Category Archives: Fishing Tackle

Rods and reels to live bait

Alabama Surf Fishing

Alabama Surf Fishing Provides New Vocation
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire

Go early!


The early bird gets the whiting when it comes to surf fishing along the Alabama Gulf Coast. Photo by David Rainer

The pre-dawn light was sufficient for safe passage from the parking lot over a boardwalk to a beautiful stretch of beach on the Fort Morgan peninsula.

The early arrival guaranteed our party, led by guide Matt Isbell, would get to pick the spot where our surf-fishing adventure would have the best chance of success.

Isbell, better known as the Bama Beach Bum to all his YouTube followers, has developed a niche among fishing guides on the Alabama Gulf Coast. He has tried fishing from boats and piers, but he prefers the sandy beaches and surf where whiting and pompano roam.

The Wetumpka native moved to Gulf Shores for an insurance job, but his surf-fishing success led to a full-time guide business in March of this year.

“I started uploading YouTube videos in October last year and started guiding in December,” Isbell said. “I didn’t really plan on guiding. I started hosting online content just because I loved it, and I wanted to kind of see where it went.

“I had multiple people continually asking me to take them fishing. I did that initially. Then it got to be more and more to the point it was taking away from my regular job.”

Isbell decided to see if anyone would pay for his services. He learned there is a growing market for his kind of fishing.

“It kind of snowballed from there and really started picking up,” he said.

Isbell soon found out his guide business appeals to a wide variety of customers.

“Most of my clients are out-of-towners, a lot from the Midwest but from all over the country,” he said. “I’ve had a group from Guam that wanted to fish. They saw me on YouTube. Right now, I’m the only one uploading surf-fishing content to the internet, so that’s how some people find me.

“I get people of all ages and sizes, ethnicities, all the above.”

Isbell’s surf fishing started in earnest six years ago when he moved to the Alabama Gulf Coast.

“When I first started surf fishing, I was just trying to figure out what to do,” he said. “Like a lot of people in Alabama, I grew up bass and crappie fishing. When I came down here, I just tried to figure out the fishing. I fished a lot of different ways – from boats, piers, canals, wherever I could access the water.

“Then I started surf fishing and I fell in love with it. I just enjoyed being on the beach and being able to bring home dinner.”

Isbell has refined his surf-fishing techniques in the last six years. Although he has learned to judge the surf and which areas produce fish, it’s really not a technique that infrequent visitors should tackle. He said learning to read the beach takes time, that most people find it difficult to pick up on the nuances that might lead to better fishing unless a lot of time is spent on the beach.

“The biggest thing I tell people to do is to stagger your baits,” he said. “Make sure you cover a lot of water and try to locate the zone those fish are running in. Especially when you’re surf fishing, these fish are not hanging in one area like they do on a reef or pier or jetty. The fish in the surf are always moving, looking for food. But they are going to hang in a particular depth. That’s why you stagger your baits to try to find out what depth those fish are favoring. But it can change daily or week to week. You always have to recalibrate to find the fish.

“If you know how to look for cuts, holes and bars in the surf, that can help, but most people have a hard time with it. But anybody can get out there and put baits in different spots and figure it out using that system.”

Isbell said a dedicated surf angler will need a variety of tackle to target the species that happen to inhabit the surf at any given time because different fish come to the beaches at different times.

“What we’re targeting is going to determine what tackle we use,” he said. “But the most popular way is what we are doing, using pompano rigs with bits of shrimp and Fish Bites. We’ll use sand fleas (mole crabs) when they present themselves, and we can scoop them up (look for a sand flea rake at the local tackle shop). We had some really good colonies of sand fleas show up this year. It’s a great bait and it’s free.”

On our trip, Isbell used 10-foot surf rods with 4000- and 5000-series spinning reels spooled with 20-pound-test braided line. Of the five rigs we used during our outing, we had a drop-hook rig with the 2- to 3-ounce weight tied to the bottom on three rods, while the other two were rigged with cut bait hooked below the weight (Carolina rig) to try to catch a redfish or bluefish. He uses 1/0 to 2/0 circle hooks most of the time.

“You don’t have to use 10-foot rods, but you can still fish on rough days,” he said. “You can keep a 3- or 4-ounce lead out. I make my own pompano rigs. You can buy them with two or three drops. I prefer one-drop rigs. It’s more discreet and easier to manage.”

Isbell said probably his hardest job is teaching clients what to look for to indicate a bite. A rhythmic motion of the rod tip indicates wave action. A steady pull or erratic action means some species of fish is taking the bait.

Although our party, which included Jay Hirschberg and Wayne Carman, was fishing on a neap tide, we managed to reel in bluefish, whiting (sometimes called southern or Gulf kingfish), a rodeo-worthy ladyfish and the ubiquitous hardhead catfish to the beach. Isbell said the heat has caused the pompano to vacate the surf until the weather and water cools.

Cooler weather will also bring another desirable species close to the beach.

“We get a good run of bull redfish in the fall,” Isbell said. “We will use a lot of cut bait. I’m transitioning now to using cut bait on Carolina rigs. If I’m fishing for bull reds, I’ll move up to a 4/0 hook. They will hit pompano rigs, and that’s definitely worth doing because the pompano fishing is only going to improve as the weather cools.

“You can catch whiting all year, but it does get better in the winter. That is the main species we target when it gets cold. Whiting get bigger (pushing 2 pounds) and more plentiful in the winter months. Sometimes in the winter, we’ll get a run of what we call ‘big uglies,’ the big black drum. Those are a lot of fun to catch, too.”

For those who specifically target pompano in the surf, Isbell said the best fishing occurs in the spring.

Alabama Surf Fishing
“March, April and May – those are the three months to catch pompano,” he said. “That’s go time for pompano. You can still catch them in June and July, but it’s definitely better in the spring.”

Isbell said certain conditions provide an opportunity to catch speckled trout in the surf as well.

