Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sheepshead – Dissected

For the longest time, seeing friends like Kayak Kevin Whitley, Rob Choi, and Lee Williams catch monster Sheepshead (let alone any Sheepshead) haunted me.  Seeing footage of these extremely violent fights in close quarters with amazing fish were all I focused on for almost two seasons.  Fortunately, my first two monster fish both came in over 11 lbs and both came on the same day, in conditions that I had no right fishing in.  From that day on, I have refined my skills, and am confident sharing what I have learned.  I will break it down from bait and rigs, to techniques and conditions in which I post consistent catches.

Bait Selection:
Although Sheepshead can be caught on a large variety of baits, they have mouths designed for feeding on crustaceans.  My favorite baits are as follows in order or seasonal precedence.
Mole Crabs (Sand Fleas) 

  • For me, the availability of these baits in the surf is what kicks my sheepie fishing into overdrive.  I prefer freshly caught and live baits, but have had success on dead and frozen baits.  To catch them, I look at the surf zone, and if I see little bubbles in the sand as the water recedes, I focus my attention there.  I look for baits between the tide line and the small little shelf that generally occurs a few feet into the breakers.  I will dig through the sand with my hands until I feel them, at which point, I use either a clam rake, or a half a aluminum minnow trap to scoop and shift through the sand to sort out the baits.  I store them in containers with easy drainage so the ammonia in their urine doesn’t kill them.  If possible, I will catch them at night when they are all throughout the surf, keeping them cool until im ready to fish.  I will fish them on either dropper loop rigs, or Carolina rigged, depending on the conditions.                                                                                                                                                     
Fiddler Crabs 

21 Dozen Fiddlers in a Yeti Tundra 35
  • Im sure that in many of your favorite marshes you see these little critters scurrying around the banks on a low tide.  I start to use these baits with the mole crabs and have found over the past few years that as the summer move on, I have better catches on crabs.  In Virginia, you can spend upwards of $4 a dozen at tackle shops, consistently wondering if there will be any in stock when you want them, or you can catch them yourself.  I focus on low tide cycles in areas I have seen them in the past, and can easily move along the shore after them.  If they are concentrated in open sections, I will throw a cast net at them and quickly collect them from under the net.  I will also walk through marsh grass, grabbing them as I spot them.  If there is sea grass in the areas you are looking that collects in clumps along the shore, they will generally hide underneath.  To keep them alive, keep them cool, moist and provide them a place to hide.  This summer I kept 22 dozen alive in a Yeti Tundra 35 for over 24 hours adding moist sea grass an crumpled up cardboard.  The cardboard, or better yet cardboard egg crate gives them a place to hide so they don’t kill one another.  Keeping them cool in conditions like this will let you keep them for a few weeks.  As they die, remove the dead ones and place a slice or two of bread for food.  I like to fish these on dropper loop rigs.
Clams and Shrimp
  • Although this is not a bait I use to target sheepies due to the large by catch from species like spot, croaker, pinfish, grouper, I have had great luck when targeting Spadefish and Triggers.  Generally, My sheepies using this bait comes on lighter rods dedicated for spades, and the fight is amazing.  The go to rig for clams is a Carolina rig.
Blue Crabs
  • I use Blue Crabs in 1” chunks when I am unable to get Fiddlers.  I fish them the same way I fish with Fiddlers.
Sea Urchins and Barnacles 
  • I have never fished with either bait, but I know they are more popular the further south you travel.  On all the sheepies I have kept, both have been the majority of the stomach content.

