Kayak-In Camping

IMG_3399
photo: Scott Kroggel

My good friend, Scott Kroggel and I decided to do some kayak-in camping Friday night.

I escaped society a few hours before he did and went ahead to find a spot and gather firewood. I launched at Ebeneezer boat ramp on Jordan Lake around 4pm and cruised across Beaver Creek towards an area I had in mind.

We weren’t really going to fish, but I knew with cooling temperatures the fish would be shallow, especially in the evening, so I made sure to bring a few dozen crappie minnows along.

After unloading gear and gathering plenty of dry wood for the night’s fire, I sent a minnow soaring across the water on a float. The water was calm, as winds were light and out of the east, and after a few moments the bobber plunged under the water’s surface and I had the first fish on. The small largemouth bass fought hard, and was returned to the lake after a quick photograph.

100_1411

That bass was followed by another a few minutes later…

100_1416

Then, there was a lull in the bite and I decided to do a little exploring. I always enjoy figuring out what sorts of inhabitants use the same woods I do.

It’s good to see tracks from whitetail deer all around the lake again. EHD seems to be backing off from central NC’s deer herd. I hope for good. The sunset was really nice.

100_1421

It wasn’t long after the sun dove beyond the horizon that I started fishing again. I brought a red light-up bobber and soon enough it was dancing wildly across the water.

100_1430

From that point on, schools of crappie came through every five or ten minutes and while most were small, there were some slabs….

IMG_3374
photo: Scott Kroggel
IMG_3371
photo: Scott Kroggel
IMG_3388
photo: Scott Kroggel

Scott is becoming quite the photographer, and he spent a good portion of the evening perfecting his craft. Some of these pics are really cool.

IMG_3392
photo: Scott Kroggel
IMG_3406
photo: Scott Kroggel
Advertisements

Jordan Lake Bassin’

100_1365

I had a couple hours after work the other day and decided to hit Jordan Lake for the last hour bite.

The weather has been back and forth, but I’d been noticing north winds on the lake when I drive to work in the mornings, and with days getting shorter, I figured I could find some shallow fish. Didn’t have much time, and I would be in the yak, so I opted to leave the stripers alone and go after largemouth bass instead.

100_1368

I found them feeding almost straight off after getting to a place that’s always been productive for me this time of year. I saw a small pod of threadfin-shad busting the water, actually leaping out, and after throwing a small crankbait, I was hooked up.

100_1366.JPG

The fish weren’t full-on busting, but at times small pockets of surface busting cropped up and I was able to take advantage. The fish were mostly small, until I had the double-hookup (feature photo). Those bass were the biggest of the outing; it was just a fluke they were caught paired. I wish I could explain the excitement of this sort of phenomena occurring on freshwater lakes to non-anglers. It’s easy to get flustered and make mistakes, but if you calm yourself and focus, you can catch fish after fish til you leave; really non-stop action.

I caught everything on a small crankbait and a small spoon and had to really burn the baits to get bit. After trolling a bit when the fish seemed inactive, and only getting a few more bites, I headed to the ramp.

100_1369

Late Summer Striped Bass Fishing

21200650_1434642769946168_6990137150389368064_o

Late Summer Striped bass fishing can be very tough.

But Captain Stu called me yesterday around 3pm and said he was ‘trailering his boat and headed to the lake’. I took a quick look at the barometer and it was dropping. There was weather around, the south-westerly wind was light, and it was nice and cloudy…we got on the water around 4pm and decided to run around and look for bait.

Normally, this time of year on our area freshwater impoundments, we are headed towards turnover as the thermocline (if its present) starts to bring the low-oxygenated water from the lower layer of the lake to the top. The stripers are as skinny as they’ll be, as they’ve been chasing bait all summer, trying to stay alive, with an incredibly sped-up metabolism. They just feel like crap, they start to scatter, and they can be very difficult, even when and if found, to get to bite any kind of hardware. Throw in fishing on a lake recovering from a massive kill and, well you get it. I didn’t have much for expectations.

