This past weekend marked the start of both my 2019 KBF Trail season and the 2019 Adirondack KBF club season. One started out great, the other was an unmitigated disaster. The two events were 400 miles apart on consecutive days so it was a crazy weekend to say the least.
My weekend started out on Thursday afternoon. I got out of work, got home and packed, and hit the road for Lake Anna, Virginia. It was the first event of the Northeast KBF Trail Series. I didn’t even make it an hour down the highway before I hit my first hiccup of the trip. A roadblock on the interstate. A car had rolled off the road and someone needed to be airlifted out. My timing was impeccable. Two minutes earlier and the road would have still been open. One minute later and I would have been diverted off the highway. But nope, I was one of the unlucky ones stuck waiting about 30 minutes for the helicopter. Tho I will say I was far luckier that whoever had to be taken away, and I hope they were alright.
I made a quick pit stop to meet up with the rep from Dakota Lithium who is the title sponsor for the KBF Northeast Trail. They were providing batteries to give away at the event and I needed to pick them up. Once I got the batteries (and some sweet hats for the Dakota Lithium team), I was back on the road. I made the West Virginia line just after midnight. I spent about 6 hours trying to sleep in the truck before finishing the last leg of my drive in the morning. I was excited and ready to start my day. I only had one day to prefish and try to figure out some kind of pattern, but i was determined to make something of it.
I got to my first launching area just after 8 AM. I pulled up and was immediately disheartened. Where I wanted to launch was chained off. I had checked the local tax maps and the area was part of the highway right-of-way. I don’t know why the town had chained it off. I assume the normal reasons; litter, property damage, underage drinking, and just plain abuse by the public. Either way my lake access was blocked. It was my prime spot and I was forced to a plan B. I had little hope of my plan B being any good. The maps had shown it was going to be a tricky access and I was right. It was public, and accessible to the water, but there was no way I could get a kayak up and down to the water. So plan B was a no-go as well.
It was now after 9 AM and I wasn’t even on the water yet. I needed to get out and put a line in. I couldn’t just wing it here. I drove to the nearest place I knew I would at least be able to launch, Hunters Landing Marina. I put the kayak in and made a run up the Frazer Creek area. It was where I wanted to fish anyway, I just had a 30 minute pedal instead of putting in nice and close.
I immediately got to fishing. The water was warm, dingy but not chocolate milk, and I thought for sure the bass would be up shallow and the spawn had to be on.
The creek arm I was in was filled with docks and given the conditions I figured that pattern had to be key. I didn’t see ANY grass on my electronics so docks were really the only cover available. I started flipping some docks and it didn’t take long. Tossing a Penetration (black and blue) Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver texas rigged with a 3/16 weight I nabbed a nice 17” largemouth. I was stoked. It was pretty early, and a solid bite. I thought for sure I would be able to replicate it. It’s a textbook pattern, in textbook conditions, at the textbook time of year. I just forgot one important thing. Bass can’t read so they certainly aren’t studying any textbooks!
I continued to fish and got a few more bites up shallow. Never landed anything else. It was mid-afternoon and I got a message from some friends “Dude RUN!” with a picture of the radar. A huge storm cell quickly approaching. I was 40 minutes from the ramp and in no condition to get off the water. I found an empty boathouse, tucked myself up under it, and rode out the storm. Thunder, lighting, wind, and apparently even a tornado was nearby. But after 20 minutes, the storm passed, the weather settled down, and I was able to get out. I was done for the day. I had found fish, but was not confident in my pattern at all. I hoped it wasn’t just a lucky fish and I would be able to do something more Saturday.
Friday night was crazy. I had originally intended to spend the weekend just sleeping in the truck. Another angler from NY had gotten a hotel room and offered me a spot in exchange for some beer. That was a trade I could certainly afford so I gladly accepted. I probably would have slept just as well in the truck. The night was filled with the sounds of domestic disputes, banging headboards in other rooms (if you know what I mean), and a rowdy redneck party at the bar. Any other day of the week, that would have been my kind of party, just not when I needed to be up for a tournament. Lets just say it wasn’t exactly a restful night’s sleep.
Saturday came and I was excited and ready. Trail stop number one and I was set to start my season off right. In talking with some other anglers, we had discovered another launch closer to the area we wanted to fish. After some very confusing signs at the marina, we confirmed it was a public launch, we hit the water, and I was set. With some new local knowledge, what I saw the previous day, and my enthusiasm, I got to work.
Two hours in and I had yet to get a bite. I was getting desperate and the wind was starting to pick up. I fished deep, I fished docks, I fished shallow. No bites except the pecking of bluegill. I decided to head back deep up into the creek. The cover had looked ideal and I would be sheltered from the wind. On Friday the water temps were about 70. Saturday morning they had fallen down at 65-66 in the main creek arm. As I pedaled further back I was watching my electronics. 63-62-61, when I got to the transition of lake to creek it was down to 58. I knew then I was going the wrong way. I needed to find warmer water, and this was the wrong way. My “beat the wind” plan was a dud and now I was scrambling.
I worked my way back hitting more and more docks trying to find a bite. I resorted to tying on a ned rig. People who know me, know I despise throwing a ned rig. The deadly nedly works! Don’t get me wrong. I have total respect for the technique, but it is really my last resort. And if I’m throwing a ned right in BUBBLEGUM PINK color, you know I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel. But even that let me down. No bites, nothing.
