Monthly Archives: December 2013

Fishing Lake Burton in Georgia

I am often amazed at the hidden jewels of fishing lakes we have in Georgia. I fish many big lakes in this area and am familiar with them, but I often get a surprise when visiting lakes a little further from home.

A few years ago in late December I drove up to Lake Burton to get information about a February Georgia Outdoor News article. Burton is a small Georgia Power lake between Clayton and Hiawassee, north of Gainesville. The 157 mile trip took me just under three hours each way and I went by Tallulah Falls, a place that brought back many childhood memories of summer trips to the mountains.

Lake Burton hit the news when a new state record spotted bass was caught by Wayne Holland on February 23, 2004. His huge spot weighed an amazing 8 pounds, 2 ounces and looked like it had swallowed a softball it was so fat.

I fished with local angler Daniel Workman and we were on the lake for four cold hours, from 7:00 AM until 11:00 AM. I got only one bite during that time but managed to land a spot that weighed 4 pounds 1 ounce on Daniel’s scales. That just missed being my biggest spot ever, not quite matching the 4.24 pounder I caught at Lanier a few years ago.

Burton is an old lake ringed by docks. The houses are very nice and many of the docks are double decker houses that would make a fine lake cabin by themselves. It would look a lot like Jackson if it were not for the clear water and high hills surrounding. The scenery is very nice and just adds to the fishing.

There are lots of largemouth in the lake, too. Daniel said his best tournament catch ever came in a night tournament when he brought in five largemouth weighing 22 pounds – and came in third place. The best catch he has ever seen there was five largemouth weighing an amazing 27 pounds.

If you want something different, plan a fishing trip to Burton. The drive is worth it for the change in scenery and big spotted bass. During our trip we saw one other boat, a canoe being paddled around the edge of the lake.

Food Plots and Tracking Deer With Dogs

Each year I have the Georgia Forestry Service plow my food plot and fire breaks so I can plant winter browse for the wildlife. They provide this service at a reasonable hourly rate, using their bulldozer and a heavy harrow that really breaks up the ground.

I was a little late this year planting but it has been so dry I may have waited until the right time. Last Thursday Ken Parker harrowed for me and I got winter wheat, Austrian Winter Peas, Durana Clover and chicory planted. That night and the next morning I had an inch of rain on the newly planted seeds. They should sprout and provide good food in the cold months when other natural food sources are scarce.

Right now deer are eating acorns. It is amazing how many are falling in certain places this season. After the late freeze last spring wildlife biologists were worried about the acorn crop, and some trees aren’t producing, especially further north at higher elevations, but some oaks are producing bumper crops.

Deer fatten up on acorns to help survive the winter. They will eat them and ignore everything else. I put out corn in one corner of my field and deer have been feeding there all summer. But a week or so ago when acorns started falling they stopped eating it. They prefer acorns to corn.

The acorn crop can be a problem for deer hunters. With so many acorns falling from some trees deer won’t need to move much. Bucks may bed down in thickets near productive oak trees and not move far from bedding area to feeding area and back. Hunters might have a hard time finding them until the rut starts about the end of the first week in November and bucks lose their minds.

If you are lucky enough to get a shot at a deer but unlucky enough to make a bad shot, Ken Parker can help you out. Ken has tracking dogs and will help you find your deer for a small price. The day he plowed for me he had been out until 1:00 AM trying to find a deer shot by a bow hunter.

The call he got last Wednesday night was his ninth this year and he has been able to recover 4 of the deer he tracked. All too often a wounded deer will cross property lines and he can’t continue to track it without permission. That is the number one cause of not being able to find a deer.

The best thing you can do is make a good shot. No hunter wants to wound a deer but all of us can make a bad shot. If you do, call Ken at 770-468-5459. You can also see pictures of his dogs and read about tracking stories on his web site at

When you shoot your deer field dress it quickly and get it to a good butcher. Venison is fantastic when the deer is processed right. Last weekend I got a deer roast out of the freezer, the last one from last season, and put it on my smoker. After four hours of hickory smoke flavoring the roast I put it in the crock pot for a few hours to make it tender. I don’t think anyone that eats meat would turn down a helping of it.

I love venison and cook it any way you cook beef. I like the ground meat fried in patties and put on a bun. I prefer frying them since grilling tends to dry them out too much, even though they have beef fat in them to help retain moisture.

Cubed steak floured and fried is hard to beat, too. Make some milk gravy to go with it and serve it with mashed potatoes and English peas and my eyes roll back it is so good. I just with I still had fresh tomatoes to go with that meal all winter long.

Another favorite of mine is to put cubed steak or chops, or both, in a crock pot with onions, peppers and tomatoes. Adding a can of tomato sauce makes a good thick sauce with it. Cook it until the meat is tender and serve it with rice, steamed cabbage and corn bread. My momma would be proud of my cooking when I fix it like that.

With a limit of 12 deer a year there is no need to ever run out of venison. Linda and I eat about three deer a year, depending on their size, so I try for that many each season. I don’t care about big bucks, preferring does since I think they have a better flavor. I also like younger deer since they are more tender.

