Monthly Archives: November 2013

Thanksgiving Memories

This holiday season always brings bittersweet memories. I am very thankful for my mother and will forever remember the wonderful things she did for me and that we did together. But she died Thanksgiving week 13 years ago so all the memories are tinged with sorrow.

One of my favorite memories happened at our place at Clark’s Hill. It was the middle of a warm June day and I was taking a break after lunch. When I left our camper and walked up the hill to the bath house I saw mom fishing under the dock by herself.

A few minutes later walking back down the hill I saw mom fighting a fish. I got close enough to hear her talking, coaching herself, saying things like “Play him slow” and “Keep the rod tip up.” I stood by a pine tree for several minutes enjoying the scene before going to the dock and helping her land a nine pound carp.

Mom was totally happy fishing. She would fish anywhere there was water and didn’t mind fishing alone or with others. She and another lady neighbor used to take our truck and 12 foot jon boat to the local Public Fishing Area. Both of them were in their sixties but they would go out and fish all day. Dad fixed up a winch system so they could load the boat by themselves. I have a mounted 2 pound, six ounce shellcracker she caught in 1982 on one of those trips.

Another great memory also involves the Public Fishing Area we called the “state ponds.” Mom and I had fished for several hours, me casting for bass and her fishing with live worms for anything that would bite. We took the boat out of the pond and I walked out on the dam. In the spillway below the pond I could see bream in the pool of water.

Mom and I got our rods and reels and her bait and crawled down the dam to the pool of water. For the next couple of hours we caught bream after bream. We had contests to see who could catch the most on one piece of bait and who could catch the smallest fish. That was a tough contest since none of the little bluegill were over three inches long.

That was one of the many times I totally lost track of time while fishing with her.

Mom was deathly afraid of snakes but loved fishing even more. One day as we walked down to my bass boat tied up under the dock at Clark’s Hill we saw a snake slither off the dock, onto the boat and into the hole at the transom where the controls came out. I told mom there was no way I could get the snake out.

After thinking about it for a few minutes mom gingerly got into the boat. We fished all afternoon but I don’t think she ever completely relaxed. I knew the snake was happy in its dark hole and would not come out, especially with us moving around and talking, but I don’t think mom’s feet ever rested on the deck of the boat in one place very long that afternoon.

Many nights mom went out with me to check trotlines and bank hooks. She was happy holding the light or helping bait hooks. Several times we would bait up our lines, get out on the bank, build a fire and fish with rods and reels for several hours while waiting on catfish to find our set hooks. I remember sitting by the fire with her and talking about anything and everything, but don’t remember whether we caught anything or now.

One summer I found out I could go out with a spotlight at night, find carp in the shallows and gig them. Although I thought it was legal to kill a carp any way you could I found out later gigging them, especially at night with a spotlight, was not legal. We still had lots of fun.

I would gig a carp then raise it out of the water. Mom would sit on the back casting chair and would open the live well as I swung the carp over the side. I would put the gig over the lip of the live well and she would drop the lid, letting me pull the gig out while leaving the carp inside.

One night when mom opened the live well my dog Merlin jumped as I brought a crap over the side. She jumped right in the live well. Mom and I laughed till we cried at the sight of Merlin’s head sticking out of the live well, with a look at said “get me out of here!”

I am glad I have such good memories.

Why Tag Bonefish?

Collecting bonefish for tagging

Collecting bonefish for tagging

BTT Bonefish Tagging Efforts Expand to South Andros

by Zack Jud
Bonefish & Tarpon Trust
from The Fishing Wire

Last month, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust’s Bahamas Initiative waded into the fabled waters of South Andros. While a handful of bonefish had previously been tagged by guides in South Andros, this was the first large-scale tagging effort on the island. As most anglers probably know, catching a tagged bonefish (or any tagged fish for that matter!) is a once in a lifetime experience. From a research perspective, the more fish we have tagged in a given locale, the more likely we are to get valuable data from recaptures – data that we will use to identify growth rates, movement patterns, habitat use, and overall health of the area’s bonefish population.

Bonefish being tagged

Bonefish being tagged

Despite a lingering cold front and 25 knot winds, the BTT-led research team managed to tag more than 650 bonefish in four long days on the water. To even their odds in the face of ugly weather, the team reluctantly set down their fly rods (well, for the most part), and instead relied on a 250′ long soft mesh seine net to capture bonefish for tagging. Working closely with guides from Deneki’s Andros South Lodge, the researchers used the net to quietly encircle large, and oftentimes fast-moving, schools of bonefish. Unfortunately, herding bonefish into a net is a bit like herding cats…they rarely go where you want them to. All too often, a school will make a last-minute U-turn, slipping right back out of the closing net. To put the odds in their favor, the BTT team asked the guides to try to find the largest schools of bonefish possible, figuring that with enough fish in the water, they’d be bound to get a few to swim into the net. Well, the guides clearly know their fishery intimately, putting the researchers onto many huge schools of bonefish, some containing more than 1,000 fish. Worries about catching enough fish during the trip were quickly replaced by worries about running out of tags!

