Monday, November 25, 2013

Why I Love Kayak Fishing in New Brunswick

After growing up fishing for trout in streams and ponds in Newfoundland, I had no idea what I was getting into when I started fishing from Kayak in New Brunswick. The vast variety of fish available to be caught here, and the different approaches one has to take was somewhat mind boggling to me!

Given this, the only real way to experience all that is offered to the angler in New Brunswick is to get out there in kayak and see what you can do. Wether it is fishing in the wilderness in and around Loch Alva for huge Lake trout, braveing the rediculous currents and danger around Reversing Falls for Striped Bass, getting the heart pumping in the Bay of Fundy for mackerel, flounder and possibly sharks, or just relaxing while sitting back and waiting for a 4 foot sturgeon to take your line and spin you around, you can do it all in a single kayak! Heck, in the 2 paddler's tournaments that are held each year, you have to target as many species as you can in one outing and need to catch 6 - 10 different types of fish to fishing near the top!

I have yet to target all of the fish that are available to be caught in New Brunswick. Muskie are out there which I hope to catch one of next year, and I've only been in the Bay of Fundy once but haven't caught anything. So my bucket list still has a few species left!

But I have had a few memories I'll never forget! My first night fishing just on top of Reversing Falls, Saint John was with John Caile (aka IPop). John has been around about as long as anyone as has forgotten more than most of us will ever know. So this first night I was following his advice for several hours near Reversing Falls with no signs of a fish, when right about midnight I get a hit on a 6 inch silver rapala. I have never had a fish feel so strong! What a rush! My drag was set at max which was 12 pounds on my baitcaster (using 40 pound braid). I managed to get the striped bass pretty much next to the kayak fairly quickly... not realizing how to fish for stripers. As I was considering reaching for the net... he decided to take off! Whirrrrrrrrr...... My drag had no effect and my kayak was basically moving with the current towards the falls as if I had a motor on the back pushing me along! Heart racing, knuckles white, I was just hanging on for the ride! Then after a minute or two, the stripers rode me right into a bouy, and then he was free.

I did try about 6 more times in that spot over the summer, but have never since gotten a bite there. All is not lost for stripers though. Once night fishing for sturgeon with John, I hit what I thought was my 6th or 7th sturgeon. This fish spun my kayak one way, then the other for several minutes. Expecting a 45 inch sturgeon, I was pretty shocked to see that it was a striper when it finally breached the surface! Thankfully I have a pretty large folding net that I carry on my kayak, which really helped land this beauty! My first striper is something I'll never forget!

The paddling tournaments in New Brunswick are weekends that every kayak or canoe angler in Atlantic Canada should mark on their calendars. Not only are there a ton of great prizes, including a sit on top angling kayak donated by the very generous and supportive Ecological Adventures, you get to meet a ton of knowledgable and friendly anglers, and have a great social time as well. Those weekends are so much fun the fishing is a bonus! This past year being my first, I finished middle of the pack in the Oromocto tournament, and 6th out of 18 in the Hamton tournament. Next summer with a full year under my belt, and a lot more tricks up my sleeve, I'm aiming for top 4 in both!

Another tournament suited to paddlers is the Shad tournament in Chipman in the Spring. This past year I tried it having never fished for Shad or Salmon (they are similar) before. The weather was awful being cold, wet and windy. The current was insane, and I had a very hard time of it. I did actually manage to hook two shad, and both times they jumped clear out of the water giving me a lot of excitement. Unfortunately, I had never had to 'fight' a fish before that has a soft mouth like a shad so both times I was too aggressive and pulled the hooks from their mouths. Next tournament I'll know better! I did however contribute by rescuing a kayak that has tipped over. Only a couple inches of one tip of the kayak was showing above water. I cut the end of my 200 foot anchor line, and after 4 passes, finally was able to secure the line to the kayak without myself tipping over. Then I was ableto get the line over to others on shore who then was able to drag the capsized kayak back to land. The fellow that tipped, an older gentleman was very lucky as he was out without a life jacket and could have been swept away.

