Kayak Trolling at First Light – Early season’s big stripers prove elusive

Early season's big stripers prove elusive

Rod in the holder, sun on the rise and a strong belief a fish will bite — that's the kayaker's life. Photo Jeff Moag
Rod in the holder, sun on the rise and a strong belief a fish will bite — that’s the kayaker’s life. Photo Jeff Little

Keep the Faith Kayak Trolling at First Light

 

Jeff Little

Driving to the launch, I noticed a lump of fur and flesh in the path of my right tire and swerved. Having successfully straddled the road kill, I wondered if the black and white critter was someone's cat. Within a moment, I knew otherwise. The pungent odor of the deceased skunk wafted through my vehicle. I considered the potential irony of encountering a dead skunk on the way to go fishing.

The recent warming trend made for comfortable temperatures in the parking lot next to the ramp where I readied my gear. The lot was empty, a rare occasion on a weekend morning at this usually busy launch. Once on the water, I realized that the 34.7 degree water kept the air down on the water about 15 degrees colder than it was up in the parking lot. I pulled the hood of my fleece up around my neck and considered going back for another layer.

A hundred yards out, I reached around for one rod, then the other, casting a shad imitation jerk bait out on either side before securing each rod in a holder. One hard bait dove to ten feet, the other six to eight. Recalling the preferred kayak trolling speed from late February last year as 2.8 miles per hour, I slowed my glide to match it.

Filling my lungs deeply, letting the damp cold air pass through my nose, I inventoried the odors; salty water, diesel fumes from a tug boat, but no oily stench of shad. I wanted to smell that.  When those nutrient dense fish pull up into water less than 15 feet in the late winter, the striped bass aren't far behind them.

Still, I had hope. By this time last year, I had boated several nice stripers, including a 45.5 incher that towed me for 14 minutes in the icy darkness. To not optimistically believe that fish are present, to not have faith is to be something other than an angler. All of us have nagging doubt. Are we in the right spot? A we throwing the right lure? But to not be an optimist means that we are better suited for an alternate pastime.

Optimism turned into euphoric excitement with the sound of a reel seat crisply smacking the inside turn of the rod holder. A rush of warmth and satisfaction rose up from my belly and into the top half of my torso as I leaned forward to get my hands on the loaded rod. Braided line twisted, hissed and pulled across the rough top layer of more braided line. Liberating the rod from it's holder proved to be a struggle under the heavy load, but once I had it in my hands, I could feel it.

Not a fish. Dead weight. Snag. The warmth and satisfaction left me. I commenced to pulling the opposite side line in, as to avoid tangling my rudder. Making a wide turn back to where I was tethered to the bottom, I could feel that the weight was in fact moving when I pulled straight back on it. I had snagged, but something was coming back up with my jerk bait. Once directly over it, I slowly hand lined someone's lost crab pot. New odors filled my nostrils, and I returned to my intended path.

I ended the day with one small striper, one that was born within the last three years and had yet to join the migrating population. Those fish are always there in the upper Chesapeake Bay. What I was hoping for is to be the one who's out there when the bigs first arrive. I was looking to be the one who tells other anglers, "You should have been here last Sunday!" not the one who hears such stories. I wasn't skunked thanks to that one small fish, but I've got faith. I still believe that the big migrating fish will arrive soon and my 10 foot diving jerk bait moving at 2.8 miles per hour across a bumpy flat will find them.