Monday, January 30, 2012

January Kayak Fishing

I went out this weekend with the intention of just doing some kayaking.  Of course I brought my fly rod just in case, but I really intended to just go kayaking.  I launched my 15' sea kayak in the Mississippi Sound and pointed the bow straight south with no destination in mind.  

Nothing in sight...
It was a beautiful, calm day on the sound, and I briefly contemplated kayaking all the way out to Horn Island, 8 miles south.  Realizing that my mother and fiance would kill me (yes, they read my blog), I decided to turn around and head into a nearby bayou that I had long wanted to explore.

Boy am I glad that I did.  I paddled way, way back, where the bayou is as wide as a trout stream.  I started spooking redfish, their wakes giving them away in the shallow water as they fled from my 15' blue monster.  I gave them a few minutes to calm down, got my fly rod out, and landed this beauty on my second cast.

Not a big redfish by any means, but certainly a welcome relief from my recent troubles.  I feel pretty silly for driving to Louisiana a few weekends ago and striking out when I can catch redfish literally a mile from my house.

More after the jump...

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Big not so Easy

A couple weekends ago, my roommate Aaron and I loaded up the kayaks at dawn and headed over to Hopedale, Louisiana, in the middle of the marsh.  Hopedale is only 30 miles southeast of New Orleans, but it is a whole different world.  You actually have to drive through a gate in the levee to get there.

The Highway 46 Floodgate
The levee is great for those people living on the inside, but not so great those on the outside.  I'm imagining the residents of Hopedale racing down the highway as the storm surge is rising and the floodgates are about to close.  That will probably be in a movie at some point.

Anyway, once you get through the levee, the highway is surrounded by marsh.  There are mobile homes on stilts on one side of the road and boats lining a canal on the other.  Duck hunters and fishermen abound.  We came with a specific goal in mind: to sight fish for redfish.  The weather forecast was for a sunny day in the mid-60s.  On warm winter days, the sun heats up the black mud bottom of the shallows, and redfish abandon the depths to prowl the warmer shallow water in search of crabs and baitfish.  At least thats what is supposed to happen...  We kayaked around the edges of a lagoon searching for redfish for several hours, but I didn't see a thing.  Aaron saw one tail, but it spooked as soon as he cast.  The only fish of the day was a speckled trout Aaron caught while drifting.

The highlights of the day for me were seeing a great horned owl in a tree on the way to the launch, watching a sharp-shinned hawk swoop around hunting small birds, and kayaking with a pod of dolphins.

Objects in picture are closer than they appear...
In the end it didn't get much over 60 degrees, which may have kept most of the fish deep, and the wind picked up, making it harder to spot surface disturbances.  On the way back to the launch, 6 flats boats zoomed by at about 40 mph.  All occupants were covered from head to toe, with buffs and sunglasses preventing any skin from seeing daylight.  I would understand this in the midsummer sun or on a cold day, but it was kind of overkill for that day.  I think it's more about trying to look the part.  Each boat had a poling platform, casting platform, and about 4 inches of freeboard and probably cost 75 times more than my kayak ($30,000 vs $400?).  I managed to talk to one of them back at the launch, and he said it had been a slow day, which for him meant just a few fish brought to the boat, and less fish spotted than usual.  He seemed to think the fish would be tough to spot from a kayak since they weren't tailing - the height of a poling platform provides a much better angle for seeing into the water.  I know that sight fishing for redfish can be done from a kayak - it may just take a little more patience.  I've got my eyes on one of those flats boats, but for now I'm going to stick with the kayak.

If there's one thing I've learned while fishing the past few months, it's that sight fishing for redfish is not easy.  Its actually quite difficult.  Fortunately, kayaking around the marsh is very pleasant on its own.  In fact, being able to do that comfortably in January is quite a luxury, and any fish is just a bonus.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fish of 2011

2011 was a great year full of completely new fishing experiences for me.  Before moving to Mississippi, my list of fly caught fish consisted of smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, brook trout, brown trout, catfish, suckers, and various kinds of panfish (brim for you southern folk).  In the past year I added flounder, speckled trout, white trout, hardhead catfish, redfish, ladyfish, sheepshead, Florida pompano, Spanish mackerel, ground mullet, and a few more random little guys.  All of those fish were on the fly.  The funny thing is I often felt like I wasn't catching much, but looking back, I caught a bunch of different kinds of fish.  I think that's an exciting part of living on the coast - you never know what kind of fish you're going to catch.

