Category Archives: How To Fish

Bass Fishing At Night

Fishing a club tournament last weekend at Clarks Hill strongly reminded me of why I like night fishing this time of year. We fished 17 hours – 6:00 AM to 3:00 PM Saturday and 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM Sunday. It was hot, and the fish didn’t bite very well.

When I was a teacher and school administrator I had summers off. Several times each summer I would leave Griffin and get to my place at Raysville Boat Club on Clarks Hill Sunday afternoon about 6:00 PM. After unloading and getting the boat in the water I would fish topwater until dark, about 9:00. I caught some big bass, several over six pounds each, doing that.

Then I would come in, shower, eat and go back out and fish all night. In the dark I caught bass on Texas rigged plastic worms, spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Most were smaller, in the one to two-pound range. As soon as the sky started lightening up the next morning I would switch back to topwater and often catch some bigger fish.

As soon as the sun started getting hot, usually around 9:00 AM it was time to go in, shower and eat again then go to bed and sleep until about 5:00 PM and do it all over again. I would do that for a week at a time.

It was great fishing at night during the week. The lake was peaceful and quiet, with no boats on the water with me. I saw lots of critters from beaver to deer doing their night activities. And I caught fish every night.

Back then it was popular to have a “black light,” an ultraviolet light, shining out from your boat. It made your line shine, so you could see it, and also had a regular light feature that let you see what you were doing in the dark.

I never tried that. When fishing in the dark I wanted it completely dark, with no light. I did try a regular light. I had read about using a purple spinnerbait at night and I discovered I caught a few fish with one if a light was on, but never got a bite on a worm. But I caught more on the spinnerbait, and a lot on worms, with no light at all.

Linda fished with me one night on Labor Day weekend and it was so dark I could not see my reel in my hand. We were fishing a deep, rocky bank with worms and she said she thought she had a bite. I told her to set the hook.

I felt the boat rock and heard her say “It feels like a big one.” Then there was a huge splash out in the dark. I picked up the net and put it over the side of the boat but could see nothing and did not dare shine a light on the water and spook the fish.

Another splash closer to the boat made me nervous since I knew I could not net it, then it jumped a third time, right into the net! That seven-pound, ten ounce bass hangs on our wall.

Tips on Fishing Topwaters

Tips on Fishing Topwaters from a Top Pro Angler

Cliff Crotchet and son


Cliff Crotchet and son. (Photo courtesy of Bassmaster.)

By David A. Rose
from The Fishing Wire

When I daydream about catching bass, my initial vision is of mist rising off a lake’s dead-calm surface, followed by the most primeval eruption as a big ol’ bucketmouth viciously attacks my topwater lure. And I’m guessing it’s a very similar image for most anyone that loves catching largemouth bass.

Without a doubt, the feeling of your heart skipping a beat results from an instant infusion of adrenalin, induced by the sudden surface assault. And while that feeling of exhilaration is the very reason so many anglers love catching bass that way, there is also a major problem when it happens… the impulsive quick hookset comes so naturally that we end up pulling the lure away from the fish’s face before it’s gobbled it up. It’s happened to all of us. But it doesn’t have to be as common of an occurrence.

Three primary factors influence your topwater success once a fish has committed: your chosen line, hooksetting technique, and rod in your hand.

Seaguar bass pro Cliff Crochet is known for his topwater proficiency. The Pierre Part, Louisiana, resident has been fishing the Bassmaster Elites and Opens for 9-plus years, with 104 tournaments under his belt. He’s won one, and has numerous top-10 and -20 finishes, earning him near a half-million in winnings. And he knows all too well the frustration of being too hurried to set the hook when a fish blows up on his bait.

“I’ve had the bad habit of setting the hook too quickly and aggressively in the past,” says the 35-year-old angler. “But it was learning to use the right line for the topwater situation that helped me land more fish with topwater baits.”

Generally, Crochet uses all three line types for topwater – braid, fluorocarbon and monofilament. And which line he chooses isn’t just dependent on the lure he’s using, but the situation in which that lure is being presented.

“Monofilament is the best line choice overall in open-water areas because of its stretch and how it floats rather than sinks,” Crochet claims. “The elasticity of the line allows the lure to hesitate just enough that the fish has a better chance of getting it in its mouth as soon as it strikes. So the line compensates for the mistakes I make if I set the hook to fast.”

Crochet’s go-to monofilament is Seaguar Rippin’ Premium Monofilament, with 20-pound test his first choice for waking, popping and chugging baits.

“The monofilament made today is nothing like the lines I used while growing up, some of which was stiff and brittle, while others stretched like a rubber band,” Crochet states. “Rippin’ is superior to any monofilament I have ever used. It’s super strong, yet, soft and thin in diameter; this means I can cast my topwater lure further, which is crucial in shallow water situations. And when my bait gets hit, it has just the right amount of stretch that the fish can suck it up right away.”

Wake me up

Running mere inches below the surface, some consider wake baits, ChatterBaits and gurgling spinnerbaits the descendants of topwater baits. Regardless, they, too, require specialized gear and techniques.

Crochet’s choice when going subsurface is a 7-to-1 reel spooled again with 20-pound Rippin’ Monofilament for open water or short weeds, but to the same pound test in Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon when fishing over thicker grass, stumps and rocks. The near-neutral buoyancy and low stretch of fluorocarbon allows you to swim your baits at the precise depth below the surface. Crochet says two inches off where you want your bait running is huge, and fluorocarbon can assist in precise bait placement.

Cliff’s notes

One of the biggest mistakes many anglers make when it comes to topwater fishing is thinking it’s a warm-water, early-morning or late-evening-only bite.

Crochet says no matter where you’re fishing, once the water reaches the mid-50’s bass will start looking to the surface for forage. You just may want to stick with lures that can be fished at a slower pace. And it’s during the spring period when the middle of the day can be the best surface bite as the water will be at its warmest.

Lures that are fished at a fast pace, however, such as buzzbaits, will get bit more once the water temperatures tickle the mid-60’s and above.