“We catch trout mainly in the summer months,” he said. “It’s usually after a big rain and fresh water moves the fish out to the beaches, looking for that higher salinity.”

Go to www.staybummy.com for information on booking trips with Isbell as well as links to his Facebook and YouTube pages. Because his guide service is shore-based, anglers who fish with Isbell are required to have a valid Alabama saltwater fishing license in their possession. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/licenses/saltwater-recreational-licenses for more information.

St. Croix Mojo Jig Series Tackle

Power Up for Bottom Brutes with St. Croix Mojo Jig Series Tackle

Bottom fishing success requires more than heavy gear

By Joe Balog
from The Fishing Wire

Big red on St Croix rod


What kind of fish breaks eighty-pound line?

I asked myself that question repeatedly as I rigged my bottom-fishing rod. For the third time in twenty minutes, I had my butt kicked by a fish that I falsely assumed would be no match for my heavy tackle. This was starting to get old.

A freshwater transplant, I had dipped my toe into the saltwater world after relocating to Florida and purchasing a beauty of a bay boat. Fish tacos and snapper ceviche were soon to be on the menu, or so I thought. Yet, after nearly a full day of fishing, all I had in the fish box was one small triggerfish.

Photo courtesy of St, Croix Rod
For the first time in several years, the waters off the East Coast of Florida were hosting a red snapper season, and I planned to get my share of the now plentiful fish. The problem was, I couldn’t get them in the boat.

Dejected, I went home a lot lighter on sinkers; but no less determined.

That evening, I went through my gear. Hooks were stout and sharp, offering no flex, and my line was the heaviest I could find. Sinkers, swivels, knots – everything terminal was flawless. Going one step further, I studied my rods and reels.

Previously, I upgraded to St. Croix’s Mojo Jig series (Conventional and Spinning) for this style of fishing, and paired them with heavy-duty reels. Remarkably stout despite their light weight, I was certain the Mojos could handle anything a snapper could throw their way. I later learned they could, if I knew how to use them.

The following day again found me on the snapper grounds, accompanied by my wife, Kim, and friends. The bite was on, and Kim quickly hooked up. Her drag screamed as a big fish surged for the bottom. Immediately upon reaching it, Kim’s line broke. Disappointment again filled the boat.

Upon inspection of the heavy line, I found it cleanly sliced in two, as if by a pair of shears. Then, it dawned on me.

I quickly grabbed my rod, cranked the drag down as tight as it would go, and dropped down a fresh pinfish. Handing it off the Kim, I could see an instant strike. “Let him have it a minute, then wind as hard as you can,” I instructed. “And, whatever you do, don’t let him get back to the bottom.”

Kim grunted under the strain of the heavy fish. Playing it like a pro, she pressed her tackle to the max. When the big fish surged, Kim pulled back twice as hard. I added a third hand for even more leverage. To our delight, the fifteen-pound red snapper soon surfaced, was quickly netted, and hit the fish box flopping.

Again inspecting the line, I found it as perfect as when I tied it. We were on to something.

For the remainder of the day, and throughout the weekend, we would boat nearly every red snapper we hooked from that point on. Ten, fifteen, even twenty-pound fish came over the gunnels at a regular rate.

Reflecting, my lack of saltwater experience was to blame for our initial break-offs. Sure, I’d fished around line-shredding structures in freshwater; docks and rocks, for example. But nothing could prepare me for the damage inflicted by a sharp ocean reef.

Photo courtesy of St. Croix Rod
When fishing such structures, it’s absolutely imperative to win the first twenty seconds of the fight. Grouper and snapper instinctively know that, when in trouble, their best chance is to get to the bottom. It’s incredible how hard even a moderate-sized ocean dweller can pull when compared to a freshwater fish; a life in heavy ocean currents adding to their stamina.

Since my inaugural trip, I’ve used the Mojo Jig series to wrestle some real brutes from the depths below. Like all St. Croix rods, technology is at the forefront in this series, as they’re built using Advanced Reinforcing Technology; a carbon fiber material that adds incredible strength to the rod by keeping it true to form under the heaviest strain.

I’ve found the conventional Mojo Jig models to be perfect (I can’t get away from my 5’8” extra-heavy no matter what I’m fishing for), but Kim prefers the spinning models. She finds that, with her size and body frame, she gets more leverage by having the rod under her forearm when horsing a strong fish.

In any case, mark my words: the first twenty seconds is the key. Remember that, and you’ll save a bundle on sinkers.

Rio Grande Cutthroat

Chasing the Rio Grande Cutthroat
Craig Springer
from The Fishing Wire

Beautiful cutthroat stream


From nearly anywhere in my Santa Fe County home, I have the most fortunate view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s where the Rockies start in New Mexico. As I write this, a towering anvil-headed September storm cloud turns the color of a watermelon above Santa Fe Baldy and Hamilton Mesa as the day melts into night.

The moisture wrung out of this moving painting strikes the mountain slopes, softened by pines and firs and spruce trees, and funnels through granite crevices as it pours downhill. The rain consolidates into rivulets and then into “ritos” with names like Azul, Padre and Valdes. These rills will soon beget the Pecos proper, but before they do, their waters stall in dark pools under the cooling shade of alder trees and become habitat for Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is named for the splash of crimson below its gills. In the spring of the year, the spawning males are awash in red over their head and chest. It’s stunning, as if they are soaked in blood.

Under these September clouds, the fish lie there in pools under the shadows of ponderosas that have fallen into the stream or on the edge of a boulder in an eddy where the water is slowed, waiting for a grasshopper or mayfly or a moth to flit too close to the water.

With a dart and roll, a bug becomes food. That is unless that bug is a look-alike, mere fur and feathers adorning on a tiny hook. A tug and a splash, and in a moment I can see my reflection on a trout’s shimmering flank and feel its cold muscles writhing in my wet hand as its slips back into the water with a parting flip of its spotted tail.

