Monday, November 19, 2012

Spankin the Specks 2012

Its not very often I pick up a fly rod with the intention of getting competitive about it.  There is always a slight competition over who can catch the most or biggest fish with whoever I'm fishing with, but its all in good fun and never very serious.  It's tough enough to catch a fish on a fly rod let alone, try to do better than somebody else.  I typically take the offshore fishing kind of attitude where the crew wins when somebody catches a fish.

Last weekend was the exception. I entered in the "Spankin' the Speck's" 2012 Kayak Fishing Tournament in Ocean Springs, MS. There were two divisions, fly fishing and conventional gear.  Conventional gear was pretty much a free for all type of tournament in which fisherman could utilize cut bait, artificial tackle, ect., ect. Fly fisherman however, could only have fly fishing tackle onboard their kayak.  The next exception, you had to stay in your boat (no wadefishing).

Prizes for largest speck, red, flounder and overall fly fisherman were to be had. There was also a three speck aggregate for which you had to pay an additional five dollars.  I opted out simply cause I knew I couldn't compete with the fisherman using live and cut bait.  Given the relative popularity of fly fishing, I figured I had a good shot at winning the tournament.  This was further confirmed when I showed up to the captain's meeting on Friday night and only THREE other fly fisherman had entered the tournament.  At this point, I figured if I could put some fish in the kayak, I'd have a pretty good shot at the prize, a free night stay at the Gulf Hills Hotel, a plaque, and $100.

The week before I had some real trouble deciding where to fish.  As you can see from previous blog posts, I've had some luck with flounder, specks, and redfish and there were prizes for all three.  After much deliberation and generally cause I enjoy sightfishing reds from my 'yak much more than blind casting in hopes of catching a speck or flounder, I decided to concentrate early on limiting out on redfish.  Fortunately, the tides and weather cooperated with this plan.  I had a perfect tide, lowest at first light which lent itself well to finding tailing redfish.  I decided to first try the "secret spot" that has made it onto several other blog posts of mine.

Also a rule stated that you (obviously) had to conform to state watercraft laws.  Therefore, I really had to consider crafting a light so that I could paddle before the sun came up.  I purchased a battery powered safety strobe, taped it to an old broom handle, and stuck the broom handle in one of my rear flush mount rod holders.  With my light, I was able to leave prior to the sun rise and be to the secret spot literally as the sun poked over the horizon.

As the small channel opened up into the shallow pond I have come to love to fish, I immediately realized the fish were there. The catch was whether they were hungry. Earlier in the week I had tied some Merkin Crabs that I was excited to use and had a pretty good feeling about.
Finally got them right!!!!
 With my new merkins tied on, I began the task of finding and targeting the bronze backs wallowing in the shallows.  I immediately found a couple of spotted tails flapping clumsily in the air. One thing I couldn't help but notice was how calm I was compared to previous trips.  Whether it was the competition aspect or the experience, the jitters that typically have to combat didn't seem to have an effect on me.  The things I forget to do like check my surroundings to ensure nothing was in my way that could cause my fly to get hung up on my back cast I seemed to be doing without thinking about.  This was a great feeling.

Immediately, I put the merkin in between the two tails.  The waving tails disappeared under the surface and two swirls shed opposite my offering. The reds were racing to catch it.  My first cast, fish on.  After a few seconds of fight however, the fish spit the hook.

This happened several more times, getting a follow from a swirl in the water or a disturbance of water that lifted from the below and moved towards my fly.  I finally got my initial hook up on a beautiful specimen who actually gave me little sign he was there. A small flick of the tail on the surface was the only clue this fish gave me.

My Buddy.
Keeping fish when I'm kayak fishing is not a habit of mine.  However, this was a kill only tournament so I brought a floating mesh bag to keep my fish alive. This way culling would be an option.  My first fish measured in at 21". Not a brute by any stretch of the imagination, but still a keeper. I placed him in the bag, hoping that I could catch a bigger one, let him go and let him live to fight another day.