Lastly, Crochet says to let your fishing situation dictate what line to use. Monofilament in areas where you don’t have to worry about losing fish around structure; braid where getting fish up and out is necessary (just remember to pivot, lean back and keep reeling as a hook set); fluorocarbon for subsurface when a little extra “oomph” is needed, or, when the fish are being picky about how far under surface they want you lure to be presented.

Sheepshead

Deep Thoughts for Sheepshead Success

tasty sheepshead


Abundant and aggressive, the sheepshead is one of the sea’s tastiest fish.

By David A. Brown
from The Fishing Wire
Bucktooth bandits with a frustrating habit of stealing ill-presented baits. That’s one way to describe sheepshead; but you might also call them sporty, abundant and oh, so tasty.

Indeed, the striped member of the porgie clan with pearly white meat often compared to lobster, is highly regarded as a prized inshore catch throughout southeastern waters. Their capture requires a few strategic details, but one of your most valuable tools is something not commonly considered for inshore species — electronics.

Your Raymarine Multifunction Display (MFD) unit can tell you a lot about what lies beneath the surface. Spoiler alert: We’re not talking about those shallow flats where redfish tail and speckled trout hug the potholes. Rather, we’re gonna look at something far less obvious, so read on

WHERE THEY LIVE

To set the stage, sheepshead like structure, because that’s where their forage preferences live. Those protruding incisors are made for cracking shells, so crabs, barnacles, shrimp, mollusks are all fair game.

Docks, seawalls, piers, bridges and jetties offer dependable sheepshead opportunities — especially during their winter-spring spawning aggregations. Elsewhere, coastal marshes often find sheepshead roaming spartina grass edges or poking around Louisiana Roseau cane. Oyster bottom and noticeable shell bars are the sweet spots, as the crustacean count increases; but if you’ve ever idled a low-tide marsh, you’ve probably seen fiddler crabs waving those oversized claws on every sandy point you pass.

Residential docks offer yet another highly-productive sheepshead scenario, especially the ones with multiple slips, extended walkways and lots of pilings. The more habitat, the better and if you come across a dock crumbled by time and tide, or perhaps, tropical storm damage — jackpot. The debris that falls into the water below catches all sorts of trash and flotsam to form a briny log jam of sheepshead potential.

While all of these will certainly offer you abundant sheepshead opportunities, the visible spots get a lot of fishing pressure because anyone can find them and fish them. Nothing wrong with standing atop a land-based structure — maybe with a little Aqua Vu camera recon; but savvy anglers in search of the bigger sheepshead will target the shallow reefs and wrecks scattered throughout bays and estuaries. Here, in these less-trafficked areas, sheepshead enjoy plenty of cover, food and seclusion — usually with less congestion than the inshore stuff.

Raymarine Axiom’s RealVision 3D comes in handy here, as the ability to scan a structure site reveals all the relevant features sheepshead like. You’ll want to look for undercut areas where they can tuck in tightly when the current runs swiftly, as well as the high spots where the biggest and most aggressive fish often hold during peak feeding periods. And, of course, locating groups of fish and noting the bigger marks helps dial in your presentations.

You’ll also do well to look for those sneaky little rock piles along channel edges. Run the ditch and monitoring SideVision will reveal isolated structures that could be bristling with ‘heads.

TACTICAL TIPS

Once your Raymarine electronics reveal your target zone, bolster this intel with the following considerations:

Optimal Conditions — Because sheepshead are mostly sight feeders, sunlight helps them spot your baits. Current always stimulates feeding, but the peak of a hard tide makes it tough to keep your baits on point and out of the snaggy stuff. Even if you do hit the mark, sheepshead won’t fight a heavy current, so feeding usually tapers until the water slows.

Rigs — Whether you’re fishing shrimp, fiddler crabs or shucked oysters, ditch the old fish finder rig, as it’s far too snag-prone for the sheepshead habitat. Also, because the sheepshead bite is nanosecond quick, reaction time is key. A heavy split shot rig is one option, but you’ll find a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jig head, like the Z-Man Trout Eye, a better option, as it keeps bait and weight efficiently packaged. Easier in and out for the tight spots, plus direct strike response.

Another option — the dropshot. Take a page from the bass angler’s playbook and rig a hook perpendicular to your main line with a drop leader and weight below. Match your leader length to the depth that your fish are showing on your Raymarine unit’s high-definition screen and use just enough weight to hold your rig in place.

Prominent front teeth and sharp dorsal spines are notable sheepshead traits.

Tackle Tips — You’ll do more vertical dropping than long casting for sheepshead, so a 7-foot rod, such as St. Croix’s Tidemaster Inshore heavy-power, moderate action spinning rod is ideal. You’ll want plenty of backbone for quickly separating fish from fortress, but a moderate tip allows just enough “give” for the fish to get the bait and hook. The second you feel steady pressure, you’ll want to come tight like yesterday, so your Seaguar Smackdown braid is a must here.

Watch the Points — A sheepshead’s crushing style teeth pose little biting hazard, unless your finger ends up inside the mouth (but, that’s what needle nose pliers are for. Just sayin’.) The real threat are those knitting needle spines on the dorsal fins. Get too close and you’ll receive a memorable poke in the palm.

Safest grip is below the chin, ahead of the ventral fins. Hold the leader to suspend the fish vertically, grip the fish firmly with its chin resting in your palm and safely remove the hook. If your sheepshead is short, send him on his way; if not, take him home for one of the best seafood dinners you’ll ever enjoy.

Trolling in Fresh Water

The Science of Trolling in Fresh Water
How-to tips from Florida’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
from the Fishing Wire

In Florida, trolling is one of the standard bluewater techniques for offshore fishing. Many northern anglers also employ trolling in lakes routinely. So why isn’t this method of fishing more popular in Florida’s fresh waters? First, it’s an illegal method for tournaments—which should tell you something about how effective trolling can be! Also, our fresh waters simply aren’t deep enough for trolling techniques like downriggers or diving planes. Finally, the abundant vegetation in Florida lakes and ponds can interfere with traditional trolling methods. However, under the right conditions and with proper selection of lure or bait, trolling can be practical here. Whether you’re on a first visit to a new lake or returning to your favorite pond for the hundredth time, trolling is an effective way to find and catch fish.

