Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Play It Again, Sam"

These Easter Sunday views of the area around West Neck Marina are depressing, to say the least. Once again, Mother Nature and several straight days of persistently strong northeast winds have played a cruel joke on this body of water. My thanks to Skip Schaible for providing these photos. One only can hope that we start seeing a lot fewer of these scenes here soon.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Man Lands Virginia Citation Channel Catfish

This hulkin' channel catfish, caught earlier today by Charlie's friend, Joe Venable, tipped the scales at 22 lbs. 2 ozs. and measured between 34 and 35 inches, which is well past the requirements for a Virginia freshwater fishing citation: 12 lbs. and 30 inches.

Said Joe, "I had the good fortune to be off work today, so I finally got a chance to get back out ('on a lake in the Greenbrier area of Chesapeake' is as specific as he would get) for some carpin'. Well, I only caught one fish, and it wasn't a carp, but I am pleased nonetheless... My biggest fish of any sort ever! Yee haw!!!"

Do you get the idea that Joe was just a little excited? Can't say that I blame him. I only can imagine what it had to have felt like to have hold of a fish like that. My biggest channel cat to date only weighed 6+ pounds, and it put up one heckuva fight. Joe's fish was more than 3.5 times that weight, so I know he had to have been feeling some kind of an adrenaline rush as he wrestled with this monster.

"It was quite a tussle," said Joe. "When my bite alarm went off, and I picked up that rod, I could tell it was one heavy--and powerful--fish. I couldn't believe my eyes when I caught the first glimpse of gray-blue just beneath the surface; I was expecting gold (carp). The swirls that bad boy was putting out were something like I'd never seen before. I was doubly surprised because I'd never caught any catfish in this lake, other than some bullheads. I didn't even know there were channel cats in there," he continued.

As Joe explained, the battle lasted about 10 minutes. He said he was fishing to his right--about 40 yards out--when the fish started cruising left with the line. He gained a lot of slack line during that movement. The fish made several hard runs, though, so he kept the reel's drag set pretty light--"just firm enough so that I could reel without twisting the line," he said. "Whenever he wanted to run, I let him. When he stopped, I would pump him in some more. Eventually, he tired, and I was able to get him into the net. Whew!"

Joe explained that he routinely uses a large Bass Pro Shops catfish-landing net with about a 6-foot handle just for such occasions. "All I had to do was crouch down and gently guide the beast into the net, which already was waiting in the water." He went on to say he then hoisted the fish about 15 feet away from the water's edge, where he removed the hook with pliers and weighed him in the net (so as not to hurt him). After snapping some pictures and measuring the fish, he turned his prize catch loose to fight another day.

It was 9:45 this morning when Joe caught the citation channel cat. He kept fishing until 3 p.m. without getting another run. "I was a bit disappointed," he said, adding "but how disappointed can you be when you catch the biggest fish of your life a half hour into the day's fishing?"

Here is the equipment Joe was using today:
     * Bank Fishing Systems Black Phantom Class Rod (12 feet, 2.75-lb. test curve)
     * Okuma Avenger ABF50 spinning reel loaded with Berkley Big Game 15-lb. test mono and Korda N-Trap 15-lb. coated braid hook link
     * Squid-flavored boilie (a squid bait used in carp fishing that is fairly firm and resistant to nuisance species) tipped with a white fake plastic piece of corn, fished while using a bolt rig on the bottom. Said Joe, "I was fishing with a spod mix (a type of chum) composed of bird seed, powdered molasses, canned tuna, and sweet corn as an attractant."

Last spring, while fishing for carp in the lake behind his house, Joe caught a 9-lb. channel cat. Since that fish was close to trophy-certificate size, he got interested in learning more about catfishing. Last summer was a disappointment, though, in that he went a half-dozen times just for channel cats and blanked every time. "Oh, I caught some big white perch and a 4-lb. bowfin," he explained, "but no catfish. I'm also still in pursuit of a 20+ pound carp (trophy-certificate size) but, so far, have only managed a 15-lb. 8-oz. specimen."

In closing, Joe told me that he even fantasizes about hiring a guide and "fishing for some of those big blue cats in the James. They get up to 100 pounds!" he exclaimed. Meanwhile, however, he's still basking in the joy of having caught a trophy channel cat today, especially one so close to home.

Please know that my hat's off to ya, Joe, for this fine catch. You did well, my good man.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A New Hazard to Navigation

Last night's storm created the obstacle you see in this photo.  I can't say whether Steve will have it removed by the weekend or not, so felt it only fair to make everyone aware that it exists. It's undoubtedly obvious to everyone familiar with West Neck that the fallen tree is on the point directly aft of the ramp.

That's the only change I saw earlier today when I was at the marina putting a new trim/tilt switch on my boat and taking a picture of the water-level gauge.