No matter why you hunt treat the carcass right and you will enjoy great eating all year long.

Can I Catch Winter Smallmouth On Spoons?

Casting Metal for Late-Season Smallmouth
from The Fishing Wire

Rethink Spoons as a Deadly Bait for Cold-Water Smallies

As dissolved oxygen and water temperatures become more evenly distributed in water bodies in late fall, smallmouth bass can hold just about anywhere. Finding them is the key, which means presentations that cover water fast are best…and nothing covers water better than spoons.

Catch smallmouth on spoonsw

Catch smallmouth on spoonsw

Big smallmouths like these are an ideal target for “heavy metal” in winter when th efish feed mostly on shad.

The notion of casting metal to fall smallmouth may seem strange at first, even for those who vertically jig winter-chilled largemouth. But as late-season smallmouth move toward wintering areas where they feed heavily on baitfish, there’s nothing like a spoon to reach deep water quickly and mimic what they’re eating.

In terms of fall locations, key on isolated rock piles, gravel flats, points and secondary points, especially those that plunge into deep water.

Bait Selection

Not all spoons are created equal. Hall of fame angler Doug Stange divides them into three main categories: slab spoons, horizontal spoons and “big butt” spoons, which are heavily-cupped and bottom heavy, like Johnson’s popular Sprite.

Spoons work for smallmouth

Spoons work for smallmouth

Choose the right type of spoon for the job and this can be the result.

Slab spoons are typically short, thick, heavier spoons that drop quickly. Some offer little action on the fall, while others flutter significantly.

Horizontal spoons, like the Johnson Thinfish, are longer, with a narrow profile, and often built thin; “flutter” spoons fall relatively slowly with a pronounced side-to-side fluttering motion.

Stange’s so-called “big butt” spoons are typically fished on a straight retrieve, but can be counted down to deeper structure and fished with aggressive jig strokes.

These spoons fall with a pronounced, almost zigzag wobble.

The main thing to remember when selecting spoons for fall smallmouth is to select baits that effectively target fish at the depth they are holding, and still allow you to fish at speeds that both cover water and trigger strikes. In most cases during late season that means concentrating on slab spoons, but not always, which is why it makes sense to bring a selection of spoons and let the fish tell you what they like best.

Fishing spoons is about depth, fall rate and jig stroke; get these things right and everything else will follow. Sticking with a small selection of colors will shorten your search as these other considerations are more important.

Personally, I am a fan of the Johnson Splinter Spoon, a slab spoon that casts easily, falls fast, and offers an erratic darting action on the retrieve thanks to its asymmetric, flat profile. The slender Slimfish offers a tight, erratic action on a straight retrieve thanks to built-in fins. When jigged or allowed to fall on slack line, the lighter spoons flutter slowly and horizontally.

As a general rule of thumb, I fish the Slimfish in waters 3 to 10 feet deep, but anything deeper than that I turn to the Splinter spoon. Both the ¼- and ½-ounce models are deadly, with the ½-ounce getting the nod most often, especially when working water deeper than 15 feet.

For smallmouth, it’s tough to beat FireTiger or Gold, while Chrome or Perch get the nod in clear natural lakes. The most important factor of color selection is simple: Match it to what they’re eating.

The Retrieve

Spoons come in at least three varieties, plus many variations in weight, shape and color.
Fish a spoon in the same manner that you do a standard leadhead jig. After the cast, allow the spoon to sink to the bottom on a slack line before starting with a standard rip-drop retrieve. To avoid tangles with the spoon, add a short leader of fluorocarbon to your choice of superline. An Invisaswivel tied between the leader and main line will absorb line twist, an important consideration when fishing spoons.

Experiment with both the speed and length of the lift. There are times when smallmouth respond well to aggressive jig strokes. Most strikes come on the drop. You feel the typical “tick” or simply the weight on the jig stroke.

Last fall on the Great Lakes, we caught several smallmouth to over 6 pounds on Splinter spoons by working rocks in 15-30 feet. We also caught walleye, whitefish and lake suckers (yes, caught in the mouth). The experience reiterated the triggering power of spoons when fished this way.
Recommended Gear

I prefer throwing spoons on spinning gear for longer casts. A medium-heavy 7’3″ to 7’6″ Abu Garcia® Veritas fast-action rod with a soft tip is perfect. A larger spinning reel like an Abu Garcia® Revo SX 30, which takes in a full 33 inches of line per turn, is perfect for giant smallmouths.

It’s really tough to beat a superline like FireLine® for this technique. It casts well, and with its thin diameter it works well in deeper water. In situations where I’ve used a baitcaster to fish spoons, fluorocarbon has proven the best choice.

Final Word

Spoons are a class of baits that are hard to fish if you’ve never fished them before. My advice? Take a selection of them in different weights and colors out on the water and fish nothing else that day. Spend enough time with them and you’ll discover there’s really no mystery to these old-school baits. They are very much an overlooked producer of both quality and quantities of late-season smallmouth.

