Monday, July 11, 2016

One for the ages.

The only night since the 4th that was not red hot was last Weds. Interesting enough, the only boat out of four of us, that was catching fish, was a guy in a Robalo. He was catching one after another within an area about 20 yards wide, using some sort of subsurface lure. Every other night was one fish after another, with the biggest being a 23.

I fished with a new "fishing buddy" Glenn on Saturday night. We have been out quite a bit over the last month, but unfortunately had not experienced a night indicative of how great topwater fishing has been this year. We arrived about 6:15. I had a feeling the tide would not be moving since low was 4:30 pm and was not surprised. Once again, nothing was happening for the first half hour. To make things worse, I nearly sunk a double treble hook into his arm, but luckily just managed to snag his sleeve. Finally, just as the tide was turning, we started to pick up some nice fish. Glenn was using a myriad of offerings due to his job in the tackle industry. By the end of the night, I think Popa had won him over, with him matching me fish for fish with some funky colored Dogg, proving once again that color really does not matter.

Tonight, I was the Robalo guy. He happened to be watching me catch fish in an equally small area, as he had slayed them last Weds when I was skunked. Turns out the guy grew up on Thomas point and had been fishing the Shoal longer than I have. Once I realized it was a new boat, I recognized him right away. With my eyesight, I could not pick out of a lineup most of the dudes that I regularly fish next to. You are normally at least casting distance apart, so you have to rely on the make of boat, voice, and a vague knowledge of hair color and body type. When I arrived at the shoal there was one other boat that appeared to be anchored with the stern facing south. So I set up as if the tide was going out. Unfortunately, they were actually drifting, and the tide was slacker than
slack. By this time I realized this, I had drifted a good way off "the spot". I thought the other boat was Steve B, but when they set up 50 yards or so away, I realized it was 3 kids maybe 12 or 13 years old. Before repositioning my anchor, I made a cast and immediately boated a nice 18. From that point on, nearly every cast was met by a fantastic blow up. I tried to get the young-uns to join the action, but they did not want to infringe on my honey hole. On one cast I had blow up that moved more water than a 30. It turns out that I had a double header of 18's. One on the front hook and one on the back. Now that was one for the ages.

Popa pulls a double. 
That is a funny looking Popa
23 from Sat.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Holiday Review

My youngest daughter Grace had planned on leaving to go back to grad school the morning of the 4th. Luckily, after breakfast, I was able to convince her to stay for a quick outing before leaving. We had not fished over the holiday weekend, so I was thrilled to have her for a few extra hours. Unfortunately, the forecast was for rain and wind all day. When we arrived at the shoal, things were worse than anticipated. It was not raining, but it was downright miserable. I attempted to anchor on "the spot", but the chop pushed me a good 100 yards towards the red marker. Since we did not have a lot of time before conditions were to get really ugly, we had to make due. On literally every cast from that point forward we each boated a fish. I lost count of the number of doubles we had. All the fish were between 20 and 24 inches. We fished well over an hour and then headed in both tired and exhilarated at the same time. I can not stress enough to my readers how good fishing is right now. There is no particular spot. The fish are everywhere. The key is to stay in the shallows. If you watch your depth finder, you can clearly see where the water goes from 6 feet down to 3 feet. Stay in the shallow area and use surface plugs. If you are off the ledge or using a subsurface lure like a spoon or rattle trap, you just will not do as well. These fish are feeding on the surface.

