Category Archives: How To

Ice Fishing How-to from North Dakota DFG

Ice Fishing How-to from North Dakota DFG
by Ty Stockton, North Dakota DFG
from The Fishing Wire

Fishing in North Dakota has never been better. The state boasts 22 species of game fish and 449 bodies of water where anglers can wet a line.

Quite a few of those fishing holes are relatively new. Since the early 1990s, when a long drought ended and a wet cycle began, previously dry lakes filled, and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department stocked many of these new waters with fish.

“At least 50 of those new lakes are producing good walleye,” said Greg Power, Game and Fish Department fisheries division chief.

A strange thing happens when a new lake is formed. Scott Gangl, Department fisheries management section leader, said the technical term for the fertility of a new body of water is “trophic upsurge.”

Walleye grow fat on this food in North Dakota

With a menu of scuds, fathead minnows and other prey, walleyes stocked in North Dakota’s new prairie lakes grow rapidly.

“It’s an explosion of nutrients, insects and resources fish thrive on,” he said. “When you flood vegetation or soil that had been dry, the nutrients are released into the water. Insects feed on these nutrients, and minnows – mostly fathead minnows in North Dakota – eat the insects, and this provides a fantastic food source for predatory fish, like walleyes.”

Because of this trophic upsurge, walleyes stocked in these new prairie lakes grow rapidly. Game and Fish fisheries biologists compile data on walleyes throughout the state, including growth rates. They’ve found that the average walleye in traditional waters, such as Lake Sakakawea, Lake Oahe or Lake Tschida, is 6 inches long at the end of the first growing season; 10 inches after two growing seasons; 14 inches after three seasons; and 16 inches after four seasons.

By contrast, walleyes in the nutrient-rich new prairie lakes, such as Sibley (Kidder County), Lehr WMA (McIntosh County), Kraft (Sargent County) and Twin Lakes (LaMoure County), are 9 inches at the end of the first season; 14 inches after two seasons; 16 inches after three seasons; and 18 inches after four seasons.

With walleyes growing faster in these new prairie waters, anglers have good opportunities to catch good-sized fish within a few years of the lakes being established. “Our strategy is to stock the heck out of those waters,” Gangl said. “If there are enough minnows, sometimes you can’t put enough fish in them to get the fathead populations down enough to let the fish get hungry, so we stock those waters with as many fish as we can.”

This means there are potentially more good-sized walleyes in the lakes than the minnow populations will comfortably feed. This in turn means plenty of fish under the surface are hungry enough to take the bait offered to them by an enterprising angler. In short, it’s a recipe for a good bite.

The fish stocked in these lakes don’t grow to catchable-size right away?– and in fact, walleye aren’t stocked immediately after lakes flood. Once a lake is established, fisheries biologists evaluate its viability. Among the considerations are the length of time it will likely hold water, the number of minnows it holds, and whether it can be accessed by the public.

“We can stock a lake if we have good, legal public access,” said Paul Bailey, Department south central fisheries district supervisor. “It might be a section line or a road, but often we get easements from willing landowners.”

Even after all of that, walleye are not usually the first fish stocked.

“We stock perch first,” Bailey said. “Perch deposit their eggs on flooded vegetation, so they do well in those newly flooded lakes.”

The perch serve two purposes, Power said. They provide another game fish for anglers to target, and they become an intermediate food source for growing walleyes when the larger, predatory fish are released into the lakes.

Once the forage base is established, either through minnows that naturally occur in the waters or perch that are trapped and transported from other waters in the state, walleyes are stocked in the lakes. The walleyes come from the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery, and they’re mostly stocked as 1- to 2-inch fingerlings, though a few waters receive nearly microscopic fry (the developmental stage immediately following the fish hatching from their eggs).

From there, managing the fishery is a balancing act. If a lake has too many minnows, they outcompete perch for forage, and perch numbers decline. Also, when minnows provide more than enough food for walleyes to eat, they are not as interested in taking an angler’s lure.

If walleye populations grow too quickly, fathead minnow numbers start to dwindle. That’s where anglers enter the management picture.

“Anglers help with the predator-prey cycle,” Gangl said. “If we don’t have enough anglers fishing a certain water, the walleye populations get too big, and they bring down the minnow populations. We need anglers to take some fish out of the lakes, so the minnow and walleye populations remain balanced.”

Winter is a great time to find some of those hungry walleyes, too. Some of the newer lakes lack boat ramps, so the only way to get out to the middle of those lakes is to get there on the frozen surface.

So check with your local bait store or online ice fishing forum to find where the big ones are biting. You’ll not only have a good chance to put some fryers in the pan, you’ll also help Game and Fish keep the predator-prey balance to ensure these waters continue to provide good fishing opportunities for years to come.

1950 30
1963 150
1971 110
1980 139
1990 186
2000 208
2010 340
2012 365
2017 449

Forage and Other Factors
The Facebook post from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department says there are thousands of walleye in the lake you like to fish, so you grab your tackle and beat feet for the water. But when you get there, you try every lure in your tackle box, cast into 43 different likely spots, but you don’t get so much as a single bump on the end of your line.