Remembering Christmas Gifts

We all have memories of some Christmas gifts that were very special to us. Most of mine were something for the outdoors, like the Mitchell 300 spinning outfit I got when I was about 15, the .22 Remington semiautomatic rifle I was given when I was 12 and still use to plink and shoot squirrels, and the camping mess kit and canteen I used for years in the wilds of my backyard.

When I was ten or so I wanted a new bicycle. That is how kids got around back then. We rode everywhere, from school to local ponds to go fishing. We even went hunting on our bicycles. My desire was a shiny new red bicycle as shown in the Sears catalog. I just knew I would be proud and happy with it.

About two weeks before Christmas holidays started at my elementary school I was out in the shop. My dad was principal and shop teacher. He worked hard at school but also ran a farm where we had 11,000 laying hens and sold eggs to local grocery stores. We also raised hogs and cows and most of our food came from those animals and the huge garden we had each year. We did not have a lot of money but lived well.

That day in the shop I saw two old rusty bicycles sitting by a work table. I didn’t think much of them, they looked terrible. Then, on Christmas morning, my brother and I found those bicycles, now shiny with new paint and repaired to new condition, by the Christmas tree.

My young heart sank. I really wanted a new bicycle. I never gave a thought to the hours may dad sanded and painted those bicycles, or the time it took to repair any small defect. I rode that bicycle for years.

Now I appreciate the work he put into it and the fact we just could not afford new bicycles for my brother and me. I still regret not telling dad what that gift meant to me when I was old enough to think about it.
When I was 11 or 12 I had learned my parents were Santa Claus by my younger brother, three years junior to me, still believed. But he was beginning to question the idea of Santa Claus.

We lived in a big old frame farm house and it had an apartment attached to the back. For years we rented the two rooms to military families stationed at Ft. Gordon, then my grandmother lived there for several years. It had a bedroom, kitchen with room for a small dining table, and a bathroom.

A few days before Christmas that year I went to that bathroom since the other one in the house was busy. I heard chirping and opened the shower curtain, and saw a cage with two parakeets in it. I immediately knew they were Christmas presents for me and my brother but did not want to spoil the secret. We had not asked for parakeets but always loved pets of all kinds.

Christmas Eve my brother and I were in bed, trying to stay awake. He started asking me about Santa Claus and I had an inspiration. I told him we should ask for something from Santa that nobody else knew about. Since it was just a few hours before we could get up and find our presents there would be no way we could get that present unless Santa heard us.

I suggested we ask for parakeets! And guess what. The next morning, there they were. My parents almost ruined it by saying they were a gift from them. I saw my brother’s face drop.

I quickly covered, getting my brother alone and explaining that since Santa knew our secret wish was being fulfilled by my parents he did not have to bring us the birds. His face lit up and he believed for a couple more years.

Our gifts back in the 1950s and early 60s were very simple. There was always something special, like the revolving ducks you shot at with a rubber tipped dart. Or the bicycles, .22 rifle or camping gear. The rest of our presents were clothes and other needed stuff.

Stockings were hung by the fireplace and they were always stuffed with fruit like apples and oranges, pecans and small items like a box of sparklers. Strangely enough, the oranges looked just like the ones in the sack we had brought back from a visit to my grandmother just before Christmas in Florida and the pecans where the same kinds we had gathered from our yard. But finding them in our stockings made the oranges sweeter and the pecans taste even better.

Christmas does not have to be so commercial. Small things may not mean a lot right now to kids, but what you do for them now will bring great memories for them later in life. Parents’ time is more valuable than any gift could ever be. Spend time with your kids this Christmas and make memories that will last long after the toys are broken and forgotten.

Why Do People Fish and Hunt?

Factors Related to the Recent Increases in Hunting and Fishing Participation

This study was administered by the American Sportfishing Association under Multi-State Conservation Grant F12AP00142 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
from The Fishing Wire

After two decades of decline, hunting and fishing participation among Americans increased between 2006 and 2011, and a recent major research study pinpoints 10 major reasons for the increases. Hunting and fishing participation rates are up due to: 1) the economic recession, 2) higher incomes among some segments of the population, 3) hunting for meat and the locavore movement, 4) agency recruitment and retention programs, 5) agency access programs, 6) agency marketing and changes in licenses, 7) current hunters and anglers participating more often, 8) returning military personnel, 9) re-engagement of lapsed hunters and anglers, and 10) new hunters and anglers, including female, suburban, and young participants.

The Background

Throughout the latter half of the 2000s, numerous state-level trend surveys conducted by Responsive Management consistently showed increases in hunting and fishing participation. Given this clear pattern emerging across multiple states and regions, in 2011 Responsive Management initiated a project with the American Sportfishing Association, Southwick Associates, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife under a Multi-State Conservation Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to identify and better understand factors related to increases in hunting and fishing participation throughout the United States.