But we caught fish. We started out in deep water, but found no bait, then as we moved shallower we found 15-18 feet of water to be the zone. We pulled spoons and crankbaits over marks and bait for almost an hour without so much as a tail-slap, then when approaching a point a channel catfish doubled over the first rod. Stu fought it and it looked like dead weight. I figured we’d treble-hooked it. But then it started fighting, we thought it was a striper, but it was just a 2 or 3 lbr. I noticed the wind had picked up and thought that was what had triggered the strike and that ended up proving out the remainder of the afternoon. Our strikes came at times when drizzle started or the wind changed. So as we bounced cranks over another point, during a light shower, a decent largemouth pulled a rod down as I was working the deck. Stu got that one too, maybe 2 or 3 lbs again, but it fought him good.

21272765_1434642773279501_8315442894093043138_o

He likes to run with 6.5’ poles with 10lb test to get more bites. I’ve been warning him about trolling with that light of line……A few minutes later two rods rolled over and the rod I had been working on, to remove a spoon and add another crankbait started bouncing wildly. I knew it. I boat flipped the 17’’er on the troll to help Stu, which appeared to have a bigger fish, but he lost it. Shucks.

21248521_1434642776612834_2203201175100367648_o

But we had our first target fish. After that the bite died, we ran through the area a few more times, but we had plenty of time. We hit another spot, fully intending to return, and hit a crappie straight off, but then fished that area another hour without a bite. After checking a few other areas, but finding no bait, we returned to the first location and dropped lines. Stu hit the same run on his gps and doubled over one of his ’light outfits’. I grabbed the rod and looked at him and smiled. The fish was pulling drag going for another county and wildly shaking its head. I tried to hand him the rod, but within five or six seconds, before he grabbed it, I felt the line snap. It was a big fish. Of course we debated it a bit.

He’s right on one hand, on many occasions; I have found that a lighter rod and line, on the troll or casting, will out-perform a stronger setup, as far as strikes, but on the troll, with other lines in the water, if a big fish bites a light setup, the only real option is to reel everything in and dead-boat the fish. But we didn’t have time for that. The fish broke us off so fast we didn’t have time to think of that. We pulled around a little longer and noted the wind die down, bait started coming up and the water column had obviously dimmed considerably. We pulled in the gear and hit a spot I know that will often give busting action when protected from the wind, and the breeze was right. We only had a few more minutes, but we found bait up top and within a few minutes noted surface crashing about 50 yards from our position. Stu managed one more bass out of that commotion, while I was jerking a skitterwalk that walked its walk with impunity. It was another schoolie which was quickly released. We called it a day, grateful for the handful of fish which consisted of four species, and trailered the boat in the dark. 

21246218_1435353323208446_983925417246514816_o

Whitetail Scouting with Capone

21082908_1431234680286977_7706110738108411302_o

I took Capone scouting for whitetail sign this morning on state land I’ve hunted for years.

Fortunately, the temps in NC have come down considerably, along with humidity over the last several days. It appears the ‘dog days’ of August may have peaked. And that’s fine with Capone and I.

I’m going to have to brag on my buddy a minute. I got Capone four years ago this month, and like most boxers, he has a surplus of energy. I do my best to walk him daily throughout the year, but the hottest days of summer are very difficult on short-nosed dogs. They just can’t deal with it.

So we’ve taken advantage of the recent weather trend. I tried to take him to Umstead Park this morning, but the place was a madhouse, so we opted to hit the real woods. I don’t bow hunt anymore, so I wouldn’t normally scout this time of year, but with the outbreak of EHD central NC has been dealing with over the last several years, I wanted to see what sign I could find.

I’ve never taken Capone scouting, or hunting for that matter. With no way to cover his scent, or his enthusiasm, it never seemed like a good idea. But he has really been turning into a great dog, and friend. I have him on the boat all the time and he knows where to go and what to do when fish start hitting the deck; he’s a real pro. So I figured it was time to see how he would react in the woods with me when I’m trying to stay undetected by wildlife.

18558748_1337592242984555_1112356820498297723_o

And he did not disappoint in the slightest. I had him off leash the majority of the morning as we stalked the woodlots and fields for sign of wildlife. When I stopped, he stopped, when I crouched, he seemed to sense what I wanted of him, and he walked behind me, which he never does on trails or sidewalks. He knew something was different about the way we were moving through the woods. It was impressive.