Rods and Reels
I prefer using a MH or H power rod that is stiff enough to set the hook through a mouthful of molar like teeth.  Another consideration is the combos ability to pull them away from the structure quickly.  I use a few combos:
  1. MH Shamano Travala S paired with a Release Reels SG spooled with 85lb test braid.  The reel has an insane line retrieval ratio along with a super smooth drag.  The rod has enough backbone to cross their eyes and pull them off the structure, and the braid gives me sense of mind when fishing alongside razor sharp barnacles.
  2. H power Diawa Procyon paired with a Shamano Calcutta 200 and 35 lb braid.  The power of the rod and smooth drag on the reel makes this a great all around bait fishing/dropping combo.
  3. MH Shamano Crucial paired with a Shamano Cronarch 200 and 35 lb braid.  Again a super strong combo, with a added bonus (super light weight).  This rig is used when Im fishing with lightweight and/or doing a lot of one handed paddling along structure.
  1. Dropper Rig.  I use either 1 or 2 hook configurations and weight from ½ to 5 oz.  I tie mine with super high quality components.  My hooks are Owner SSW J hooks from size 2 to size 2/0 (depending on the bait size).  For line I like 20-35 lb Seaguar Red or Blue label fluorocarbon line.  The Blue label is expensive, but has amazing abrasion resistance and knot strength (I recently landed a 62 lb cobia using this line).  I like a high quality barrel swivel to connect to the main line, and at least 18” to the first hook.  If Im fishing a double hook rig, I like the bottom hook 6-8” above the weight, and the top another 14-18” above that (think about working the water column.  A single rig, I like the hook 12” above the weight. On the bottom swivel, I go with a strong but inexpensive Eagle Claw Barrel Swivel with clip for quick weight changes.  With this rig, I focus on fishing near the bottom of pilings or in rocky areas.  See a dropper loop tied here.
  2. Carolina Rig – I use 16-24” of 20 lb Seaguar Red label with a high quality barrel swivel and the same Owner hooks paired to bait size.  I use a Snell or Palomar from the line to the hook, and a Palomar or Uni to the swivel.  This rig is used when I am working the entire water column.  Ill drop to the bottom and work my way up 12-18” at a time, fishing each spot for a few minutes at a time.  If I have to go over 1 ½ ounces of weight on my egg sinker, I am using too much and switch to a dropper rig.

I have had equal success with both rigs, but tend to lose more around vertical structure with the Carolina rig (must because i'm not from Carolina!).

The bite and fight:

You will either feel weight on the line or light tap-tap.  If you feel the tap-tap and miss the hookset, don’t fret.  Keep your bait down for a few seconds and wait.  The sheepies tend to hit and crush the bait before they go back and pick up the pieces.  When in doubt Set the Hook.  You will loose weights and rigs, but can also be rewarded with some amazing catches.  Also, if you keep getting stolen without feeling bites, or keep missing bites, stick with it in the same areas. You may go through a lot of bait, but if you are fishing for a sheep that you know is there and feeding, don’t move on until you catch him or he stops.  Finally, when you set the hook, cross his eyes to get a positive hookset.  He’s not a speck, and your not going to rip it out of his mouth.  Once you get the hookset, hang on for the fight of your life.

Photo Credit - Jay Brooks

Good luck out there!

Monday, July 8, 2013


Ive not been able to get out nearly as much as usual, so I thought, with everything going on why not make it a bender.  I had the evening of the 3rd and all day on the 5th, 6th, and 7th of July to fish.  I fished whenever I could, risking heat exhaustion, failing classes, and overexertion for this.  Would I do it again?  Hell yes!

July 3rd - Got on some solid topwater bass in the evening with Tommy.  Heres a few pics.

Tommy took this awesome pic!

July 5th - After a long day of school work on the 4th, now was the time do get it done.  Jay Brooks met me on the water and we ended up really working for some fish but got some quality.  Jay is an amazing Cameraman and hooked it up with one of my favorite pics on this posting.

Not the smartest decision.
Found some of these...
...and these.  Biggest @ just under 25".
photo: Jay Brooks
After an 8 hour day on the water, I grabbed a bite to eat, and went back after some topwater bass.  Had 5 dinks to hand.

July 6th - The goal was to get Tommy on some Sheepies and Spades.  We met up with Brandon Westfall and made some $$$.

It all started with the three of us getting on some decent spades.
Hooked Up

First Spade Ever!
Then a Sheepie

2nd paper in two days - 24.5"
Then the three of us hit some togs

DeWitt's First Tog

First tog of 2013
And I finished it up with some triggers to give me my first CBBT Slam.  It was a great time on the water and I was stoked to see Tommy get his first Spade and Tog.

July 7th - I met Rob Choi and Matt Tate bright and early.  My goal was a sheepie hat trick, but the fish gods didn't want to see that happen, so we got on some small spades and triggers instead.

a solid lil' seabass

My big trigger of the day

Matt with a solid trigger
All three of us found the triggers, and got some nice fish.  Not at the top of our list, but sometimes you just have to adapt, improvise, and overcome.

