First time fishing East/West Harbors

Our camping spot for the KBF trail stop at East and West Harbor was booked as early as February, because it was a tournament that a friend of mine and I really wanted to be apart of this fishing season. When the week of July 21, 2019 came around, I was very much so looking forward to the trip, as I took the Thursday and Friday before the tournament off for prefishing. Not only would this be my first time fishing the harbors, but it would also be my first time fishing an in person KBF trail stop, as well as the biggest competitive event I attended to date. The biggest event I attended prior to East and West Harbor was the Buckeye Kayak Fishing Trail’s Shotgun on Cincinnati lakes in 2018, with 86 anglers in attendance, their biggest event to date. Once I arrived, I began setting up my camping equipment immediately so that I would’t have to worry about it in the evening time after coming in from fishing. The plans were to hit the water as soon as possible and return at 8PM from a solid day of prefishing.

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Prefishing day one was not great, but nonetheless was productive. I caught one fish within the first 10 minutes of being on the water, around 100 feet off of the bank I launched from. I planned to make my way around the entire harbor in order to see all that it had to offer, so I forced myself to keep moving instead of dissecting areas for 45 minutes each. The area of the harbor that I found most appealing was the northwestern bank along the state park, so naturally I began there. prior to arriving, I had completed my share of research and listened to a couple podcasts that talked generally about the harbors this past week, and they weren’t kidding when they said the harbors were similar to a large pond with weeds that didn’t get any deeper than about eight to ten feet deep. According to my fish finder that is a little outdated and questionable at this point, I paddled over a few holes that reached twelve foot deep. If there is any condition that I have learned a lot about over the past two years, and actually I learned to like a lot, its weedy conditions. I can thank Kiser lake for that one. There are a few creature and worm baits that I enjoy pulling through the weeds and feeling the bottom with my rod tip as it darts through the weeds.

Day two of prefishing proved to be more productive than day one. Despite seeing several anglers on East Harbor, it was easy to see how West Harbor was the more popular choice with 132 anglers having been signed up. Most people I asked said they were headed to West Harbor. I didn’t quite make it all the way around East Harbor on Thursday, so I made it a point to fish the rock piles near Bass Haven Marina on the southern part of the harbor at some point that day. This spot produced one fish for me, but not anything of size and that’s okay because all I really wanted to know is if I can resort to this spot if things got tough. Other fish I caught at the southern part of the harbor were scattered and the only pattern I recognized was that the fish were tucked down in the weeds for shade petty much no matter where I was, and that my Texas rig was going to be key. The fact that bass were still biting along the northwestern bank lead me to develop my game plan around fishing there. This would be the first spot I hit in the morning because it had the potential to help me get five fish on the board before noon. Hopefully a few of these fish would hit the fifteen inch mark or bigger to put me in the top 30% of anglers early. Having been a tournament angler here in Ohio for just two years at this point, I’ve learned that just catching a limit alone is something to be grateful for. I have had my share of days where I didn’t reach a limit and even days where i didn’t catch anything in a tournament, but feel I am progressing to the point where I’m catching a limit more often than most times.

Around 7:30PM I began making my way back to camp to call it for the evening, and decided to hit a few spots along the way. One of these spots was nearly 100 yards from the bank and near the boat ramp on the northwestern bank. I stopped to work the weeds for ten minutes and quickly felt a pull at the other end of the line. It wasn’t quite as hard of a slam as some of the other fish during the day. After reeling down and pulling the fish up a foot or two, I realized it may be a bit bigger than the other fish I was catching, because of the resistance. The fight didn’t last long before I had the fish at the surface and soon in the net, but I could see it was bigger than any fish I had caught before, just by looking at the girth. With the fish in the net, I quickly paddled to the bank in order to make sure I didn’t lose the fish when scoring it for the KBF monthly. I pulled my kayak up over some rocks and onto the bank with the fish safely in the net. Four younger boys and their father came over to see the fish and they were generous enough to take a couple pictures of me holding it. As I measured it, the tail reached eighteen and a half inches, which is actually a half inch bigger than my prior personal best. The more impressive feature about this Largemouth bass was the girth, and if I had to guess, I would say this fish might have been at three pounds but my broken scale could not confirm. Even though these specs may not be impressive for a lot of other anglers, this is what I’ve managed to catch, not fishing farm ponds, pay lakes, or private land ever, and it still leaves me with some really attainable personal best goals to reach in the near future. The journey to achieving goals just adds to the fun so I will embrace every last minute of the hunt for a bigger fish. I released the fish and this concluded day two of prefishing.

