayne’s.  No sleep was lost over the decision.

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I’m happy that things played out the way they did and that I decided to not go to the Beerfest.  Any day that I go fishing and get paid to do is a great day.  Here’s to more great days!

That just may be my favorite music video.

I fished a tournament this past weekend, Bayou Coast’s Minimalist Challenge.  It’s got a unique format as they provide you with the tackle you’ll use for the day. Five soft plastics, five jigheads and a topwater is what was provided. The goal is to catch and weigh as many legal trout, redfish and flounder as you possibly can.

This has never been my favorite tournament, not because of the provided tackle part, I actually like that – it simplifies things.  Rather, I hate that I may actually have to keep forty fish, which will likely never happen, but I hate the idea – that would be some day though right!

We had a shotgun launch at 6:00am from Leeville and 125 kayak anglers spread out across the adjacent marsh.  I knew early on I wanted to put some distance between myself and the launch because frankly I don’t like fishing with a crowd.

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I made my first stop on the backside of an island where a trenasse emptied into a larger bayou.  Clear, moving water was being swept around both sides of the island and my first cast toward the island was inhaled by a junior bull of about 32″.  It took a while for me to figure that out though because he shook his head like a big trout and nearly gave me a heart attack.

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After a good fight and a few quick pics I sent him on his way (can only keep slot reds for BCKFC tourneys).  A few more casts and I soon began catching trout.  In short time I had six in the boat, from 14-16″, and then I found out I hadn’t put enough distance between myself and the launch.  Some dude had the nerve to paddle right through the spot I was catching fish even after I told him to come around behind me.  I was displeased so I pushed further.  As I got further I decided to sabotage my tournament plans and target bull reds.  The weather was too nice not to.  Winds were light, water was clear, the tide was right, and we’d have plenty of chances for bright sun.

I paddle-poled my way through a lot of good looking water looking for redfish sign, but really wasn’t seeing much of anything.  Finally as I was working the flat of a long, wide bayou I started to see some activity.  At the mouth of a smaller trenasse I caught one that went about 33″.

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Then later I spotted a pair of bulls cruising the shore and was able to pick off the closer one with a good cast.  He went about 35″.

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Each of these fish I tagged and sent on their way.  They weren’t tournament fish, but I didn’t really care.  When conditions allow for sightfishing bull reds, that’s what I want to be doing, so that’s what I did.  I hooked up with another fish after I rounded the corner into a cut and saw him cruising down the shoreline toward me.  I didn’t get him to the boat though as he eventually spit the hook.  He was another junior bull, not a monster like I was hoping.

I finally decided enough had been enough and I may as well weigh what I had, so I made my way back toward the weigh-in, figuring I might be able to run into some slot fish along the way.

I did run into slot fish, that were way up in the skinny water ponds, but they were the spookiest fish I’ve ever encountered, I couldn’t get them to bite to save my life.  It is a strange day when sightfishing bull reds is easier than catching slot fish.

I picked up a few more trout under the Leeville bridge along the way, but really I had already conceded the tournament.  It was a sabotage and a successful one at that and I would do it again if given the opportunity – it was a lot of fun.