“The fact that a variety of factors was responsible for the increases should not take away from the importance of each individual factor. The research isolated each of these factors as having a notable impact on the increase in hunting and fishing participation between 2006 and 2011.”

–Mark Damian Duda, Executive Director of Responsive Management

The Indicators

Two major data sources are available for measuring hunting and fishing participation trends on a national level: license sales data collected by the individual states and compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which are known as “Federal Aid” data, and the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, conducted every 5 years since 1955 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

At the time the grant proposal was submitted in 2011, the only available measurement supporting the research team’s hypothesis of a nationwide increase in hunting and fishing were Federal Aid data measuring license sales for the two activities from recent years; the other critical indicator, the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, had not yet been released. However, shortly after the grant was secured, results from the 2011 National Survey determined that, between 2006 and 2011, hunting participation among Americans increased 9% and fishing participation increased 11% nationwide.

The Research Methodology

With the evidence in hand, Responsive Management and its partners began implementing the study, which entailed a combination of quantitative and qualitative research components. To examine factors responsible for the upswing in hunting and fishing participation, the researchers collected data from multiple stakeholder sources, accounting for perspectives ranging from agency professionals to hunters and anglers themselves. Overall, the study methodology included a comprehensive review of past research examining hunting and fishing participation; personal interviews with and a survey of fish and wildlife agency personnel representing hunting, freshwater fishing, and saltwater fishing divisions; a multivariate analysis of national hunting and fishing license sales data; and a scientific telephone survey of hunters and anglers in the states with the most notable increases in participation between 2006 and 2011.1 For the telephone survey component, a total of 1,400 interviews were completed with hunters in seven states that saw some of the most growth in hunting during the period of interest (Alabama, Alaska, Indiana, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, and South Dakota) and anglers in seven states that experienced some of the largest increases in fishing participation over the same period (Alaska, Idaho, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington). The survey of hunters and anglers explored various demographic and behavioral characteristics of new and returning participants in the two activities and also measured the relative importance of various factors that influenced participants to either take breaks from or return to the activities.

The data were collected and analyzed over an 18-month period, with the results from each study component examined independently and as a whole. The overall data eventually revealed that hunting and fishing participation increased between 2006 and 2011 not because of a single major reason, but because of a combination of factors, a perfect positive storm of reasons ranging from nationwide economic conditions to efforts on the part of individual state agencies to the confluence of key participant groups entering or re-entering the sports. Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, notes, “The fact that a variety of factors was responsible for the increases should not take away from the importance of each individual factor. The research isolated each of these factors as having a substantial impact on the increase in hunting and fishing participation between 2006 and 2011.”

Reason 1: The Economic Recession

The study found a negative statistical correlation between hunting license sales and increases in housing starts–as housing starts decline, hunting participation increases.2 The mortgage crisis and economic recession that took hold of the country at the end of 2008 resulted in fewer housing starts as fewer building permits were issued. Because some of the top occupations of hunters include building-related fields (e.g., construction, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and craftsman), a disproportionate percentage of hunters were under- or unemployed during the period between 2006 and 2011, leaving them with more free time in which to hunt. This is in contrast to Responsive Management research conducted during the height of the housing boom, when many hunters were not hunting due to a lack of time because of work obligations.

Reason 2: Higher Incomes Among Some Segments of the Population

Interestingly, the research indicates that hunting and fishing increased because of both the lower end of the economic spectrum as well as the upper end: the multivariate analysis also identified a positive association between increasing per capita income and participation in one or both outdoor activities, suggesting a scenario where some hunters and anglers have more to spend and can thus afford to take more hunting and fishing trips.

Reason 3: Hunting for Meat and the Locavore Movement

Somewhat related to the country’s economic downturn was growth in the segment of sportsmen motivated to hunt or fish primarily for the food: the period between 2006 and 2011 saw an increase not only in the proportion of participants who hunted or fished as a means of putting meat on the family table, but also in the percentage of “locavore” hunters and anglers, that is, individuals who go afield for reasons of self-sufficiency and a desire for organic, local, chemical-free meat. When hunters in the survey were read a list of factors that may have influenced them to go hunting, the top factor that was a major or minor influence was interest in hunting as a source of natural or “green” food, with

Camp ASCCA, Creative Commons License

68% of hunters naming this as an influence. When a similar list was read to anglers, 51% said that fishing as a natural or “green” food source was an influence in their decision to go fishing. Finally, in an open-ended question (where no answer set was read and respondents could name anything that came to mind), 56% of hunters said that they hunted for food, and 32% of anglers fished for fresh fish to eat. The desire for food, whether for economic reasons, locavore motivations, or a hybrid of both, played an important role in the recent increases in hunting and fishing participation. (Click here for a summary of research examining the growing motivation of hunting for meat.)

Reasons 4 and 5: Agency Recruitment and Retention Programs and Access Programs

A few key efforts on the part of individual state fish and wildlife agencies also helped clear a path for more robust participation in hunting and fishing. Of particular importance was the implementation of hunting and fishing recruitment and retention programs, which provide instruction to participants of all age levels and, in many cases, offer program events year-round. After a decade of states’ implementation of recruitment and retention programs, the intended results are beginning to manifest. (Click here for more information about Responsive Management research on recruitment and retention programs.)