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I woke up at 4AM on tournament morning all ready to go. I got better sleep than the prior night and I made sure to give myself plenty of time to rest even if I couldn’t get to sleep. Boats were allowed to be on the water at 5AM and depart for their spots at 5:30AM. As soon as I was able to, I started toward the northwestern bank and sat patiently once arriving. A few other anglers had the same idea, but not enough for me to have to move to another area. When 6AM came around, I casted out with the same technique and rig ready to go. It wasn’t but a half hour in that I had my first fish in the boat, a fourteen inch largemouth. I continued to fish 100 or so feet from the bank as I gradually drifted with the current down the bank to other spots in my Jackson Coosa HD. The time was approximately 9AM when I was reeling in my second fish of the morning and this is also when things got interesting. When I had the fish laying safely on the board I went to pull out my phone to get a picture and my phone wouldn’t turn on. On the prior morning of prefishing, the same exact thing happened. The phone functioned as normal first thing in the morning, but after I got on the water is when it malfunctioned. On Friday morning I attempted to find a Verizon store, but while on the way, my phone magically turned on after being plugged back into the port in my truck to charge. Remembering this, on Saturday morning I put my phone charger in my PDF just in case i got low battery while on the water. So I had a fish in the net and a phone that wouldn’t turn on, but I knew I needed to plug in my phone with hopes that the phone would do exactly what it did the morning before. Luckily I saw one gentleman fishing from the bank and paddled over to him. He was kind and understanding to allow me to plug in my phone in to his truck, so I docked my kayak on the rocks and headed to the parking lot with him. Sure enough, my phones screen came on immediately after plugging it in. Thanking him, I headed back to my kayak to get down to business only to discover my kayak floating fifty feet out from the bank because I was in too much of a hurry to secure it to the bank properly. My heart sank for a moment, but I took off running in order to find someone in a boat that could help me out. Fortunately, within a moment or two I was able to determine that my Jackson Coosa HD was floating slowly back towards the shore and it was just a matter of waiting and meeting it down the bank a ways. With about thirty minutes taken away from my fishing, I was grateful that the incidents didn’t end much worse than they did. Back at it I was, grinding away and not being any less ready to go than before.

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By 1PM I had reached a limit and received some words of encouragement from my PaddleNFin family to keep going in order to upgrade. At this point, I had figured out that the fish were biting on the particular worm I was using and the way I was fishing it, by popping it up erratically for them to hit it on the way down. I had also figured out that the fish were biting between 100 and 125 yards from the bank. Another angler in a bass boat confirmed this for me when I over heard him talking to another angler about marking several fish 100 yards from the bank.

My next two fish came around 1:30 PM and pretty close to one another, giving me two additional inches for the leaderboard. I had not only caught my limit, but also upgraded twice and with this alone I consider to be a good day on the water. Now being in the home stretch of the tournament, I picked up my pace as an attempt at that last big bonus fish to push me a few spots up. I am not a big fan of checking the leaderboard during a tournament and I continued that habit at this tournament, so I had no idea what place I was in. The way I see it, regardless of if you are ahead or not on the boards, fish must be caught to both climb up and maintain your place on the leaderboard. In addition, it adds a mental burden in an already very mental sport, therefore I avoid the additional stress and pressure of looking. For the last hour and a half I stayed fishing in the same area but did not find the big fish upgrade, only smaller fish. So my biggest fish would stay at 15.25 inches and I would soon learn that I caught a total of 70.25 inches, finishing in 37th place out of 132 anglers. I felt accomplished and proud to have fished hard all day and not let the other obstacles get in my way. I beat out nearly 100 anglers in the biggest tournament that I have participated in to date, and there were several solid anglers I finished ahead of. My fishing progressed from day one right up through the end of the tournament, I caught a personal best bass, I handled a few annoying obstacles without letting them affect my game, and I was just shy of being in the top 25% of anglers at a KBF trail. East and West Harbor will remain a very memorable tournament until it can be topped.

Thank you for reading my blog. If you would like to follow my kayak fishing adventures, you can check me out on Instagram @jmarshfishing, look me up on Facebook or simply continue to visit the PadddleNFin.com website. More content coming soon.

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