I've picked out pictures of what I think are my best fish of the year.  Some of them have been posted here before but some of them haven't.  Its not a particularly impressive collection, but I was quite pleased to catch them.

 This is a sheepshead caught while fishing on Ship Island in the spring of last year.  I had been chasing visible sheepshead from the beach all day, and I finally hooked up with this one while blind casting.

I caught this Florida pompano on Petit Bois Island in the summer.  It is the only pompano I've ever caught, so I don't really know how big it is compared to other ones, but it is a beautiful fish and it put up a great fight.  I'd love to catch more of these this year.

This is a two foot long speckled trout that I caught on Ship Island during a morning where the trough between the beach and the first sandbar was just full of specks.  I love this picture because of how its belly bulges around where I'm holding it.

The common factor in these pictures?  The islands...  Good things happen when I go to the barrier islands.  I can't wait for the ferry to start running again in the spring.  Or better yet, I can't wait to get my own boat!

I plan on doing a little fishing this weekend, so look for a post sometime next week.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Grouse Camp

This year, I made the long drive up from Mississippi to Michigan to stay with my family over Christmas.  I also managed to head up into northern Michigan for a couple days of grouse hunting with my brother, David, and my friends Nick and Matt.  My hunting and shooting experience is quite limited.  I shoot clay pigeons every once in a while and can count the number of times I've gone grouse hunting on one hand.  Success has also been limited.  In fact, rather than saying I went up north to go grouse hunting, I sometimes prefer to say I went up north to "walk around the woods with a gun."

My buddy Nick invited us to stay at his family's deer camp, which is a primitive but well outfitted cabin in the north woods of Michigan.  I've stayed at "Deer Camp" quite a few times now, but its always been either "Trout Camp" or "Grouse Camp" for me.  Nick has been featured several times in this blog, as he is the one who had the bachelor party in Colorado and got me the fly reel cufflinks.

We got up to camp the morning after Christmas and immediately started hunting.  The morning was completely unsuccessful with no grouse flushed along along a pine and aspen ridge where we had flushed a lot of grouse on a previous trip.  Disappointed, we headed back to camp for a quick lunch and headed out again with Nick's dad as a guide.  He led us to an area that had been clear cut recently, which is ideal for shooting since there are no trees or branches to contend with.  Pretty quickly, a grouse flushed ahead of Nick and he shot but it was pretty far away.  Grouse often flush in groups, and sure enough, four or five more flushed in quick succession.  Amazingly, we didn't get any of them despite the fact that each of us shot at least once.  In our defense, they all flushed quite far away.

All the grouse had flown up a wooded hill, so we decided to see if we could find them again.  Grouse often land in trees so I had my eyes riveted upward.  Its not often that you see a grouse before it flushes, but if you do, it should be an easy shot.  I spotted an odd shape far up in a tree, and, never being one to shoot and ask questions later, I asked my buddy Matt if he thought it was a grouse.  I actually brought my gun up to point in the direction I was looking.  Of course, it was a grouse, and it cleverly flushed as soon as I brought my gun back down.  I didn't get it, and I was quite mad at myself for not shooting, but looking back, if I had shot an owl or something, I would have been devastated.

We didn't find any more of the grouse we had flushed, so we headed back down to the clear cut.  Pretty quickly, Matt flushed a grouse and shot it.  Matt is by far the best shot in the group so it was no coincidence.  We were all pretty stoked as I don't think any of us expected to actually shoot anything (this expectation was set by previous hunting expeditions).  With newfound enthusiasm, we marched through the rest of the clear cut and proceeded to flush zero grouse.  Then we headed back toward camp through a pine forest.  Shockingly, I spotted another grouse in a mid level tree branch.  A wispy pine tree stood between us.  This one was well within range, and I knew it was a grouse, but once again I hesitated, trying to maneuver around the pine tree.  It flushed and I never even got a shot.  Matt told me I should've just shot through the pine tree, as some of the pellets were bound to get through.

The mighty hunter

Ruffed Grouse
All in all, it was a huge success compared to past outings.  There is a surprising amount of meat in one grouse.  Here it is being cooked with fresh wintergreen leaves over a wood stove.

It was delicious.  After dinner, things got a little crazy.

But as they say, what happens at grouse camp stays at grouse camp...