I arrived at the shoal to a picture perfect topwater conditions tonight. The chop was gone and the surface was like a bathtub. High tide was 6:30, so there was little or no tide. Fishing remained "red hot". I did not make a cast tonight that did not result in a boated fish. They were not as big as the past few outings, but I am sure at least 15 were keepers. There were a lot of boats scattered around the shoal. A few of us were doing quite well, but I did see several boats that came and went empty handed. Again, I think the reason they did not have success, is they were fishing the deeper water and using either live bait or swim baits. What works at the point is topwater....period. Most people I talk to are intimidated by surface lures. They should not be. There is no wrong way to work a topwater plug. Just cast it as far as you can and use your rod to move it along the surface in a erratic fashion. Any movement will do. Striped bass will react to the movement..any movement.
Heading into hell on the 4th of July
All is not lost

Bonus time with my Gracie

A 22 and 24. Could not tell you who caught which

Moms snd Popa Dogg
We head back in the rain. 
Perfect Topwater night
What a difference a day makes

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I just love low tide

Fishing has been nothing short of spectacular this year, and low tide has consistently been the best time. Since low tide was 6:45 tonight, I left a little early with complete confidence that it would be excellent and I was not disappointed. When I arrived at the shoal there was one other boat, a Parker, there. It looked to be a group of mid 20's guys that instantly reminded me of the early days of topwater fishing with James and the boys. They were positioned a little too north of the rip to do much, but it was cool to see a bunch of plugs skipping accross the water. I anchored slightly east of the rip and went to work. On literally my first cast I picked up the biggest fish of the night, a very fat 26. I actually pulled down the net for that one.. From that point on it was non stop action. I lost count, but what I found interesting is that every single fish was around 24 inches. The other Parker slid back a bit and immediately started slaying them. They were having a blast, which is what topwater fishing is all about. It is so cool to see and hear about people having success with topwater all over the bay. My buddy Mike picked up a 30 one morning this week in 20 feet of water. If it keeps up like this, the planer board crew may have to start running light tackle party boats. How cool would that be. I dropped by Marty's to replenish my supply of Popa's and he told me that they sold over 100 last week. It was not even 10 years ago that talk of topwater fishing on the bay was a rarity.

People always ask me about the risk of "spot burn" by writing this blog. Yes, there are more boats on or near the rock piles this year, but I personally enjoy watching other peoples blow ups as much as my own, so it really does not bother me. What bothers me is when others just rush in with no regard for how or where they anchor. Late in the night, a yellow center console came barreling over from the eastern shore to check out the action. What some people do not understand is that at low tide the water is only 3 feet deep and engine noise can easily shut down the bite. These guys tried to literally jump into the fray between the young guys and myself, leaving maybe 20 yards between the boats. Of course they had their engine running the whole time. I don't care if the whole world wants to fish the shoal, just use common sense. It's a big area. There are literally hundreds of rock piles out there. Do I have my "spot", yes, but can certainly make do when others beat me to it. I just ask, that if you fish that "spot" because you read my blog or another reader told you about it, be cool and move about as quietly as possible...end of rant.
First of many tonight. A fat 26
Rainbow from last nights storm

Monday, June 20, 2016

Strawberry Moon

It has not happened since 1967 and will not happen again until 2062. A Strawberry Moon occurring on the same day as the summer solstice. This was according to the Article I read after work tonight. So despite 12-15 MPH winds, I was excited to get out there tonight. Summer would officially start at 6:45 tonight and I would get to experience this astrological event and have a shot at trophy sized fish in I left the dock at around 7 and found a bay that was quite choppy and downright uninviting. It took me 3 attempts to get the boat anchored in such a way that I could cast with the wind and what I hoped would be a tide swing at some point in the evening. The wind was blowing hard enough that I was clearly positioned as if the tide was still coming in. High tide was 5:54, so I figured that within a hour the tide would change and I wanted to be positioned behind the rip should the boat fail to swing. After last nights delayed change I wanted be set up so that I would be casting with the wind and pulling Popa back through the rip. By the time I felt good about my setup, it was almost 8 pm. It was still quite choppy and breezy, but the fish started blowing up almost immediately. I picked up a quick 5 or 6 undersized fish exactly where I would expect them to be if the tide was coming in. It was not until around 8:30 that it became clear that the tide was actually going out and the fish were behind me. As soon as I found them things got crazy. The fish were off my port side and I was casting parrelel to the wind towards the eastern shore. Nearly every cast was met by a good sized fish. I boated several 20's and then had what felt like a big fish break me off by darting under the boat. That should not happen. I have literally fished the same leader, line, and Popa Dog since the season began, so it is time to retool my equipment. I have missed 3 fish in the last two nights that were probably north of 30 inches because my line broke. That is just plain stupid on my part. It has been a long time since I have boated a fish that big and there is no excuse not to be ready. It will not happen again. It was hard to get mad as I watched both a beautiful sunset and an equally beautiful moon rise. I took these 2 within seconds of each other. If I make it to age 101, I promise to be fishing, so I can experience it one more time. .
Strawberry Moon
Sun sets on the first day of summer 2016