A goal I have in 2014 is to take the kayak, load it with some camping gear and what I need to fish for a few targeted species, and paddle into Loch Alva to camp and fish. We intended to do that last year, but the weather and the schedule didn't work out. I'm hoping to take the boys camping/fishing in canoe as well on a shorter, less risky trip, but to be honest, the 4 hour paddle to Loch Alva and fishing for lakers and brook trout is really what I'm looking forward to in 2014!

Anyhow, those are some of the memories I have of this past year in kayak. It has been a wonderful year of new experiences and learning and I really can't wait till my kids Fynn and Rowan are old enough to head out in their own kayaks fishing with me. Fynn has already asked when he can have a kayak with a rod holder!

How to fish for Shortnose Sturgeon in New Brunswick

This year has been very much a learning experience and I've learned a ton, especially with sturgeon fishing at our local hotspot called "Sturgeon Alley". After spending many hours with limited to no success and talking to others, I've finally figured out the tricks to make a sturgeon hunt as successful as possible. These hints are what I have found to work for me, they are not intended to be seen as a lecture on the right way versus the wrong way to fish. I certianly have seen others in boat fishing sturgeon with different techniques than described here with success, so one size may not fit all!

Here are a few of the sturgeon I've caught in the last few months. Even Fynn, my 6 year old has caught a couple now as well!

Recently I've had afternoon's or evenings in kayak where I have landed 5, 6, 10, and even 16 sturgeon in a few hours! With sucess rates like this, I know I must be doing something right.

My technique is to use a medium/heavy rod, and a low profile bait caster reel spooled with 40 pound braid. The braid is very likely far stronger than I'd need, but I'd rather strong versus weak just in case the very rare large Atlantic is lurking out there. For a 6 or 8 foot fish you want to have a strong line! Also, the scutes on the sturgeon are very sharp. If you hook one, and he is a fighter, he could very well rub your line across his body and if your unlucky, cut the line! Finally I like to use braid as it has no stretch and that is quite useful here for setting the hook.

Check out how sharp these protruding bones are... they could easily slice a 15 pound mono line!

Anyhow, at the end of the braid, I use a fairly strong snap swivel, and then about 3 feet of 40 pound mono for my leader. On the leader I use 2 hooks, the first at the end of the leader and the second about half way up. For hooks I use 3/0 or 4/0 red mustad hooks.

The key to sturgeon fishing is to get the bait down to the bottom, so I use the snap from another snap swivel to put a pair of 1 ounch triangle weights onto the braid above the snap swivel. This lets the weights slide freely up and down the line and doesn't affect the sensitivity of when a fish is taking the bait.

Once your line is rigged up you want to get some nice juicy nightcrawlers on your hooks. Now, you can basically throw your line out, let it sink, and then let the waiting game begin.

So up till this point, everything I have said is bascially common knowledge for anyone who has fished for sturgeon before. So now for the hints.

First, make sure to completely cover your hook. Sturgeon have next to no eyesight and use those catfish like hairs under their nose to sense their food. If they sense the metal, they are less likely to go for the bait... at least that's my experience.

Another key one that most people don't do is to have 2 hooks on the leader. I have actually caught 2 sturgeon this year, without hooking them at all, but rather lasoo'ing them! The 2 hooks somehow have twice wrapped around the sturgeon and hooked back around the leader effectively making a noose! Typically the 2 hooks help to really increase the number of fish you jig through the fin, nose, back.... etc, but being about to catch a fish without hooking them at all is great for the fish! You could have 3 hooks, but then your really going to run through your bait fast, and you could get more in tangles than makes it worth it. 2 works great for me.

Next, tight lines! Keep the rod in your hand and keep the line tight. You want to really feel for any fish nibbling, swimming by and knocking into the line and so on. Sturgeon can bite hard, but they can alse be amazingly soft. You may have your bait in the sturgeon's mouth and not even realize it unless you are holding the rod and feeling for it.

Related to the last hint, don't cast far. I never cast more than 5 or 10 feet from my kayak, and often times just drop my line directly under me. The less line you have out, the more sensitive your line is, and the better you can set your hook.