Outwitting cutthroat trout in the high country, especially with my children, is among my most favorite pastimes. Never do I feel more alive; I’m a participant in nature, not merely an observer. These tiny streams bordered by brush and boulder require stealth, concentration and resolve. The experience hones your senses and is head-clearing, like floss for your psyche.

It’s physically demanding, too. A friend of mine likened fishing cutthroat waters to doing yoga while casting. The cutthroat streams in the upper Pecos as elsewhere in northern New Mexico are typically small and not well visited. That is, you might be making your own trail over deadfall and boulders and through patches of wild raspberries, which are appropriately colored like a trout’s throat.

The trout don’t grow large in small waters, but still, when I catch a cutthroat I feel like a man who just found money. Rio Grande cutthroat trout live is pretty places and the Sangres are among the prettiest of mountains. Each fish is uniquely adorned with a constellation of spots that no other will have, lying on a background from a pallet of paint borrowed from a late-summer sunrise accessorized with last night’s left-over tattered clouds.

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is the official state fish of New Mexico and holds the distinction of being the first trout documented in the New World. In 1541, as the Coronado’s entrada passed near Pecos, one chronicler noted “truchas” swimming about.

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Relocates Tarpon

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Relocates Tarpon Ahead of Development
from The Fishing Wire

Netting tarpon and bonefish for relocation


Three weeks ago, BTT was contacted by a group of concerned anglers regarding a development site in Tarpon Springs, FL that was inhabited by tarpon of all sizes. Most of these anglers had been fishing there for years, even decades. The water was being drained rapidly, which meant we had to act fast. After a few phone calls, we were able to contact the developer and their client to get permission to access the property and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) issued us a permit to relocate the fish. After a grueling day of seining and cast-netting in the waist-deep mud and silt, we were able to relocate over 60 tarpon ranging from 12 to 40 inches. A huge success!

This is not a typical practice for BTT, but it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. Our studies in Southwest Florida are finding that tarpon in degraded habitats like these exhibit poor growth rates and can sometimes get trapped in these types of habitats that are hard to emigrate from once they get bigger. We are also finding that the majority of juvenile tarpon sites reported to us through our Juvenile Tarpon Habitat Mapping Project are in degraded habitats (golf course ponds, residential communities, mosquito impoundments). The misconception is that because tarpon are there, it must be good habitat. This is not always the case and does not bode well for the future of the tarpon fishery. This particular site had already been developed into a mobile home park, and with a lengthy culvert connection from the Gulf, could have trapped these tarpon for years. Relocation was the best chance for these fish to join the tarpon population.

We are very grateful for the site supervisor’s constant communication and encouragement during this project. Because of the thick mud, we relied on the pumps to lower the water level so that we could more easily access the fish. A huge thanks to the anglers that have been watching this site for years and took immediate action. This would not have happened without your persistence and compassion. We’d also like to thank FWC for their swift action and the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center for use of their seine net.

Photos courtesy of Randy Whitehead

See more from BT&T at www.bonefishtarpontrust.org.

Fly Fishing the Smokies

Tips on Fly Fishing the Smokies
By Byron Begley
Little River Outfitters
from The Fishing Wire

Trout Stream


I started fishing in the Smokies in the 1960’s but I used a spinning rod. I fly fished at the time but I didn’t know how to flyfish in moving water. In the early 1980’s I started traveling to Townsend to fly fish. At the time I lived in Nashville, Tennessee. I had been to Yellowstone and other states to fish and had some success but fly fishing in the Smokies was different and I felt it was much harder. Finally, after several trips here I started to catch a few trout. I moved to Townsend in the early 90’s, married my wife Paula and we bought Little River Outfitters. By hanging around with people like Walter Babb, Brian Courtney and Jack Gregory I learned how this is done and I sometimes forget how hard it was at first to catch trout on a fly here in the Smokies.

Trout that live in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are wild. They were born in these streams. Their parents and grandparents were born in these streams. The National Park Service ceased stocking trout in the early 1970’s. An occasional stocked trout may venture into the park from surrounding stocked streams but for the most part, these fish are wild.

The following tips are for those of you who find yourself in the same situation I was in or it’s for those who have forgotten some of the subtle tricks to succeed. If you can catch trout on a fly here in the Smokies, you can catch them anywhere.

1. If the trout sees you or your shadow he probably can’t be caught. These trout are wild and survived because they are wary. I think a wary fish is that way because of a genetic trait that is passed on by the trout’s parents. If a trout is not wary, it will be eaten by a bird, otter, a larger trout or another predator and will not reach sexual maturity. So, in other words, an un-wary fish does not pass on un-wary traits. The gene pool that is left is made up of trout who are all scared to death of everything, including you. I noticed years ago that these mountain fly fishermen who knew what they were doing all dressed alike. They wore dark clothing (usually green) and many wore camoflage clothing. That seemed odd to me because I never saw anyone wearing camo in the Orvis Catalog. I also noticed a lot of anglers fly fishing on their knees, not standing up in the middle of the stream. I saw them hiding behind rocks and trees and sometimes almost crawling to move up to the next run. I believe that if a trout here in the Smokies sees anything unusual their immediate reaction is to run through the pool or riffle and alert every other trout in their view that something is wrong.

2. If your fly doesn’t move at the same rate as the current it’s in you probably won’t catch a trout. Think about this: A trout usually stays in a small area all day watching things flow past them in the current. It may be sticks, leaves, nymphs, adult aquatic insects, cigarette butts and little bits of everything you can imagine. These things all have one thing in common. They are moving at the same rate of speed as the current. Now, here comes your Parachute Adams but the current next to the current your fish is in is faster and your line and leader are in that current. It will pull your fly, either faster or slower than the current it is in. That is called drag. These trout who are all scared to death of anything unusual are probably not going to eat your Parachute Adams. There are exceptions to this. They may think your fly is a caddis that is jumping around laying eggs or some other movement made by insects. But don’t count on that. Make your fly drift with the speed of the current and you will catch more trout. You are going to get drag all day on many casts but the longer your fly can drift with the current the better your chances are of connecting with a trout. Sometimes in certain spots where you know there is a trout you can be successful if you get a good drift for only a foot or so. So how do you get a good drift?