Trolling motors — They’re actually called “trolling” motors, so why not use them as such? The heart of a trolling system is indeed going to be the motor. Anglers today enjoy a broad selection of electric motors that are more convenient and more powerful than their predecessors, with a number of available options to make trolling that much simpler. Make sure that you choose a motor adequate to the size and weight of the boat; a careful choice will allow you to maintain a steady troll in the face of diverting winds or currents. Both bow and transom mount styles are available. A trolling motor will last for years if properly cared for. Remove the prop and check for fishing line after each trip; if line works past the seals into the electric motor itself it can ruin it. When the prop is removed, hit any exposed lower unit bolts with a shot of WD-40 to prevent corrosion during storage. When on the water, remember to raise the trolling motor before jetting off to the next spot, because the forced turning of the prop can burn out the electric motor.

Trolling gear — Most spinning or casting outfits are suitable for trolling (even flyfishing gear). For most trolling, anglers will want to keep their hands on the rod rather than place it in a rod holder. Longer rods have the advantage for more precisely controlling the path of bait or lure as you troll past an enticing looking stump or patch of lily pads. They also provide for more distance between baits when running two lines off one boat. If you’re a light tackle angler you might wish to switch up a couple pounds in line test, as the forward momentum of the boat coupled with a fish’s strike may lead to more breakoffs than you are accustomed to.

A depth finder is a tremendous aid in trolling. It will help you monitor the bottom to ensure that you are maintaining the ideal depth for your lure of choice. It will also reveal bottom structure (and even fish) so that you can prepare for a couple of bumps (or a strike) on the line. Depending on the lure or bait, it will also give you enough warning to lift your rod tip and raise your bait clear of an obstruction. Some trolling motors even come with depth finders built in.

A speedometer can also be very helpful to track your actual trolling speed (relative to the water itself) when wind and current are either speeding or slowing your boat. It also allows you to maintain the best speed for a given lure (which of course you tested beside the boat before beginning your troll).

Batteries — A few thoughts on batteries are in order . . . first of all, you should have a dedicated trolling motor battery. Hooking those alligator clips up to your starting battery might leave you furiously hand-cranking that 90 HP outboard as the sun sets with you still ten miles from the ramp. Only buy a deep cycle battery engineered to handle a steady drain (the reason starting batteries don’t perform well for trolling is because they are designed to provide only short bursts of power). Modern technology has created a number of advancements in the type and efficiency of trolling batteries, but pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and depleting your battery in order to maximize its longevity.

Trolling for bass — Bass are one of the easiest Florida fish to troll for. There are already a variety of weedless lures available, which help offset one of the primary hurdles to trolling in Florida’s fresh waters. A Carolina-rigged plastic worm is possibly the most weedless trolling lure there is, able to bump and slither its way over and around a broad array of obstacles. When trolling with plastic worms, run dead slow with frequent stops. Hold the rod tip forward of your sitting position; when the familiar tap-tap-tap of a strike occurs, you can instantly drop the rod tip back and give the fish some slack as you stop the motor and prepare to set the hook. Other weedless bass lures to try include spinnerbaits, Johnson Silver Minnows, curly-tail grubs, and weedless spinners like a Snagless Sally (be sure to use ball bearing swivels with the latter).

In more open waters, a shallow-running Rapala or Rebel minnow is hard to beat (though you can use any of the lures listed above); Rat-L-Traps are another great choice. Speed-trolling these lures as fast as they will go without rolling will sometimes produce fish when other tactics fail. For deeper locales, use crankbaits to get down to the fish. Choose crankbaits based on the desired depth, but keep in mind that a trolled lure will run deeper than its rated running depth (which is usually based on cast-and-retrieve). For any lure except plastic worms, keep your rod tip back instead of forward and set the hook instantly when you feel a strike.

Trolling with bait can be very effective. Shiners and shad are the temptations of choice. Always hook the bait through the lips. Troll slowly enough so that the minnow can swim naturally and isn’t being dragged through the water. If a bait begins to roll on the surface, you’re going too fast. In weedier waters, use a hook with a weedguard. If you need to get your bait deeper, add split shot a foot or two up the line; if the bait keeps diving into vegetation, a tiny streamlined float will keep it near the surface. As with worm trolling, keep your rod tip forward so that you can yield some slack and allow the fish to take the bait before you set the hook.

Trolling for sunfish — Most of what was said about bass trolling applies equally to bream, but on a smaller scale. (You might pick up an occasional crappie too, but they are usually too deep and too closely associated with cover to troll for easily.) Fewer appropriately-sized weedless lures are available. However, Beetle Spins are excellent and weedless curlytail grubs in the smaller sizes also do well. For hard baits, the selection is also more limited. Tiny crankbaits draw strikes, as do small spoons and spinners. However, trolling speeds need to be slower and you must pay more attention to make sure the lures are not rolling. One trick with spinners is to tie a foot or two of line to the treble hook and then put a small nymph or wet fly on the end; fish leery of the spinner will often pick up the fly. You must use a swivel if trolling a spinner, and will probably have to untwist your line periodically by cutting off the lure and letting the line trail freely behind the boat for a few minutes.

What Are Some Rattlebait Tactics for Winter Bass

Rattlebait Tactics for Winter Bass
By Frank Sargeant
from The Fishing Wire

Stirring bass out of their lethargy when water temperature is in the low 40’s, as it is now across much of open-water territory in the south and west, can be a challenge, no doubt about it. But making use of the fast-sinking lures known as lipless crankbaits or sometimes as “rattle-baits” because all have some sort of metallic beads inside to produce noise is one proven tactic that consistently produces.

Rattlebaits Picture from The Fishing Wire


The lures sink as fast as jigs or weighted plastic worms, but can be fished considerably faster, and the noise they generate seems to wake up the fish in a way that others do not in cold water.

