There is one simple rule we at Chasing Tides live by that has been passed down from our elders. That rule is never leave waves to find waves, and never leave fish to find fish. But, sometimes, you have to pour one out as a sign of respect to the elders and then go ahead, in this case, and find some damn fish.
At this point in the year in Virginia Beach our transition from summer into fall is in full swing. We’ve had a number of cooler nights and a couple of Northeast blows that have steadily dropped our water temperatures, and in turn, fired up the speckled trout bite. With the speck bite heating up, the trout hunters come out in droves on the weekends looking to get in on the action. The shorter days give us fewer opportunities to fish with minimal crowds during the week, so we often look to break the golden rule and try to find some fish in solitude on the weekends. That however, is much easier said than done.
I personally scour Google Earth constantly trying to find new places, reinforce confidence in spots I regularly fish, and just because it is fun searching around thinking “what if?” The spot this post is about is a place I’ve had my eye on for awhile and had heard good things about, but I could never justify taking a chance and breaking the golden rule. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t confident enough in my abilities, hadn’t talked to the right people, or just couldn’t skew my “what if?” thoughts far enough into the positive spectrum to leave fish to find fish.
This is my fourth year fishing the Virginia Beach area for speckled trout and I have had decent success. I have caught a number of trout over 20” every year with the biggest being 23 ½”, but I still have not managed the elusive 24+” gator trout. Those of you who fish for speckled trout know that once they get over 20” it is a completely different ball game. The vicious strikes and head-shakes are next level and have kept me on the search for bigger and bigger fish.
After identifying some features I like to fish in this area on Google Earth, seeking insight from some local trout masters, and keeping an eye on the fishing reports, a favorable tide and wind forecast approached and the decision was made. It was time to get my first gator trout, and I was going solo, at first.
Immediately after deciding to check this place out, thoughts of excitement and doubt ran rampant in my mind. “You’re going to want someone there to take a picture of this beast trout,” I thought. “No one will believe you and the GoPro won’t do that fish justice,” was the follow up thought. Then it went to negative town. “It’s going to suck to go all the way out there and get skunked,” my brain churned out. “It’ll suck worse if I get someone to come with me and we both get skunked,” I continued. And then it hit me. Getting skunked with a buddy is better than getting skunked alone, plus, if the trout gods bless me, he can take the picture.
I reach out to Nick, one of Chasing Tides co-founders and the perfect photographer for my gator trout, and tell him the plan. Lucky for me, Nick understands my obsession with speckled trout fishing, Google Earth, and weather/tides, so when I come to him with a plan he knows that I’ve done my due diligence. Also lucky for me, Nick has been busy being a new father and has since moved away from the coast (which is also unlucky for me) so I knew, if he had the time it would be an easy sell. Sold. Nick agrees to meet me.
Speaking of due diligence, I even took the time to identify a spot close to the boat ramp that I could check out if I ended up beating Nick to the boat ramp, and would be easy for him to find me before we headed to the main area I wanted to target. This ended up being the case.
I launch my kayak just as the first oranges of sunlight start to rise up from the horizon. The air is brisk, the wind is light, and the water is cool. “Pictures of this trout are going to look sick,” I think.
I follow the boat channel out towards the sunrise to the spot where I told Nick I’d wait for him. As I approach, there is enough light to see four or five different groups of nervous bait on the surface of the water. I see a couple birds diving a little further out in the distance and a fish break the surface directly in front of me. I stop paddling to see how the current and wind affect my positioning. Once in a good position and with the sunrise now lighting up the area I start making some casts with a chartreuse Mirrodine 27MR. Second cast, I feel a thump and set the hook. I immediately realize that this is not the gator trout I am after, but damnit if it isn’t a slight success. I get the 16” speckled trout to the kayak and boom! Not getting skunked. After I release the fish, I look back toward the creek where the boat ramp is and I see Nick paddling towards me. Game on.
Nick is psyched on the sunrise and looks amped to be on the water. He quickly notices the bait being chased and says “seems fishy.” We agree, “never leave fish to find fish,” and stay in this spot. What ensues is probably the best three hours of fishing I’ve had in a kayak. We luck into a healthy helping of 16”-21” speckled trout, 17”-21” striped bass, and 18”-19” puppy drum.
The highlight of the day came when Nick and I looked down the bank to our left and see two or three redfish tailing near an oyster bed. Nick, in the perfect position, fires a cast just past one of them. At the same time, I look away to finish reeling in my cast in another direction and I hear, “Yeeew, Yew, Yeew!” When I turn back around I see Nick’s rod bowed up and him laughing. “That’s the first time I’ve ever sight-casted a fish,” he said. “That just made my whole year fishing wise.”
Those moments are the moments we constantly chase and make searching unfamiliar areas worth it. Even if you don’t achieve the outcome you were looking for you’ll learn something and be able to use it on your next adventure.
Although my chase for a gator trout continues, having the morning we had and knowing what it meant for Nick to catch that puppy drum completely made all of the excitement, doubt, and preparation worth it. Plus, now that we know this area is holding, we won’t be breaking the golden rule.