A. Make short casts. Stay hidden of course and don’t spook the fish but short casts have a much better chance of offering a drag free drift. The reason is, the more line you have on the water the more conflicting currents are there to grab your line and drag your fly. Most trout are caught here in the Smokies by making 15′ to 20′ casts. Many are caught make casts shorter than that.

B. Keep as much fly line off the water or even keep it all off the water. You can make a short cast and lift your rod as the fly floats back toward you keeping the line off the water. You can make casts across a current and by keeping your rod high hold the line and some of the leader off the water allowing your fly to drift in the current it is in. If you look across the creek you will see several different current speeds. Some are slow because they have been in contact with a large boulder. Some are slow because they are moving over a shallow gravel bar. Some are fast because there has been no interuption in their flow for a while. Some are slow because there is a backup in a small pool. These currents are varied throughout the stream. Your job is to keep your fly moving in the current that it’s in at that speed for as long as you can.

C. Mend your line. As you fly is moving down it’s current and you see that it is about to drag because your fly line is in a faster or slower current you can move your line or mend it by moving it into another current or throwing it upstream to give your fly a chance to drift naturally for a few more seconds. This can all be done without moving the fly. This takes practice and the ability to mend you line well makes you a much better fly fisherman.

3. If the trout sees your fly line or leader you probably won’t catch the trout. Don’t cast your fly line over a good looking spot. If you think you see a place where a trout should be don’t let your fly line float over that spot. In fact, don’t let your fly line go over that spot while false casting in the air. Get your fly and leader in that spot first. If after a couple of casts you don’t get a strike, cast further to another promising spot. If you make long casts you might be spooking trout that you would otherwise catch if you were sneaky and could make a short cast to them. If you see a lot of good holding spots for trout start casting to the closer ones first. If you don’t connect, cast to the spots you see that are further away. Move a little closer if you can, stay low, hide behind a boulder and just let them see your fly and tippet.

4. If you are wading where the fish are and casting where they are not, you probably won’t catch a trout. Before you wade into a stream look at the water and think about it first. Where would the trout be? How can I get a drift to them? Where can I hide from them? Maybe I don’t have to wade at all. That would be better. All of these decisions can cause success or failure. In any riffle, run or pool there are good spots for fish to hide and there are places where no wild trout would venture. Remember, these guys are afraid of everything. Try to wade as little as possible. Of course you need to wade from one side of the stream to the other every once in a while. But the less time you spend in the water the more trout you will catch. You will also need to learn to cast side arm to your right side and your left side. It takes practice for a right handed caster to make a side arm cast over your left side but that’s something you’ll need to learn to do. That way you can spend more time on one side of the stream without moving over to the other side and spooking the trout you are trying to catch.

5. If the water temperature is too cold or too warm you probably won’t catch a trout. Trout love temperatures in the 50 degree to 60 degree range. If the temperature is 40 degrees they don’t feed as much because their metabolism slows down. The same is true if the water reaches say, 70 degrees. Also, the warmer the water is the lower the disolved oxygen content is. When the water warms and the oxygen is low the trout become sluggish or even die. So, what can you do about the water temperature? Well, nothing. But you can move to an area where the water is more trout tolerant. In the winter or early spring the water is warmer in the lower elevation streams. The air temperature is colder high in the mountains and warmer in the valleys. If you are fishing at Elkmont and the water is 40 degrees and you aren’t catching anything, move to the West Prong, Lower East Prong or the Middle Prong where the water is warmer. You can also fish the sunny spots where the water is somewhat warmer. During the cold months you will probably have better luck in the middle of the day when the water is warmer. It’s all different in the summer. The water is cooler in the mornings and evenings. During midday when the water warms the trout will turn off. So fish early and late. You can also fish in the higher elevation streams during the warm months or find a stream that has a lot of springs feeding them. A good example is Abrams Creek in Cades Cove. There are some large springs there that keep the stream cooler than some other streams in the area.

6. Which fly you use is not nearly as important as the above five reasons for success or failure. In the spring our first mayfly hatches are Quill Gordons and Blue Quills. Blue Wing Olives are usually hatching at that time also. Because the trout are not used to feeding on the surface as much during the winter they begin to look up when these flies start hatching. Having a fly that looks somewhat like these insects can be important. During a large hatch the trout can become selective and concentrate their efforts on that source of food. As we move further into Spring there is a more diverse selection of insects to feed on. The colors of the mayflies become lighter. Hendricksons and March Browns hatch, then later we get the very light mayflies – Light Cahills. In the summer we get a lot of small yellow stoneflies. We call them Yellow Sallies. Terrestrial insects such as ants, beetles and inchworms become a reliable source of food for trout in the summer. You should have a selection of dry flies and nymphs that are available to the trout at the time of year you are fishing in the Smokies. You can always check our fishing report to find out the latest hatches and recommended flies.

7. If another angler has been wading in the area where you are fishing the trout will be harder to catch for a while. There are over 700 miles of fishable trout streams in this National Park. When trout are spooked by an angler they won’t feed for a while. Some people think it takes a few minutes to get over an unusual encounter and some people think it takes hours. If you see wet footprints where you are fishing and you aren’t catching or getting strikes maybe you should move to another spot. Also, as a courtesy to anglers, if you see one in the stream don’t drop in up stream from him or her. Go up a few hundred yards and get in. Most anglers start at a spot and work their way up stream and you will probably do the same. Some anglers walk along the trail and drop in at places that look good, fish for a few minutes then get out and find another.

