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Our efforts were focused on deep water features our fourth full day out. Jim and James both had Raymarine Dragonfly set-ups on their yaks and when they found fish or structure they would sit on a spot and start vertical jigging. Without a depth finder I was just trying to follow their lead. The good thing was even when we weren’t jigging we still had freelined live bait in the water. Jim was a master at vertical speed jigging and he was constantly able to put himself on top of fish and get hits.  It was really fun to watch him work. He caught a few nice almaco jack and had a few other fish break him off that most likely would have been studs. Vertical speed jigging to me felt extremely awkward in a kayak, but Jim made it look easy, his rhythm was perfect. Luckily for me my live bait rod took off and I landed another nice bigeye trevally.

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As the bite waned at the first spot we spread out to try and locate another productive area. Jim again had found it near a rock pile across the channel and continued to jig up more jacks. I moved in line with where he was positioned and was able to jig up an almaco of my own on the first drop.

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Not a new species to me as I’ve caught them in the Gulf, but another new species on this trip. The bite here tapered off as well and again we spread. It didn’t take long for Jim to hook up, only this time it was unintended. While vertical jigging a school of manta ray swam under him and he caught one almost in the corner of the lip. James got some good under water shots with his GoPro and we slipped the jig out and let it swim off to join his friends. It was just a little guy but still pretty cool to see a manta up close.

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After that I ventured into some shallow reef throwing a popper and dragging a once-live-now-dead bait behind me. I made a long cast toward some rocks and immediately got swirled on when it hit the water, no hook up though. I popped back in and made another long cast but this time started reeling in with a little pace and an aggressive pop. With the water being as shallow and clear as it was I got to watch a fish follow my bait the entire way back to the boat. I let the bait pause right at the boat and gave it that last twitch and the fish explodes on my bait, splashing me in the process! Not one of the bigger fish I caught on the trip but definitely one of the cooler moments as I pulled that yellow snapper in.

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I began to make my way back to the support boat to change my dead bait for something fresh and not long into my paddle the bait takes off. Still being close to the shallow reef I wasn’t really sure what I had on because I haven’t seen any sizable fish come from that area, but the fight didn’t last long and soon enough I could see why. I had caught a dinosaur. A big, skinny needlefish that looked like the gar we catch back in Louisiana, except this thing was bright blue.

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I think it is actually a houndfish, in the same family as the needlefish. Very cool looking fish and pretty too. The blue on it was electric and even the teeth and jaws were blue. Hennie told me the bones were blue too – our boat captain was quick to tell me to keep it. I don’t know if they are good to eat or if they just eat anything that comes out of the water in Panama, but if I could provide a meal for a local family I was more than happy to oblige.

After that fish we got separated from each other – Jim fishing one side of the island and James and I on the other trying to jig up jacks like we did in the morning. Eventually we get the “Fish On!” call from Jim on the VHF and all I can hear in the background is a reel screaming! There weren’t many moments when we weren’t all within sight of each other but this was one of them. James and I start making our way toward Jim and by the time we get there he had the biggest fish of the trip caught and released.

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It was a 70lb roosterfish – the first and only rooster landed on the trip and, Jim’s personal best. I’m bummed that I didn’t get to see it in person but very happy that Jim was able to corral that beast. It is pretty cool just being on the trip where Jim landed his PB rooster. The man has seen and done it all in a kayak, he deserved that fish with the amount of work he put in on the trip. Yeah it’s just fishing, but as I found out over the course of the week, fishing for fun and fishing for TV are two totally different things. 12 hour days in a kayak are tough on the body, no matter what shape you’re in. It amazed me the amount of work that goes in to make a 30 minute show. I know having this rooster on film made it all worth it. You would think that would be a good time to call it a day. Go out on a high note. Jim wasn’t done though because as we begin to work the area again, this time together, he hooks up for a second time. He lands the first African pompano of the trip. With that fish we knew we would be eating good that night.

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It was awesome to have a day where everything came together. It felt like we had made it over the hump and finally figured this place out. Or it could have been that the fish finally cooperated for us. Whatever the case may be this day was much needed. We headed back to camp to eat some of Peter’s delicious grilled chicken(and pompano) and down some cold beers and rest up for the next day.