There was a good steady breeze that covered most of our noise as we walked through the dry undergrowth; overgrown from the last several years declining travel by man and animals. EHD, a horrible hemorrhagic disease, had a bad swath that hit central NC, mostly around the lakes, as that was where the gnats bred that carried the virus to our deer herd. They laid in the lake mud, where the waters receded from lack of rains in summer, and bit deer on Jordan, Kerr, and Gaston lakes, as well as others. It was a vicious cycle. Whitetail deer get bitten while hydrating, then the disease makes them feverish. They can then only return to the water for relief, and they die there; never able to recondition their internal temperatures. Boaters were sometimes finding 10 to 50 deer a day during the summers of 2015 and 2016. I estimated the herd where I have frequented the woods for years was decimated by as much as 70%. Mother nature and her very real cruelty is always visible to those who go to her hidden places and truly explore her treasures. I used to go out and see 3 to 10 deer per sit during a season, which over a three month season would turn into roughly 70 or 80 deer sightings in a single season. But over the last three seasons, I’ve seen less than 20 deer total. So I’ve passed up on most of the sightings; won’t shoot a doe anymore.

But, to my surprise, we started finding good sign right off.

21083606_1431234550286990_916896984025580831_o

I found several sets of doe tracks in a few predictable places, then came across the buck tracks near a dwindling water hole. We busted a deer a few moments later, but never saw it, and it never blew.

Then, after stalking to a place that I passed a doe last season, Capone and I heard a deer blow and scamper off. But there were two yearlings that seemed to take no note of it. They were about fifty yards ahead and into the wind. The mother had heard us coming and warned the young, but they never heard us and certainly never winded us. I watched them a few moments, then they finally walked off. Capone was very composed and I rewarded him for it. I really couldn’t believe he stayed put.

Our exploration led us to a winding creek bed that was bone-dry. We’ve been in drought again this summer in NC. Capone and I followed the snakelike path of sand and hard clay through the forest for at least two miles and found a spot to hydrate ourselves (luckily I’d brought water for both of us) and watch a few travel routes for a while. Capone chilled and we sat in silence for almost thirty minutes.

21056167_1431234770286968_5346064110608746694_o

After our uneventful break we headed back towards the truck. We were probably three miles from the road, and back on the trail; perhaps twenty minutes later, and just as we hit the top of a hill, we heard walking in the leaf litter to our left. Capone and I stopped simultaneously, and a young spike, in full velvet, walked out of the woods and across the path not twenty-five yards ahead of us! We stayed crouched and after a few seconds, two more deer hopped out from the same place to cross the path. I kicked myself for having my camera in the backpack. The second was at least a two-and-a-half year old 8pt, in full velvet, and the other was a second spike, also with velvet clad antlers.

I looked down at Capone and again gave him praise for being so silent and for remaining at my side. I did grab his collar after the first deer, but if he’d wanted to bolt, he could have. We stayed there a few more minutes, but I was sure that was all we would see. Batchelor groups this time of year almost never have more than three male deer. But that was the first such grouping I’ve witnessed in at least four years. Very encouraging.

We had almost reached the road when I spotted a box turtle in some grass in the path. Capone walked right over it and actually hit it with his foot. I turned him around to see it, but it took a few seconds for him to register what he was seeing. Then, once he’d done so, he obviously didn’t like the shelled-creature and pulled away from it; apparently he has a turtle issue. I laughed and thought to myself, ‘that’s ok, he did great today’.

So we exited the woods and hit the road. I was encouraged by the amount of sign and the sightings, but as usual, the reward had nothing to do with the quarry.

 

Tagged Striped Bass on the Cape fear

image
Photo: Scott Kroggel

I got out on the Cape Fear river over the holiday with a good friend and caught my first two tagged striped bass.

As long as I’ve chased these fish, its amazing these are the first ones with tags I’ve ever come across. And two of them in the same day was quite the treat. I found stripers feeding readily as soon as I arrived at the first location. Shad were breaching the water trying to escape the aggressively feeding fish. I could see the linesiders thrashing the surface of the water, but my first hookup was a big largemouth bass.