8. Don’t stand in the same spot and fish. In some places I’ve fished and Pennsylvania comes to mind you can stand in the same spot and fish for hours. Here, it’s different. After you have made a few casts in an area move upstream. These trout will see your line, leader and maybe you and they won’t eat after that. Keep moving and you will have better success.

For more on fishing trout in the Smokies, including daily fishing reports, visit www.littleriveroutfitters.com

Sea Lamprey Control

Sea Lamprey Control in the Great Lakes

Fish with sea lamprey injury


By Craig Springer, USFWS
from The Fishing Wire

Gauzy morning light leaks through dense mature oaks and maples in a square woodlot next to an Indiana farm road. It’s only a few miles from the Michigan state line, lying just below the bottom end of Lake Michigan.

Right angles predominate in this place from artificial lines laid on the land. It is well-settled here, the artifices of people everywhere. Roads run over section lines straight as ribbons over low hills in near-perfect square-mile blocks. They make the checkerboard you can see from the air. On the ground, you can hear the distant drone of a brush hog, and the comings and goings of occasional cars and farm implements as people live out their day along the rim of the Great Lakes.

The backlighting of the morning sun illuminates the bugs that float aloft on the yellow beams. They remind you of dust defying gravity, caught in light bending through dirty widows. A spattering of left-over sunlight hits a tiny stream barely big enough to name. The rill, no bigger than a groove in the glacial till, gets much attention from fish biologists. This manicured site belies what’s below. Swimming in this pleasant little purl of water is an alien invader that’s become naturalized—and entirely by accident. Its existence here is as incongruous as finding ice cream in an oven.

The sea lamprey as its name implies is naturally at home in the salty waters of the Atlantic. But the unintended consequences of connecting the Great Lakes more directly to the seaboard for commerce via the Welland Canal essentially put the invasive lamprey in this otherwise bucolic scene. Their invasion into the Great Lakes dates to 1829, and by the late 1930s, they populated all of the Great Lakes. A saltwater fish swims in the tiniest of freshwater upland farm creeks ringing much of the Great Lakes basin.

It’s had a real down side.

The lamprey is a fish. On the evolutionary scale, it’s primitive–without scales and without bones. Its slightly cone-shaped circular mouth is loaded with rings of sharp raspy teeth. It’s a parasitic pest that makes a living by grating onto its host, sucking blood and body fluids as it clings along for the ride.

Mouth of Sea Lampray


As you might guess that’s hard on a host fish. And fish species native to the Great Lakes such as the lake trout have suffered for it.

The sea lamprey will spend 12 to 20 months in its parasitic phase in open water, killing up to 40 pounds of fish. Lake trout are not the only fish to host the invasive lamprey; steelhead, whitefish, lake sturgeon, salmons, walleye, and yellow perch often get the parasite. But lake trout populations have taken a measurable toll: prior to the lamprey explosion in the 1950s, about 15 million pounds of lake trout a year were harvested from Lakes Superior and Huron. Ten years later, only 300,000 pounds were pulled from nets. In Lake Michigan alone, lake trout harvest went from 5.5 million pounds in 1946, to a mere 402 pounds seven years later.

With Great Lakes fisheries devastated by invasive sea lamprey, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission directed the scientific testing of some 6,000 substances to determine what might control the damaging parasite. In 1958, the compound commonly called “TFM” proved its worth. This selective lampricide could suppress the invasive parasite while still in streams. Registered for permitted use by the EPA and Agriculture Canada, TFM has met all safety criteria for use in Great Lakes streams. Under the auspices of the Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists now apply TFM in roughly 250 streams tributary to the Great Lakes, such as the unassuming rill on the Indiana-Michigan state line.

It’s not the adult lamprey sought by biologists applying TFM to streams. The adult lampreys swim into the tributaries in the spring of the year to spawn and then die. Their eggs hatch in gravels, and the worm-like larvae move into muck to live out the next several years before turning to parasitism and moving into open lake water. The compound TFM kills sea lampreys in the larval stage.

While TFM is the primary means of suppressing sea lamprey populations, it is not the only one. Barriers built across several streams block sea lamprey from moving upstream to spawn. Sea lampreys lack an ability to leap; hundreds of low-head barriers on streams across the Great Lakes basin create impassable heights and prevent sea lampreys from migrating, thus reducing the necessity of applying TFM above barriers.

The ancient Greek adage, “make haste, slowly,” applies here. A great deal of experience and much scientific experimentation has brought sea lamprey control a long way from the nadir of the 1950s. Well-trained and dedicated biologists go after sea lamprey in a measured, deliberate way. On any application of TFM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will have deployed staff with an impressive array of expertise: chemistry, limnology, fisheries science, and hydrology. The field work is physically demanding.

That work is paying off. Desirable sport and commercial fisheries valuable to people are on the rebound. But we can’t let up: a single female sea lamprey may lay up to 100,000 eggs.

The past can’t be undone, but with science and technology, fisheries professionals can rewind it a bit. And it starts upstream, in the smallest of rills in the uplands that pour into the Great Lakes.

To learn more, visit www.fws.gov/midwes

Tagging Program Tracks Redfish, Speckled Trout

Alabama Tagging Program Tracks Redfish, Speckled Trout
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire

While the fanfare surrounding the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR) proceeded nearby, Reid Nelson deftly made a series of surgeon’s knots to sew up an incision on the belly of a redfish that was a part of the live weigh-in category at the rodeo.

Tagging redfish keeps track of them


Nelson, a graduate student in the University of South Alabama’s Marine Sciences Department, inserted an acoustic tag in the redfish, red drum if you’re a purist or marine scientist, as part of the Coastal Alabama Acoustic Monitoring Program (CAAMP).

CAAMP monitors 55 receiver stations strategically placed in Alabama coastal waters to catch pings, which happen once a minute during the one-year lifespan of the acoustic tags in the fish.