I paddled my brans out to get off the water to meet up with Jim Short.  The goal was some topwater bass. We had a few blowups, but noting to write home about.  I was able to get this shot though. It was a nice way to end what was a great weekend, with some great fish, and awesome friends!

Monday, June 3, 2013

My Lucky New Hat!

So, a few months ago I was named to the Werner Paddles Fishing Team.  Needless to say, I am still on cloud 9, and coupled with Hurricane Kayaks, I work for the two best companies in paddlesports, period.

Some folks may laugh at fishing superstition, but I am extremely superstitious.  I believe in the Banana myth, and wont have anything related to Bananas before I hit the water.  I have a lot of fishing superstitions, and recently I added new one (a good one) to the long list.  Shortly after my appointment to the Werner team, I received my team hat in the mail.  For many people, it is just a ball cap, but to me it meant more.  It meant that I was finally a part an amazing company I had coveted from the beginning of my pro staff days.  It also signaled an internal trigger for me to step my game up.  Even though I may have had some hiccups in trips since that fateful day, I will say that every day on the water was rewarded me in some way, shape, or form.  Below are some brief descriptions of some of those days, the days that my lucky new hat brought me.

Tourney Time - 6-1-13

A last minute decision was made to fish the Fanatic Kayak tournament out of Nags Head in the Outer Banks.  The wind wasn't so lucky, but my first fish of the day was.
First fish of the day
I tried to upgrade, but all that wanted to play were lil' rats.  I met up a bit later with my buddy Matt, and after a 17" red, we left to chase some flounder.

While looking for flounder, I hooked up with more rats.  With time running short, I decided to troll my way in and hooked up to a 15-17" flounder.  I would normally post a pic, but of course, my hatred of flounder was renewed, and he got off at the boat.

Only one 8" flounder was caught, and my mistake without a doubt cost me first in the flounder division.  My first fish was good enough to snag me 2nd place Redfish in my first Saltwater event of the year.

Notice the Hat
This tournament benefitted Project Purple.  This is an amazing charity.  Please check them out, as this benefits and supports our future!

Bluefish Bonanza - 5-24-2013
From left to right: Jay Brooks, Me, Lee Williams, Alex Britland
(Photo: Tommy DeWitt)
This morning, a few of us had visions of Chomper Bluefish running through our minds.  With the day off, Tommy and I got on the water early, rigged up, and waited for the others to show.  We were all focused on Bluefish, except for Jay.  After Tommy, Lee, Alex, and I all hooked up with Blues over 33", Jay changed his tune and got in on the action.  It was an amazing morning with weather in the low 80's, then a strong cold front blew through, but not until we had all reached personal bests!
Tommy's fish just under 36"
Alex's Chomper
Lee's Quick Release (I need some camera practice).
My 34" Blue - Notice the Hat!
That same week prior, I was able to fish with my fellow team member - Rob Choi, in his search for a paper blue (his best was just shy of 36"), Joe Underwood (again just shy of 36"), and Jay's wife Allie (34" I believe).
Joe's Monster!
Rob Choi's writeup @ Angling Addict
Jay Brooks' writeup @ Virginia Kayak Fisherman

April Specks and Reds

Not much to say here other than April was my best Spring fishing for specks ever, with over 40 ranging from 19-23.5"  I was able to get on some awesome fishing with some great friends!

A solid 23" - And again, notice the hat! 
Alex with a solid, overslot red.
And a fatty speck!

Seth with big fish honors @ 26"
I was also out to experience two of my friends reach new Personal Best's (Tommy w/ a 22" Speck, and Erik with a 30" Blue)

Check out Seth's account of the evening @ Bowed Up Chronicles

Bull Riding 5-27-2013

Not a lot of talk here, just Pigs!
A nice ride out!
(Photo - Tommy DeWitt)
45.75" - Again, there's the hat!
Hobie Pro, Joe Underwood
Rob's account of the day over @ Angling Addict

Mad Man Luther Cifer's (Yak Attack) son Tyler also got a Graduation Present in the form of a 42" bull as well!

I will leave you with a shot I took at the Wild River Outfitters Demo Day a few weeks back.  It was taken form our newest kayak, the Skimmer 116.  This is an awesome boat I cant wait to spend some more time in!