What gives? Is this some sort of Candid Camera moment? Are you the butt of some cruel YouTube video, being laughed at as the most gullible angler in North Dakota?

Not at all. The netting surveys and other measures Game and Fish biologists use to monitor fisheries are good indicators of the numbers of fish below the surface. But the fact that there are a lot of fish in a lake doesn’t necessarily mean those fish will take an angler’s lure. There are a lot of factors that affect the bite.

“If the fish are well-fed from natural sources, they might not get into the bite,” said Scott Gangl, Department fisheries management section leader. On the flip side, “if you have a great bite, it indicates a lack of natural forage.” That forage, for the most part, is fathead minnows.

But Gangl said other factors play into the bite, as well.

“Weather patterns play a part,” he said. “When you see fronts rolling in, the fish may bite – or they may stop biting. Weather plays a role, but it’s not necessarily consistent.” He said as weather changes, you may see a change in fish activity.

Another weather-related factor is water temperature. Certain species of fish are adapted for different water temperatures. Trout are cold-water fish, so the colder the water, the more active they become. Walleye are cool-water fish, so as the water temperature drops they may become more active to a certain temperature, then settle down as the temperature continues to drop.

“Early ice is usually popular,” Gangl said. “The water’s still cooling, but it hasn’t gotten as cold as it’s going to get. As the temperature drops, the fish’s metabolism slows, and after the ice has been on for a while, and the water is colder, you might get that midwinter lull in activity.”

Gangl said he’s been fishing and has seen lots of fish on his Vexilar, but none of those fish would take his lure. “Sometimes it just happens like that,” he said. “There are obviously a lot of fish down there, but none of them are interested in the bait. You might get one to bite from time to time, but it’s pretty slow. Then all of a sudden, it all changes, and you get the rest of your limit in an hour.”

Often, that sudden change hits near sunset, or the fish will bite early in the morning, then suddenly stop as the sun gets higher. Gangl said this could be because walleye are better adapted to hunting in the dark than their prey – fathead minnows – are to seeing danger in darker water.

“It’s a factor of efficiency,” he said. “Fish forage on what is optimum. They try to get the best food they can get with the least amount of energy expended.”

Every fish in every fishery is an individual, so there are no scientific standards for what triggers the bite. You can move to new holes if the fish aren’t biting where you are, and maybe you’ll find a few active fish somewhere else. Or you can sit still and keep fishing, waiting for the conditions to cause the fish to get hungry.

After all, it’s called “fishing,” and not “catching,” for a reason. Greg Power, Department fisheries division chief may have said it best: “Mother Nature’s pendulum does swing wildly and rapidly in North Dakota.”

The best bet is to be in the right place at the right time when that pendulum swings your way.

Do’s and Dont’s for Ice Fishing

Top 10 Do’s and Dont’s for Ice Fishing
from The Fishing Wire

Plano, IL — Amidst the focus on jigging and mobility over recent years, some proven strategies have been lost in the icy shuffle. Like tip-up fishing, which has consistently produced fish and forced guys into head-to-head 50-yard dash sprints since day one. It’s forged (and compromised) friendships over the years, served as fun fish story fodder, and even sent a few unlucky lads to the E.R.

picture from The Fishing Wire

The Frabill Pro Thermal Insulated Round Tip-Up is the industry gold standard.

One guy who’s tops on tip-ups is Frabill pro Pat Kalmerton of Sheboygan, Wisconsin based Wolf Pack Adventures. The good-natured guide will be the first to tell you that tip-up fishing is a sure fire way to cover lots of water quickly and ice just about anything that swims.

But Kalmerton stresses that tip-up fishing — like any angling approach — requires attention to detail. Set-it-and-forget is not part of this badger’s program.

“I’ve had the opportunity to learn tip-up secrets from seasoned anglers throughout the Midwest that would take years to figure out by trial and error,” says Kalmerton.

Thus, Like Cliff’s Notes for some class you snoozed through in high school, here’s Kalmerton’s Top 10 Tip-Up Dos and Don’ts to ace this winter semester’s tip-up test.

1) Heavy metal supersizing

Kalmerton says there’s a time and place for big hooks, but when in doubt, go smaller. In the case of walleye warfare, he sizes down to a #16 treble, usually opting for the extra flash of a gold Eagle Claw.

“I load the spool with 30-pound Frabill tip-up line and tie 8- to 10-feet of 8-pound fluorocarbon to a 25-pound InvisaSwivel. Make sure to tie the fluoro side first so you don’t have to run the whole tip-up through the Palomar loop! I slide one Owner glow bead up the fluoro and terminate the #16 gold treble with another Palomar. Then slide the bead down over the knot. I attach a split shot just heavy enough to keep the bait in a small strike window six to 10 inches above the hook and call it a day,” says Kalmerton.

For pike, he swaps out the 8-pound fluoro for 12-pound and sizes up to a #12 treble. “More often than not, 12-pound fluoro will handle any scissors beaks,” says Kalmerton.

When fishing 10-inch-plus suckers in trophy pike fisheries Kalmerton rigs 50-pound fluoro, five beads, a #6 Northland Real-Baitfish Image Colorado blade and clevis and a single 1/O hook tied with a snell knot.