Among the many versions is the Cordell Spot, perhaps the original, and the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, now the most widely-known and used. Other good ones include the Strike King Redeye Shad, Rapala Rippin Rap, Yo-Zuri Vibe, X-Calibur Xr 50 and many more.

The lures suitable for bass fishing weigh anywhere from 1/4 to 1 ounce, with the heavier ones usually preferred for winter fishing because they stay deeper when activated.

The lipless lures go through the scattered grass left by winter’s cold easily in most cases despite their treble hooks. In fact, the favored fishing tactic at this time of year is to find scattered grass in 8 to 12 feet of water and fish the lures with a sort of lift-and-drop retrieve that is somewhat similar to fishing a jig.

The lure is allowed to sink to bottom, then pulled upward with the rod 2 to 3 feet, which causes it to vibrate and activate the rattles inside. It’s then allowed to flutter back toward bottom. The strike often comes on this drop, much like in vertical jigging. (It requires a finger on the line and a sensitive rod to sense the bite many times, since it’s only a light tap.)

Experts in the tactic say it simulates a cold stunned shad trying to maintain equilibrium. When the bite comes, the hooks are set and it’s game on.

To be sure, the lures frequently pick up dead grass, but this can often be felt as the action of the lure stops, and can sometimes be cleared by “ripping” the lure upward very hard for a pull or two before going back to the lift and drop retrieve.

Best locations are often on the edge of submerged creek channels, where the dead grass stands on the shoulder of a deeper drop. Old road beds with ditches a few feet deeper than the roadway can also hold fish, as do shell bars off the larger channels. Use of a big-screen sonar and GPS mapping system makes it easy to scout out likely areas. Creek channels coming out of shallow flats that are spawning areas in late March and April can be particularly productive. As in all bass fishing, it’s a matter of doing a lot of scouting before the serious casting begins.

Most anglers fish the lures on 12- to 15-pound test fluorocarbon, which gives a better feel for the lure than more stretchy monofilament. Some of the lures give better action if an added snap swivel is added above the split ring; otherwise, a turtle-style loop knot is best for allowing maximum movement. Most anglers use a medium action rod, relatively slow, so that the hooks are more likely to stay put–glass composite rods, rather than pure graphite, are favored by serious rattlebait fans.

Favorite colors include silver, white and pearl, which imitate shad, as well as a brownish orange that some anglers believe looks somewhat like crawfish. Whatever the bass might think it is, the lipless crankbaits clearly look like food–they’re one of the best offers you can make until things start to warm a bit towards spring.

Reds Run Deep

When Reds Run Deep
By David A. Brown
from The Fishing Wire

Mention redfishing and a lot of folks will envision technical poling skiffs or a kayak sneaking up on skittish tailers. If that’s not your jam, maybe you like Chatterbaits to marsh pumpkins; or launching topwater baits toward schools of bull reds rumbling across a coastal bay.

What’s the common denominator here? Shallow water — the default choice for redfish anglers from Carolina creeks to Northern Gulf marshes. That’s because redfish are often a visual target; they either show themselves directly or with obvious movement (pushes, boils, wakes) or they reveal their position by scaring the heck out of baitfish and shrimp, which dimple the surface and flip skyward as auburn gluttons approach.

Fishing pressure, weather extremes and feeding opportunities are the common motivators for redfish moving deep.
However, this is not the only option. In fact, a bounty of redfish revelry awaits anglers with the ambition, aptitude and technical savvy to seek a deeper playing field.

For clarity, it’s well known that those adult “bulls” spend their lives outside the marshes and estuaries of their youth; so it’s not unusual to find these jumbos patrolling coastal and offshore reefs, Northern Gulf drilling rigs, etc. But the younger “slot” fish also occasionally seek deeper habitats; and that can present a bounty of opportunity.

DEEP THOUGHTS

Spawning activity typically occurs in deeper, offshore waters; but for those sub-adult slot fish, heading to greater depths within their inshore/coastal zone often makes a lot of sense. Raymarine pro Capt. C.A. Richardson said fishing pressure and extreme weather events will push redfish to deeper, more insulated waters, but the allure often involves the prime motivators: food and water temperature.

“Most of the time, they’re on those deeper spots because the food source in undeniable,” Richardson said. “When I use my Raymarine RealVision 3D or SideVision and see giant schools of baitfish it’s hard to think that predator fish won’t be there.”

Not only does Raymarine RealVision helps anglers locate fish off both sides of the boat and below, it reveals exactly how deep in the water column.
Indeed, from rock jetties to bridge pilings, to the debris piles dumped near a bridge, deep habitat with greater warmth and feeding opportunities often goes overlooked by anglers fettered with a one-dimensional mindset. Another example: oyster reefs that never see direct sunlight. Outgoing tides expose a lot of shallow shell mounds, but those below the mean low tide line remain covered.

“In colder months, redfish aren’t going to be on the flats at 8 o’clock in the morning; often times, they’ll be on those inlets and those passes and bridges when it’s really cold in the dead of winter,” said Richardson, who runs a Raymarine eS12 Hybrid Touch and a 12-inch Axiom Pro unit on his bay boat and a 7-inch Axiom on his poling skiff. “As soon as we get to midday, they’ll often move up to a nearby flat to warm up and feed.

“As an angler, you always gravitate to those zones. Anytime you have fertile shallow water with a history of producing fish and there’s a deep water relief nearby, it’s always worth scanning that stuff with your Raymarine unit.”

As Richardson notes, the evolution of CHIRP sonar simplifies the search by providing ultra-clear returns with verifiable target separation. Other words, wishful wondering is a thing of the past.

Anglers can easily customize Axiom/Axiom Pro split-screen views to suit exactly where, how, and what they’re fishing.
“There’s no guessing; a lot of times the Raymarine CHIRP sonar technologies will show the outline of a fish,” Richardson said. “You can see ‘That’s a tarpon. That’s a bigger, fatter fish; that’s probably a grouper. That’s a longer fish, that’s likely a snook or a redfish. You can literally see a signature on the screen and have a pretty good idea what you’re looking at.