More hunters also made it into the field thanks to programs that opened up access to hunting lands: the analysis revealed that the percentage of hunters in the state rating the quality of overall access to hunting lands as excellent or good had a positive effect on participation. Access is one of the most important issues that acts as a constraint to hunters; when access is good, participation is unimpeded. With ample research on the potential value in these types of programs having been conducted in recent years, the study was able to show definitively that these efforts are now taking effect and producing results. (For more information, please visit Responsive Management’s summaries of research on hunting and fishing access.)

Reason 6: Agency Marketing and Changes in Licenses

Many agencies in the survey and personal interviews emphasized the importance of their marketing efforts in recent years, not only for programs designed to boost participation but in the advertising of new or repackaged hunting and fishing licenses. Additionally, hunters and anglers were also asked about factors that prompted them to hunt and fish. Among hunters, 22% said that marketing efforts collectively had been an influence in their decision to go hunting. Among anglers, 20% said that marketing had been an influence in their decision to go fishing.

The marketing aspect of efforts to increase sales of hunting and fishing licenses dovetails with previous Responsive Management research that has established a correlation between increases in license sales and changes in license structure (i.e., the availability of new or modified hunting and fishing licenses). Such changes, which can include repackaging of licenses or a recombination of various privileges, can have the effect of marketing because the hunter and/or angler may perceive that a better deal is available, that the license is “new and improved,” or he or she may simply be reminded of the opportunities to hunt and fish.

Reasons 7 to 10: Key Groups Driving the Increases

In pinpointing the specific markets that helped drive the increases in hunting and fishing participation, the survey was able to isolate several groups of particular importance: current and longtime hunters and anglers simply participating more often, returning military personnel resuming their participation in the activities, the reactivation of former and lapsed hunters and anglers, and new female participants.

The project examined the characteristics of these new and returning hunters and anglers. Crosstabulations of established hunters and new/returning hunters highlighted some differences that help reveal who the new/returning hunters are. Compared to established hunters, these new/returning hunters are slightly more often female, are somewhat younger, are more often in the military or college, are slightly more suburban, have not been living in the same state for as long, and are more often hunting to be with friends.

Michael J Zealot, Creative Commons License

Likewise, compared to established anglers, the group of new/returning anglers again are slightly more often female, are markedly more often retired with new free time, are slightly more often identifying themselves as homemakers, are slightly more suburban, have not been living in the same state for as long, and are more devoted to fishing in freshwater (i.e., did not fish in saltwater as much as established anglers–because anglers could fish in both types of waters, established anglers fished in freshwater about as much as new/returning anglers, but they fished in saltwater much more often than did new/returning anglers).

The full report for the study is available by clicking here or by visiting
Responsive Management is planning additional research to continue exploring the impacts of each of the factors and variables uncovered in this study.

Study Methodology

Personal interviews with state fish and wildlife agency personnel.
Surveys of fish and wildlife agency staff regarding hunting and fishing participation and license sales data for hunting, freshwater fishing, and saltwater fishing.
Multivariate analysis of license sales data.
Review of past research on hunting and fishing participation.
A survey of hunters and anglers in states with large hunting or fishing participation increases according to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.
Final evaluation and analysis of all data together and completion of final report.
States surveyed with marked hunting participation increases: Alabama, Alaska, Indiana, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, and South Dakota.
States surveyed with marked fishing participation increases: Alaska, Idaho, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington.

Rip the Fishing Dog

Rip was my four footed fishing friend. He showed up at my farm one day and adopted me. There has never been a happier, more fun loving dog. His name fit him well. He never walked when he could run and his tail never stopped wagging. His smiling face welcomed everyone.

Rip loved to ride in my truck, but not the first time I put him in it. I tied his collar to a hook in the bed of the truck and he tried to jump out, almost hanging himself. I shortened the length of the rope and drove out to the farm and he never tried to jump out again. I quit tying him in after a few months an never had a problem again.

He would jump from side to side, putting his front paws up on the sides, going back and forth especially when getting near the farm or home. When I made a stop at the store there was almost always someone petting him when I came out. Despite his 90 pounds he just looked friendly and always welcomed a petting hand from anyone willing to give it. And everyone that saw him was willing.

Going to the pond was one of his favorite activities, but sometimes he got into trouble there. Rip would not swim but would wade out and sit down up to his neck in hot weather. Anytime I caught a fish he got excited and tried to sniff it. If I gave a bream to him he would eat it. I worried about the bones the first few times but he never seemed bothered by the fish he ate. I guess he liked sushi. And if I let the fish go he stared at the water then looked at me like he was asking why I let dinner go.