“The thing I like about the snell knot is it pivots the hook when I really reef the hookset. I learned this from bass fishermen who fish punch baits — definitely ups hookset percentages.”

2) Not doing your homework

Kalmerton recommends studying LakeMaster GPS maps and PC software like Contour Elite ahead of time to surgically locate high-probability “spot-on-the-spot” locations.

“Take the time to study the body of water you’re going to fish and set out a gameplan,” says Kalmerton.

3) Setting up too close or too far from fish-holding structure

“One of the biggest reasons people get turned off to tip-ups is they spend all day in no-man’s land,” says Kalmerton. “Or setting tip-ups right on top of weeds, which can result in a tangled mess that fish will pass up 9 times out 10.”

He searches out ambush locations like green weeds, breaks, river currents, bottom transitions, and other structure where baitfish hide, instead of directly on top or too far away.

4) Fishing dead weeds

If you pull up your auger and the water’s full of plant matter that stinks, those are dying weeds. Baitfish and predators are drawn to vegetation that’s still producing oxygen, especially as winter progresses.

“Gotta get to the buffet with the freshest salad and best baitfish,” laughs Kalmerton.

5) Setting tip-ups too close together

Where you’re allowed more than one tip-up by law, fish different locations along any given structure, spreading them out as far as your state regs allow. Imagine the ice as a grid, and position your tip-ups out from your base location along a break at different depths.

6) Fishing too small of window in the water column

“A lot of anglers put a depth bomb on, come up six to eight inches for walleyes and two feet for pike,” says Kalmerton.

He suggests using your electronics to find the thermocline and baitfish to pinpoint where in the water column fish are feeding. For example, in late winter you may find that fish are up high, close to the ice, looking for water with more oxygen.

7) Mouse hunting with an elephant gun — and vice versa

Kalmerton chooses the right tip-up for your given species — or something versatile.

“The Frabill Dawg Bone can be used for both predators and panfish. For scouting panfish, simply adjust the shaft higher on the tip-up arm to release flag spring compression, which then results in sensitivity to very light bites. When hunting larger predators, just make sure you push that shaft back down.“

8) Tip-up neglect

“Walk around and make sure your tip-ups aren’t frozen in, there’s bait on your line, and it’s free of weeds,” says Kalmerton.

He adds that if you’re setting tip-ups for the evening “power hour,” think about using a Frabill Thermal to keep your holes ice-free.

9) Poor visibility

Kalmerton orients his tip-ups in the same direction, so at a mere glance he can see when one flag in a series trips. Like his fellow ice fishing authority, Steve Pennaz, Kalmerton loves the pre-lubed Frabill Artic Fire Rail tip-up for many situations. That said, when faced with deep snow on the hardwater, he’ll choose a Frabill wooden classic tip-up with a long spool arm to reach the hole and ride the flag above the snow. And for fishing in low visibility situations, he’ll affix a Frabill tip-up light to the flag shaft for easy detection.

10) Weak hooksets

Knowing when to set the hook on a fish — especially when you’re not sure when the tip-up flag tripped — can be difficult.

“Here’s the beauty of downsizing hooks. Most of the time the fish doesn’t spit the bait because it doesn’t feel the metal. As soon as I know the fish is running away from me and I feel weight, I reef on ‘em hard. Chances are you’re going to get a good gullet or corner-of-the-mouth hookset because that fish is committed to your bait!”

NOAA Buoys Help Fishermen

NOAA Buoys Help Fishermen Strategize in Real Time
from The Fishing Wire

In this age of open data, a wealth of up-to-date and user-friendly information is just a few clicks away. But what does this digital revolution mean for U.S. fisheries? In the Chesapeake Bay, NOAAFisheries buoys help marine scientists, fishermen, and others to better manage, protect, and enjoy the Bay’s marine resources.

The 10 buoys in the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) use cell phone and internet technology to share real-time data about the Bay’s weather and water with the public. Many CBIBS users access data from this network of observation buoys through the website or the “NOAA Smart Buoys” free smartphone application available via Google Play and the App Store. These free apps make it easy for Bay users to select a buoy and get information on wind speed, water and air temperature, wave height, and water quality at their location.

A screenshot of the CBIBS app, showing water/air temperature, wind speed and direction, and more.

With these data, commercial and recreational fishermen can plan a safer day by knowing the conditions on the Bay before they leave harbor. CBIBS also offers fishing-friendly data not found in other apps. Past and current readings on barometric pressure, dissolved oxygen, sea nettle probability, salinity, and turbidity, or the level of the water’s murkiness, help anglers like Rich Dennison better prepare for trips and make strategic decisions while on the water.

“CBIBS is a go-to resource for me,” says Dennison, who is store manager at Tochterman’s Fishing Tackle in Baltimore, Maryland, and striped bass trolling enthusiast and teacher. “When I’m planning a fishing trip, I’ll look for patterns in CBIBS’ data history. Is the water temperature increasing? Is the salinity of the water on the rise? What is the level of dissolved oxygen?CBIBS is extremely useful for helping me decide what areas to target or avoid based on the fish’s typical behavior in these different conditions.”