In the first day of tagging, a single net haul resulted in the capture of more than 400 fish (not counting several hundred more fish that managed to stay out of the net as the big school split in half). On day two, in the midst of a raging lightning storm, the team again managed to capture a huge school of bonefish, probably numbering close to 500 fish. Facing fading light and a long, rainy run back to the dock, the crew made the tough decision to call it a day before they had tagged the entire school. They ended up releasing several hundred untagged fish so they could make it home before dark. There’s just that many bonefish in South Andros! Rapidly deteriorating weather reduced the number of fish caught on the last two days of the trip, but the crew still managed to tag fish in all of the popular South Andros fishing spots – Grassy and Little Creeks, the west side, and the southern cays. We don’t want to tell a fish story, but there are some awfully big fish swimming around South Andros wearing a new piece of numbered jewelry, courtesy of BTT.

On BTT research trips, the work doesn’t stop when the boats are parked and the nets are out of the water. An important part of these trips is explaining BTT’s conservation efforts to local guides and lodge owners. Without the continued support of these folks, our work wouldn’t be possible. I am happy to report that our efforts to protect Andros’ bonefish into the future were very well received, and all of the guides and lodges in South Andros seem eager to report recaptures back to BTT. With the busy season cranking up, it’s only a matter of time before clients begin catching our tagged fish. Despite the economic value of the bonefish fishery on Andros, we still have many unanswered questions about the fish that call the island home. How big of an area do these fish use during their life? How quickly do they grow? Where do they spawn? What habitats are most important for the conservation of the species? What do we need to do to assure that the incredible South Andros fishery is protected for years to come? Although it will still be some time before significant numbers of recaptures start rolling in, the work we began last month is the first step in coming up with answers to these important conservation questions. To become a member or support our efforts in the Bahamas or support any of our other great projects, visit:

Getting Your Fishing Equipment Ready For Winter

Is your fishing equipment ready for winter weather?

A sign at my lawnmower shop reads “Man who leaves lawnmower outside all winter will not mow grass in the spring.” That not so subtle hint should be a warning to fishermen, too. If you don’t prepare your equipment for winter storage, you won’t be a happy fisherman when the weather gets right for that first trip next spring.

Make a checklist so you are sure you take care of all the important things you need to do. These will cover most of them but you should add any others that work for you.

Where you store your boat for the winter is important. If you can store it inside you will be far ahead of game. If not there are many more things you must attend to for the coming harsh weather.

Your motor is the most likely problem after sitting up all winter. Gas deteriorates with time and can foul your engine. The newer blends of gas with Ethanol in them are bad for outboard motors, too. If possible, buy gas with no Ethanol added the last two times you fill up each season so no alcohol is left in the system. It is best to store your boat with a full tank of gas, too.

Lower your motor till it is straight up and down and store in that position so water runs out and does not collect in it. Add a gas stabilizer like Sea Foam to your last two tanks of gas so it works through the motor as you run your boat. It will clean your motor and you are ready to store after the last use.

You can also disconnect your gas line and let the motor run until all the gas in the system is burned up, but this also removes the oil. Once the motor is running stabilized gas, or after it stops if you run it dry, spray an engine fogging oil into the air intake until the motor stops running. If it is already stopped keep turning the motor over until you see the fog coming from the exhaust port.

Remove spark plugs and spray more fogging oil into the cylinders. Turn the flywheel to spread the oil inside. Have a new set of spark plugs ready for the spring, but it is best to wait to install them until you can run your motor one time to burn off the fogging oil. New plugs installed now will be fouled by that first trip.

Drain your lower unit oil and refill with new oil. If you see water in the oil or if there are metal filings in it, you will need to have it checked for new seals or repair work. Put in a new water pump. Water pumps in outboard motors wear quickly and it is a good idea to replace them often.

Spray all linkages and connectors in your motor with a good oil spray like WD-40. Disconnect manual steering cables and make sure no water is in them, and force grease into them if they don’t have a grease fitting. Grease all fittings for steering and motor mount bearings. Put a light coating of grease on the starter bendix and shaft.

Park your boat and raise the front. Pull the drain plug and leave it out. This lets all water drain from it and will keep water from collecting in it during the winter. Disconnect your batteries, make sure they are filled with water, clean the terminals and connectors and put a light coating of grease on them, and charge the batteries. Keep a trickle charge on them or check often to keep fully charged all winter long.

Take all equipment out of the boat and disconnect and store all electronics inside after cleaning them. Spray all connectors with an oil spray. Clean and store life jackets where vermin won’t chew on them. Check and store expendable equipment like fire extinguishers and flares, making sure they are still good. Put fishing equipment aside for later work.

Take off your prop and grease the prop shaft. Check for damage to the prop and get it serviced if necessary. Be sure to use the correct kind of cotter pin to hold your prop nut on if it requires one. Replace prop and tighten to specifications for your motor.

Check trolling motor bolts and fittings and tighten. Remove the prop and make sure no line is under it, and the seal is still good. Grease all moving parts of the mounting system and the cable.

Wash and wax your boat and trailer, including the motor cover. This removes dirt and stains that may set over the winter and be almost impossible to remove later, and the wax protects the finish.

If you have power steering on your boat, check the fluid level. Check the fluid level in your power trim. Disconnect the speedometer tube and blow the water out of it. Check all cleats and other fittings and tighten all bolts and screws, especially on seats. Spray all seats and other similar surfaces with a good vinyl spray to protect them.

When the boat is clean and dry, put a cover on it if it stays outside. Make sure the cover keeps rain, snow and ice out of the boat but has some air circulation so moisture won’t build up inside from condensation. Secure and support the cover so it won’t blow off and ice and snow won’t collapse it.