Reid Nelson carefully inserts an acoustic tag into a redfish during the live weigh-in competition at the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. Photo by David Rainer
Nelson said 100 red drum were tagged in 2015. In 2016, another 100 red drum were tagged. Also in 2016, all tagging that didn’t occur at the ADSFR was transferred to Dog River and Fowl River on the western shore of Mobile Bay.

Nelson said the goal of CAAMP is to study fishing mortality, natural mortality and fish movement in response to water temperature and salinity levels.

Last year, the team added speckled trout to the tagging program and will continue to work with trout this year. As expected, redfish is a hardy species that handles catch-and-release very well. Speckled trout are not quite as resilient but still survive well enough to justify the live-release effort.

“With the popularity of the live weigh-in at the rodeo, we looked at it as a nice opportunity to tag live fish from different places,” Nelson said. “You can actually look at how successful live weigh-ins are. What we have seen from fish tagged at the rodeo, about 98 percent of the red drum have lived. About 78 percent of the speckled trout that we tagged at the rodeo have lived.

“Overall, mortality is pretty low, which I think is amazing. Some of the red drum were brought from all over, as far away as Mississippi and Louisiana.”

Nelson said 20 red drum and 15 speckled trout were fitted with the acoustic tags, which cost about $300 each, and released during the 2018 ADSFR. CAAMP is funded through the Alabama Marine Resources Division with a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“What was really interesting about the rodeo is the map where the fish came from that were released at the rodeo,” he said. “One of the main concerns about a live weigh-in program is the fish won’t leave that area once they are released. Unlike the fish we tagged in the rivers, the fish we tagged at the rodeo leave Dauphin Island pretty readily. We’ve detected those fish as far away as Raft River in the Mobile Delta. We’ve detected them in Fowl River. We’ve detected them off the Gulf State Park Pier. They have even been detected by receiver arrays that other groups have out. It’s really remarkable how quickly and widespread these fish disperse.

“It’s interesting to do science with a part of the tournament. That’s really never been done. Another interesting thing is fishermen have been really good about telling us where they caught the fish. What we have seen is about 25 percent of the fish have gone back to where they were caught. With red drum that were caught in the rivers and brought to the rodeo, about 70 percent of those fish will disperse and end up returning to one of our local rivers. That’s been an amazing aspect of the study. We have no idea how those fish find their way back. It could be olfaction or chemoreceptors. It’s probably a combination of many navigation senses.”

Natural mortality with the red drum tagged in the first year of the study has been surprisingly low, according to Nelson. Out of the 100 fish tagged, only three died of natural causes. Fishing mortality took 10 out of the population in Fowl River from 2016-2017, and nine redfish were lost to fishing mortality in Dog River during the same time span.

“One of the other interesting things we saw is the seasonal peaks in the rivers,” Nelson said. “We saw more fishing mortality in the fall and spring.”

An eye-opening aspect of the CAAMP data when speckled trout were added to the study is the significant disparity in movement between species in response to weather and salinity changes.

“One of the most interesting things we’ve seen is a lot of the red drum really didn’t move that much from where they were actually tagged,” Nelson said. “Out of Fowl River, we had 13 fish leave the river over the course of the year, which is not very many in the grand scheme of things. Only five left Dog River during that year. For the year we have data, they were pretty much resident fish. Some of them would use different parts of the river. But for the most part, they tended to remain in the area where they were originally tagged.

“In fact, we had a family call in a fish a few months ago that had been tagged about a year ago. They literally caught that fish where we tagged it at Delta Port in Fowl River. That was amazing.”

Nelson said the most movement observed during the study came in December of 2016 when the water temperature was cooler than normal and the salinity was very high because of a lack of rain in the fall.

“The big conclusion so far on redfish is the majority of the slot fish tend to be resident,” he said. “It looks like they are pretty resilient to changes in temperature and salinity. We’ve seen big fluctuations in those two factors, and the fish didn’t leave the rivers when the salinity and temperature varied quite a bit. I thought that was really interesting.”

Now, throw speckled trout into the study, and the movement patterns are vastly different.

“During the first year of the big study with speckled trout, it was almost the complete opposite story,” Nelson said. “The trout were tagged last November and December. They were resident in the deep holes in the rivers until about February. When it was really cold, they were staying in the rivers. Once it started to warm up, we saw a push of fish leaving the rivers pretty quickly, moving down to Mississippi Sound and Dauphin Island. That is what you would expect.

“We had a couple of fish that moved from Dog River to the Mobile River. One of those fish actually came in at the rodeo. Instead of staying in the river, they pushed out relatively quickly.”

Nelson is also working with another program to study fish movement. The TAG Alabama program is sponsored by the Coastal Conservation Association of Alabama and relies on local anglers to insert dart tags in red drum and speckled trout caught in Alabama coastal waters.

“What we’re seeing with TAG Alabama is that many of those redfish are coming back right close to where they were tagged as well,” he said. “With TAG Alabama, we get a much larger spread of tagging locations instead of just the rivers.”

Anglers participating in TAG Alabama go to the website at http://tags.usouthal.edu/ to log tagging and recapture efforts for trout and redfish as well as red snapper, tripletails and sharks.

“We’ve had 743 red drum and speckled trout tagged so far,” Nelson said. “Considering we launched the program in April this year, that’s a lot. We’ve had 65 of those fish recaptured.

“I’m excited about this. CCA Alabama is providing the funding for this. I’m hoping we can keep this going.”

Another tagging effort that occurred partially during this year’s ADSFR involved tarpon, known as the silver king.

With the help of local tarpon enthusiasts during the ADSFR, researchers from Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Mississippi State University managed to attach eight satellite tags. Two more tarpon were caught and tagged the Saturday after the rodeo.

Of the eight fish tagged during the rodeo, all but one high-tailed it toward Louisiana, one traveling as far as the southern tip of Louisiana near South Pass. One fish, however, decided to explore Mobile Bay and made a huge loop inside the bay before heading west.

Why Are Dams Coming Down?

