And he said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

No Tricks, Just Treats -- With Stripes ... and Spots

It's no secret that we've struggled to find time and tide working well together this striper season, to get out there and try and catch a few.  It was the windiest October I can remember, and wind is the only thing that can keep me off the water.  And the few times I was able to get on the water, time and tide weren't "right", but I was just hoping to catch a break -- and a fish.

One or two times I did get on the water when everything looked "right", and used all the formerly successful lures for striped bass, and never got the first strike.  I had no idea what was different.  Why weren't the fish biting?  Were they even around yet?  Surely they had to be.  Of course they were.  And stop calling me "Shirley".  (Sorry, old "Airplane" joke there.)

Anyway, with Boys' Weekend fast approaching, and my brother from Philly, and my buddy from Alaska planning on getting here a day early specifically for some kayak striper fishing, I was getting worried.  Especially since I had guaranteed them that we'd catch fish.  So I had to learn when and what the rockfish are hitting this year.  It wasn't time to panic yet, but it was getting close.  And I've never had an October where I haven't caught one...  Until this year.

Or could I break the jinx.

Halloween day I had off, so after taking care of some morning chores, I grabbed my stuff and headed up to the river.  It was about three hours before high tide, and the water was moving well.  That was good, but we've always had better luck on an outgoing tide.  Then again, this year, we hadn't.  So what did I have to lose.  I had an hour and a half to kill, the wind was light(er), so I donned my gear and hit the water.

I drifted in the channel, taking in the cool crisp Autumn day, and saw that I wasn't alone.  A river otter was entering the channel where I was, and swam towards me, unfazed by my kayak.  His nostrils snorted as he paddled, head held high; his white whiskers making him look far older than I'm sure he was.  He dove, only to surface again, swimming at an angle still, towards me.  Diving again, he resurfaced even closer.  Then he swam under a dock and I didn't see him again.  I figured he was hunting, and hoped he hadn't scared any fish.  Oh well, it wasn't going to stop me from fishing.
Seeing an otter while kayaking reminded me of when Parke and I were in a tandem kayak up in Little Tutka Bay in Alaska, and sea otters were swimming and playing all around us.  It was a fond memory worth reliving.  What a beautiful place.
I started tossing my dark paddletail jig, and having it drift back with me.  I passed the "usual" places we get hits, and allowed myself to just keep going.  Suddenly, I felt the "flick of a finger" on my line -- the distinctive hit a striper sometimes makes.  I reeled in, and saw that I had the first official striped bass of the season.  It was a little more than 18 inches long, so it was a legal one at that.  I would have rockfish for dinner.  I was excited and kept on fishing.  I paddled back to the beginning and began another drift.  Once again, no results through our usual "hot" spots, but I allowed myself to go further.  I then slowed down by a boat lift with a Grady White in it, and paddled to hold my position for a moment.  I cast a long cast, as far as my plastic bodied jig would fly, and let it sink.  Then I started slowly twitching it again.

Whack!  Fish on!  This one fought harder, and it pulled me against the current.  I smiled.  They were back.  I was back.  After about a minute of enjoying the fight, I finally brought the fish to the surface and was pleased to see a very fat and healthy 22 incher.  I put him on the stringer and admired both fish as they swam next to my kayak.  Let's try for one more, and see if I can "upgrade" the smaller one.
Okay, I could see them swimming....  but then again, I was wearing my polarized Costas.

There, that's better.  Finally I had a couple of striped bass on my stringer.  But could I get another, larger one????  Stay tuned.  Oh yeah, I guess I've given it away with the title of this post.  Oh well, keep reading.

I fished for another half hour, paddling and drifting, casting and retrieving slowly, with no results.  I heard the bald eagle family chirping somewhere behind me in the distance, but couldn't see them.  I was enjoying the day.  A snowy egret flew across the marsh towards me, and landed at the side of the channel within 50 feet of me.  Usually skittish, the bird looked into the shallows for a meal.  I couldn't believe that it landed so close to me, as herons and egrets usually take off when I get within a hundred yards.  Suddenly it looked up, saw me, and took off.  I guess it figured out I wasn't just a log floating along the creek, after all.
"Oops, that wasn't an orange log floating along the channel.  I'm outta here!"
I kept fishing, but caught nothing, except a snag and I lost my jig.  As I tied on another I drifted a little wider and longer.  I put on a similar, but bigger dark plastic body now.  I cast around a corner and twitched slowly as the lure sank.  I reeled in a little faster, and was starting to get it near my plastic boat, when BAM something hit it hard and dove quickly.  FISH ON!  Hot dog!  It wasn't more than 10 feet from me, but I couldn't see it, as it dove and kept diving, my light rod heaving and bending to the pulses of the fish.  I kept the rod high and reeled when it let up.  Finally I saw it.  Another striper.  No wait... those aren't stripes.  They're spots.  That's a speckled trout!  The biggest one we've caught in these waters.  I got my net and carefully tried to scoop it up, but it was still "green" and was no where near ready to give up yet.  It went on another run and I let it.  Unlike stripers, specks have "soft" mouths, and you can't jerk your rod when you fight them, or you'll lose them.  Finally he tired and I was able to get the net under him.  I shouted "woohoo" to nobody -- except the eagle family that was still somewhere behind me.