Jack up your trailer and block it so the tires are off the ground, and leave it that way. Pump up tires to recommended inflation, and if you can store tires inside, do so. Repack wheel bearings and check surge brakes for wear. Check tires for uneven wear and get them balanced or aligned as needed. Cover your tires to protect them from the sun if they are outside. Grease your tongue jack and hitch connector, and spray oil spray into both male and female light connectors.

Make sure all lights are working and sealed, with no water inside. If you see water inside, take the cover off, dry them out and spray with a oil spray. Replace bad bulbs and cracked lenses, and secure all wires to the trailer that may have worked loose.

This is a good time to sort all your tackle, making a list of what you need to replace. Sharpen hooks, replace rusty hooks, repair any damaged plugs and replace stiff spinnerbait skirts. Store plastic worms in bags that will not deteriorate. Clean tackle boxes and refill with your favorite baits.

Rods should be wiped down with a oil spray and the reel seat cleaned and oiled. Check all guides for rough spots. Visually inspect them but a cotton Q-Tip or piece of woman’s hose run through them will show tiny cracks that can cut your line.

Reels should be taken apart, cleaned and oiled, reassembled and stored. This is a good time to send a reel off to a good repair shop. Many will clean your reels for a small fee and replace damaged or worn parts for an additional fee.

Remove all monofilament type lines. They don’t hold up well during the winter, so wait until spring to fill your spools with new line. Put a small sticker on your reel to remind you of the type and test line if you need to. Check braided lines for wear and replace as needed.

Some of us are fortunate and can fish all winter, using our boat and tackle often enough to keep it in good working order. But even for those fishing year round, an annual “winter cleaning” will keep everything in top condition. Do it on those days you really don’t want to be on the water even if you can, so you will be ready for the good days when they come.

Two products will make winterizing your boat easier and take care of many problems. An oil spray like WD-40 will clean surfaces, protect against rust and dry moisture when sprayed into couplings, moving parts and sockets. A light coating will protect all winter long and not cause problems in the spring.

Adding a gas stabilizer and engine cleaner like Sea Foam to your fuel on a regular basis will help keep your engine running smooth and keep gas from gumming up your engine over the winter. Most important, it helps control the build up of moisture in your fuel tank and motor, a major problem since most brands of gas now contain Ethanol. Sea Foam is available gallon cans to keep cost down.

Plan To Keep Biscayne National Park Open To Boating and Fishing

National Park Service Offers Plan to Keep Biscayne National Park Open to Boating and Fishing
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s feature comes to us from the American Sportfishing Association (ASA).
from The Outdoor Wire

Preferred plan addresses many of the concerns expressed by the boating and fishing communities

Alexandria, VA – Last week, the National Park Service announced a supplemental General Management Plan (GMP) for Biscayne National Park that marks an important step towards balancing the need for public access while addressing resource concerns. The park’s new preferred plan addresses many of the concerns from the recreational boating and fishing communities contained in the original 2011 GMP proposals.

Located adjacent to Miami, Fla., Biscayne National Park is the largest marine park in the National Park system and one of the country’s largest urban recreational fishing areas. The park’s updated plan is the result of lengthy discussions among the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with significant input by the boating and fishing communities.

The new preferred alternative eliminates a 10,000 acre marine reserve which was a significant point of contention for the boating and fishing communities. The new preferred plan instead establishes a 14,585 acre special recreation zone along a portion of the park’s reef tract in which fishing would be allowed year round with a special permit. The plan also includes a long-term research and monitoring program to inform adaptive management of the zone. Recreational fishing and boating is still permitted in nearly all of the remainder of the park under state and federal rules and regulations.

Previous proposals would also have established significant non-combustion engine zones along the coastline which would have unnecessarily restricted boating access. The preferred plan removes those zones and instead, includes slow-speed and no-wake zones.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the broader boating and fishing communities, have worked to bolster awareness surrounding the Park Service’s proposed GMP which initially set out to close up to 20 percent of boating and fishing access in Biscayne National Park. The boating and fishing communities were joined last year by Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio who signed a joint letter expressing concern to then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. NMMA and ASA will participate in the public comment period for the supplemental GMP.

NMMA President Thom Dammrich notes, “NMMA is optimistic that this plan properly balances the need for resource conservation and robust boating and angling access. We look forward to working with NPS to protect the access granted to boaters and anglers and are pleased to see progress. NMMA will remain an active participant in this ongoing discussion, and will be vigilant in ensuring that the steps we’ve taken forward are not lost as the plan continues to take shape.”

ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman said, “The recreational fishing industry is pleased that all the agencies involved in the Biscayne National Park debate were able to come together and identify productive management solutions that still allow for public access while addressing resource concerns. We look forward to working with the Park Service to ensure that the public is allowed reasonable and sustainable access to these public waters.”

A copy of Biscayne National Park’s General Management Plan/Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement is available here ( A series of public hearings are planned for December 2013.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) is the leading association representing the recreational boating industry in North America. NMMA member companies produce more than 80 percent of the boats, engines, trailers, accessories and gear used by boaters and anglers throughout the U.S. and Canada. The association is dedicated to industry growth through programs in public policy advocacy, market statistics and research, product quality assurance and promotion of the boating lifestyle.

Why Do Some Fishermen Catch Bass When Others Can’t?

Sometimes I wonder why I go bass fishing in the winter and if a bass can be caught out of ice water. A Sunday in late January, 2011 at West Point really brought those thoughts on strong. The Spalding County Sportsman Club held its January tournament there and nine brave members showed up to fish seven hours. There were a total of two bass weighed in!