Incidentally, when I took my picture at 1:30, the gauge read 2.76 feet. I just now (at 4:15) called Taylor in the store, though, and he told me that the water level has come up to 3 feet. That report gives me hope for the tourney Saturday, but, of course, we still have to get through tomorrow and Friday. I'll be monitoring closely--that's a promise.

As of 1:45 p.m. Friday, April 18, the water level at West Neck stood at 1.82 feet and still was dropping, which gave me reason to cancel the scheduled Dewey Mullins Memorial Bass Tourney tomorrow. In my opinion, it's just not safe to launch boats in those conditions, and I don't want to be responsible for someone getting hurt or damaging their equipment.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bought Any Banjo Minnows Yet?

I ask that question because of what I read this morning on the website for Bob's Fishing Hole ( Specifically, I was looking at their Guestbook entries, one of which mentioned that Andrew George weighed an 8.65-lb. largemouth bass at Bob's on Tuesday, April 8. When I went to their Braggin' Rights page, I found a picture of him holding the fish for the camera--a nice fish, indeed. That much of the story is "fact."

Another Guestbook entry I read, however, indicated that Andrew may have caught his Northwest River hawg on a Banjo Minnow. In the same entry, it was suggested that Mike Evans had caught his five-fish, 17.51-lb. winning limit in Bob's tourney this past Saturday, April 12, also on the Banjo Minnow. At this point, the lines of "fact" and "fiction" cross. James at the Hole assures me the big fish in question was caught in the Northwest River, and Mike Evans indeed had a winning limit Saturday as specified. The Banjo Minnow suggestion, though, was merely a ploy by Dennis at the Hole to be funny, cute or whatever. 

I would caution that mixing fact and fiction is better left to seasoned writers, who are more inclined to have an appreciation for the potential "power of the pen."

Sunday, April 13, 2014

This Party Boat Rocks...

Or, rather, it may, provided the new owner of this pontoon craft doesn't wreck it and/or maim a member of his family before he learns how to launch and operate it safely.

As luck would have it, my buddy, Skip Schaible, was on hand at West Neck Marina this morning when the owner and his family showed up to take out their newly acquired (not sure if boat is brand new or well-preserved used) pride and joy for a day on the water. Skip initially whipped out his cellphone, snapped a quick photo (see left), and emailed it to me with these words attached: "Biggest boat I have seen launched at West Neck."

I went back to him with this note, "Better hope the guy knows what he's doing--and stays sober until he gets the boat back on the trailer."

That's when I got this response from Skip, "He has no clue of what he is doing. For starters, if the water was any lower, he would have driven off the end of the ramp."

Skip went on to explain that the owner had waded into the water, with a cellphone in his pocket--no less, to push the boat off the trailer. Meanwhile, his 9- or 10-year-old son was running up and down the catwalk, jumping on and off the boat, and there wasn't a life jacket in sight.

Once the craft was in the water, then came the task of backing it away from the catwalk. With the new operator probably trying to remember what the boat salesman had told him or what he had read about backing, the wife looked over and realized the wind was blowing the boat into the dock. As she leaned over to try and push the boat off, the new operator suddenly gunned the outboard and nearly threw her overboard.

The net result of these actions was the boat wedged up against the dock. The owner/operator jumped out, pushed the boat off, then hurriedly hopped back aboard, only to drive the boat into the trees on the right side (facing the ramp). Eventually, more thanks to luck than to skill, the owner/operator got the boat into the channel, leaving only one unanswered question in Skip's mind as the family drove toward open water: Why did the guy keep gunning the motor?

And just so you know. If you happened to miss seeing today's how-not-to demonstration at the ramp, there's a chance you still might get a free ringside seat at a future showing. Know why? Because it just so happens the guy is storing his pontoon boat at the marina. In the words of that tune, "Ain't we the lucky ones?"

I understand Skip's wife, Leslie, got to witness this morning's episode. Said Skip in closing, "I think she is beginning to understand why I don't go out on weekends." Roger that, my friend.

Friday, April 11, 2014

One Angler Shined Today--the Rest of Us, Not So Much

The angler who shined is Jim Bauer, who caught this 4-15.

                    He also boated this 4-0.

Then there was this 2-1, too, along with, just for good measure, a 1-10, giving him a four-fish total weight of 12-10. Don't know how the rest of you feel, but as far as I'm concerned, that, my friends, is a pretty fair day's haul. Said Jim, "It's been a long time since I had that much weight in four fish."

All these fish came from what little protection Jim could find in West Neck coves today. He didn't specify which ones, but he did tell me that he patted all the fish on the head before releasing them, and told 'em he'd be back on tourney day to get 'em.