My first full day fishing in Panama was a lesson in diversity. It was very cool to see four different species come across my hull in 1.25 days of fishing. Our second full day started with another brilliant sunrise. Every morning we were greeted with an amazing sunrise. Not to be outdone, every evening we were treated with an equally impressive sunset. Life in the tropics is nice like that.

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I wish I could say I killed it our second full day out, but the truth is I sort of took one on the chin. Jim found fish in the morning with a popper, catching a few small jacks near a rock pile. I tried to emulate his success and had one on too, but he soon threw the hook. We worked the area until lunch and the only thing I had to show for it were more hawkfish.

After I ate lunch I set out to try and catch us some bait. I managed to catch one little guy on a sabiki rig, but was unable to catch any of his friends, so after using a JK Nalgene as a bait tank, I let him swim free. I was really after the bonito since big bait catches big fish right? I was chasing them through the bay much like on our first half day fishing. I made it into a little shallow cove that had a mangrove covered shoreline – had this been on the Caribbean side I’m sure it would have been covered up in bonefish, but all I was seeing were parrotfish and I don’t think I had flies for parrotfish or any idea how to go about catching them. There was a rocket of a fish that would scoot his way through the cove, marauding bait fish then fleeing like he just robbed a bank. Hennie thought it might have been Pacific sierra mackerel. I had my fly rod with me but getting a fly in front of that fish was fruitless – he moved at warp speed! I did get a follow from a mangrove snapper and briefly had a pufferfish on but nothing brought to hand. The mangrove tunnel up a creek was the highlight. I wish I had more time to explore, but we were headed back out to the deep water.

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Jim’s bag had arrived during lunch and much rejoicing was done. It was a huge relief to all of us and I know that Jim getting all of his equipment back and set up the way he likes it on his kayak made him much more comfortable and thus a better fisherman for the rest of the trip. Fishing isn’t just a physical sport but a mental one too and getting that dropped from the back of all our minds was a good thing.

That afternoon’s fishing was still tough though and my struggles continued. In fact I’m still kicking myself about the what transpired that afternoon. I was working the rock pile in the picture below, casting a popper up to it and working it back out. I had made a lot of different casts around it hoping something would take notice. Normally I would make a few casts and move on, but I was also freelining a live bait behind me and wanted to keep this bait in the channel to my rear. Choke points like this are typically fish highways and it made sense that eventually something would hit it so I was working this one spot pretty thoroughly. I finally get hit on the popper and I know it is a good fish. I got a solid hook set in him and he took that popper and went straight down, my drag be damned. My popper ended up hung on the rocks and I couldn’t pull it out. I’ve never had that happen, lesson learned that my drag needs to be set to stop in Panama.

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I moved away from the area to let it settle and fish a different rock pile across the channel. In that time the camera boat sees something in the water. Wouldn’t you know it but my popper had floated back up. It must have still been in the fish’s mouth when I broke it off and he worked it free. I should have played him longer, free spooling, hoping he would swim out the rocks, but I was impatient. After a little time I came back, this time with a bigger popper and a stronger drag setting. It didn’t take but a few casts for a fish to come clear out of the water to attack my popper. The reddish/brown body was a dead giveaway that I was dealing with a big cubera snapper. This time I set the hook on the fish, fought him for a good 15-20 seconds and then the line went limp and my popper floated up. He must have been barely hooked, I was heartbroken – again. That was the how my second full day fishing in Panama ended, the big cuberas played me for a fool.

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Having little experience fishing for big ocean fish, losing fish is all part of the learning process. It was a tough lesson to learn too because it would have been the biggest fish we had caught thus far and would have been a great part of the episode. You travel so far, you want everything to go right and try to eliminate these kinds of mistakes, but they still happen.

The next morning we moved to an entirely different location. This spot was probably the most scenic we had fished on the trip. A small archipelago of islands in the middle of the ocean surrounded by swells and currents, even some that dissected the islands, and created chaos that looked difficult to navigate. A beautiful, potentially treacherous spot. I couldn’t help but think of that final scene from “the Goonies” when One-Eyed Willies pirate ship goes sailing off into the horizon – it looked like that, except more tropical and less like the Pacific NW. Boiler rocks are pretty intimidating to someone who has never paddled around them. We don’t have rocks in south Louisiana and the depth of the water I fish is nowhere near what it was in Panama. So initially I was hesitant to get too close to them but as the week progressed I became more comfortable around them. Your awareness and your paddle strokes have to be spot on because the last thing you want is to get carried into the rocks.