Hurricane Kayaks - Fornt and Center

Needless to say, I dont think I will leave home without my lucky hat anytime soon!

Monday, May 13, 2013

A New Journey For Two Of My Friends

OK, so I try to put up some stories and antidotes related to my time on the water, and this post will have some of that.  I had an amazing, fished some new water, learned more about one of my favorite fisheries (Ironically through observation and conversation more than actually fishing), and got away form the same ole grind. 

But... The focus of this weekend was to spend some time and celebrate the marriage of two great friends, Seth Goodrich and Kamaron Owens.  The ceremony and reception was great, and I wish them all the best... (of luck in their Hawaiian Offshore Charter)!

The Backdrop for their wedding (Birds were actually working a ball of bunker during their vows) 

The Happy Couple!

After the reception, I tried to get some sleep in my hotel room, but  for some reason I just couldn't.  After running to some tackle shops, I found a nice little launch I decided to try.  The tide was high, and the grass was flooded.  I didn't start finding fish until I was back in the grass.  I only got one hookup, but that was fine with me given how great the day had been.

An amazing way to end the day!
The following morning, I had to make up my mind on the events for the day.  "Do I fish for the first run of Cobia coming up the coast, or chase Reds and Sheepies on Topsail Island"?  When I looked at the wind, and easily 100 yards of breakers on the beach, I decided to take the easy way out and head to Topsail.  I arrived just as the tide started to retreat, to find light winds and lots of bait.  Unfortunately, I was a bit to far behind the tide to fish my honey holes, so my focus turned to finding fiddlers and hooking up with some convicts and Black Drum.

Best Warning Sign EVER!

Mill Creek (on the ICW)
 Once up the creek, I found a grass flat that was holding some solid fiddlers.  After a nice little chase, I got about two dozen fiddlers before I called it and hit the bridge.  Again, as my luck would have it, the current was now ripping through the ICW, and the water clarity was less than a foot.  That was not enough to deter me, and I made my drops.  On the second drop, I feel the unmistakable nibble of the Sheepshead.  I go to set the hook, and the fish was on for a few seconds before I lost it.  I continue to fish for the next hour, not just fishing for Sheeps, but also Drum, with no luck. 

Center hatch cup from the Skimmer is great for storing fiddlers!
 In the end, I learned about Cobia, False Albie, and Bonita fisheries through chatting with the guys at tackle shops and boat ramps.  Got some good intel, and I look forward to trying for all three species from the yak this year.

I have a bunch of pictures and trips to share as soon as I can get more time on the computer.

It was also a great wedding and I want to wish my friends, the Goodrich's all the best!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Curse of Rev. Tickle

Since I had spent the last weekend in the mountains, it had been a while since I have last gotten on the water.  With a favorable evening forecast and no class, Russ and I decided to get out on the water.  We saw a lot of activity, and even found a few friends on the water prior to us getting out with fair success. The plan was for a quick trip, really to just recon the conditions for trips in the next few weeks.  The first few hours were fairly slow until Russ and I were in the same spot and we had a fish bust right between us.  I grabbed my topwater rod and that is when it happened.  The drag on the reel was fairly loose to protect it when off the water, so my bait ended up grabbing the flag on my VisiPole.  I was in a hurry, and wanted to get a bait in the water, and this is when it happened.  That all to familiar pinch of the hook point digging into the skin.  I looked down at my hand and saw that the barb was buried  so there was only one real option for me.  I push and push until I see the hook point poking back through my skin.  This wasn't a real problem until I tried to push the barb back out.  After what felt like way to long, I got it through and then proceeded to pinch the barb and back it out.  The hook didn't want to back out, so it was off to the cars to cut the hook and back the rest of the shank out.  In all, I was lucky that it did not hit a nerve.

A good looking bait!
A few lessons learned:

  1. I should really pinch my barbs (even though I probably wont)
  2. I should get rid of the trebles and switch to J's or Circles (a bit more likely)
  3. Have a pair of cutters and a first aid kit on the water
  4. Dont post the pic on Facebook unless you are willing to monitor the comments
Once Rev. Tickle left, I ended up catching a few decent fish.  Coincidence, I think not!

