Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Trip Report: 1st Annual CCA MD Red/Trout Tournament

What a long weekend of fishing...seriously, around 40 hours of fishing in 4 days. But it all paid off...on the last cast of the trip.

5:30am came quick on Thursday morning after a sleepless night. I finally got to bed around midnight on Wednesday after recovering from a pretty hardcore bout of nausea throughout the day and slowly packing my gear. I had the car loaded up and ready to go and I got to Luis' house to finalize the packing and get everything moved over to his Jeep and the River Hawk. We got on the road around 7:30a and started our 2.5 hour trek to Crisfield, MD (more specifically, Jane's Island State Park, where our camp/launchsite would be for the next four days). After a brief stop at Wawa for breakfast and ice and Walmart for extra food and such, we made great time and arrived at our campsite.

We quickly unpacked the car and setup shop at the campsite and headed to the boat ramp. Since the tournament was Saturday and Sunday, we gave ourselves two days to check out the water and see what would be most ideal for us to get into some good fish as well as explore water we hadn't seen on our last trip down to JI.

The water was pretty dirty but fortunately the wind was dead and sun out. The grass beds were healthy and A LOT of bait was in the area. We checked out the back bays and marsh first finding some schoolie stripers and snapper blues, none of which were bigger than 12". Rigged up with a floating, intermediate, and sinking rod each, we had the full water column covered and decided to head into deeper water. Nothing. We still hadn't found the target species (speckled trout and redfish) but were content with bending our rods on some other great bay species.

The River Hawk is an awesome boat, it can go unbelievably skinny and poling the marshes pays off big time when it comes to finding fish in deep pools around a mile into the marsh (where some water gets up to 5" deep). Having the 20hp Honda on the back was a huge upgrade as well since the last trip we putted around with a 6hp. Getting from spot to spot was cake, especially after the wind laid down.

After long 8 hours on the water and knowing we still had three 8-12 hour fishing days ahead of us, we headed into the dock. After washing down the gear, fine-tuning our leader and fly setups, and getting a quick shower in, we threw some chicken on the grill and relaxed next to the fire.

7am was a bit of the late start for us on Friday but since it wasn't a tournament day, we really didn't think much of it. The night was a cold one so we knew that with cold weather, blitzes would be more and more present in the mornings. I started the day with some topwater and got a big hit near the ramp as we headed out the the bay but no hookups. We found some bait and got into more bluefish and stripers early. Still no sign of reds or specks but we knew they were there. Reports started to come in from fellow anglers and friends and we spent most of the afternoon exploring new water. We found new back bays and marshes that looked unbelievably fishy, especially with the expansive grass beds. Still, more stripers and blues. We headed back to water around Jane's and found some new marshes we hadn't seen before.

Luis hooked into a fish and said it felt a bit different than the normal fight of a blue or striper. He got the fish up to the boat and boom, speck. First of the trip! Morale was low due to not finding the specks or reds yet but this little 7" guy gave us some big time motivation. We fished petty hard the rest of that day finding more and bigger blues and stripers including a 19" schoolie striper in the back marsh that put a nice bend in the Redington Vapen Red 8wt we were reviewing (review to go live in the next two weeks). The common theme for fish around Jane's and Crisfield was white, blue, and chartreuse patterns with a lot of flash (great for the murky water).

Day two brought us more fish than we could count (Luis a lot more than myself, especially blues but I managed more stripers). We ended the day with the sun and headed back to camp. Burgers and brats were on the menu that night and Luis managed the grill like a champ, making some more awesome camp food. After dinner, a little time around the fire, we headed off to bed. I spent a good two hours on the phone reading more reports and dialing in patterns to make sure everything was lined up to get us in the standings the next day as it was Day 1 of the tourney.

Day one of the tourney (day three of our trip), Saturday, came quick. We had the boat in the water by 6:45-7am and were off. The wind was dead and the tide low. We had the tides dialed in from the two days prior (day starts off with low, mid-day brings high and it starts to head back out near the end of the day. Tidal movement is crucial for getting into gamefish in these back bays, creeks, and marshes. We made our first stop off "The Chimney" in Crisfield and got into a few stripers near the jetties. Luis spotted some birds hitting the water and goosed the motor out. My first cast got me hooked up on a bully bluefish that sat around 20-22". Luis got hooked up on the first cast as well but lost the fish and his fly due to the big bully's chompers. I hooked into and landed another blue before the birds rolled out and blues were gone. While fighting my second blue, we got ambushed by another boat using light tackle and watched those guys pick off blues like hot cakes. My fly was done as estaz and feathers were gone and all that was left was little bits of thread and feather stems. We threw a few more casts and moved on. We went back to the grass beds behind the chimney where I hooked up on and lost a small speck at the boat.

As we made our next move, we ran a quick drift over a little sandbar near The Chimney and I hooked up on an landed a nice flounder, crossing that off the Bucklet List! Before we moved back into the marsh, we decided to wade the flats behind The Chimney to work the grass beds, nothing. So we headed to the marsh and got into even more stripers and blues. I hooked and landed a small speck but didn't take a pic of it next to a ruler as I was under the impression it had to be of legal size to count (not the case for this tournament). I found out later it would have been the third place fish...