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We fished hard around these islands and I don’t think we had anything to show for it by lunch except for some nice pictures. Besides the pictures the best thing to come from this spot was that we had a whale shark encounter. I say we, more specifically, James’ boat got bumped by a whale shark, he stuck his GoPro in the water and got the back end of it swimming off. Unfortunately the rest of us didn’t see it but he does have video to prove it. At about the same time Will on the camera boat said they saw a humpback whale surface then go under for awhile and come up a good distance away.

Since fish were proving to be hard to come by we headed elsewhere, back to where the locals said we needed to be from the get go and finally our luck turned around. With his Raymarine Dragonfly Jim was able to find some underwater peaks that had fish holding around them and he started getting hits vertical jigging. I was able to get in on the action when a jack hit my live bait.

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Finally a fish that pulled some drag and what I believe is another new species for me on this trip – a bigeye trevally. The depth finder proved to be a very valuable tool for this trip and I didn’t really realize it until this fish was caught. I’ve never used one in the past and even though I didn’t have one on my kayak it was helpful that someone in the group had one – and knew how to use it. This would prove to be a kind of turning point for us. The nearshore areas we worked so hard just weren’t producing so we shifted our focus to deep water spots, working those areas with live bait and by vertical jigging. This was key because the next two days of fishing were the best we had the entire trip.

I’ve had a few requests recently to show how I mount my camera while in the kayak. If you’re looking to get the “over-the-shoulder” angle that you see in most of my videos, this is how it’s done. You can see the angle here:

 

If you use a milkcrate or a BlackPak or anything else that gives you vertical rod holders in the tankwell than this set up will be simple and effective for you. If not they are different products out there that will achieve the same results. I’ve been happy with the products available from YakAttack.

Here’s how I do it – first let’s take a look at the milkcrate:

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It’s a standard milkcrate that I’ve attached 4 rod holders to. With the 2 that come standard in the Cuda 12, I have 6 total vertical rod holders behind me, which is plenty of storage for rods, a net, and a camera mount. The rod holders were purchased at Academy and are fairly inexpensive. Make sure to install the rodholders as snug as possible to the milkcrate as any looseness will allow for camera shake. Try not to overtighten though because you’re mounting them to plastic, which can, and will break. If you screw them in like I have, use flathead screws to allow for your camera mount to slide in the holder, also use washers on the backside to distribute the load.

Next you will need a pole of some sort that will fit in the rod holder. I use an extension pole that I bought at either Lowe’s or Home Depot. The extension pole came at the suggestion of either Drew Gregory or Sean Brodie, who have been filming much longer than I have and are much better at it as well. The extension pole allows for higher camera angles if I want to do something different, but I’ve found that I just use the lowest possible one because the higher the angle, the more the shake. You also have to turn the camera on and off somehow and it’s easier to reach when it’s lower.

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As you can tell from the photos the extension pole doesn’t fit snug in the rod holder, and if it’s not snug the camera will shake. I wrapped the end that goes into the rod holder with Gorilla tape, but regular old duct tape will work, or you can get creative and figure out another way to bulk up the bottom of the extension pole. Tape is nice because you can layer until you get the right amount or reduce if you’ve put too much on there.

Now you’ve got a pole in a rodholder that’s attached to your milkcrate in the tankwell of your kayak. You still need to mount your camera to the pole. I use a GoPro Hero 1 to film. I got it a few years back and it is still kicking so no need to upgrade yet. The GoPro is nice because it is easy to use, comes in a waterproof housing and has several accessories that make mounting it easy. The best way I’ve found to mount a GoPro to an extension pole is with their handlebar/seatpost mount.

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That mount will slide over the extension pole with ease and you can tighten it as much as possible to prevent slippage. The angle of the GoPro you see there is what I generally film at. With the wide angle lens on the GoPro you don’t have to point it downward too much at all to capture everything in front.