Unneeded Dams Coming Down, Fisheries Improving

By Chris Wood, President
Trout Unlimited
from The Fishing Wire

Unneeded Dam?


Last week, I saw a video celebrating the removal of the Tack Factory Dam on Third Herring Brook in Massachusetts. Like all dam removals, it involved many partners especially the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, local TU chapters, the MA/RI Council, NOAA, and Steve Hurley of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, an unsung hero in the effort to protect salter brook trout—a unique form of brook trout that often occupy saltwater habitat.

What makes the story of what happened on Third Herring Brook so cool is its now commonplace nature. Rivers in the East are riddled with dams that were built for long-forgotten purposes. Some dams are important for power generation or flood control. Some make awesome tailwater fisheries for wild trout. But many are deadbeats, liabilities for their owners—serving only to to pond water, warm streams, and block passage for migrating fish.

Ten years ago, I remember walking along the Musconetcong River in New Jersey, and looking at a dam adjacent to a restaurant, and asking Agust Gudmundsson, then the New Jersey council chair, “what is the dam for?” He said, “who knows? That’s why it is coming down.”

Most TU members and supporters are aware of TU’s role in re-opening over 1100 miles of the Penobscot River in Maine, and our contributions to reopen more than 500 miles of the Klamath River on the California and Oregon border. Across the eastern United States, TU, and its chapters, councils, and partners, have become quietly expert in working together to remove old and obsolete dams. This work is particularly vital as trout and salmon need to move in response to flood, fire, and drought. Dams also block access for spawning and rearing habitat for trout and salmon.

The Squanatissit and Boston chapters removed a dam on the Nissittissit River, a gorgeous trout stream that flows into the, once blighted but now cleaned up, Nashua River. The Nor’east chapter is working on dam removals on the Shawsheen and the Ipswich Rivers.

On the Boardman River TU is working with an array of partners on a series of dam removals that will reconnect over 160 miles of rivers and streams.

In the Adirondacks, the Lake Champlain chapter is working with the Tri-Lakes chapter and using funding from a variety of sources, including Embrace A Stream to remove the Quarry Dam, which will open the upper West Branch of the Ausable to spawning and as a summer refuge.

TU removed a dam, and is replacing two culverts on Kinne Brook in Massachusetts— an area that TU scientists call a brook trout portfolio stronghold.

In Pennsylvania, we worked with American Rivers to remove an old stone dam and open up nearly 100 miles of ChestCreek, a priority for native brook trout recovery.

My favorite dam removal story comes from the Sebago Chapter in Maine. They worked with several other chapters, the Nature Conservancy, and others to remove the Swett Brook Dam in 2013. The chapter then set a goal to remove at least one dam or culvert that blocks fish passage every year through 2020!

Every one of these dam removals, and the dozens more that are happening around the nation, share a common theme—local people working together to improve the places they fish, live and love. The same combination of pluck, ingenuity, and smarts that led us to build dams to allow a young nation to prosper are helping to remove them today, and we are a richer country for it.

Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. He lives in Washington, D.C., and works from TU’s Arlington, Va., headquarters.

St Croix Rods Are My Favorite

St. Croix Builds the Right Rod for the Job
from The Fishing Wire

Using a St. Croix rod for spybait fishing


Image by Kyle Wood, courtesy of FLW
Chad Grigsby calls on St. Croix Legend Xtreme and spybait combo for FLW Majors Win

Park Falls, WI – There are players on the bench that wait their entire careers to get called into the game. Often those players have a very specific skillset that only requires being tapped every once in a while. And when it’s their time to lace up, they better perform. Chad Grigsby has one of those players in his boat.

There’s that moment when a professional bass pro simply changes up. It doesn’t matter if they are engaged in a catching streak—they just know it’s the right time. It’s those on-the-fly decisions, along with being prepared for those change-ups, that separate the pros from the amateurs. For Grigsby, a St. Croix Rod pro, it was what led to his 2nd FLW Tour career win and a $125,000 check.

A big part of being prepared is having the right equipment in your boat. Grigsby only fishes St. Croix rods. “I’m spending the holiday with my family at our cabin in Wisconsin. St. Croix is made here – not just in the USA – but in Wisconsin. And they are a family-owned company. That means a lot to me; I can visit the factory in Park Falls and see the people making the rods I rely on every day,” he said.

Grigsby’s boat is filled with rods. He’s had people come up to his boat and ask why he carries so many rods. “Golf is the analogy I use to explain it. You don’t use a driver on the putting surface and vice-versa. Every rod I own has a purpose; it’s why I have so many rods. St. Croix designs rods with different actions, powers and lengths for each situation. On tour we go to so many different lakes with varying conditions that require the use of multiple lures and techniques. We need rods rigged and ready if the conditions change.”

The Lake St. Clair tournament was a perfect example of this. To win the tournament, Grigsby had to be ready for every change. On the final morning, it was calm before sunup. “I started out fishing a 4-inch green pumpkin and gold-colored Venom Lures Tube on a ¾ ounce jig head with a 7’6” Legend Elite (EC76MHMF) medium-heavy power moderate-fast action casting rod. I was catching fish,” said Grigsby.

During an active bite, the sun popped out. It was at that moment that Grigsby’s instincts made him switch-up. “My photographer gave me a strange look when I set the rod down and picked up a Legend Xtreme (LXS76MLXF) 7’6” medium-light power extra fast-action spinning rod rigged with a spybait. Call me crazy but the change in conditions told me to switch,” he said. On his second cast, Grigsby’s premonition was validated when he caught a six-pounder and sealed the deal for the tournament.

“The smallmouth on that lake are old and smart. You need to throw the bait a long way to get them to bite. When the conditions are sunny and calm, the spybait is the best choice. Because you’re casting a long distance, you’re in for a long fight and you’ve got to keep the fish hooked.