CBIBS’ real-time data is valuable for marine scientists’ work as well. Having access to a well-maintained system with up-to-date information that CBIBS delivers means researchers can provide stakeholders more robust predictions of the Bay’s water quality. For example, John Jacobs, a researcher at the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory—a NOAA National Ocean Service lab in Oxford, Maryland—is studying a certain species of Vibrio bacteria. The bacteria occurs naturally in our coastal waters but can also cause serious wound infections.

Working with state health officials and academia, Jacobs and his team have developed a predictive model based on water and weather conditions to better understand where in the Chesapeake Bay the Vibrio bacteria will occur. They use CBIBS data on the current conditions in the Bay to improve their forecasts. “CBIBS is an essential component of our modeling system and allows us to consistently maintain the accuracy of our predictions,” Jacobs noted. With all the time they spend on the water, fishermen will certainly benefit from this knowledge.

A safer Bay, thanks in part to CBIBS, can only mean good things for this highly valued regional resource. The commercial seafood industry in Maryland and Virginia, which relies on the Chesapeake Bay as well as waters in the Atlantic, contributed $2.8 billion in sales and supported 22,950 jobs in 2014, while their recreational fishing created $551 million in income and supported 12,939 jobs.

To learn more about how these buoys work, check out an interactive graphic.

CBIBS is operated and maintained by the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office. To learn more about how others use CBIBS, and to see current conditions around the Chesapeake Bay, visit the CBIBS website.

Technology Helps Palaniuk

Technology Helps Palaniuk Earn B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year Title

The young champion says he depends heavily on his Humminbird electronics and LakeMaster charts to find and catch bass all over the nation.

By Greg Arens
from The Fishing Wire

When a kid dreams of hitting the home run that wins the World Series, then grows up and actually does it, where is “up” from there?

The same question applies to Brandon Palaniuk in the world of professional bass fishing. As an 8-year old boy catching trout in his home state of Idaho, young Brandon had a very specific quest: To rise to highest ranks in B.A.S.S. and become the best-of-the-best.

At the 2017 AOY Championship on Lake Mille Lacs, Palaniuk achieved his boyhood dream. His 62+ pounds of Minnesota smallmouth secured him as the points leader to make Brandon the Toyota Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year.

So where is “up” from here? For Palaniuk, the answer is as simple as an answer can be. “My approach is still the same, in fact it’s strengthened, and that’s to fish the Elites a tournament at a time, a day at a time, a cast at a time, with the belief that I can win it.”

Concentrating his winning attitude down to each individual cast is what keeps Brandon Palaniuk focused on the moment. “You can’t win by blind casting. When I’m out there, it’s about locating bass that I KNOW are there, positioning my boat for a perfect presentation, and making a precise cast to trigger strikes from the fish I’ve targeted.”

Palaniuk taps technology to its fullest extent to execute this strategy. “It all starts by investigating my LakeMaster chart for the water we’re fishing, and identifying key structures,” he explains. “From there, my Humminbird HELIX 12 shows me if there are bass on the spots, how big they are, how they’re relating to the structure, everything. I won’t make a cast until I see the fish I want to catch.”

Brandon attributes MEGA Imaging for making it possible to target ideal structure, specific schools or even individual fish. His performance at Mille Lacs is a clear example of this. With MEGA Side Imaging and Humminbird 360 Imaging he was able to locate big boulders and see the quality and exact locations of fish using the boulders for cover. “I knew that on every cast I was putting the bait right in a smallmouth’s face.”

Palaniuk’s 2017 victory at Sam Rayburn is a another case study. “My HELIX 12s found brush piles that other guys drove right past with their sonar units. During practice I stacked up tons of waypoints on brush that held good fish, and during the tournament I was able to go back, see where the bass were on the piles, and smash them.”

After using technology to find fish, Palaniuk credits another technological innovation for helping him catch them. “Boat control is critical for picking a school apart after I find them, and the trolling motor I ran in 2017 was a huge part of my AOY success for the year.”

Brandon’s trolling motor is the Minn Kota Ultrex, and the control he references is the feature that virtually every bass angler is talking about: Spot-Lock. “Whether it was on Mille Lacs boulders or Sam Rayburn brush piles, hitting Spot-Lock to keep me automatically glued in one position was the key to making cast after cast to active bass.”

Spot-Lock allows Palaniuk to fight fish, land them and cull without having to operate the trolling motor to stay in position. “I almost felt sorry for the guys not running an Ultrex. I’d see them hook up and then get blown 100 yards off while they dealt with the fish. Then they’d have to fire up the big motor to get back to the waypoint. That’s a lot of time spent NOT fishing. Like I said, I almost felt sorry for them.”

Another way Ultrex helped Brandon control his boat toward an AOY victory was through power steering. “The ease of driving this Minn Kota is such a big contributor to efficient and productive fishing. First of all, that leg and muscle fatigue after a long day on the foot control is gone because you’re not fighting the motor anymore. You set it on a line and the prop torque doesn’t affect it and twist you off course. Even when navigating through heavy grass – it just chops right through and doesn’t fight the pedal. You combine that with the big power and fast turning response and nothing gives you more control in the thick stuff like an Ultrex.”