“If there’s a pretty good wad of (baitfish) there looking for a thermocline where they’re going to be more comfortable, those predator fish are probably going to be close by.”

Wherever redfish run deep, you’ll be wise to keep a diverse selection of baits handy so you can dial in their preference. Lead head jigs with shad or curl tails are always a good bet, as are the flutter spoons and slender blade jigs, which dance in the water column like wounded baitfish. Deep diving crankbaits, Carolina-rigged plastics and a beefed-up dropshot will also tempt these fish.

CANAL CORRAL

Richardson describes one of his favorite scenarios for redfish, as well as a mixed bag of cast-worthy species. When cold, blustery weather turns the shallows uncomfortable, he looks to the deep residential canals, especially the ones where yachts or big sailboats mean at least 8-15 feet of depth in front of their docks.

“I’ll idle my skiff through those areas with my Raymarine SideVision and DownVision on and look for the bait schools or the fish that are piled in there,” Richardson said. “Especially the first day after a cold front, you’ll see them stacked up and that’s when I start fishing with very small Z-Man Ned Rig jig with a Z-Man Slim SwimZ or Finesse ShadZ or fast-sinking MirrOlures (32M, 4M or 52M).

“Let your bait go all the way to the bottom and then just barely flick them off the bottom. You’ll get a really soft bite; it will almost be like there’s some weight there and you just lift your rod tip and start cranking down as fast as you can to come tight on them.”

Richardson suggests a slow, measured pace controlled with light rod tip motion. Employing this technique, catches redfish, snook, trout and the occasional doormat flounder.

“The action on this technique is so much fun,” Richardson said. “You catch so many fish that you don’t care if the fish aren’t all big. It’s just the fact that you’re coming tight on something every other cast.”

In the Northern Gulf, drilling rigs commonly attract the larger bull reds.
Here, again, Raymarine’s ultra-clear CHIRP sonar plays an invaluable role in the angler’s time management. Rather than hitting every dock in a canal and hoping he’ll run into a few fish, Richardson looks before he casts.

“You don’t have to guess which canals have fish; you just turn on your Raymarine and slowly idle until you find a canal that’s stacked up with fish,” he said. “Then, you think about why the fish are there. Maybe it’s a east-west canal that doesn’t have the cold north wind blowing into it. Maybe the fish are in a corner that faces south and it’s on a northern seawall that absorbs the sun’s heat all day long.

“Some people just go in there with a shrimp on a split shot rig, and go from canal to canal, hoping to catch a fish. But when your Raymarine unit tells you there are fish there, you have the confidence of knowing ‘I’m going to catch fish here.” You just have to figure out how.”

Granted, it can be much easier to find redfish in shallow areas — sight fished, or not; but the deep stuff merits a spot in your game plan. For one thing, the fish are almost always biting and you’ll rarely have to worry about company.

So, shhhhh — don’t tell anyone.

Captain C.A. Richardson is among the featured speakers at the Reel Animals Boat Show and Fishing Expo today through Sunday at the Florida State Fairgrounds east of Tampa. Visit www.reelanimalsboatshow.com for schedule and other details.

Plastics Transition for Walleyes

The Live-Bait to Plastics Transition for Walleyes
By Tony Roach
from The Fishing Wire

Perhaps the single quickest abandoned pattern in a walleye angler’s arsenal is the shallow jig bite, and I plead “guilty” to the above charge. Anglers that have six boxes with nothing but jigs in them for opener, forget what part of the garage they’re now in collecting dust. Early in the season, shiners are purchased not by the dozen or the scoop, but by the gallon, as the simple act of just threading one on the correct-sized jig will instill confidence throughout the north-country and beyond. One week later, anglers flee the shallow shorelines, developing weedlines, and near-shore rockpiles for the hope of greener pastures out deep, and more familiar, longer-lasting summer patterns. Rigging, slip-bobbering, pulling crankbaits, anything but jigs seem to get the nod as temperatures rise and fishing heats up. Yet, there’s plenty reason to keep those jigs around, and even tip them with minnows in the weeks after opener. What’s more, is that there are a number of developing shallow bites right now that keep jigs in play, just maybe with some different meat threaded onto the business end.

I asked famed guide Tony Roach what was getting him bit, and his response was simple. “Everyone sees me up shallow in 4 -8 feet of water. They think I’m bass fishing, but I’m whaling on walleyes right now with a simple jig and plastic combination.” Truly, there are strong segments of the walleye population in most lakes that never leave the shallows for the entirety of the year. That’s news for technical fishermen that use electronics to pick apart deep water structure and dissect off-shore features during this time of year. As the lake system ramps up biologically, fish need food, cover, and oxygen, with the greatest limiter being food. Developing weeds, especially cabbage, are magnets when interspersed with rock or other hard bottom. These locations always hold some bait, and typically always hold some walleyes throughout the season.

My experience has seen some good shallow bites going right now too, with the best being a river run in 5 – 7 foot of water. Current is the great equalizer, as high skies, bright sun, and no wind still translates into a great day when fishing current seams, eddies, and riffles in rivers. The same conditions that absolutely kill other patterns, especially in clear water natural lakes, don’t seem to hassle the river fish that are taking advantage of current that sweeps unsuspecting invertebrates, bait, and terrestrials downstream and into their gullets. Long-lining and leadcore staples that typically produce good numbers of fish during this time of year were poor in comparison. The bite ebbs and flows, with low-light periods still shining brightest, but moving water is a great savior to an otherwise weary day of walleye fishing.