If you fish with the Reverend, just be prepared for a lot of laughs, and possibly some pain.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dirtbag Weekend

Fly fishing is one of my favorite ways to fish, and really, the only way I fish for trout.  With the Fly fishing festival coming up, and my desire to spend some time up in the mountains, Russ and I decided to have a dirtbag fishing weekend.

It all started Friday night when a strong cold front came through, bringing with it some heavy storms and a 20 degree temperature drop.  This lead us to leave after the front passed on Saturday morning, when we wouldn't be fighting the rain.  Now our goal was to chase some wild brookies, but knowing conditions might be difficult, we made a detour in Richmond and met up with Alex and Seth to chase some warmwater species on the fly.  The four of us caught countless Bass, Bream, Redear Sunfish, and a few Crappie.  The fish were not super amped, but we still were able to get our fix.  While everyone else were catching fish on poppers and buggers, I decided to step up my game and tie a dropper under a small caddis.  This proved to be a game changer, as I was picking up fish on every cast.  I had enough fun and decided to share the wealth.  All three of my buddies caught a number of fish on the 2wt, and Im sure I heard Alex and Seth both say that they needed to get a 2wt for panfish fishing.  With lots of laughs and even more fish, we were ready for the second leg of our trip.

One of Russell's Bream on a Popper

As we departed, we got some Tog and Trippletail from Seth for our camp, and picked up a few other items and our trout stamps at Walmart.  One thing was painfully, and hilariously noticeable.  It dosent matter how nice the area surrounding a Walmart is, you will always find your people of Walmart patronizing the fine establishment.

After our interesting Walmart stop, we drove for a few hours and made it to our first spot, the Upper Rose River.  The only memorable parts of this spot was 1) the two guys on the parking lot carrying around rocks and vomiting by their car (kids, stay off acid), and 2) the fact that I left my wading boots at home (like a dumbass) and managed to slam my knee on a rock within my first 10 steps on the river. Besides that, a few fallfish were caught and we moved on.

The next spot was the Upper Rapidan.  This was the water I was really looking for.  We had a fun drive up the forest service road, and hit a few spots.  At our first spot, we had a small mayfly hatch, so I was focused on chucking dries.  With no love on some amazing looking water, we moved up to some really narrow, technical stretches where my Echo 2wt shined.  It was tough missing rises in this narrow, overgrown area so I switched to a small (sz 20) BHPT nymph.  Once I switched to the nymph, we only had about 20 minutes of fishing until we had to call it.  In that time I had multiple hookups with a few fish to hand.  Small, brightly colored wild brookies made the day amazing.

Russ and I met up to make our way back to camp to drink some rum and eat some food!
The Campsite
Russ insisted on these Plates

Tog + Trippletail + Potatoes + Asparagus = Best Camp Dinner Ever!

The Best Way to End the Day

Last view of the Camp
Now everything with the camp went well until the morning.  The temps dropped overnight and it was not warm by any means.  After breakfast, Russ asked for TP.  Unfortunately neither of us packed any so off he went into the woods as I wished him good luck.  Russ made it back alive but was missing an article of clothing.

We broke camp, got off the mountain, and made it over to the VA Fly fishing Festival where we met up and exchanged some stories with Tommy V and Lars.  We made our walkthrough, picked up some flies and materials, chatted with Cory and Kelly at the WRO booth, and left to hit the South River.  Now unfortunately the rain that was dropped on Friday night made the river tough to fish.  It was a bit murky, but very fast and high.  Tommy V, Lars, Russ, and myself hit a section of the river where I have had good luck in the past.  Lars was able to avoid the skunk when he found a small school of creek chubs.  Despite Lars' success, it was fishing real tough and we all decided to leave, but not after about an hour of laughing back at the cars.

Lars broke the skunk!

Tommy V, your casting the wrong way!

Looking for any sign of life.
On the way back, we decided to stop one more time to see what we could do with the Bass and Bream.  Russ and I fished for about an hour before we called it, ending the trip the same way it began.  The fly only weekend was a blast, and yet another experience that I wouldn't have had without the love for fishing I share with a number of other people.  Cant wait to get back up in the hills and get on 'em, but as the water warms up, my time is now going to be focused on the salt, so this may be my last trip chasing the low sodium fish until the fall.

I would also like to wish my friends Tom and Cory a Happy Birthday.  Fly fishing to celebrate your Birthdays cant be beat!