With AOY checked off his bucket list, Brandon is the first to admit that defending the title is his goal. To do so, he believes he’ll need to win at Lake Martin, Ala. in February. His game plan? Study the LakeMaster chart, find fish with his SOLIX 12s, stay on them with the Minn Kota Ultrex, and catch them one cast at a time.

What Are Wind Knots and How Can I Stop Them?

A Cure for Wind Knots
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

Microwave guides have been around for a few years but somehow I never got around to buying a rod built with them, even though I was a friend of Doug Hannon, the inventor. Doug, gone much too soon, is remembered as “The Bass Professor”, a name I saddled him with in a story in Outdoor Life Magazine nearly four decades ago. He came up with the weedless trolling motor prop, the Wave Spin reel and many other patented angling inventions.

The Microwave system includes a unique “guide within a guide” that funnels the broad loops from the spinning reel spool down to a small passage which Hannon said was key not only to casting distance, but also to reducing the “wind knots” that are a frequent problem in some open-faced spinning setups.

Don Morse, head rod builder for American Tackle, which sells the Microwave guides, is one of their chief advocates. It should be noted that American Tackle sells a wide variety of premium guides, so Morse has no particular ax to grind in pushing Microwaves.

“Line comes off a spinning reel in these huge loops on a cast, and those loops, we can see in high speed video, remain in the line and drag across the lower guides well up the rod on a conventional spinning rod,” says Morse. “The high-speed video shows that with the Microwave system, all that looping comes out on the first guide, and the line runs straight through the other guides and out the tip-top from there. It cuts drag, it cuts vibration, and it really makes for a much smoother, more accurate cast.”

Another consideration is the reduction of wind-knots, which under some conditions can drive anglers nuts. Particularly when throwing jerkbaits and topwaters, the constant slacking and then jerking of rod and line create an ideal situation for loops to form around the guides. Wind knots form when an extra loop of line comes off the lip of the spool ahead of the running line.

If the Microwave guide system can eliminate these knots, that alone would make them worth using on specialty rods dedicated to jerkbait and topwater fishing, for those anglers who prefer spinning gear to baitcasting.

I had an opportunity to test one of these rods recently, with 9 of the Microwave guides mounted on a 7’2″ Bushido Warrior graphite blank in medium power, medium-fast tip. I put in a couple of four-hour mornings working over the bass at Lake Guntersville, in northeast Alabama, with this rod mounted with a Shimano Symetre in the 2500 size loaded with 10-pound-test Power Pro, throwing an assortment of topwaters and jerkbaits between a half ounce and 3/4 ounce.

I got a wind knot on maybe the third cast of the first morning, realized I had too much line on the spool, cut off about 50 feet, and then went on to never see another wind knot in the two mornings of casting and jerking. I don’t normally get many wind knots because of habits I’ve had beaten into me by a lot of good anglers, including closing the bail manually, but I do get some–the Microwave guide setup appeared to be an improvement over the conventional rod I had been using for this duty. The casts were smooth and accurate, and the guides do a good job of bringing out the power of the blank in fighting fish. They’re also light enough to make a nice balance with the 2500-size reel on a Fuji handle.

The guide set is fairly pricey, $49.95 for 8 microguides, the Microwave main “funnel” guide and the tip top. This is in line with top-quality Fuji and other premium guides, but it definitely adds to the price of the finished rod. You generally won’t see Microwave guides on value-priced tackle–they’re usually coupled with top-shelf blank and handle. To learn more about these guides, visit

What Is Metered Line Fishing?

The Advantages of Metered Line Fishing
By Steve Pennaz
from The Fishing Wire

Before you go any further, it’s important that you know this about me … I miss opportunities. Often. Hey, I could have bought Amazon stock when it was a mere $71.0 a share, but held off…the other day it closed at $1,012.

Like I said, I am prone to miss great opportunities.

So, when Berkley came out with Metered FireLine I didn’t realize the true potential of the line.

It wasn’t that was ignorant of the FireLine’s performance characteristics—superb sensitivity, solid casting distance and good knot strength—after 20 years of using the line I was aware of them all and more.

But I totally underestimated the advantages of having the fused superbraid marked in 10-foot sections.

After putting the color-coded line through its paces in a variety of settings—both recreationally and in one-on-one competitions while filming Lake Commandos television—I’m convinced it offers anglers some very important benefits.

Available in 4- through 20-pound tests, Metered FireLine changes color every 10 feet, transitioning from blue, yellow, red and green to orange before repeating. By counting colors, you know exactly how far your bait is from the rod tip.

This information is important! It allows you to replicate productive letbacks, cast-lengths and depths. It also alerts you to depth changes that indicate structural sweet spots such as slight depressions in the bottom.

Metered line is perfect for trolling, whether you’re spider rigging slab crappies or pulling crankbaits for big-water walleyes. Without a line-counter reel or metered line, you really have no idea how much line is out, so you can’t reproduce distance with any real accuracy. Those are major problems, because letback plays a major role in determining lure running depth.

For example, a #7 Berkley Flicker Shad runs to 14 feet with 100 feet of 10/4 FireLine out versus just 12 feet with 70 feet of line. That’s a difference of 2 feet! Whether you’re trying to tick bottom or place your bait just above suspended fish, that extra depth is often the difference between getting bit and going home empty handed.