I admired him on my lap, then got the stringer and carefully attached it next to the two stripers.  I got an upgrade, alright.  And I didn't even have to throw one of them back!  I admired the 19 inch trout swimming next to the two rocks, and knew it was a good day.  But apparently I wasn't done catching "big" things to fry.
The biggest speckled trout that we've caught in these waters was a beast to catch, a beauty to see, and would be delicious for dinner.  I've never tried pecan encrusted speck before.  Tonight I would.
Content with my day, I started working my way slowly back to the launch, fishing and drifting back a little as I went.  Right in the middle of the channel, I hooked something big enough that it actually drew me forward against the current a little bit.  Was it a big crab?  No.  The bottom of the channel is lined with oysters, and when I brought up my "catch" I saw that I had hooked a monster oyster.  Cool, I thought.  I'm eating that, too.  It was huge.
A monster oyster was going to join the speck and rocks, to be part of a nice festive Halloween dinner with friends.  It would be the appetizer.  The oyster was almost enough for two.
I saw a man near where I launch, so I slowed my pace a bit -- I didn't want to show off what I had caught to others who may come "poach" in our "private" area.  He walked away, and I pulled the fish up as I brought the kayak to the shore.  (Anybody who doesn't know me must think I'm a lousy fisherman.  Because I "never catch anything".  You have to be my friend or read this, to know the truth.)
Not a bad day at all, considering I was on the water less than 90 minutes. 
I docked, took my rods and paddle to my car, and scouted to make sure the coast was clear.  There was nobody around, so I went back down, admired my catch, and then got my kayak and the fish, and put them in my cooler.
It's not every day my kayak looks like this....

Kayak safely back in my 4Runner, I skedaddled out of there, and made a quick stop to show off.  A quick photo later and I went back home, and filleted these beauties.
I had to show off for the Jacksons.  After all Mike is my #1 kayak fishing buddy, and his wife ... well, I wrote about Janie two posts ago....  And yes, I am aware that I pull up my "kayak" pants as high up as Clayton pulls his pants up.  It's so geeky, it's cool.  Just ask Clayton.  We are the antithesis of "Pants On The Ground".
 After the beautiful white meat was safely in the refrigerator awaiting dinnertime, I went back and cut open the stomachs to see what these guys had been eating.  As fat as the trout was, his tract was empty.  But I think that must be because the two stripers had been eating everything they saw.  A small crab, two indistinguishable minnows partly digested already, two other shiners, and two large alewifes had been consumed by the voracious rockfish; so this may help me the next time I'm wondering what to toss out there to them.
These poor buggers were the stripers' last meal.  And the stripers would be my next meal.
None of my friends like a good, gourmet meal more than my great friend Randy.  So I called him up and invited him and his family over for a Halloween dinner.  They accepted.  Some Ritz crackers, crushed pecans, and fresh lemon were all I needed for what I had been craving since February:  Pecan Encrusted Rockfish (and Speck).  Randy bought a nice bottle of a Virginia Chardonnay to accompany the fish.  It was delicious.  and the fried oyster was delicious, too.
The fish are ready to be "released" into a cast iron skillet, to be lightly sauteed.
Dessert was a fine Cohiba as we watched the trick-or-treaters finish the night.  Then the rain came.
Sitting by Clayton's "Angry Birds" pumpkin, Randy and I enjoyed a fine cigar to go with our delicious meal, and good conversation, as the kids went in and the rain began....
Halloween was over.  October was over.  But I hadn't been skunked.  In fact, I had a great ending to what is typically my favorite month.  And hopefully things will only get better this month.  Happy November.

Until next time,

Fish ON!

EPILOGUE:
There has been talk in the region and down to the OBX that this is the year of the Speckled Trout.  Two years ago was definitely the year of the Puppy Drum.  Last year was the year of the Striped Bass.  So why not....  Well a few days later, I had the opportunity to fish the same tide -- it was just later in the day.  I fished for an hour.  No stripers.  But I caught this baby:  it fought like a mad bull.  I was sure it was a rockfish, but was thrilled to see it wasn't.
19 1/2 Inches of angry spots.  I was sure this fat trout was a striper until I saw him at the surface.  I was thrilled.  It was a half inch bigger than the one I caught the other day, and set a new record for that stretch of water.  Will we catch a 20"er next?  Hope so....
Then, about 30 minutes later, I caught this one.  It wasn't as big -- and it looks downright dinky compared to its big brother.  But it came in at 14 1/2 inches.
Two beautiful specks... And no stripers today.  Oh well, I'm not complaining.

So November has begun quite well.  And I would be inclined to agree that it is, indeed, the year of the Speckled Trout....  Yum.

ADDENDUM:

Ok, I really need to end this post; but I just wanted to add that November is starting out very well.  I went out today (Sunday) for a little more than an hour, and caught this 21" rock on my first pass through the "hot zone."  Then I went and enjoyed eating him with Mike and Janie.  Fish ON!
Broiled with a little bit of Old Bay, garlic, basil, salt, pepper and then a squirt of lemon was all this guy needed to be absolutely delicious.  Can't wait to get another....
So maybe this is the Year of the Speck....  But then again, maybe the Stripers are going to give the specks are run for the money.  That's okay with me, too....  Double Yum.

POST SCRIPT:

Okay, I've run out of ways to extend this post.  Anyway, the trout are fighting to keep their title of "Year of the Speckled Trout".  Bright and early this morning, I caught this 19 incher.  It's been a good run....
Another fat and healthy speck.  Well, he was healthy until I filleted him.  With all this fish in my diet, I'm getting my protein allotment, while I've lost a few extra pounds -- since I'm not eating a whole lot of fatty meats.  These babies are cheaper, more fun to get, and healthier....
 Okay, that's it. I promise.  Next time I have something to say, I'll start another post.  Until then,

Fish ON!

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