In both scenarios, the classic pitch and run technique utilizing jigs and shiners were tweaked if only slightly. “As the water warms up, there’s a transition to where plastics become just-as, if not more effective than shiners or other minnows,” mentions Tony. “It’s something I see every year. As people move to the mud or mid-lake structure to rig, I simply switch to jigs with a Northland Impulse Smelt or Paddle Minnow to get these fish to chase a bit more,” explains Roach about his shallow techniques. Honed on the big waters of Mille Lacs, Leech, and Winnie, Roach is a big fan of this pattern, “Plastics allow me to fish more quickly, cast further without losing bait, and keep on a hot bite without pausing to re-bait.” Those valuable bite windows can be small and precious, especially in unfavorable conditions, so staying with the heavy part of the bite and not missing out on fish becomes crucial to making a decent day into a great one. Visual cues put off by paddle-tails, ringworms, and even minnow shaped flukes go well beyond your average minnow, especially in the colors and hues available. Nowadays, our choices for colors to pique a fish’s curiosity are nearly limitless, and often we can mimic forage that doesn’t even resemble our offering just by switching colors. For example, an orange jig and grub combination looks nothing like a rusty crayfish, but don’t tell that to Lake of the Woods walleyes that were coughing up blaze-orange crustacean parts all over the live well last summer. Those fish happily engaged that offering crawled near bottom on many of the rock reefs and points that we fished.

Plastics design has come a long way since varieties from days gone by. Color and flash give way to vibration, flicker, and quiver all throughout the very lifelike baits on the market today. The end-result is an attraction based not just on visual cues, but key components in the way a bait pulsates that trigger fish’s predatory instincts. As walleye’s lateral lines pick up these distinct tremors in the water column, I’m convinced that the heavy thumpers truly call in fish from a distance to warrant a close investigation at the very least.

Fishing a jig is a rewarding way to get bit, and offers a few more weeks of great near-shore fishing for walleyes. Just remember that as a lake’s “metabolism” gears up for the best fishing of the year, the bite becomes both more effective AND efficient when pairing those jigs with plastics.

Proper Equipment and Fish Correct Depth to Catch Crappie

Use Proper Equipment and Fish Correct Depth to Catch Crappie with Roger Gant
from The Fishing Wire

Editor’s Note: Roger Gant of Corinth, Mississippi, has fished Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River for more than 40 years. Some fishermen haven’t recognized Pickwick Lake, located on the Alabama/Tennessee/Mississippi border, as a crappie lake. However, Gant guides on Pickwick Lake more than 200 days a year and consistently catches good limits of slab crappie. Here’s how he does it, from noted outdoors writer John Phillips.

* Have the proper equipment for the time of the year you plan to fish. Many crappie fishermen don’t take the time they need to make sure they have the very-best equipment they can purchase for the time of year they plan to fish. If you use too large a line, your jig will float too high in the water for crappie to take it. If your line doesn’t have the strength you need, you’ll break the line when you set the hook. I’ve found that I can set the hook hard on 8-pound-test MagnaThin line (http://www.stren.com/stren-line-monofilament-stren-magnathin/stren-magnathin/1347942.html), yet the small line will cut through the water so that my jigs run at the proper depths. You need an extremely-soft rod with enough backbone to hold itself upright. When sight-fishing for crappie, I look for the bite on the tip of the rod. So, I must have a sensitive rod to show me even the lightest crappie bite. I like a B’n’M 6 1/2-foot crappie jig pole (https://www.bnmpoles.com/c-13-bucks-series-jig-poles.aspx).

I fish with Quantum’s casting reels (https://www.quantumfishing.com/reels) that have bearings in them and reel smoothly. I use casting reels on spinning rods because most casting rods have a trigger or a hump on the butt of the rod. But, a spinning rod has a straight handle. When the rod’s on the deck of the boat, the reel faces down. I place my rod and reel in this position when I use my style of trolling. I also use casting reels, so I can count the line down to the proper water depth to catch the fish. I put a white piece of tape on the rod 1 foot from where the line comes out of the reel. My fishermen can pull the line off the reel out to where the line crosses the white tape. Each time an angler pulls the line to the white tape, he or she knows his jig will go down one more foot in the water. By having the jigs troll at exactly the water depth where the crappie hold or slightly above the crappie, then we catch more crappie. I believe you can pull line off a bait-casting reel easier and more accurately than you can a spinning reel.

* Fish in the exact depths where the crappie hold to catch more crappie. By constantly watching your depth finder and searching for fish and structure, the depth finder will tell you at what depth you need to troll your jigs. Once I determine the depth of the structure I see on the depth finder, I know how deep to tell my fishermen to let their jigs down, so they’ll pass just above the structure. If I see crappie holding above the structure on my depth finder, I can tell my fishermen how much line to pull off, so that the jigs will pass at the depth where the crappie are holding or slightly above them. If I see crappie 15-feet deep, I can tell my fishermen to let their jigs touch the water and then pull off 14 feet of line. I know that when I slow troll, those jigs will pass about a foot above the crappie. If the fish don’t take the bait, I may tell my fishermen to pull off 1/2-foot of line. Because of the tape, the fishermen know how far to pull the line and can get the jigs down closer to the crappie.

To learn more about crappie fishing with Roger Gant, call him at 731-689-5666 or 662-287-2017, or go to http://visitmississippi.org/events-and-points-of-interest/super-pro-guide-service-26669.

To learn much more about crappie fishing, get John E. Phillips’ Kindle eBooks, and print and Audible books by going to http://johninthewild.com/books/#crappie or to www.barnesandnoble.com for Nook books. To receive and download for free “The Crappie Catchers’ Cookbook,” by John and Denis

How to Find and Catch Channel Cats

How to Find and Catch Channel Cats
Editor’s Note: Here’s a useful novice level how-to for locating and catching one of the most widely-distributed fish in the nation, the channel cat, from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
from The Fishing Wire

Channel Catfish – What do I need?

Lake anglers use fairly short rods, while stream anglers like longer 6 to 8 feet rods. Some even use a fly rod. Longer rods offer better placement of the bait and lets you fish many good holes without casting. Just drop the line near a likely spot with no more line out than the rod length. Ten-pound test line is suggested over lighter weight line since the bait is fished on the bottom and often near underwater snags.
Match the reel to the fish. Light duty reels are made to catch small fish and heavy duty reels have the power to land lunkers. Light tackle will catch more smaller fish but may not handle one of record class size.

Terminal tackle is an important consideration when setting out after “old whiskers.” The sinker and hook is the most important part of the terminal tackle. Always use the lightest weight needed and a slip sinker. The slip sinker rig lets a catfish pick up the bait without feeling the weight of the sinker. With any resistance on the line, a channel cat will leave the tasty bait in search of another.