Sam Smith won it all with one keeper largemouth weighing 2.26 pounds, getting first place and big fish. As close behind as you can be on our scales, Niles Murray came in second with a spotted bass weighing 2.25 pounds.

The rest of us had stories of casting practice and one member told of losing a big one a the boat. I never had a bite all day although I tried everything I could think of to find a fish. A huge part of catching bass is confidence and when my surface temperature gauge showed 38 degrees at launch I lost all hope.

To show how much I know and how good we are, there was another tournament going on that day. West Georgia Bass Club is an buddy tournament trail open to anyone wanting to join and they fished the same day we were there with 93 teams in the tournament. I saw other bass boats all day that were probably in the tournament.

Almost one third, 33 of the teams, had a bass to weigh in. I was shocked to see the winning team had five bass weighing 19.08 pounds. It took 14.19 pounds for second, 13.59 for third and 12.98 for fourth. Those weights amazed me and I wonder how they caught such good stringers of bass under such bad conditions.

I have fished with several of the guys that caught fish in that tournament. They took me out and showed me how they fish for articles for Georgia Outdoor News. They fish just like I do, with much the same tackle and equipment. Yet they made decisions that day that allowed them to catch bass while I never got a bite.

Sometimes I think the ability to catch bass is almost a sixth sense or special ability. It is like playing baseball – anyone can learn to play. But no matter how hard most practice and work at it, they will never reach the majors. The same goes for concert pianists. Anyone can learn to play the piano but no matter how hard they practice only a very select few will ever go on tour.

Anyone, even me, can learn to bass fish. But no matter how hard I try I keep having days like that Sunday. And so far at that point that year it wass the only kind of day I had. I had not caught a bass in 2011!

How Can I Use Swim Baits To Locate Bass?

Using Swimbaits to Locate Bass
from The Fishing Wire

Smallmouth love big swimbaits

Smallmouth love big swimbaits

Cliff Pirch shows a whopper smallmouth from Lake St. Clair. He often uses big swimbaits as “locator” lures.

It may sound a little strange, but there are times when Clifford Pirch casts lures and knows bass won’t hit them. It doesn’t bother him, because the Yamaha Pro is using the lures simply to fool fish into showing their location, and when they do, he immediately throws back with a different bait to catch them.

“It’s not a technique widely used among the tournament pros,” confides Pirch, a veteran FLW® competitor who completed his first year on the Bassmaster® Elite Tour this past season. “I use a big, jointed swimbait that I just reel slowly around and over visible cover to make bass show themselves. Bass may actually come out of the cover and follow the lure, but most of the time all you see is a quick flash as a fish comes out and then darts right back into hiding.

Us a big jointed swimbait

Us a big jointed swimbait

Pirch says he likes large, jointed swimbaits best as locators–the swimming action often causes bass to reveal themselves, allowing him to follow up with a smaller lure they’ll eat.

“The key for me is using the large, six-inch swimbait and reeling it slowly. It looks injured, so it gets their attention. I know that sometimes a hard plastic jerkbait will also fool bass like this, but overall, I don’t think those lures are as effective as a swimbait because they don’t have as much side-to-side movement with a slow retrieve.”

After seeing the bass give themselves away like this, Pirch casts right back with a small plastic worm, often on a drop shot rig with a spinning rod, and frequently catches the bass. Using the swimbait allows the Yamaha Pro to cover far more water on a single cast than he could with the worm.

“I prefer the thinner jointed swimbaits because even with a very slow retrieve they still move from side to side and look completely natural,” continues Pirch. “In fact, I like to call them ‘glide baits’ because they don’t create a lot of commotion. They just seem to glide through the water. The smaller, hollow plastic swimbaits with the downward-turned tails don’t work because they do create too much action.

“I think this is largely a visual presentation, too, because it really works best in clear water. I have had success in slightly dingy conditions, but it’s not a presentation for muddy water.”

Some of Pirch’s favorite places to use this fish-finding technique include the edges of submerged grasslines, along the sides of boat docks, in stump-filled coves, and over the top of shallow points. It’s most effective in the spring and fall months, but also works well in the summer, too. During the final Bassmaster® Elite event at Lake St. Clair this past August, for example, Pirch worked the swimbait about a foot deep over the edge of a long underwater grassline where several smallmouth came out to look at the lure.

“I like to make fairly long casts and then retrieve very slowly,” he emphasizes. “I point my rod tip down at the lure and keep a slight bow in the line so the lure does not come back in a straight line. I think the side to side wandering is important in giving the appearance the bait is injured.

“I use a 7’11” medium action rod with 20-pound test fluorocarbon line because it’s a fairly large lure. Then I like to throw back with a much lighter, smaller bait because the bass have shown some interest but they’re not intimidated at all by the little worm.”

Because it is a visual presentation in clear water, Pirch recommends matching the swimbait color to the color of the lake’s primary forage, be it shad, yellow perch, bluegills, or some other baitfish. A number of swimbait manufacturers offer jointed models, and normally in a variety of colors.

“When the bass are active, they’ll even hit the swimbait, but most of the time I’m not really expecting them to,” concludes the Yamaha Pro. “Locating bass is a problem every angler faces each time he’s out on the water, and this is just another way that actually fools the fish into giving away their location.

Catch largemouth and smallmouth on swimbaits

Catch largemouth and smallmouth on swimbaits

Both big smallmouths and largemouths are attracted to the jumbo lures when wobbled slowly close to their habitat.