Tearing things up was also a favorite pastime. I had a bundle of yellow insulation at the barn and tried to use it to insulate a house for him before taking him to my house. The next day it looked like a yellow snow storm had hit the area. At home sticks of wood from the woodpile would be dragged into the yard and chewed to bits. Maybe he was part beaver. No rug had a chance on the back deck, it would be nothing but threads the next day. He even chewed the handle off an ax left in a stump in the woodshed.

When he was ten years old I got a friend for him. Ginger is a brindled pit bull but very gentle, and she and Rip played together. They got along great.

Rip loved it when I got out a gun. The first time I shot a squirrel in the back yard I wondered how he would react. The shot did not bother him, he just ran and got the squirrel and brought it to me. From then on if I walked out with a shotgun he started looking up in the trees. I even trained him to go around the tree so the squirrel would move where I could shoot it.

But both Rip and Ginger were terribly afraid of thunder. Last summer while I was at the lake they dug under the fence during a storm and got out of the yard. Two days later, on a Saturday, I got a call from a neighbor about a mile down the highway saying Rip had been hit by a car. He was alive but dazed. I took him to an emergency vet clinic and they sedated him. That night at about dark I called and they said he might recover. He was no worse but no better, either.

I went to bed at midnight planning on fishing a tournament the next day. About an hour later the vet called and told me Rip was going into convulsions. He probably had brain damage and had less than a 25 percent chance of recovery. More likely he would just suffer until he died. I choked out “Put him down.”

I could not catch a fish the next day – my broken heart kept me from thinking about fishing. I picked his body up from the vet and buried him under the pear tree with Merlin and Squirt, watering the ground with my tears as I dug.

Two days later Ginger came home, safe and sound.

Four Footed Fishing Friend

Rip Was My Four Footed Fishing Friend

Everybody needs a dog to make them realize what it is like to have boundless energy and the pure joy of being alive. My dog Rip constantly amazes me. He never slows down from daylight to dark and finds everything from cats to old pieces of wire and waterhose extremely interesting.

He lives up to his name daily. Nothing is safe from him that he can get his paws or teeth on. When the cold weather hit I bought a cheap indoor/outdoor thermometer to monitor the temperature in his insulated dog house. It sat on top of his house out of his reach, but the wire probe stuck an inch or so into his house.

One morning last week the probe reading was flashing. Sure enough, to no real surprise to me, he had grabbed the end of the wire in his house and pulled it out, chewing it up. So much for keeping up with the temperature in his house.

Exuberant is the best word to describe him. He doesn’t walk when he can run, and he doesn’t run when he can bounce like a kangaroo through the woods. He loves to chase a thrown ball, stick, plastic bottle or anything else, and will bring it back for more. I get tired of the game much faster than he does.

He loves to fish. That is one of the few times he will sit and stay still. Anytime I make a cast he watches the arch of the lure, never letting it out of his sight. When it hits the water he watches with great interest, waiting on a bass to jump. I think he wants to go chase them but so far I have been able to keep him on the bank.

Rip loves to wade in the shallows, lapping up water and cooling off. When it was hot he would wade out and sit down, submerging his body chest deep. He does not like to swim, though, and will not get his head wet – on purpose.

At my pond I had dug out some dirt near the bank with a back hoe, making a three foot deep hole right by the bank. The outer rim of the hole has a couple of inches of water covering it. Rip waded out around the rim then decided to come straight back. When he hit the deep water his head went out of sight. I will never forget the look on his face when he came up and immediately headed to the bank.

When he got out on the bank I was laughing so hard I could not stop. He did his usual trick when confused, he started running around me in circles. It is amazing how fast he can run in a 20 foot circle without spinning out. The harder I laughed, the faster he ran. I am surprised he did not turn himself into butter.

Rip can really make me feel old. While working on a siphon on my pond dam, I had to climb up and down the dam. I am just able to pull myself up it by hanging on to limbs and inching along. Rip runs in circles around me while I am doing this, running up the dam face like it is flat ground. I have to remember he has four wheel drive compared to my two, but he often will circle me 20 or 30 times while I make one transit.

Rip is a pretty good squirrel hunter, too. He surprised me the first time I fired a gun near him. I did not try to train him at all, but he is definitely not gun shy. The first time I fired a shotgun he just looked at me, then he heard the squirrel fall. He immediately went to it. Now if he sees me with a gun he starts looking up in the trees for my target.

Last week I shot a squirrel and it fell outside the fence around the back yard. Rip was watching and got real excited. When I went to get the squirrel it was not there. I let Rip out and he ran to where the squirrel fell the tracked it straight to a stump about 30 yards away. He stuck his head in the stump and pulled the squirrel out. Although the squirrel bit him on the nose and he yipped real loud, he hung on and shook it, killing it instantly.

I want to train him to tree squirrels but Rip does not bark. I have had him almost a year and he makes lots of different kinds of noises from a whine when I won’t take him with me to a strange combination growl/whine when confused to yipping when bit by a squirrel, but he just will not bark. That is a good thing most of the time.
Dogs can be a great joy and a real pain. The pain seems short and the joy much greater overall. Everyone needs a Rip to keep them laughing.