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Best Fathers Day EVER

Everything about this years fathers day was perfect. The temp was close to 90, but seemed like a perfect 75, since the humidity was so low and a nice southerly made it feel like a day at the beach without leaving home. I was looking forward to a Golden State win tonight, so had not planned on fishing, but when Katie called to see if I wanted to go tonight, basketball took a backseat. Low tide was 5:10 Pm, so I figured our 7:00 departure would be perfect. Alas, when we anchored it was dead slack tide. There was still a lot of boat traffic, so the boat was swinging with the wakes. The boat settled in as if the tide was still coming in. Danny was Fly fishing off the bow and crushing the smaller fish, while Katie and I had yet to get the Skunk off. All of Danny's fish were coming from exactly where I expected, had the tide turned. So when the boat finally swung around, the smirk quickly came off of his face as every cast of ours was met by a huge slam. I had a huge fish break me off and as I was re-tying, I  heard the biggest slam of my life, as Katie was hit by a huge fish. The fish jumped, so we all knew it was a trophy, especially when line started to peel off her reel at a rapid pace. It took a while, but she finally brought the fish to the boat and screamed "get the net". As we brought her aboard, I thought Katie was going to collapse. She was sweating, but clearly pumped by what was the biggest topwater fish of her life. A quick measure and it was confirmed. Her first 30 inch fish. NICE. I could not ask for a better Fathers day present than being there to watch the whole thing. Way to go Katie.

Yesterday, my boy Danny, also had a big day. They had run a 5K and he had come in 3rd out of 80 runners. Unfortunately it was a 29 and under division, and a running club of young runners had surprised everyone and taken the rest of the podium. What should have been a great feat, was replaced by the attached picture that will live in infamy. So when Danny landed one of his biggest Stripers ever on a fly, he was one again overshadowed . So I could not resist recreating the podium scene from the day before. Now is Lebron would just lose, this day will be tough to top.
Her first 30

Poor Danny 1

Poor Danny 2

Danny with a keeper on Fly or Poor Danny 3
Poor Danny 4

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

1950's Redux

My wife and I attended "Bands in the Sand" fundraiser for the CBF. The president spoke for a few minutes to thank everyone for coming and then discussed the results of the efforts of the past few years and how it is finally paying off. Anyone who has been out on a boat this year this year, has been amazed by the clarity of the water. I have no clue what we have to thank for this incredible turn of events, but it sure is great. I can actually see the rocks at the shoal, even at high tide. Every morning I wake up the all kinds of waterman working the waters in front of our home. There are actually "tongers" working several different oyster bars and "trot liners" galore. It feels like you have gone back in time.

I have had the sense all year that fishing was better than ever, but it was hard to confirm. After 18 straight days of rain, we have had to deal with 10-20 knots of wind nearly every night. The guides were telling me that they have never seen so many fish on the western shore as this year. Guys in their 40's were telling me that this was as good as they have ever experienced. Hell, even Capt. Karl posted a few videos, on his personal Facebook page, of several "over 35" fish he landed while just messing around with light tackle. I did have a few good nights by my standards, but nothing like that. He told me he has run into several trophy sized schools slamming baitfish on the surface and picking up 40 inch fish on plugs.