“I always have a box full of swimbaits with me in the boat just for this technique, no matter where I’m fishing.”

There Is A Balance In Nature

Nature’s Balance

By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

It’s a common refrain anywhere anglers want to harvest more of a given species but the regulators won’t let them.’

Blue crabs taste good - to people and fish

Blue crabs taste good – to people and fish

Biologists say blue crab populations go up and down depending on water quality and habitat conditions, rather than on predatory fish like stripers.

“There are too many of these (insert your favorite species) and they’re eating up all the crabs and shrimp-we’ve got to harvest more of them in the name of conservation.”

Yeah we do.

Saltwater anglers in Florida make the charge about Goliath grouper, which they say are eating up all the gags as well as spawning permit-despite the fact that there are now more big gags than there have been in decades and permit are also doing very, very well. Commercial fishermen used to say they had to cut down on redfish numbers or all the blue crabs would soon be consumed. Didn’t happen-today the state is loaded with reds, and crabs numbers come and go, as they always have.

Sharks . . . don’t even get me started.

And presently, Chesapeake Bay commercial fishers are saying that the striped bass are eating up all the blue crabs in soft-shell stage, and that they’d be happy to step in and knock back the numbers of those predatory stripes.

This train of logic has one great failing; it is that somehow, all these species survived in balance before man came along to “help” the predators stay in balance with the prey. The problem, researchers nearly always find, is that habitat issues-sometimes caused by Man but more often by natural variation in temperature, rainfall or other conditions-are depressing the species of concern.

Blue crabs are food for many species

Blue crabs are food for many species

Blues are a delicacy both in their hard-shell form, and as soft-shells eaten whole when moulting.

And that seems to be the issue in Chesapeake Bay with the crabs at present. Crabbers there are having a down year, and they say it’s because the striped bass, on a comeback thanks to tight harvest regulations, are eating up all the crabs. They want to see regs relaxed so the stripers can be harvested big, “saving” the crabs-for the crabbers.

But here’s what Brenda Davis, director of Maryland DNR’s blue crab program, says:

“There are no scientific data to support a supposition that striped bass predation is causing a significant depletion of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population. In fact, studies performed in Maryland and Virginia to assess the diets of striped bass indicated that blue crabs make up a small percentage of the average striped bass diet. According to an intensive study in 2000, fish, particularly menhaden, account for 94 percent by weight of the striped bass diet.

“In fact, other studies have shown that cannibalism by large crabs was a major cause of juvenile crab mortality, accounting for 75 percent to 97 percent of the loss of juvenile crabs in certain locations. Juvenile crabs find protection in grass beds, which is also where striped bass and other predators find the best opportunities for catching them. Nonetheless, crab survival is best in vegetated habitats, where they can hide. Any effort to boost crab survival needs to look toward improving habitat and the protection of sea grass beds.

“There was a combination of environmental factors contributing to the high mortality of juvenile crabs in 2012 including Tropical Storm Sandy, abnormally warm and salty water, decreases in submerged aquatic vegetation coverage, a large influx of red drum into the Maryland portion of the bay, density-dependant mortality, and a large 2011 year class of striped bass.

Stripers do eat crab

Stripers do eat crab

Striped bass readily eat crabs, but food studies have shown by far the bulk of their diet is baitfish. (Photo Credit Yamaha Marine.)

“We don’t have a lot of data on impact of most of the factors on that list. However, we do have solid data that the Bay-wide harvest of spawning age female blue crabs has been at or below the 25.5 percent harvest target for five consecutive years. The ability to keep harvest in the safe range puts us in a much better position than we’ve been in the past (specifically 1992 and 1997) with similar abundance declines,” Davis said.

To be sure, there’s more than a little evidence that terrestrial prey species with a low reproduction rate and slow rates of reaching maturity can definitely be severely impacted by predators-that’s the reason that elk herds are declining in many areas where grey wolves have been reintroduced in recent years.

But for most saltwater fish, crustaceans and shellfish, where the survival strategy is to produce millions of young that grow up fast, biologists have thus far found it pretty much unheard of for a single type of predator to wipe out a prey species.

Bottom line is that if we do our best to maintain a healthy environment for all ocean species-and don’t overharvest any of them ourselves-nature will find a balance that creates a livable abundance for all.

Fires To Keep You Warm

There is nothing quite like warming up in front of a fire this time of year. No heaters provide the same kind of roasting warmth as you get from open flames. Inside by a fireplace or outside by a roaring barn fire on a freezing day, the flames will keep you warm. At least on one side.

As a kid we were taught not to play with fire but also were taught how to build fires and cook on them. Every camping trip from the time I was eight years old and sleeping within feet of the house in the back yard involved some kind of fire.

We managed to build them in all kinds of weather, from the middle of the summer when you didn’t want to get close, even to roast a marshmallow, to pouring rain where we had to build the fire under some kind of lean-to. In the winter we curled up near them in sleeping bags, rolling often to try to keep both sides warm. And the glow was very comforting when telling ghost stories around them, but the glow just didn’t go far enough!

Different kinds of wood burned in different ways but we usually just went by what we could find already dead. Our hatchets did chop down small dead trees but mostly we cut up fallen limbs too big to break. Pine straw made a good starter but we usually slipped in some newspaper, too.

Building the fire circle, a some-what round circle of rocks to keep the fire contained, was a tedious process. It took a long time to find enough rocks the right size. But then laying the wood out and getting the fire started was the challenging part. If not laid out just right it seemed we got a big flame for a few seconds when the paper and pine straw lit but then nothing. Wood too big, too damp or stacked wrong just would not light.