Use a sharp hook. Hooks with bait holders on the shank are preferred. Use sponges or plastic worms when fishing with soft, prepared cheese baits. Present your selected hook and bait to the fish in the most natural manner, which requires the use of a minimum amount of sinker or weight.

Circle hooks are popular when using live or cut bait. There is no need to “set the hook” as they are designed to hook the fish themselves. Slowly pull back on the rod when it starts to double over as the fish takes the bait. Quick hooksets typically result in missed fish. When used properly, circle hooks reduce the chance of the fish swallowing the bait as they are usually caught in the corner of the mouth.

Bait options range from nightcrawlers, leeches, chicken blood, chicken liver, chicken or fish guts, crawdads, grasshoppers, water dogs, live and dead minnows, cut bait and a variety of prepared “stink” baits. Prepared baits usually have one thing in common – cheese. Use cut bait or dead minnows in late winter and spring- just after ice-out. Made of half-rotten fish, use this bait when the water temperature is less than 60 degrees F. Catfish actively eat fish flesh and other animals that die during winter and sink to the bottom. The stronger the rotten odor of bait, the better the success. Fish in deeper areas of the lake or stream before ice melt then shift to shallow water that warms faster and draws catfish into the near-shore reaches. Catfish can be caught under ice conditions, but feeding begins in earnest after the water temperature reaches 40 degrees F.

A channel catfish’s keen sense of smell makes it one of the few game fish species that can be readily caught during high stream flows in the spring, summer, and early fall. Rising water levels often provide more food for channel catfish to eat by flooding terrestrial areas along the river and food being washed in from runoff. Fish become more active during this time. Catfish become less active when water levels fall. During times of stable or rising water levels nearly all baits will produce good catches of catfish. Use baits that are most available under natural conditions.

Easy to store prepared bait is one of the most popular catfish baits. Many catfish anglers switch to prepared baits when water temperatures warm to 70 degrees F and above. Prepared bait is most effective for pan-sized catfish in mid-summer (June, July and August). Use large-sized baits such as dead bluegill, live chubs, water dogs, crayfish and frogs when seeking larger catfish. Large catfish like a good-sized meal and the movement of these creatures will get their attention.

Channel Catfish – Tips and Tricks
Catfish eat a variety of food items and are attracted to “smelly” morsels. Smaller catfish (less than 14 inches) feed primarily on bottom-dwelling organisms, such as aquatic insect larvae and other invertebrates. As catfish grow, their diet changes and a wider variety of food items are eaten. Fish, alive or dead, make up the bulk of their food after they reach 16 inches.

Channel catfish diets vary with the seasons. A wide variety of organisms, including fish that died in the winter, are available in late winter and early spring. Catfish devour these morsels, in various stages of decomposition, in large quantities. It is not unusual to find catfish stomachs full of decaying fish shortly after ice-out. As the water warms into late spring and summer, aquatic and terrestrial worms, fish, frogs, crayfish, mulberries, insects and their larvae forms, elm seeds and algae are the most prevalent foods. Many other items are eaten but usually make up only a small portion of the menu. Catfish food choices change again in the fall as the water cools. More fish is eaten along with aquatic invertebrates and terrestrial insects. Frogs become an important food source as they move into streams before the onset of winter.

Streams and Rivers
Fish upstream of river snags and log jams and cast the bait back towards it so the scent of the bait is carried downstream into the structure by the current drawing the catfish out.

Channel catfish move into the deepest holes of a river in late fall to over-winter. Fish won’t be as aggressive as they are in the spring and summer because of the colder temperatures. Try cut bait or nightcrawlers on slip sinkers rigs fished near the bottom.

As June approaches, catfish begin to spawn. Male channel catfish will find a cavity in a rocky shoreline, snags or stump to make a nest to guard its eggs. The male channel catfish will defend the nest from other fish attacking it. Float live fish, crawlers, or leeches under a bobber along rip rap shorelines, stumps, snags or any other structure that may provide a cavity for the fish. Riprap shoreline with big boulders is best because of the bigger cavities it makes. Let the bobber rig drift in the current or with the wind close to the structure to lure the catfish out. Strikes are fairly aggressive so you need to set the hook quickly before the fish releases the bait.

Most midsummer Mississippi River fishing is done anchoring above snags along the main channel and side channels or above the wing dams in the main channel. Use slip sinker rigs fished on the bottom with stink bait or shad guts and nightcrawlers. Walleye anglers often catch channel catfish casting or trolling crankbaits on the wing dams in the summer.

Increase the weight of your sinker when fishing for Missouri River channel catfish and use cut bait, stink baits, crawdads and nightcrawlers. Try fishing the outside bends of old oxbows cut off from the river as this is where the deeper water will most likely be. Use slip sinker rigs fished on the bottom with stink bait or nightcrawlers in the summer.

Lakes & Reservoirs
During the spawn in early June, target channel catfish around rock structure that offer cavities for nesting. Many smaller lakes have rip-rap (rock) along the shoreline to protect the banks from erosion. Large rock is also placed on the dams of man-made lakes or impoundments to protect the dam from erosion. This large rock provides large cavities for channel catfish to make their nests. Drift minnows, night crawlers or leeches under a bobber along the rock.

As June approaches, channel catfish begin to spawn. Look for channel catfish along rocky shorelines that offer cavities for nesting. Large rock along the shoreline is best because it provides better cavities for nesting. Float bobber rigs along these rocky shorelines with live green sunfish, minnows, crawlers or leeches.

Buy Your Fishing Licenses Online

Channel Catfish

Channel catfish are found in nearly all Iowa lakes, ponds, streams and rivers. They are the most abundant game fish in our nearly 20,000 miles of interior streams.