Bass Pros Getting Ready for Bassmasters Classic

Angling Pros Prep for Alabama Classic at Guntersville

By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

GUNTERSVILLE, ALA. Let the speculation begin.

Among serious bass anglers, prognosticating who will win the Bassmaster Classic to be fished on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville in February is right up there with studying the odds on FSU/Auburn.

Alton Jones with nice bass

Alton Jones with nice bass

Pro basser Alton Jones, veteran of 14 Bassmaster Classics, says the Xcalibur Rattlebait may very well play big in this year’s late February championship on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville.

Rattlebaits catch bass

Rattlebaits catch bass

Lipless crankbaits like the Rattlebait are particularly effective in a red-rust or crawfish color in late winter and early spring at the big lake, locals say.

Jerkbaits will catch Gunersville bass

Jerkbaits will catch Gunersville bass

Suspending jerkbaits like the Smithwick Suspending Pro Rogue might be a good backup choice, especially if tournament days are cold.

Use maps, gps, everything you can to plan a tournament

Use maps, gps, everything you can to plan a tournament

Alton Jones uses years of recorded data on prime spots, plus Google Earth, to create a personal map of choice fishing spots for all his tournaments.

Current dock talk seems to be favoring former Classic champ Chris Lane, who has been living on Guntersville the past several years and preparing for just this challenge, and Randall Tharp, a former G’ville area resident who appears on a roll this year with his skills sharpened to the max in both B.A.S.S. and FLW competitions. KVD, of course, is always to be reckoned with, as is new young gun Brandon Palaniuk and Angler of the Year Aaron Martens.

One who can’t be ignored is Texas pro Alton Jones, who has been in 14 Classics, won one, and earned some $2 million on the pro circuits over a long career.

Jones joined a crew from PRADCO, the parent company of Arbogast, Bomber, BOOYAH, Heddon, Xcalibur, Smithwick, Yum and several other brands well-known to bassers at the lake this past week for a practice session and some fine tuning with the new-for-2014 lures.

“Any lure can win any tournament, but if I were betting on one for this event here in late February, I’d bet on the Xcalibur Rattlebait in royal red or royal shad,” said Jones. “If the winter warms up early, the fish will be hanging over the grass shoots where the new beds will grow up in 4 to 6 feet of water or so, and vibrating-type baits let you fish fast and find the concentrations so it’s a good strategy when the fish are in that situation.”

He said he also likes the Smithwick Suspending Pro Rogue jerkbait, both over new grass and around bluff banks where shad schools are visible in late winter.

“If it stays cold, the fish may be deeper and I might go to the new Perfect 10 Rogue, which runs down to 10 or 12 feet,” says Jones. “It’s a bigger lure, and it attracts big fish if they’re around.”

Last but not least, Jones said, if weather is warm he’d probably have a swimjig with a YUM trailer on it to fish shallow pads and primrose beds.

Jones has fished Guntersville many times over the years, and has kept a computerized record of all his spots. He records the locations on the water on his Humminbird GPS systems, then transfers it to computer for storage so that the memory in the GPS does not get overloaded. When he returns to a given lake, he can reload all the results from all his trips back into the machine and have a record readily at hand of the best spots-one that he can also call up on iPad or iPhone.

One of the areas that keep showing up, he notes, is Mud Creek-a spot forecast by several top local anglers to figure in the winning Classic catch.

“I like to use Google to see how the weed patterns change at various times of the year,” says Jones. “You can call up history on satellite views and get a look at the weed growth from every season of the year, and that tells you where there might be some spots that local anglers might overlook. Fishing on a lake like Guntersville where there are so many tournaments all the time, finding a spot that other anglers have not hit recently can give a huge advantage.”

The Classic will be fished Feb. 21-23 at Guntersville, with daily take-offs from the city basin across the street from the Chamber of Commerce. Weigh-ins will be trailered and take place at Birmingham Civic Center, which is also the site of the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo. For details, visit

Fishing During Christmas

Christmas was a wondrous time when I was growing up. From the oranges and apples in the stockings hung from the mantle to the bullets and hooks I got every year, I was always thrilled to find what Santa had brought. It was amazing how he knew I loved to fish and hunt and always knew what caliber bullets and gauge shotgun shells I needed.

The best thing about Christmas was the two weeks out of school. That meant I could hunt all day, not just an hour in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon. And daddy was also off work since he was the local school principal. Although we still had the 11,000 laying hens to take care of each day since they don’t take holidays, he had more time to go quail hunting.

During quail season we hunted every Saturday, but that was just one day a week. During the holidays we usually managed to go at least three days a week. I loved following the dogs and watching them work the birds. Although I usually shot at the covey with my .410 on the covey rise, it took me a long time to figure out I had to aim at one bird. I am not sure I ever killed one with that little shotgun.

By the time I was a junior in high school daddy had gotten rid of the quail dogs. He said he just did not have the time to spend with them. But by them one of my best friends had a pack of beagles and I had a drivers license so we went rabbit hunting almost every day during the holidays. That was as much fun as bird hunting.