Matches were frowned on but we always had some. I tried many times to start a fire by striking flint on steel and even rubbing sticks together but matches always worked. And I always had to turn to them to get my fire started. At least I was prepared, with Strike Anywhere matches with their heads dipped in wax so they would light under wet conditions.

Cooking on the fire was always fun and most of the time the end results was somewhat edible. I loved marshmallows roasted on a straightened coat hanger or stick but always let mine catch on fire. No nicely toasted brown marshmallow with a hot center for me. I wanted mine burned black on the outside and melted on the inside. The hot melted marshmallow would burn your tongue every time but you hd to eat it fast before it dripped onto the ground!

I cooked hotdogs the same way. The only difference was they would not flame up like the marshmallows. But they would have a nice crispy black side with other sides not cooked much at all. But that mixture of textures and flavors just made them better, like a fine five course French meal.

My favorite fire cooked dinner of all time was what we called a “campfire dinner.” I learned it in my RA group at church. A big patty of ground meat was placed on a square of tin foil and sliced potatoes, carrots, onions and a chunk of butter were stacked on top. The tinfoil was folded around it making a sealed pack that was placed on hot coals. When opened you could eat it right from the tinfoil and its steamy goodness was very filling. And you didn’t have to wash dishes!

Breakfast was always a complex challenge, with toast burnt on the open fire, bacon burned on one end and almost raw on the other and eggs scrambled in the bacon grease until most of it was somewhat cooked. I don’t know how many times my friends and I cooked a breakfast like that and survived. The food police would have heart attacks now days seeing kids eat half cooked bacon and eggs – with everything from ashes to pieces of pine straw and egg shells mixed in!

None of the above would have been possible without our great fire building skills. Sometimes when I fire up my fireplace insert I remember those days. Even though I now use a chainsaw and gas powered wood splitter, I still love having a fire. And I still can’t get it started without plenty of newspaper! My central heat and air system just does not keep the house warm right. Not like the fire does.

From the forecast it looks like I will need a big fire the next week!

Using Charts and Markers To Find Your Way On the Water

How to Make Sense of Charts and Markers on the Fly
from The Fishing Wire

Even small children know what street signs mean. Stop, one-way and the like come easily. But boating traffic aids are different. First of all, the words “map” and “sign” aren’t even part of the lingo when it comes to nautical navigation. Rather, “charts” and “markers” serve as your guides, and it takes some savvy to know how to interpret them without pause.

A compass helps find your way

A compass helps find your way

A compass can be used to locate markers or structures on shore, helping to assure you of your position even without GPS

As long as you are within sight of land and have a chart, you have everything you need to understand your location. In addition to the buoys and such (called navaids in nautical parlance), charts also show significant shoreside structures. All you need to do is look across the top of your compass and read what the bearing (direction to) is to the structure you see on shore. Find the structure on your chart, and draw a line from it on your chart that reflects the bearing you saw. That line represents one leg of your position. Do this with several bits of structure and then plot those bearings on the chart as well, using the compass rose, parallel rules and a pencil. Where all the lines intersect is the point at which you are located. Then look at your depth sounder to see that the water depth matches the depth under the spot where the lines intersect.

You can also use your depth sounder as a navigation tool. Pick a depth contour in the distance offshore that you want to transit (for example 50 feet). If the number goes up, steer toward shore. If it goes down, steer toward the deep. With this simplistic navigation process, even a novice can stay on course. You can readily navigate according to depth contours by simply selecting a depth that more-or-less parallels your course while avoiding obstructions.

So what about using navigation markers? On the Intracoastal Waterways, generally red marks are on the mainland side of the channel. And of course, coming in from sea, it’s always Red/Right/Returning(in the U.S.). Perhaps the easiest way to remember what a mark means is to keep a navaid sticker next to your helm. These helpful stickers can be purchased inexpensively through most marine supply stores. They also give you all the right-
of-way whistle signals.

Watch for channel markers

Watch for channel markers

Channel markers help boaters stay out of trouble–but only if you know what they mean.

Don’t be afraid to alter your course and go right up to a marker to see what it is (at slow speed, of course). The absolute best proof of your exact position is to be right next to a marker with a number or letter. Make sure to always check that marker’s position against your chart as well.

Many may think that paper charts are not necessary due to the availability of electronic chart plotters with built-in GPS. But remember two crucial things:

If a device runs on electricity, it can suddenly stop working for numerous reasons no matter how inconvenient the situation. Electronic cartography still has not been deemed a legal means of navigation. If you ever get in an accident due to a navigational error and don’t have that “legal piece of paper” called a government-issued nautical chart, you could find yourself in a difficult situation

Many new boats don’t come equipped with navigation equipment. If you sea-trial a boat in areas where you have no local knowledge, it’s always a good idea to take along a handheld GPS. Alternatively, if you have a smartphone, make sure to download the award-winning Navionics + app. For fishing, try Navionics+ SonarCharts that provide incredible bathymetric charts within the normal chart plotter functions.

Have a nice day

Have a nice day

With a careful eye and a basic understanding of navigation, you’re ready for a pleasant day on the water.

Many states now require boaters to have a certificate proving that you have taken and passed a basic seamanship course. There are numerous such courses to be found online, some at a fee but many are offered free of charge. lists all the states that require boating safety certificates and provides links to each.