The tournament day ended at 3pm (pictures had to be in by then) but we continued to fish until 5pm. We hauled the boat out of the water and headed to Capt Tylers Crab House to check out how others were doing and grab some great food. They were out of All-You-Can-Eat I got the next best thing, a soft crab sandwich! Best I've ever had!!! Luis had a fried oyster sandwich and we both had a cup of the best cream of crab soup. After we caught up with fellow anglers and talked about our days, comparing the fact that everyone had a pretty crummy day with little to no reds caught and only small specks. The only person who had a decent day was Mike Rosa, a kayak angler from MD that dominated and went on to win the entire tourney with a 93" 4 fish daily total for specks!

Most anglers claimed to have seen reds, including us. We saw a few in the back marshes that had great size to them but no hookups. One boat spotted a 35-40" red near the surface in an undisclosed location. With the recent pictures flowing in on the forums and blogs of +40" reds, we were surprised. We headed back to camp and called it a night early.

We had the boat in the water around 6am on Day two of the tourney (day four of our trip) after packing up the campsite for good, and got into fish early despite the wind going off around 10 knots. All were stripers but as the day rolled on, we found bigger blues. After a quick stop for lunch on the water, we fished the grass beds hard to no avail. The wind finally died off but we decided to call it early around 1:30 after none of our sweet spots were producing. On our way back to the dock, Luis made the decision to hit up a nice hole that he had caught his small speck at since the tide was on its way in. We got to the little grassy island that the current moved around and spotted small anchovies and peanut bunker raining around the island and anchor pinned the boat within casting distance of the island. As bait continued to jump and rain, I switched to my intermediate line as I knew there was a good hole to the right of the island there and thought maybe I could drop the line and fly into the hole. It paid off, I hooked up as did Luis and we yelled "double"! We both got our stripers into the boat and threw our next casts. I said something along the lines of "there has to be more gamefish in that hole than just stripers for that much bait to be going crazy." He agreed and we continued to cast.

As the current pulled Luis' fly near the surface, I had just turned the GoPro on. All I heard as I looked at a backcast was what sounded like a cinder block hitting the water behind the boat. I turn and look and see Luis' rod doubled over. I then realize that he had hooked into a monster. I jumped down to grab the net as he fought the fish. After a great fight, he landed this 20" striper, the biggest of the trip. After snapping a few photos and making a healthy release.

I turned the GoPro off and threw another cast. I immediately got hooked up and yelled "I'm on". Luis stopped stripping his fly in to check out what I had as we both saw a red and green flash next to the boat of a good sized, slender bodied fish...we both looked at each other and our eye got huge. I yelled "trout" and then "grab the net, grab the net" and then he began to yell, while grabbing the net, "2 o'clock, 2 o'clock" (indicating we had an hour before the end of the tournament). He followed his 2 o'clock screaming with "shit, I'm on" as he realized he had stopped stripping his fly and got hooked up while grabbing the net. It was a solid minute of chaos on the boat. We netted the fish and grabbed the ruler. 15" on the dot and as far as we knew, the 1st place fish in the fly division since nobody had submitted a fish on the fly on the first day. We snapped our photos, had a healthy release of the speck, and Luis landed and tossed back a nice little striper. We racked the rods we took off full speed ahead for the ramp.

We got the boat on the trailer and washed off quick and headed to Capt. Tylers to submit the photo of the trout with about 20 minutes to spare. We could finally calm down and ordered some burgers and water. I was sitting in first place with my 15" speck and continued to watch as others submitted their fish. I ran to the bathroom and heard someone say something about another speck coming in that was fly caught. Nervous, I ran back out to find that Rich Farino, manager of Urban Angler Fly Shop near DC and one of the best fly casters I had seen at the tourney so far, had entered a fish that fell right under mine to give him a second place seat. Our good buddy Matt Baden of The Hobie Life had checked in and locked down 4th place in one of the most competitive kayak divisions of any tournament I've seen. A huge congrats goes out to him and his buddies that locked down placing positions, they had a hell of a tournament with some huge fish submitted and even bigger ones lost.

3 o'clock came around and people began to shake hands and congratulate. The awards began and people settled. Some amazing boats were docked behind us and phenomenal anglers filled the crab deck, some of the best the Chesapeake has to offer. This was one of the most competitive tournaments I've ever been in and was summarized perfectly with Tony Friedrich's (exec directors of CCA MD) comment on Shawn Kimbro's (author of Chesapeake Light Tackle and one of the best fisherman, if not the best, the Chesapeake has to offer) Facebook status of "Would appreciate a few updates from Crisfield!" when he said..."The kayakers are kicking some serious ass. Also many stories of heartbreak.. Monster specs throwing the hook at the boat. Solid reds coming unbuttoned. Seriously good anglers slugging it out. Absolutely incredible fishing skill and effort on display".

I was fortunate to win, on the last cast of the day, with a 15" speck. I owe it Luis for working his ass off at the helm of the RH and using his knowledge to set us up for success all trip long. I also owe to it the sponsors/affiliates who contributed to the tournament prizes and provided us with gear including 12wt, Loon Outdoors, Cheeky Fly Fishing, Dizm Eyewear, Redington, Sage, Nature Boy Designs, Urban Angler (for donating my prize Sage Motive 8wt), Regal Vises, G. Loomis, Shimano, Yak Gear, TFO Fly Rods, and more! It was great to give the Redington Vapen Red a shot and not only knock three species off the Bucket List but win the tourney with that rod. I forgot to mention I snapped my Redington Pursuit due to carelessness, thank God for warranties!

For more pics of the trip, check out our Instagram and Facebook. Be sure to check out CCA and find a chapter near you. Support conservation, support catch and release.


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