I find the best time to fish is the 2 hours before and after high slack tide. I typically don't even bother outside that window anymore. So when is high slack tide at sturgeon alley? About 4 hours 10 minutes after high slack tide in Saint John according to this website: Saint John Tides.

Now here's the key hint... don't wait for a bite! If your line has been out for 2 - 3 min, lightly lift the rod from horizontal to 45 degrees. If it brings up into something solid, lift it hard up to 90 degrees and then start reeling! I would estimate about 1/2 of the sturgeon I've caught this year have been this way. By doing this, and especially with the pair of hooks on your leader, you really increase your chance of setting the hook in a fish that is sucking the worm off softly, or jigging one that is sniffing around but not biting. I've caught 48 inch sturgeon this past couple weeks that I never knew were there till I did exactly this trick.

If you are like me and fish from a kayak, you may have a moment of panic if you hook a big one, get it next to your kayak and think... what now? What you don't want to do is lift it out of the water by the hook. I lost a potential 48 incher just that way the other night... DOH! What you want to do is grab the line with you hand (wear gloves), and get your rod back in a rod holder or out of the way. Then manouver the line so that the stugeon's tail is within reach. The scutes (bone protrusions) are not sharp back by the tail and he is not at all slippery so it's easy to get a good grip. Get a hold of him at the tail and lift from there as your primary point of leverage, then lift the line as well as you need. I have found even for the 4 foot sturgeon, I have little trouble getting them into the kayak once I have hold of the tail.

Finally my last one, is use 2 rods. In sturgeon alley you are in tidal water and are allowed several lines in at once. I like to keep one rod in each hand, feeling at all times for any activity and periodically raising one rod then the other in hopes of hitting a fish. This is why I really like the low profile baitcasters; they are lighter on the arms and easier to operate with 1 hand until you need to reel one in.

What's really fun is when you end up with a sturgeon on both rods at the same time as happened here. Note, for both of these fish, there were no bites, just a random hit from raising the rod:

Anyway, I hope this has been a fun read for you! Let me know what you think and if you have any success with these hints!

Oh, and if you want to keep a sturgeon, keep in mind the minimum size is 120cm or 47.25 inches total length. To measure a sturgeon for total length, lay him down flat on his belly, and fold the tail down sideways. Then measure from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. Sturgeon are considered endangered so I don't know why there is any limit at all. To be honest, I did keep one this year, and made use of internet research to figure out how to fillet and cook it. After soaking it in brine for 3 hours and then smoking it on my Big Green Egg for another 3 hours, I have to say it tasted excellent! I may keep one a year, but that will be all I ever keep, and then I'll cook it for a meal with fellow anglers and their families to experience, cutting down on the total number of sturgeon we keep in total.

Memories of 2013

2012 was our family's first real summer of fishing in New Brunswick. Mainly it started with me and my kayak learning from others in New Brunswick about fishing here for perch, smallmouth bass, trout, pickerel and so on. Anytime that we could I would take my boys out fishing with me.

Here we see my youngest Rowan, who had just turned 3 holding a small perch that he had hooked, reeled in and taken off his hook all by himself!

This is my oldest Fynn showing off his first pickerel caught at Kingston Creek in canoe early this past summer.

Obviously both boys have inherited a joy for fishing and both want to get out with me in canoe as often as they can.

Aside from getting out with the two boys, I also partook in several fishing tournaments for the first time in my life. Every one was a unique and learning experience. From rescuing a sunken kayak in the wind and rain and extrememly strong current up in Chipman (Shad tourney - Salmon River), to paddling all day in canoe with a new friend and my dog in a pickerel tournament, to winning the early bird prize in the NB Paddler's tournament, it was all a lot of fun and times to remember.

This year I managed to catch white perch, yellow perch, trout, eel, catfish, small mouth bass, suckers, sunfish, pickerel, sturgeon, a striped bass,... and probably more than I can't remember.

The one fish that I have really taken on an expertise with is sturgeon. I'll post seperately about my sturgeon experieces and what I've learned. With 71 caught on the year (61 in kayak), and 16 in my last kayak trip alone, I've really gotten a knack for them and feel I can offer a lot to others that want to get out and catch their first sturgeon.