With an hour left, and other kayaks hugging the lee side of the lake, I said screw it, i’m battling the wind. I grabbed my spinnerbait and headed over to some wind swept docks. The wind was howling, blowing hard in the area. I was confident these docks hadn’t been hit much since it was a struggle to fish there. I threw the spinnerbait for just a short while and a hit! Please be a scorable bass, please be a scorable bass……. 10 ¾” UGH! Non scorable. And that was it. I threw that bait and threw it and threw it and got nothing more than the nipping of perch. It was 2:00, end of competition, my board was empty, and for the second year in a row I started my trail season in Virginia with a big fat zero!
At the awards it was clear the day had not been friendly to anyone at “One Fish Anna” as the locals call it. Only 7 limits from 117 anglers and 59.25” earned you a check. I hate comparing myself to those statistics. If I want to be better, I need to be the guy who catches them when other don’t. When the fishing is tough, when half the field blanks, I need to be the guy who still puts fish on the board. That day, I wasn’t. I don’t know if my decision to fish that area sunk me, if my technique around the docks was sub-par, or if I simply made the wrong color or size bait choices. Regardless, I didn’t produce. It was a hard learning experience.
I had an eight hour drive home to contemplate the day. I needed to get home that night because the next day my local club, Adirondack KBF, had their first event of the season. It was the annual Saratoga Paddlefest. A big event in conjunction with Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company. I had to at least make an appearance and try to fish it. After getting all confused with the express lanes and bypasses and whatnot in DC, my eight hour drive became nine and I rolled into the house about 1:00 AM. First cast for the paddlefest was in six hours. It was going to be a rough day.
When I registered for the Paddlefest, I knew it was unlikely I would be there at first cast. With the drive back from Virginia, I wanted to at least try to get some sleep. Besides it was Saratoga Lake and I had fished there many times. I had been out twice already this year with some success that I was confident I at least had a good idea where some fish were. My goal was to just go, have fun, and fish a tournament with no expectation of winning. It was a new concept, but a refreshing one at that.
First cast was 7:00 AM, I rolled into the parking lot about 8:10, got on the water about 8:20, and started fishing around 8:30. The 8 hour day for me was down to 6.5 hours. But I didn’t care. The goal was put up a limit, enjoy a day fishing my local waters, then after get to spend time with all the club members old and new and talk about the day.
I pedaled my way out along the north end of the lake to an area I knew holds bass. Year round they are in the general area. Weeds, wind, and water temp just dictate the exact depth and location so I just needed to figure that out quickly. I was shocked with 34 anglers registered, and the area being so close to the launch, there was only one other kayak in the general area. I moved along the shallower portion fishing a jerkbait slow. I worked the old inside weed line where the bass were staging up. That had been the pattern 2 weeks prior when the conditions were similar. A week ago they were up shallow right on the bank, but the water temps had soared to almost 60 degrees. The cold weather the last few days had knocked that back down to 50.
As I moved along, I encountered a massive plume of dark turbid water. I didn’t know where it came from, but I quickly put the jerkbait down and grabbed the spinnerbait. I don’t remember if it was my first or second cast into the plume, but that’s when she hit it! My first big hawg of the season. A fat 19.25” prespawn female. And she thumped it hard. I was stoked. I got her on the board and got my photos. I noticed the one other kayaker in the area was moving spots and I recognized it was my friend Bob. I called him over and he gladly took a good picture of me with the fish! I rarely fish around other people, so having someone there to take a picture of me with it made my day. I got on the water late, my first fish was a pig, and I got a great photo of it. Everything after that was icing for me.
I drifted away from the plume and I had decisions to make. What would be the best pattern? That first fish hit a moving bait hard. Maybe I didn’t need to be fishing the jerkbait slow. But the water temps had dropped hard, and there was little shoreline structure (most docks weren’t in yet), so I figured the fish must be offshore. The area I was in is heavily vegetated in the summer. Massive areas of hydrilla, pond weed, and pencil reeds. I was watching my electronics and was seeing the remnants of last years growth and the start of this years growth. I knew this was prime crankbait conditions. Two weeks prior I had tried to force the crankbait bite and the fish were still just too lethargic from winter. Sunday that all changed. I hammered em! I love throwing crankbaits. I followed the contours targeting 10-12 feet of water with 2-feet of weed growth. I was throwing a Berkley Digger 8.5 which I am now in love with. I like it better than my Rapala DTs (and I am a diehard Rapala fan).
Burning that crankbait across the tops of the weeds the fish were chewing. I had limit before noon and just continued to cull. It was such a fun day out on the water. It was cold, windy, rainy, sleeted a little, but I didn’t care. I caught a GIANT mid 30s pike. I couldn’t even net it. I got it up next to the kayak and attempted to scoop it into the boat. I got it most of the way in before it flopped back out, shot straight down, and snapped my line. No measurement, but I’m counting it as a catch and a nice fish by any standards.
The end of the day came, I finished with 84.25”. Good enough for 9th place which was way higher than I expected getting a late start. The lake had been on fire that day. In 2018, the winner of the paddlefest had 85” and second place was only 79”. This year the winner caught a whopping 99”. Probably the highest single day total in a live KBF event in NY. It included a giant 21.75” bass. The second place score last year of 79” would have only gotten you 14th this year. It was a great day all around for almost everyone. We gave away all sort of gear, gift cards, and prizes. Everyone walked away with something.
So it was Sunday afternoon, 5:00PM, and my doubleheader was over. It had been a crazy 72 hours. Two tournaments, about 900 miles of driving, only about 12 hours of sleep, 3 days of pedaling my kayak (I paddled it into the ramp on Saratoga because my legs just couldn’t pump anymore), and plenty of highs and lows. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I live for this and loved every moment. The next big focus will be the KBF-FLW Open on Lake Nickajack. No prefishing this time, but another long weekend of hours on the road, nights in the truck, and hopefully days filled with giant bass!