I had an email from another angler who fished West Nest for 2.5 hours today and only came away with a 9-incher for his efforts--beats a skunk, as he aptly noted. He told me the dink went for a Senko. I'm not sure where this angler fished, but I have a feeling he didn't check out the coves, or he probably would have found some of the same action as Jim.

I also talked to Skip Schaible today, who was fishing his second day in a row. He spent some time in Albright's first thing this morning but finally got tired of fighting the wind, tied everything down, and headed to Pocaty, where he knew he could find a little break from the conditions. There, he managed to boat six bass. "All of 'em were over a pound, but none went 2," he said.

And bringing up the rear is yours truly, whose best fish (in the boat, that is) was this 1-2. I also caught a 1-0, as well as, near the end of the day, a pickerel that would have weighed a couple pounds. He kept thrashing beside the boat long enough to gain his freedom without my having to help the process, which always tickles me pink.

My day was highlighted by a couple of nice ones that got away--in one case, through nobody's fault but my own. That fish easily was 5 lbs., and the problem started when I disregarded the common-sense rule about using a net anytime you have a big fish on. I, instead, tried to swing it aboard. The fish was about a foot or so out of the water when he flipped his tail, and that's all it took for the hook to tear loose. I kicked myself all afternoon and am still kicking myself over that one, and if Rob had been in the boat, he likely would have given me one just for good measure.

I lost another nice bass when casting to a small patch of very calm water at the very back of a cove. He blasted my topwater, then immediately dove in a submerged tree. I kept a tight line and fought my way to where the fish had dove, only to find both hooks buried in the wood but no sign of the fish.

I would be less than truthful if I didn't say I'm feeling pretty humble tonight after my experiences today. Hopefully, there will be some opportunities to redeem myself before the season is over. One thing is certain: I will use the net on any fish that takes drag and chases me around my boat the way that big one did today.

I'm going to close this post out with this personal note for my tourney partner, Rob. Remember what I was telling you last evening about the way we need to fish that one particular tree--from just one direction? Well, I'm more convinced than ever. I missed a fish there today because I was just a tad too slow in my reaction time. In case I forget the next time we're there, Rob, remind me what we need to do.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Another Angler Reports a Good Day

Skip's email this evening provided more evidence that spring bass fishing indeed is starting to turn on. This 2-lb. fish was his first of the day.

This fish tipped the scales at 3 lbs. on the nose.

Skip went on to tell me that he also had two more fish close to the first one, as well as one that looked as though it would have measured about 12 inches.

The "magic" baits today included a fluke-like lure and a Lake Fork minnow. Skip said he had a couple blowups on the fluke-like lure that didn't connect, and he added that a lot of fish bumped the Lake Fork minnow. The three that he caught on the latter, though, "nailed it," to use his words.

A toothy critter found the minnow so enticing it couldn't resist a chance to snatch the bait, and according to Skip, "would not fall off" for anything.

The one thing weird about today was that, once the wind shifted to the south, the fishing slowed dramatically--"or maybe I just slowed," Skip allowed.

"Trying to get out tomorrow again" is how Skip wrapped up his email, and I'm willing to bet he'll have at least a little company, seein' as how it's Friday and the fishing seem to be heating up. I'll be waiting for any and all reports tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My Best Day So Far This Year

This time of year, it doesn't take much motivation to get me out of my easy chair and onto the water, and today was no exception. This 2-3 alone would have been sufficient reward for the day, but as it turned out, this fish was one of nine fish--all keepers--that I managed to put in the boat today between 8:30 this morning and 3 o'clock this afternoon.

Given my lack of hookups last Saturday with my topwater bait, I was intent on working out the kinks with the timing of my hooksets. I haven't totally mastered the problem yet, but my confidence level certainly got a boost today after boating all nine of my fish on a topwater bait. I also had four other fish hooked on topwaters today but lost them en route to the boat.

This 2-7 came aboard late in the day, and when combined with the fish above, along with a 1-1, 1-2 and 1-3, gave me a best-five-fish total of 8 lbs. even. The other four bass all measured 12 to 13 inches, but none of them weighed a pound.

As I told my friend, Charlie, in an email after I got home this afternoon, I'm all smiles following a day like this. My only disappointment was not having enough time to fish some areas I had hoped to get to before I had to quit. In trying to do so, I found myself spending too much time on the trolling motor and hurrying my retrieves. The result was several missed strikes.

The water temperature when I launched this morning read 54 degrees. It had risen to 60 degrees as I motored back to the ramp in the no-wake zone this afternoon.

Thus far, I've talked to three fellas who have told me they plan to try their luck tomorrow. If the weatherman is right, it should be a pretty day. Here's wishing all of you good luck. Drop me a report by email if you're so inclined.