Fish Details – Channel Catfish
(Characteristics, distribution, etc)

Channel Catfish – Where to Find Them
Streams and Rivers
Studies show that populations of 500 to over 5,000 pounds of catfish per mile in Iowa streams are common. Look for catfish in riffle areas just above pools, cut-banks, snags, rocks and other submerged structures in the stream. The outside edge of river bends usually has a cut-bank and deep water which hold large catfish populations. These outside bends usually have snags or log jams that provide good cover for catfish.
The Mississippi River has many areas that hold channel catfish including snags and log jams along the main channel and side channels, main channel wing dams, rip-rapped (rock armored) shorelines and shallow stump fields in the backwaters. Fishing typically begins in the spring as the ice goes out and channel catfish start to eat winterkilled shad. Many of the backwaters and shallow mudflats usually have dead shad that died that winter. Use cut bait or shad on the bottom in the mouths of these backwaters and shallow mudflats .

The Missouri River, heavily channelized with fast currents, has good numbers of channel catfish. Target the wing dike fields which create current seams, eddies, and sandbars that hold baitfish and aquatic invertebrates and attract channel catfish. Snags in the river hold channel catfish as well.

Lakes
Lakes have excellent catfishing thanks to an aggressive stocking program. Stocked fish grow fast and to a large size. The largest catfish caught in Iowa each year are taken from lakes and ponds. Fish over 10 pounds caught in our man-made lakes are common. Lake-dwelling catfish are not evenly spread but gather into specific locations. Most ponds and fishing lakes stratify into three distinct thermal layers 10 to 15 feet below the surface and water in the lower strata contains no oxygen – and no fish. Limit your fishing to depths above this stratification level. Streams that flow into the upper ends of lakes hold catfish, as does submerged structure such as timber, rock protected shorelines and drop-offs. Look for diverse habitat – the more diverse the habitat, the more attractive it is to catfish.

Large Reservoirs
Iowa’s large reservoirs offer great channel catfishing throughout the open water season. Fishing usually begins in the spring at ice out as channel catfish begin to eat gizzard shad that died over the winter. Focus fishing efforts towards the upper ends of the reservoirs fishing the shallower and warmer mudflats. Fish the windblown shorelines and points where the dead shad have been blown into to find actively feeding fish. Use cut shad or shad parts fished on the bottom.

Channel catfish move out along the channel edges of the reservoir in the summer and follow schools of shad to eat. With today’s advancements in sonar technology, many anglers will boat around until they find schools of shad. Usually there will be larger arcs on the sonar under the school of shad showing the presence of channel catfish or other predatory fish. Drift through the school of shad from the upwind side using lindy rigs/three-way rigs with cut bait fished on the bottom. You may have to move around some as the schools of shad and channel catfish move. Bends in the creek channel or drop offs near shallower stump fields are often good places as well. Catfish may also move up into these shallower stump fields or mudflats to feed at night.

Two-Lure Approach For Cold Weather Bass

Try This Two-Lure Approach For Cold Weather Bass

Editor’s Note: While spring is arriving early in much of the southeast, bass anglers in many areas of the nation are still challenged by chilly water. Here are some tips for connecting from noted B.A.S.S. Elite pro Bobby Lane.

Yamaha Pro Bobby Lane Alternates Jigs and Crankbaits in the Same Water

By most standards, Florida-based pro Bobby Lane would be among the last to say he enjoys fishing cold winter water, but just the opposite is true. The veteran Yamaha Pro has developed a two-lure approach that has nearly taken him to victory in the last two Bassmaster Classics,® both conducted in extremely cold weather.

“The two lures I use are a tight wobbling shad-imitation crankbait and a jig,” explains Lane, who used this combination to finish second in the 2015 Classic® on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, and 11th last year on Grand Lake in Oklahoma. “The crankbait allows me to cover water, and when I do catch a fish with it, I switch to the jig and work the immediate area more carefully.

“In cold water a lot of bass suspend, but at the same time they still move up in the water column routinely to feed. This is when they become more accessible, and these are the fish I’m looking for first with the crankbait. For the most part, I concentrate in water only about 10 feet deep, and traditionally it seems I have my best success early in the morning, even when it’s brutally cold.”

Lane’s crankbait is a suspending model he fishes on either spinning or baitcasting rods, normally using a slow but steady retrieve.

If he does stop reeling, which he does occasionally just to make the bait look more natural, the lure remains at that depth instead of rising to the surface. He targets deeper points, creek channel bends, bluff walls, and even boat docks when he can find the right water depth. He often visits the very same spots several times each day.

“The crankbait stays in the potential strike zone anywhere between five and 10 feet deep, and since I can fish it slowly and stay at that depth, bass will hit it because it looks so natural,” continues the Yamaha Pro. “I’m not crawling the lure through rocks like I might do in summer, or digging along the bottom the way I do in the fall months. I’m just casting and slowly reeling back, and not really trying to make contact with anything. I may not get very many strikes during the day, but I am covering water where I’m always expecting a strike.”

When Lane does catch a bass this way, he changes to his jig to work slightly deeper water. He knows winter bass gather in schools but not all of them move up to feed at the same time.

“I’m really going after the same fish,” he says, “because the jig will appeal to those bass that just aren’t as active at that moment. Not only can I fish it slower, I can also work bottom cover more effectively with it. I’m fishing it only a little deeper, maybe down to 15 feet or so, and in the same places I fished the crankbait.”

Lane’s favorite jig is a compact 5/16-ounce model, and he adds a small plastic trailer for added action and a more lifelike appearance. As well as having a completely different appearance than the crankbait, the jig also has a different presentation, two factors Lane believes take on added importance in winter fishing for either largemouths or smallmouths.

“While the crankbait looks and moves like a shad, it’s not going to attract every bass that sees it,” emphasizes the Yamaha Pro. “I do know that when I catch one fish with it there are almost certainly others nearby, which is why changing to another lure that looks and acts differently may be what triggers one or two of them to strike. It looks good and they don’t have to spend any energy chasing it, so they bite it.”

For the past five years, Lane has used this two-lure combination in competition on lakes all over the country, and one look at his record certainly proves that it works. Even though he loves the warm water in his home state of Florida, the crankbait and jig have made him just as comfortable in cold water, too