Well that all changed the last 2 nights. I can now say with certainty that fishing is very very good right now. Monday night was a near perfect topwater night. It was chilly enough that I wore my cool weather gear, an old pair of UA sweats and a sweet pullover my daughter Liz gave me for my b-day. It was breezy when I left the dock, but as the sun began to set, it became dead calm. Low tide was 6:30 and I was surprised when the boat began to swing not long after 7. With the tide shift came the slams. It was non stop action until I pulled anchor after 9. The biggest was a 26 that tail slapped literally 10 feet from the boat. Dabs was returning from fishing an area near the radio towers and had a similar experience with over 30's in ten feet of water, October fishing in June...SWEET.

I texted Katie and Danny that it would be worth their while to join me last night, so as we headed out into a mirror image of the night before. I was a bit concerned that things would not be active until closer to 8 as a result of the later low tide (now 7:30), but we were not disappointed. We had barely set anchor and the action began. Again, it was non stop until the DNR boarded us as the sun set (A story for another chapter). We did not break the 22 barrier, but lots of spectacular blow ups. Lost our last red and white Popa Dogg, but the "greenback" color filled in beautifully. For now, I am sticking with my theory about the red looking like flared gills. "Best night ever" as Danny likes to say and I concur.
Biggest of the night at 22 inches on a Popa

26 from Monday on Popa

Crushing it with a Zara Spook

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Record Rain Streak

Last year by May 12 we had 11 days over 80 degrees. This year we have not had a day over 70 degrees. As a matter of fact, we are in the midst of the longest rain streak in history. It has now rained 15 days in a row. Record Rain Streak. It was still drizzling at 6:30 when I decided to head out. I was dressed like it was mid Feb., complete with a wool cap.After a lot of trial and error, I have concluded that the ideal condition for the shoal is 2 hours after a low tide. So when I noticed that low tide was 5:30 I just knew that tonight would be different from the miserable results this week. I anchored at around 6:30 and immediately went to work with Popa. After 45 minutes or so, I decided to switch over to a white twisty to see if the fish were there. Sure enough, on my 2nd cast, I picked up a very nice 22 that actually took a good deal of drag. I proceeded   to land several undersized fish. So the fish were there. Why are they not slamming Popa? As the magic 7:30 rolled around, I switched back to Popa. It did not take long to hear that sweet "thwack" of a big fish hitting a plug. The fish went straight down, so I did not get a good look at it, but knew it was big by the sound of my drag screaming. A week ago I was fighting a 150 pound Tarpon for a 1/2 hour at a time. Tonight the fight was maybe 5 minutes, but in Popa Dogg world, it was as good as it gets...A nice 26. She was still filled with eggs, so there was only time for a quick pic before releasing her to make some babies. .
26 inch female on Popa

First glance of blue sky in weeks

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Back to the future

When I started this blog years ago, I really had no clue where it was going. I can't say the situation is any different after all these years. I have found myself recently using this blog , in a more traditional sense, as a "fishing log". In the fishing world, that term is not as prevalent today. Today, it is usually associated with those that monitor conditions in the watershed. For instance, our River keeper keeps "a log" of oxygen levels, water temp, salinity, etc, to monitor the river for potential problems. I have tried over the years to infuse this kind of hard data that I hoped would someday be helpful. Every fishing book I have ever read talks about patterns. Success in fishing is always attributed to the tide, light, thermocline, lure choice, etc. What I have come to realize over the past year, is that none of that really matters in "Popa Dog World" . If you look at the trails on my Lawrence, it's like someone drew a line with a crayon between my dock and "the spot" on the shoal. Most nights I anchor, according to conditions, within about 20 yards of the same spot as the night before and the night before that. Once at this spot, I break out the same red head/white body Popa Dog and go to work. There is no need to collect a lot of data because I have eliminated so many variables. I use the red head Popa Dog because it casts farther than any other plug I have tried over the years. At some point in the past 25 plus years I have tried them all. My first love was an old wooden Bassarino, but my last love will be Popa Dog. For years I switched off between a black Stillwater and a white Stillwater. It took a few years to conclude that color does not really matter. Now contrast?, that may matter. Thus the red head and white body. It is pure conjecture, but I think the red mimics the red of the open gills of a fleeing baitfish. I am sure that is utter nonsense because 95% of the time the fish can barely see the plug. That is why light conditions matter so much on the Shoal. I have caught plenty of fish at high noon, but let's face it, the best action is in that last hour of light. That is where "action" comes in. There are nights like tonight, when the water is really murky and choppy. We had friends coming to dinner at 7, so I ran out around 5:30. It was cold, rainy,  and despite the slack tide, still choppy. It is real hard to get their attention in those conditions and even harder to work a consistent walking pattern. I find myself using a similar cadence as a walking pattern with an added flick of the wrist that adds the spitting motion of a traditional popper. On nights like tonight, I need both Popa and Dog, to get their attention. The tide was quite low, so I was anchored in about 3.5 foot of water. I did a little probing with the white twisty and picked up a nice 20, so I knew the fish were there. Just as I needed to head in, as I flicked my wrist, a nice 20 slammed, A quick release and I was home just in time to jump in the shower.