100_1312

My buddy Scott Kroggel was along for his first river trip in his brand new kayak. Scott is a very talented artist, musician and photographer and he took several beautiful photographs during our outing. Below is a pic I snapped of him a few weeks ago on his maiden voyage with his new yak.

The river was a little high and the water was slightly stained, but I had success at first with a chugbug by jerking it across the surface. Fortunately, there was abundant cloud cover, wind was almost non-existent, and the river water was cool enough for the fish to be active. It was one of those perfect days.

Soon enough, I landed the first striper.

100_1313

The fish was quickly released, as they are still protected on the Cape Fear, and after a few more casts I hooked the first tagger, a red tagged fish close to 25″. These fish are worth $100 bucks to the NCWRC.

100_1315

After a couple pics it was also returned to the river. And the fish just kept biting; more stripers, a few white bass, a gar and then I caught a few carp for good measure…

image
Photo: Scott Kroggel

This guy inhaled a small crankbait, which was a challenge to remove safely for the fish. But he seemed to swim away unharmed. Luckily, the tiny bait hung short of his gills.

100_1314

The white bass wanted the little crankbait too.

100_1318

The carp prefer sweet corn.

We moved to a different area and I found the yellow tagger. I was fishing directly beneath a spillway and my buddy took a couple really cool pictures. I couldn’t believe my luck. This fish is worth $5 bucks and a NCWRC marine fisheries hat. Once again, after a couple quick photos the striper was returned to the water to go about his business mostly unscathed and a little bit smarter for his trouble.

image
Photo: Scott Kroggel

 

 

 

Summer Stripers & White Bass

Big white bass and stripers were feeding good yesterday afternoon.

I got a call from Captain Stu Dill yesterday afternoon. He was on the lake and the fish were chewing. He had two white bass in the livewell and had already caught a largemouth bass and a crappie.

I got a few rods together and jumped in the truck to join him. It had been raining off and on all night and throughout the earlier part of the day. It was cloudy, the barometer was moving and there was a front stalled just off our coast.

Perfect.

I’m currently in the second round of editing on my book; this time with the publisher’s editor (so it’s easier now after the majority of the work has been done) so a break from the keyboard would be a nice distraction.

I got aboard in the early afternoon and we put the hammer down to cross the lake and drop lines. We went to a spot that’s been producing a few striped bass, but nothing was happening after a few passes watching the sonar. So we motored to the area uplake where Stu had been catching earlier.

After a few minutes of trolling we put the fourth species of the day on the boat; the scourge of the lake; the notoriously voracious white perch. We found them on humps and started catching them 2 and 3 at a time. It was fairly steady action for a while and after only landing one channel catfish aside from the myriad of perch, it took some discipline for us to leave those fish biting. They were stacked on humps just off the sloping red-clay banks that lined that part of the watercourse.

But we knew where we needed to go.

So we made the run back down to another area we’ve been checking lately and after dropping one rod back we started running too shallow, but as I was reeling up some line the rod doubled over in my hands. It fought like a striped bass, shaking its head violently, but after a few moments I saw the taller profile with the stripes and brought a nearly 15″ fish taco into the boat.

I just love everything about white bass. They feed readily in the right conditions, fight like crazy and make excellent table-fare. Especially fried in peanut oil! So now we had three nice ones already in the livewell.

After another pass we hung the first striper (feature photo). It fought hard as it took the crankbait, which was all we caught fish on all afternoon, they wouldn’t touch bucktails of any color, spinners or a Bama-rig. The fish was just short at 19″, but we made the call to put it in the livewell a few minutes to recover. To hell with the ticket if the warden would rather we throw it back to die. Striped bass can’t take the struggle and being thrown back into hot surface water right after the fight. So we took the chance and let it go when we felt it would live. And it did. Right to the bottom! If you can get them past that first 5 or 6 feet they’ll usually do ok.

We started catching perch again and a few more nice white bass before calling it a day. It was a 6 species outing with steady action all afternoon and I took home 5 fatty white bass for a fish taco dinner.