Finding boating safety courses in your chosen search engine will bring up pages worth of course opportunities. BoatUS® also offers an outstanding free course that can be tailored to various states where you might be boating.

Remember one other important fact: You may live in Virginia and have a certificate from there, but if you travel to Maryland, Delaware or North Carolina, you may need to get certificates from those places as well. Not all contiguous states enjoy boating safety course certification reciprocity. Check first to avoid potential fines.

Cold Front Bass Fishing Tactics

I caught this bass after a bad cold front

I caught this bass after a bad cold front

It never fails. All week the weather has been unusually warm for this time of year so you plan a trip to your favorite bass lake for Saturday. Everybody you talk to say the bass are tearing it up, hitting spinnerbaits, topwater lures and crankbaits in shallow water just about anywhere you want to fish.

Friday night the winds howl and the temperature drops. You are on the lake the next morning at daylight and the brightening sky shows completely clear with no haze or clouds at all. And it is cold, the coldest weather of the year so far. Water temperatures have dropped several degrees overnight.

Yep, the dreaded high pressure cold front has hit. Is it going to ruin your trip? You know bass seem to hate high pressure and dropping temperatures. So what do you do?

Bass respond to cold fronts in several ways. Why do they respond? There are a lot of theories, from higher pressure to brighter sunlight. But some of them just don’t hold up.

Even with a drastic increase in barometric pressure a bass has to move only a foot or so up or down to equal the pressure from the day before. Bass don’t seem to like bright sun but feed even on the brightest days. A change of a few degrees in temperature is more important in the spring than in the fall. And the wind that accompanies cold fronts can actually make them feed better.

No matter what the reasons, bass do change. We may never know exactly why. But there are some proven tactics that help you catch bass after a cold front blows through. Try them and catch some bass after a cold front.

In simple terms you go small, go tight, go slow, go deep, go to the wind or go to current. Go to the spotted bass if they are in the lake you fish. The baits you choose will probably change after a cold front and the places you fish varies some, but bass can still be caught if you plan to adapt.

Bass usually slow down after a cold front and won’t chase a fast moving bait. But the big exception to this is when the wind blows across a point or hits a steep bank. The wave action stirs up the baitfish, making them easier prey. The moving water pushes algae to the wind blown banks and baitfish follow, and so do the bass. And the bass can’t see your bait as well due to the broken water surface and more murky water from stirred up sediment.

One of the best ways to catch bass under these conditions is to fish the wind blown banks and points with a spinnerbait. As long as you can control your boat in the wind and waves you can find and catch bass. Find a point or steep bank where the channel swings near and fish it.

Depending on water color, a white spinnerbait with two silver willowleaf blades is best. If the water is stained try a skirt with some chartreuse in it and one or two gold blades. A heavier spinnerbait helps you cast in the wind and fish faster to cover water until you find the fish feeding. A half ounce bait works well. When you catch one you can usually catch a lot more from the same place.

Keep your boat a long cast off the bank and cast with the wind, working water from a foot deep right on the bank back to about ten feet deep. Run the spinnerbait about a foot under the surface like a confused baitfish trying to head back to deeper water.

If reeling your spinnerbait fast doesn’t work try slow rolling it a foot off the bottom, keeping it moving steadily with a slight pause every two or three feet to make the skirt flare. Don’t spend a lot of time on one place, make ten or so casts with a fast retrieve and the same number slow then move on if you don’t catch a fish. Bass school up and are concentrated on some structure but not others so keep looking until you find them.

If the wind is too strong to control your boat or you don’t find the fish or just don’t like fishing the wind, go small. Downsize your baits. If bass have been hitting a big crankbait or spinnerbait try a small one-quarter ounce bait. You have to fish the smaller spinnerbait more slowly and that is good. Slow down with the crankbait, too, if that is your choice of baits.

Also drop down to a three sixteenths ounce jig and pig or one eighth ounce jig head worm with a short finesse worm on it. These baits fall more slowly and you have to move them more slowly to keep contact with the bottom, and that is good, too. Fish around cover near where the bass have been feeding.

Work any cover you find carefully. Many bass won’t move far. If they have been feeding around stumps or rocks in six feet of water they may still be holding there and a little deeper. They may also move closer to deeper water.

Bass move often move very tight to cover after a cold front. They may still be in the exact same depths and locations but are harder to catch since they are buried in the thickest cover and won’t chase a bait very far. Take advantage of this.

Find a dock and fish it. Docks always hold bass if they have water deeper than a couple of feet under them in the fall, and they are even better if they are near deep water. But the bass get way back under them after a cold front.

One of the best ways to fish a dock after a cold front is to skip a bait as far back under it as possible. A weightless four inch Senko rigged whacky style on a weedless hook gives you small and slow and you can get them into places it is hard to get other baits.

Rig your Senko on a spinning rod with eight pound test fluorocarbon line. It takes a little practice but you can skip that bait on the lighter line all the way to the back of a dock sitting a few inches off the water. Let the bait settle to the bottom without moving your rod tip or reeling in your line.

A Senko or similar bait falls with a slow, enticing wiggling action rigged whacky style. When it hits bottom let it sit still for several seconds. Watch your line carefully for any small tick or movement. Set the hook fast and get the bass out from under the dock as quickly as possible.

Also try the posts and any brush under the dock with a small jig and pig. Pitch or skip a three-sixteenths ounce jig with a twin curly tail trailer right to the posts or to the middle of the brush. The light jig and the twin tails make the bait fall slowly and the bass often find this irresistible.