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That’s all there is to it. It’s simple, snug, and fairly inexpensive. I don’t see too much shake whether I’m sitting or standing in the kayak. You will want to make sure that you use the provided tankwell bungees to strap the milkcrate down, you don’t want it sliding. Here’s how it looks in the kayak:

 

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With Amanda out of town for the weekend and CCA’s STAR tournament coming to a close, my goal for the weekend was to try to land a speck on the fly rod worthy enough to take the top spot. 1.62 lbs was the weight to beat and given the great weather conditions the goal seemed pretty attainable. True I had never caught a speck that size on the fly rod before but I’ve also never targeted them. The good weather gave me the confidence to explore new water that had potential for holding big specks.

It was pretty early in the morning when I hit the road on Saturday.

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Somewhere along the way my odometer hit the jackpot. Could this be a sign that luck was on my side today?

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After a brief sunrise paddle from the beach into the Gulf I was ready to do battle. As I said before conditions were excellent for a day in the Cuda 12 offshore. With bait skipping out of the water, it didn’t take long for my topwater to find it’s target.

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Fifteen minutes of forearm pumping action later this Jack found his way into my net. Well, his head found it’s way into my net. The net was far too small to fit his body and as he wiggled and squirmed to free himself he managed to shake loose the one treble that held him, slipping out of the net with ease and leaving me with a tangled mess of net and Top Dog. Not to be deterred I paddled back to the nervous water and within a few casts was hooked up with another beast. This was a shorter fight and rather than another net attempt I just dragged him into the boat trusting the braid would hold.

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The GoPro never fails to provide an interesting perspective while out on the water, I especially enjoy when it makes big fish look even bigger. The Jack Crevalle were a lot of fun, they were my first from the kayak, but they cut into prime topwater time for trout. I was throwing the Top Dog hoping to locate trout first, then once I did, I would break out the fly rod and hopefully catch what I needed. It took about thirty minutes of walking the dog, but I finally got a trout to the boat, a good one too.

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At 19.75″ this fish was over 2 lbs easy and of course it came when I wasn’t throwing the fly rod. At least I knew there were big ones around, so I began throwing the fly rod. I had one of Blake’s poppers tied on hoping to replicate the previous catch. Soon enough I got a big strike from a fish, but as it leapt from the water I could tell it was a big ladyfish. It was the biggest one I’ve ever hooked, it looked like a baby tarpon as it exploded out of the water. As I got it near the boat it made one last jump and finally threw the hook. Usually when ladyfish throw the hook I’m relieved, not a big fan of the blood and slime they leave behind, but this one was so big it would have been nice just to take it’s picture. I kept at it a bit longer, keenly aware of the big thunderhead forming not too far away. Being new to the offshore game I decided to head in when I saw a waterspout form.

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After eating a snack I decided to give the marsh a try. By now the tide was falling so I figured the redfish would be pretty active and despite the pop up thunderstorms in the area conditions were still pretty good to sightfish. That proved to be the case as I was able to catch four reds in the first pond I went into, all between 18-22″.

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I spent the rest of the day exploring marsh I had never laid eyes, a lot of it was covered in mangroves and had a hard sand bottom, which made me feel like I was back in Chokoloskee. I only wish I could have had a Havana Cafe cuban sandwich for lunch. In one mangrove lined bayou I fooled a nice red to eat my BP crab fly only to have an oyster cut my line after the brief fight. Then I found a spot where the tide was falling out of a bayou into a canal and picked up a few small ladyfish and specks on Gulp under a cork. Sightfishing for reds picked up again at the end of the day as reds began crashing bait along the shoreline of a pond I was in. I caught a nice 28.5″ red on the fly rod and had him on the measuring board lined up for a picture only to have him jump off before I could get a shot of him. I kind of abandoned taking pictures throughout the middle part of the day so it was only fitting that the first one I wanted to take a picture of gave me the slip.

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After donating the fish I had in my freezer to a buddy to cook up for United Way I decided today would be one for harvest. It’s always nice when the trout rival the redfish in size, too bad I couldn’t find any more that size and on the fly. I’d be back out Sunday to give it another shot though.