With my livewell in tow, I paddled onward. The tide was just low enough. Another half inch would have made the redfish difficult to distinguish from the bait.  The next fish revealed itself by an explosion in the shallows followed by a wake transitioning to deeper water.  I saw the water mound the fish pushed stop and decided to pound that area where the wake dissipated with my fly.  I hooked him initially with an immediate hook spit. The following offering hit home and after a spirited fight only a redfish can provide, I landed and measured him.  21"! Again. I had no scale and therefore had no clue how much the fish weighed so I had no choice, but to keep him.  I didn't want to miss out on the prize cause I had released a fatter fish with the same length.

Fish #2

With two fish in the bag and it barely 8:00 in the morning, I was well on my way to a solid redfish limit from which I could start culling.  In a small cut, there was much thrashing and splashing.  I entered it carefully attempting not to spook the fish.  Here the fish were shallow enough to see there backs sticking out of the water. The weed clumps in this cut would explode periodically and at least three fish were within casting distance.  One exploded on shore and I took my opportinity.  This was my best presentation of the day and I believe it was the biggest fish, although it measured the same length.

Somebody must have figured out that I had limited out on reds (Mississippi is limit 3 w/ only one being over 30") on a fly rod for a tournament cause almost immediately after landing the last fish, the wind kicked up running the span of the bayou. It kicked up strong and hard and I had quite a haul of fish to drag back.

I eventually made it back to the launch; winded, tired, and with much time, five hours, till weigh in.  The entire paddle I struggled with the wind and with the thought even showing up to the weigh in.  Three 21" redfish, which for me was a fantastic day, would barely get me on the board at a tournament during the time of the year when the big breeder bull reds come in and routinely get caught along the gulf coast. I had no doubt one could easily have been caught on a fly rod.  Also to boot, the tournament was called "Spankin' the Specks."  I had no specks.

After stopping off at my house for a quick sandwich and rest, I decided to go fish Fort Bayou right near the weigh in at Gil's Fish Camp.  Fishing that close to the weigh in would give me the most opportunity to find and catch a few specks before the weigh in that ended at five.  I fished Fort Bayou with no luck.  One white trout was all the blustery afternoon produced.  I did scope out Fort Bayou more which I will have to fish more often given the proximity of my new townhouse.

Great afternoon on the Water!

 My time in Fort Bayou quickly came to an end. It was time to weigh in.  I pulled my kayak out and headed to Gil's Fish Camp, a local bar located on Fort Bayou that my friends and I frequent.  As I walked up to the weigh station I received several hoots and hollars from the spectators as I carried my full stringer of redfish.  I gave my name and handed my fish to the weigh master.  He weight the first one. 4 lbs -4 oz.  Not as heavy as I would have thought, given how hard the little suckers pull when you hook them.  I handed the second fish to the weigh master. 4 lbs.-1 oz. 3 oz difference between two fish of the same length. If only he had eaten another two or three mud minnows.  The last fish was clearly the last one that I caught.  His darker coloration was brilliant and this guy just looked fatter.  He was. 4 lbs.-7 oz. None of my fish were monsters, but as people clapped when the weight was announced, I realized I may have a shot.

4 lbs. - 7 oz.

 The weigh master went to the books to record my fish. He conveyed his congratulations on a good day of fishing and then he said, "You're winning the fly fishing Division." WHAT!!!!!? NO WAY!? It was 4:45 pm and I was the only fly fisherman who had checked a fish in. I went to the bar and got a celebratory beverage. I was floored.

In the final fifteen minutes, two more kayakers weighed in with the fish below:
My fish are on the cooler next to this guy.

The second fish weighed in at 20 lb-8 oz. He won the spin cast division biggest redfish. No more fly fisherman checked in.  I won. At the beginning of the tournament, I didnt think I had a shot. Talking up the other fly fisherman that was at the captains meeting the night before, I figured I didn't have a shot against these locals who had been fishing for years.  Its amazing how events transpire sometimes. A little luck and planning and you never know what can happen.

I shot some pictures of my fish compared to the winning fish.  Comparatively no contest. HOWEVER, what a fantastic new goal I now have.  Get a 20 lb bruiser on an 8 wt. fly rod. Sounds like a fun kayak ride to me.
My fish has a minute till he's this big.

Moral of the story. Always weigh in. You never know.