Every Christmas I got a brick of .22 bullets, ten boxes of 50 each in a carton. All those bullets looked like they would last forever. Back then when squirrel hunting it was important to kill a squirrel with every shot. We did not want to waste a single bullet. And my eyes were good enough and my arms steady enough that I made most shots count.

I never realized at the time how much freedom I had, and thinking back I am surprised. Although times were different and I was pretty safe from weird people, there were lots of things that could happen to a young boy out in the woods with a gun. But my mother never fussed, she just let me go. I am somewhat surprised she did not smother me since she had lost her first child. My sister died at 18 months old about a year before I was born.

We never went fishing in the winter back then because we had no idea the fish would bite. I have often wished I could go back to the early 1960s and fish Clark’s Hill in its youth (and mine!) in the winter. By the time I discovered bass fishing during Christmas in the mid-1970s it was still great, but within a few years hybrids were stocked and fishermen started showing up on the lake at Christmas. Until then I pretty much had it to myself.

I taught school and worked in education so for many years I would head to the lake the day school was out and stay until Christmas Day. We had a small travel trailer at a boat club and my dog and I would be the only ones there. I would eat when I was hungry, sleep when sleepy and fish the rest of the time.

On Christmas Day I would meet Linda at my parents’ house for the day. She usually had only one day off and if she had more she would often fly up to visit her folks in Maryland. Either way I would head back to the lake the day after Christmas and fish until time to go back to work after New Years Day.

I hope everyone is making memories with their kids this Christmas. Going hunting or fishing with them even for one or two days during this hectic time will give them memories that will last a lifetime. And it will reinforce the good things in life that are still available if you just look for them.

Give you kids and yourself a change from the busy stores and away from the TV. Get outside and create some memories.

Merry Christmas!

Can I Learn To Fly Fish?

Fly fishing

As a pre-teen, outdoor magazines exposed me to wonderful fishing experiences I could only dream about. Growing up on a small farm in rural McDuffie County, I was familiar with bream and bass, but catching trout and salmon was a thrilling idea. And my cane pole paled in comparison with fly rods and the whole mystic of fly fishing.

I tried to imitate what I read. I would take the smallest bream hook I could find, some of mom’s sewing thread, and a few chicken feathers and tie flies. In my mind they were masterful creations that sometimes fooled small bream and horny head creek minnows in Dearing Branch.

My “fly rod” was a short end of a broken cane pole and my fly line was any kind of fishing line I could find. I spent many wonderful hours dabbling those home-made flies in the branch, trying to catch anything that would hit.

When I was in high school I got a real fly rod for Christmas – a generic rod with a spring loaded reel. I loaded it with cheap fly line and had fun catching bluegill on little popping bugs and bass on bigger bugs. I also used it like a cane pole, with cork and jig, for catching crappie around button bushes at Clark’s Hill in the spring.

After we got married, Linda and I fished a lot. I told her a fly rod was too hard to learn to use but she insisted on trying it one day, and within minutes she was putting the little rubber spider near bushes and landing bluegill. She was hooked, and I had to buy her a fly outfit of her own the next week so I could get mine back!

Fishing with a fly rod is different because you cast the line, not the tiny, light-weight lures used in fly fishing. You can fish a fly the size of a gnat, if you can see well enough to get the line through the eye of the hook, and catch fish that won’t hit anything else. But for fishing around here you don’t need fancy gear and tiny flies.

You can get a cheap fly rod and reel like the first one I used for about $25 locally at Berrys Sporting Goods. For a decent line, the most important part of the outfit, you will spend about $15. That will get you started, or you can go with a good outfit that will serve you for many kinds of fishing for under $100. Add a few rubber spiders, popping flies for bluegill and big popping bugs for bass and you are ready to fish.

When you start using your fly rod, you will want a lot of room behind you for the back cast. For that reason, fishing from a boat or fishing a pond where you can wade out from the bank is best. As you learn to use your outfit better and learn to do roll cast you can fish tighter spots without catching a lot of limbs.

The Flint River is a great place to use a fly rod. You can fish from a canoe or jon boat or wade the shoals. Cast a hellgrammite (rock worm) imitation into pools and shoal bass will give you a fight with lots of jumping. They are the closest thing to smallmouth we have in this area. There are some grown bluegill, pumpkin seed, and shellcracker sunfish in the river that will eat your rubber crickets and popping bugs, too.

High Falls is another good place to fish with fly outfits, but you need a boat. The lake is full of bluegill that will readily eat just about any bug you cast to them, and you will hook a bass that will stretch your string when they hit.

Big lakes can be fun, too. Jackson Lake has lots of bluegill in the coves around logs and brush, and you can catch all you want on a rubber spider. You definitely need a boat to access the bigger lakes but you will catch fish. Most of the fish in bigger lakes have never seen a rubber spider or popping bug so they are easier to catch.

Don’t be frightened by fly fishing. Give it a try and you may be hooked for life.