Metered FireLine makes it easy to experiment with length adjustments as needed, and reproduce productive letbacks again and again. You can also help others in the boat do the same.

Metering isn’t just for trolling. I was surprised at its impact on vertical jigging, especially in depths of 20 feet or more. By watching the line’s color change in relation to the surface or some point on the rod, I’m able to detect subtle depth changes that are easy to miss with traditional fishing line. It’s also much easier to tell when you have too much line out and your jig isn’t directly below the boat.

Shore anglers targeting special like salmon, carp, catfish and bass, also stand to benefit. If you’re getting bit with a certain amount of line out, the fish could be feeding along a specific current seam or unseen piece of micro-structure. The color changes of metered line allows you to duplicate that distance—and hit the strike zone—on every cast.

Metered FireLine has ice fishing applications, too.

Last winter, I took son Pierce and a few friends fishing for crappies. The fish were in 50 feet of water and we only had one sonar unit. Rather than bounce from hole to hole marking the boys’ jig depths, I set up all their rods the same and told them to let out four colors to target fish suspended at 40 feet. It worked like a charm.

I share this information because I want you to avoid making the same mistakes I made…like not giving Metered FireLine a shot when it first came out. After screwing up my opportunity with Amazon, you’d think I’d learn.

About Berkley

Berkley is one of the world’s leading fishing tackle companies. They achieved this by offering the broadest array of innovative solutions developed by anglers for anglers. At Berkley their goal is simple—to make fishing fun and help anglers everywhere to Catch More Fish!

About Steve Pennaz

Steve Pennaz excels at finding and catching fish on new waters, a skill developed over 30 years of extensive travel in search of giant fish. His television series, Lake Commandos, Man vs. Lake vs. Man, helps anglers understand the steps to building successful patterns.

Fishing Success from Shore

Enjoy All-Season Fishing Success from Shore
Five ways for the shore-bound angler to enjoy more consistent catches

Dr. Jason Halfen
The Technological Angler
from The Fishing Wire

These five tips will help you to enjoy more consistent catches from shore, no matter which species of fish you pursue.

Let’s face the facts: nearly everyone gets their start in fishing by casting a line from shore. These outings find us anxious to tangle with “whatever bites” and happy to steal a few moments near the water to wash away life’s trials and tribulations.

The simplicity of angling from the shore is counterbalanced by the inherent limitations that accompany such trips: fishing locations are restricted to those places where we can legally access the shoreline, and our ability to probe the nooks and crannies of subsurface structure is limited by the distance covered by our longest casts. Even in the face of these obstacles, shore fishing continues to enjoy a special part in the repertoire of many sportsmen, ranging from the relative novice to the most seasoned and experienced angler. Here are five proven tips that will help bring more success to your shoreline fishing experiences.

Near-shore casting obstacles, like tall willows or reeds, can be outmaneuvered by using a long rod, like the St. Croix Legend Tournament Walleye Series (LTWS76MLXF).
Go Long. One of the most important tools for the shore-bound angler is a long rod. Certainly no secret to veterans of the Euro-carp scene, where rods up to 13 feet in length are commonplace, long rods provide significant advantages to multispecies anglers patrolling the shoreline. First, such rods allow anglers to avoid entanglements with imposing shoreline reeds and willows, where the rod’s length can elevate baits above those obstacles during the cast, and can also keep the angler’s line above that same cover during the retrieve. Second, long rods provide the leverage necessary to bring hooked fish quickly to shore, keeping them away from near-shore snags that could lead to loss of the “fish of the day”.

When chasing walleyes, bass and panfish, my favorite shorefishing rod is the 7-foot, 6-inch St. Croix Legend Tournament Walleye Series (LTWS76MLXF). This rod provides the length needed to avoid shoreline cover and to make long casts; the sensitivity I to detect subtle bites from wary walleyes; and the right balance of power to dominate larger fish, while still allowing scrappy battles with crappies and perch.

When whiskered fish, like catfish or sturgeon, are on the menu, I select a beefy St. Croix Mojo Cat (MCS80MF2). This 8-foot rod features a unique, powerful blend of SCII graphite and linear S-glass that can easily muscle the orneriest cat to shore.

Watch your line. Productive shoreline fishing areas don’t often occur as a sugar-sand beach, where barefoot anglers might frolic between bites. Rather, prime areas to target lunkers from shore are often tough to reach, and tougher to fish from, because of hazardous rocks, thick brush or downed trees, or manmade cover like docks or boathouses assembled from wood and metal. Casting, retrieving, and fighting fish near these abrasive objects can have dramatic, negative impacts on your line, often leading to line failure and the loss of a prize catch.

To avoid this heartbreak, choose a line that is tough enough for any shoreline application, like Seaguar AbrazX. A 100% fluorocarbon line fortified with advanced abrasion resistance, Seaguar AbrazX is designed to defeat the line-weakening effects of heavy cover, while remaining extremely soft for long casts and ease of handling. Perfect for walleyes hiding in the rocks and catfish tucked into timber, Seaguar AbrazX was also the line of choice for Jordan Lee, who relied on this abrasion-resistant fluorocarbon on his way to the 2017 Bassmaster Classic Championship.