Fish other cover the same way. Find stumps and pitch a small jig and pig to them, letting the bait fall right beside them. Pitch your jig and pig into the thickest parts of a blowdown, paying careful attention to where limbs join the trunk of the fallen tree. Work all the way to the end of the tree top.

Brush piles hold bass but they bury down in the very middle of them after a cold front and not move out to feed. But a small jig and pig or Texas rigged worm dropped through the brush and jiggled in their face will get them to hit. Use heavy line, 15 to 20 pound test fluorocarbon, so you can get the fish out of the cover.

In all this cover don’t expect the bass to pick up the bait and move off. They often suck it in and not move at all. So watch for that tick when they eat your bait. Also raise your rod slowly when you move the bait. If your line is tight set the hook if there is any doubt if it is a fish.

No matter how you are fishing the cover, fish slowly. Using small baits helps but let them fall and sit as long as you can stand it. Jiggle them a little in one place as long as you can. You want to make a bass hit that is not really in a feeding mode.

Out of the wind, small spinnerbaits and crankbaits work if you move them as slowly as possible and bump them into the cover. With a spinnerbait if you hit a limb pull it up and let it fall back without coming over the limb. With a crankbait hit the cover and let it float up to drive the bass crazy.

Bass live deep and there are always deep bass but a cold front may push shallow bass deeper. Find deep structure with cover on it and the resident bass are there as well as any that have moved deeper. Small, slow moving baits work best after a cold front even in deep water.

A dropshot rig is one of the best outfits to get these bass to bite. Deep is relative on different lakes. On a clear highland type lake you may need to fish 30 plus feet of water. On more shallow lake with more stained water deep may mean 15 to 18 feet deep.

Good electronics are critical for this type fishing. Ride creek channels and drops watching for brush and stumps. When you find the cover examine it carefully for the telltale marks of fish holding in it. Even if you don’t see fish, try the deeper cover since they may be buried in the cover.

Baitfish near the cover makes it even better. If you see balls of baitfish find the closest cover and fish it hard. Shad tend to move deeper after a cold front and bass will be nearby, so take advantage of this bass attracting food.

Rig a finesse four inch worm about 18 inches above a sinker heavy enough to allow you to fish the worm in one place. If the wind is strong you may have to go to a fairly heavy drop shot weight.

Drop the rig to the bottom in the cover and tighten up your line, making the worm hover off the bottom. Barely twitch your rod tip to make the bait wiggle in place. Nose hooking the worm gives you more action but you may need to Texas rig it since you want to get the worm into thick cover.

A small jigging spoon works well, too. Try a silver one half ounce spoon if the water is clear or a gold spoon if it is stained. Spoons seem to work better if the water is fairly clear. Jig the spoon up and down in one place over and over, pulling it up a foot and letting it fall back in the same place.

With drop shot and spoons get the front of your boat right over the cover and fish and hold there, fishing both baits straight down. Sometimes you can see the bass suspended off the bottom. If you do, drop your bait down to the level they are holding and keep it in front of them.

One trick with a drop shot is to tie your hook as far above the sinker as the bass are holding off the bottom. If they are suspended five feet off the bottom, have your leader five feet long to keep the worm right in their face. This works no matter how far off the bottom they hold since you reel the fish in before getting to the lead, and it gives you exact control.

Bass in current are more active and have to feed more. Run up the river or feeder creeks in the lake until you find moving water. Rains often precede a cold front and runoff may make the current stronger, or power generation at the dam above or below the lake does the same thing.

Find eddies and pitch a small jig and pig or Texas rigged worm to those spots. Look for rocks, logs, brush and pockets where the current breaks. The bass usually hold in the lower current and feed as baitfish and other things they like, like worms or crayfish, wash to them.

Fish up the current. This gives you more boat control and allows you to fish your bait with the current in a natural movement. Pitch ahead of the boat and let your bait fall with the current into the eddy. And if you don’t like wind, you are more likely to find protected areas in the more narrow river than on the lake.

Spotted bass don’t seem to respond to cold fronts as badly as largemouth do. Florida strain largemouth that have been widely stocked out of their native range grow fast but are notorious for not feeding after a cold front. Northern and southern strain largemouth also get lock jaw after a cold front. But fish for spots and you are more likely to catch some bass.

Spots love rocks so fish rocky points and steep banks. Smaller baits are usually best for them even without a cold front, so try the same small crankbaits, spinnerbaits, worms and jig and pigs. Spots are more aggressive than largemouth all the time so you can usually fish faster, too.

For some reason spots are turned on by chartreuse. Try chartreuse spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Dip your plastic worm or jig trailer in a dip and dye like JJ’s Magic. Spots tear up a jig and pig with a curly twin tail trailer with the tips of the tails dipped to turn them chartreuse.

Don’t let a cold front get you down. Be prepared for it and catch some bass. Try these ideas and they should work for you. But no matter, it is better to go fishing than work around the house!


Dip and dye like JJ’s Magic works all the time when you are fishing, but the added colors and scent may make even more difference when fishing after a cold front. JJ’s has a strong garlic scent and comes in four colors to allow you to vary your bait color quickly, and to add highlights to your plastic baits.

Dip the tails of a green pumpkin curly tail worm or jig trailer into chartreuse JJ’s and it instantly changes color and smells strongly of garlic. The wiggling chartreuse tails look exactly like the fins of a bream and makes the bass more likely to eat it. That can make the difference between a bite and getting ignored after a cold front.