I picked this rod because of the bait. The Legend Xtreme helped me 1000%. This rod has a really soft tip that allows me to throw a 4” bait into the wind a long way. The rod tip is so soft that they can’t pull the hooks out. Also, this rod is super sensitive, making bite detection easier. It’s the key to landing these fish. If people miss fish throwing spybaits, they are using the wrong rod,” added Grigsby.

“I fish Legend Elite and Legend Xtreme in every tournament but this was the only time I used that specific rod this year. Every tournament is different and it’s hard to know exactly when you’ll need a certain rod. That’s why I always carry it– it’s why I have it in my arsenal.”

Only time and conditions will determine if Grigsby calls on that combo again. Regardless, it will always find a home in his rod locker, hoping to be called into the game.

#stcroixrods

About St. Croix Rod

Now in its 70th year, Park Falls, Wisconsin based St. Croix Rod remains a family-owned and managed manufacturer of high-performance fishing rods with a heritage of USA manufacturing. Utilizing proprietary technologies, St. Croix controls every step of the rod-making process, from conception and design to manufacturing and inspection, in two company-owned facilities. The company offers a complete line of premium, American-made fly, spinning and casting rods under their Legend Elite®, Legend® Xtreme, Legend Tournament®, Avid Series®, Premier®, Wild River®, Tidemaster®, Imperial® and other trademarks through a global distribution network of full-service fishing tackle dealers. The company’s mid-priced Triumph®, Mojo Bass/Musky/Inshore/Surf, Eyecon® and Rio Santo series rods are designed and engineered in Park Falls, Wisconsin and built in a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Fresnillo, Mexico. Founded in 1948 to manufacture jointed bamboo fishing poles for a Minneapolis hardware store chain, St. Croix has grown to become the largest manufacturer of fishing rods in North America.

Why Use A Wading Staff?

Stick It to Dangerous Currents With a Wading Staff
By Lee McClellan, Kentucky DFW
from The Fishing Wire

Use a wading staff when fishing rivers and streams


FRANKFORT, Ky. – Those of us who wade rocky streams for smallmouth or tailwaters for trout sometimes bite off more than we can chew.

An eddy on the other side of the stream looks inviting and the more you stare at it, the more you want to cast there. The only problem is a waist-deep run with strong current lies between you and the enticing water.

You begin crossing the stream, but about half way, the current begins to push hard against your legs. You barely lift your foot and the current pushes it out from your body, nearly causing a fall. You look back and realize it will be just as hard to get back to where you started, as it will be to get to the other side of the stream.

You are stuck.

A wading staff will save your bacon in this situation. Made from aluminum, carbon fiber, crafted wood or a hickory stick, a wading staff gives anglers an extra balance point that can prevent a fall in sticky situations.

“I use my wading staff for balance whenever I wade,” said Dr. Larry Kelley of Richmond, retired assistant chair of nursing at Eastern Kentucky University. “It’s kept me from falling many times.”

Kelley also uses his wading staff, made from a cedar branch, to probe the water in front of him for depth. Clear water often looks shallower than it actually is and misjudgment can lead to a hat-floating, wader-filling mishap.

“This is another area where my wading staff is invaluable,” Kelley said. “It keeps me from making mistakes concerning the depth of a hole.”

This safety feature proves handy when wading cold tailwaters, like the Cumberland River below Wolf Creek Dam. The water temperatures in the Lake Cumberland tailwater run cold enough to induce hypothermia. Stepping off a shelf into water over your head quickly fills a set of waders. Waders filled with water become a dangerous weight in moving, cold water.

This is the reason wading anglers must always use a snug wading belt when wearing waders. The belt prevents the legs of the waders from quickly filling with water in the event of a fall.

You can use a wading staff to test the bottom composition before venturing into a hole. Muddy areas of the stream bottom often look like hard-packed sand, but are actually a gooey muck that can pull off your wading boots. Wading staffs are also invaluable in negotiating steep stream banks.

Some debate exists on whether wood, carbon fiber or aluminum make the best wading staff.

“I prefer a wooden staff because it floats behind me and out of the way when fishing,” Kelley said. “I can also quickly get the staff in my hand when I need it.”

You can make a wooden wading staff cheaply by finding a dense hickory or cedar branch stick about shoulder height. Rub in several coats of tung oil and let it cure.

Slide a piece of hypalon foam replacement handle for walking canes over the thickest end of the stick and glue if necessary. Drill a hole through the stick just above the handle. Work a large key ring though the hole to attach a lanyard system. Kelley uses a magnetic net release used by fly anglers to attach his wading staff to his vest via a carabiner.

Epoxy a rubber cane tip on the other end and you are in business. Some anglers epoxy a wrap of lead tape used on golf clubs just above the rubber protector to help weigh down the wooden staff in current.

Wood does not make fish spooking noises when contacting the stream bottom and possesses character that manufactured wading staffs lack.

However, a wooden staff does not collapse. Some anglers use collapsible ski poles or hiking staffs for wading staffs, but their thin bottom ends vibrate wildly in current.

The collapsible hiking staffs that use a twisting lock mechanism often freeze up after getting wet several times. The parts inside these staffs oxidize and all of the king’s money and all of the king’s men can’t get it separated again. This is incredibly frustrating if they lock up during a wading trip.

If you decide to use one of these for a wading staff, find one with a lever to lock and unlock the collapsible parts.

Some wading staffs use a piece of elastic cord in the middle to hold the pieces together, similar to a collapsible tent pole. These staffs fold up into a sheath for convenience. If these staffs get stuck in rocks on the bottom, they separate when pulled on, rendering them useless.

Higher-end trekking poles used for hiking have the elastic cord, but also a locking mechanism to keep them together during use. These make good wading staffs, but start at about $100.

Predictable water levels and hungry fish make late summer through late fall the best time to wade a stream. A wading staff makes wade fishing safer and more efficient.

Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife news releases are available online at fw.ky.gov

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. For more information on the department, visit our website at fw.ky.gov