Check your jig. One of the simplest, yet most effective ways to target fish from shore is with a jig. By selecting jigs of different weights, we can present a wide variety of both live and artificial baits through any portion in the water column. Indeed, a light jig can be dangled beneath a bobber or retrieved close to the surface. Choose a heavier jig to work the mid-range depths or to bounce a bait along the bottom.

The Fiskas XL Walleye Series Jig is an excellent choice for presenting live baits in moving waters.

Tackle shops are replete with jigs in a dizzying array of designs, shapes and sizes. One refinement that makes a big difference, especially when fishing in current, is the use of tungsten jigs. Well established in the ice fishing scene, tungsten is a non-toxic substitute for the traditional leadhead, and because of tungsten’s high density, tungsten jigs will be smaller than lead jigs of the same weight. In current, a small-profile tungsten jig allows the angler to probe the depths of moving water while offering less resistance to current, which keeps the tungsten jig within the strike zone longer. Fiskas XL Walleye Series jigs are hand-painted tungsten jigs designed specifically for open water use, and are excellent choices when chasing spring walleyes from shore, particularly when tipped with live bait. When presenting bulkier soft plastics, choose a premium lead jig with a wider-gap hook and a wire plastic-keeper, like the B-Fish-N Tackle Precision Jig.

Keep fish nearby. While shore-bound anglers generally have limited mobility, the fish they are chasing enjoy complete freedom of movement. Active fish patrolling a stretch of shoreline, or hopping among pieces of near-shore cover, might be within reach of an angler casting from shore for only a small fraction of that angler’s total fishing time. Where legal, BaitCloud is a unique product that will help to bring the fish to your location, and keep them there while you present baits to them. BaitCloud works by combining scent, sound, and visual attractants into a single, easy-to-use, biodegradable product that is proven to attract fish. Available in a variety of formulations, including specific recipes for bass, walleye, or panfish, BaitCloud can tip the scales in the shoreline angler’s favor, especially when used in a lake or other area with minimal current.

Travel light. One way to enhance your mobility when fishing from shore is to carry only a minimalistic set of equipment. The less stuff that you have to pack and move, the more often you will switch spots; just like fishing from a boat or through the ice, angler mobility is truly the key to success.

Featuring abundant space and a durable, weatherproof coating, the Plano Zipperless Z-Series Tackle Bag is the perfect storage solution for the shore-bound angler.

I carry a limited selection of basic tools and tackle, jigs and baits, extra line and maybe even an old-school stringer, all packed within a Plano Zipperless Z-Series Tackle Bag. Featuring plenty of room for my shore-fishing equipment and a convenient shoulder strap for ease of transport, my Plano Z-Series Tackle Bag has a durable, water-resistant coating and splash-resistant openings to keep my tools and tackle dry, no matter where my shoreline travels take me, or how rainy (or snowy!) a fishing day might become.

Fishing from shore is a great way to reconnect with your angling roots, and to introduce a youngster to our sport. These five tips will help keep smiles on faces and rods bent with consistency, no matter which species of fish you pursue from the shoreline.

About the author: Dr. Jason Halfen owns and operates The Technological Angler, a company dedicated to teaching anglers to leverage modern technology to find and catch more and bigger fish. Learn more at .

Wrapping Up the Ice Fishing

Wrapping Up the Ice Fishing Season
By Bob Jensen

For many of us, the ice-fishing season is over, but open water fishing is still a little ways off. Some will make a trip to a river to get in on some open water angling, and others will travel north to find ice that is still safe, but for many, now is a down time for actually wetting a line. That makes it a great time to take care of some things that need to be done to make our fishing even better next year. Following are some of those things.

Let’s start with some tasks that should be done now to wrap up the ice-fishing season. If you have a portable shelter, open it up and let it dry out good on the inside. Clean everything out of it that might attract mice or any other pest. Make sure it’s completely dry, then close it up and put it in storage. I prefer to store my shelters off the ground. Just put a couple of boards underneath it to allow for air flow. I’m not sure this is necessary, but I still like to do it.

Now, here’s a big one: Storing your auger. Different augers use different types of fuel today. Check with the manufacturer on how best to store your auger and then do it that way. Many ice-anglers like to start their auger every month or so and just let it run for a minute.

Also, if you noticed that it was getting harder to make a hole in the ice, have the blades sharpened or install a new set of blades.

Make sure the battery on your sonar unit is charged.

Take some line off your reel and remember to add fresh line when ice-season approaches again. Back the drag off also.

Open up your tacklebox and let it air out. Make a note of what lures need to be replaced.

Last thing: Clean out the pockets of the clothing that you wear on the ice. Make sure there are no candy bar wrappers or containers of waxworms, spikes, etc. Bad things happen when these are left in your coat.

Now to prepare for open water. If you haven’t been ice-fishing, remember to get a new fishing license.

If you didn’t do it when you put your rod and reels away for the winter, strip some line off and add new. More and more, anglers are realizing the importance of fresh line. On my jigging and rigging rods, I take about fifty yards off and tie new line to the old line. I generally never have more line than that out when jigging or rigging. I started using P-Line last year because it’s outstanding line that I can count on, but it’s also very affordable. With trolling reels, you’ll want to add more fresh line because you’ll often have more line out when trolling.