The above post was left unfinished last Friday before leaving for the Silver King Lodge in Costa Rica. Our group of eight old friends has fished for tarpon in Florida for a week in May for quite a few years. This year we took a leap of faith and headed to Costa Rica. It turned out to be quite a leap. We found ourselves deep in the jungle in the very northeast corner where the Rio Colorado River enters the Caribbean. I found it interesting that our guides too had eliminated as many variables as possible, given the local conditions. The mouth of the river was quite muddy and relatively shallow. For most of our stay, our guides stayed within a couple 100 yards from this area. Since the water was cloudy we were able to use deadbaits. This was very different from Florida, where lively baits were crucial. My conclusion was that perhaps smell is another variable that matters in fishing. The fish certainly could not see the bait, so action was not important. I have never been big on fishing "advise", but in this case I will offer my opinion. It seems like the best way to approach fishing it to eliminate variables whenever possible. If the fish cannot see what you are offering then concentrate on sound and smell.

But I digress. My original post was intended to discuss how I find myself using the blog. I find myself     using the blog more for looking back to see what conditions were like in past years. I find it quite helpful to look back at the exact week in past years to see if it was cold or warm, windy or calm, etc. As I look back, the next few weeks should offer some very good "topwater nights". End of Rant.

Pictures to follow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

2016 Fishing Season Begins

I have been out a number of times the past few weeks mainly to take advantage of some great weather. It's a bit like fishing in a bathtub that you can clearly see contains no fish. In my heart, and in my notes, I know that several things must come together before the fish arrive. I have found that when the hanover from St. Patricks day abates, the water temp hits 50, the presence of Cormorants, and, last but not least, the return of nesting pairs of Osprey's, then the season can begin. We have a nesting pole next to our dock, that is wonderfully framed by the windows across the back of our house. Every room in our house has an incredible view of Lucy and Ricky, the names we have given our raptor friends. Lucy showed up one day a week or two ago. Osprey pairs do not spend the winter together and the male will normally show up a bit later to "summer" with his life partner. They really are fascinating. It was in the 70's when I left the office a little before 4, I could feel it in my bones. Not only had Ricky returned this AM, but March 22 has been forever etched in my memory as the day I caught my biggest Rockfish with a plug.
First of 2016

I arrived at the spot a little after 5. High tide was 7, so the water was ripping. Despite the 70 degree temp on land, it was cold as hell on the water. I was sporting a sailing jacket and wool hat. The wind was 12 knots, so the water was churned up quite a bit. Things did not look good for topwater, but hey, thats what I live for. So for the first hour I mindlessly fan casted with Popa, with no action. I switched over to a white twisty and on my third cast had the first hookup of 2016, right up against the rock pile. It was not a trophy, but a fat 20 this early in the season feels like a 30. With the skunk off the boat, I immediately switched back to Popa and continued to cast until 6:30. Mother Nature is one heck of a timekeeper. Picture courtesy of Donna Weaver Photography.

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