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After finishing first in the fly division of the BCKFC/Massey’s CPR kayak fishing tourney last year I have been brainstorming ways to spend the store credit I was awarded. Without actually going to the main store in New Orleans and seeing what I could walk out with this was proving fruitless. So one rainy Sunday in late June I trekked my way to New Orleans to do a bit of shopping. The first stop though was to City Park to try and catch a Rio Grande cichlid. It had been quite some time since I last targeted them so I was a bit rough around the edges.

A distant waterspout is a sure sign of good luck, right?

I started off near the New Orleans Museum of Art and didn’t venture too far from there as I was on fish from the start. They weren’t the target species, but I was catching a LOT of bluegill, as they got bigger things got more exciting.

Fishing a popper/dropper I got into a few coppernose hammers. They were manhole covers compared to their native cousins. I caught a couple other species too, but no Rios, so I started to walk around and check out some other spots.

Eventually I did find a Rio cruising the shallows and after a well placed cast and a casual eat I had my target fish to hand. Man, these things are pretty!

At this point I needed to make my way to Massey’s before they closed. I found a few things I’d had my eye on but never wanted to spend my own money on, I walked out feeling like I robbed the place. Store credit might be the greatest thing I’ve ever won in a kayak tournament! Let me expand on that a bit and make my case below.

Big kayak tournaments typically give a kayak to the winner, sometimes awarding kayaks to the top three places. That all makes sense. It’s a big prize, has a bit of a wow factor for the crowd, but does it make that much sense? Let’s be honest, the winners of kayak tournaments already own kayaks. They likely own really nice kayaks or they paddle for one brand or another, meaning they likely HAVE to use that particular brand kayak. So what happens to the kayaks they win? Well, they hit craigslist or Facebook marketplace and get sold the next week for cold, hard cash. It’s a bad look for the local clubs and I fail to see what it does to help the local shops that sponsor these events, outside of the pub they get at the awards ceremony.

Now, I don’t know that store credit helps the shops either, that would probably depend on what gets bought as the margins are different for different items. But as someone who has won kayaks in the past, this was a very welcome change as it gave me an opportunity to upgrade some of my other gear and purchase merch I’ve been gun-shy to buy in the past. Shoot, I’ve been pedaling the same bike for the last 20 years, but not anymore, and I still have credit remaining too!

I don’t want to sound like I’m being picky, as I will always be happy and appreciative of anything I’m awarded for placing in a tournament, but I can definitely get behind store credit taking over as the main draw. Big thanks to Massey’s for continuing to sponsor the BCKFC CPR tournament, the fly division is always one I enjoy competing in.

Back in mid-July I managed to get a saltwater kayak daytrip in. The destination I chose was Leeville, for no reason in particular, it just seemed like it had been a while since I fished out of Leeville. I had every intention on making it out super early and watching the sunrise in the kayak, but we had gone to a party at a friend’s house the night prior and getting out of bed was a task in itself. It worked out to my benefit as I’m pretty sure a storm had rolled through the area at sunrise so I was able to avoid that. That was the theme for the day, avoiding thunderstorms, but I was able to do that for the most part.

I piddled around the marsh close to the road early on with no luck and made my way into a bay where I could tell the water was looking pretty fishy. There was a lot of bait activity and that bait was looking pretty unsettled. I even had a mullet jump in my kayak while I was just sitting there. Soon I caught a trout under a popping cork.

I pulled out the fly rod and started throwing my own version of a popping cork bait which was a Vlahos’ combo crab suspended off a an old crease fly Blake had tied. It wasn’t long before I had a nice fish on and after a good fight which had me wondering what the hell it was I had on the other end of the line I soon found out.

It was a gafftopsail catfish, which was definitely a first for me on the fly. It was amusing and slimy as hell. My leader was all slimed up and it took effort getting that slime off my hands. Shortly after that fight a storm chased me off the water.

I retreated back to the vehicle and hunkered down until I felt it was safe. After that I ventured back out toward the marsh. In between storms the winds were actually fairly light so I felt like I might be able to sightfish a redfish or two provided I could find flats that held them. The tide was high when I launched and had been falling all morning so the later it got the better conditions were. Eventually I put myself in a position to catch a redfish.

I kept fishing, hoping to catch a better one for the BCKFC/Massey’s yearlong CPR tourney, but I really wasn’t having much luck. As I got into skinnier marsh I was hearing fish crashing bait, which is usually a sure sign of redfish in the area, but it wasn’t redfish this time. It was sheepshead! Another fish I needed for the tourney and with them acting so aggressively I figured I had a shot to get one to eat and eventually after putting fly in enough of their faces I managed to get a strike.

It’s always fun catching sheepshead on the fly. I really don’t recall when my last one was, I think it’s been a few years. They are picky as hell though, I was thankful to have been on the water with some aggressive ones. I kept searching for reds and sheepshead, but started working my way back toward the vehicle as the afternoon was waning on. As I got closer to the road I connected with a solid redfish that actually broke me off. My line didn’t clear and got caught on something on the boat and the fight was over just like that. I was bummed because it was clearly an upgrade, but undeterred. I paddled around an island and soon enough had another opportunity. This time everything went right and I was hooked up to a nice upper slot red.

After a few pics I sent him on his way. I was satisfied to call it a day after that fish. I didn’t catch many, but I caught a few memorable fish and I figured I came out ahead having to dodge thunderstorms.

I put a link to the fly that caught the sail cat, but I wanted to take another moment to plug Nick Vlahos and his flies, which you can find at Sandbar Flies. Nick actually went to the same high school I did over in Georgia, Milton HS in Milton (was in Alpharetta I went there). Nick is a great guy and a fantastic fly tier, you can buy flies tied by him at his site, but you can also find some of his patterns at Orvis stores. I don’t know if it’s Fulling Mill or Orvis that carries his patterns, but the Baton Rouge store tends to keep them in stock as he did live in Baton Rouge for a number of years. Nick’s got some great patterns, be sure to check them out.

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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.