If you have a boat, make sure the batteries are charged and ready to go.

If you have waders that need some attention, get that done now. Leaky waders in the cold water of spring are no fun.

Check your tacklebox and make sure you have the lures you’ll need for the upcoming open water season.

These things are small details that often get forgotten, but if you remember them now, you’ll be more prepared to hit the open water soon and the ice when it returns.

To see all the newest episodes of the Fishing the Midwest television series, new fishing related tips, and fishing articles from the past, go to

Use Depthfinders and Underwater Cameras To Find Fish

High-Tech “Glass-Bottom” Fishing
Benefits of integrating today’s depthfinders and underwater cameras in open water

By Steve Pennaz
from The Fishing Wire

I was about 10 years old when I saw a TV program about a Florida tourist operation with glass-bottom boats. I can remember thinking: Wouldn’t that be cool? Even then, my goal was to catch more and bigger fish, and a transparent-floored boat seemed like a good way to learn more about fish location and behavior.

Now, decades later, my dream has come true. I’m fishing out of a glass-bottom boat… Okay, not literally, but outfitted with a unique combination of compatible electronics, my Ranger 620 allows me to see what’s going on below. What’s even better, the system is simple to use, but profound in what it reveals.

My system starts with a Garmin 7612xsv chartplotter/sonar combo. This unit, like many offered by Garmin, features a video input option that allows me to plug in and view Aqua-Vu Multi-Vu camera.

The pair works extremely well together. The 12-inch 1280 x 800 WXGA Garmin display shows what the camera captures in ultra-bright detail, even in full sunlight. It offers the option of full-screen video viewing, or I can split the screen to have video and sonar, video and mapping, etc., all with a push or two on the unit’s touch screen.

Historically, the weak links with underwater cameras has been the monitor quality, a necessity to keep overall cost down, and ease of use.

Although companies like Aqua-Vu are making better and brighter monitors, there are also options like the camera-only Aqua-Vu Multi-Vu that plugs directly into my 10-and 12-inch Garmin units and provides a stunningly clear, large viewing space.

With the press of a couple buttons on the touch screen Garmin menu, I can go from mapping to sonar (traditional sonar, ClearVü or SideVü) or any combination of the two. I also have the option of adding underwater video to the mix.

The ease of incorporating underwater viewing allows me to use the camera far more frequently. I now drop it overboard any time I’m curious, and within seconds get a look at what’s going on below the boat.

I use it often for fish species verification, a huge time saver, especially when filming TV shows, pre-fishing for tournaments, or when trying to put family and friends on fish. It also helped me become a much better interpreter of the highly-detailed CHIRP sonar readings I only dreamed about a few years ago.

It’s also incredibly fun.

Case Study #1: Smallies or Suckers?

I was on the Great Lakes chasing giant smallmouth when I pulled up on a big reef and scanned it my SideVü. It was loaded with fish! Knowing that smallmouths will move onto reefs in late fall, I was pumped especially after catching a four-pounder on my second cast.

I hooked another fish 15 minutes later and had the surprise of the trip. It was a big sucker and it had inhaled my jigging spoon! The next fish was also a sucker, as was the third, and yes, I was baffled! I had no idea that suckers will feed like aggressive predators.

Looking for answers, I finally lowered the Aqua-Vu down and quickly understood what was going on. The marks I was seeing on SideVü were not smallmouth, but suckers, and the reef was crawling with them.

We left.

Case Study #2: Walleye and Bass

Earlier this summer, I found a rock pile in 19 feet of water that was loaded with fish. I expected walleyes; but when I dropped the camera I discovered they were all deep-water largemouths. Later that same day, I found additional schools of fish I was convinced were crappies. Again, I dropped the camera and was proved wrong; they were big bluegills.

Another trip sticks out.

I was taping an episode of “Lake Commandos” on a lake that DNR survey data indicated had lots of largemouth, but very few smallmouth. So I was surprised when we landed several smallmouth along a weedline that should have held largies.

So I dropped the camera to the bottom and discovered a huge pile of boulders in the middle of the grass and it was filthy with smallmouth! This was information I couldn’t get from my sonar because thick weeds had overgrown the entire spot.

Vegetation Identification

Many natural lakes have progressively become more diverse in terms of vegetation types. Thousands across the country are now weed-choked with indigenous and invasive vegetation.

On many lakes, weedlines extend for hundreds or even thousands of yards. This makes breaking down the lake difficult and time-consuming, particularly when fish are relating to specific weed types.

On a recent “Lake Commandos” shoot with BASS touring pro Adrian Avena, the key to the entire big bass bite came down to finding cabbage, which was difficult as it was available only in small, random, isolated patches. As soon as we found a patch, however, we’d land two or three 4- to 6- pound bass on jigs tipped with Berkley Chigger Craws. But you could work 400-600 yards of a weedline between cabbage patches.

Sonar definition has really improved over the years, to the point that it is making it possible to breakdown some weed types with sonar. Milfoil, for example, looks different on screen than cabbage… if you know what to look for.

By running sonar side-by-side with video, I’ve learned to recognize how various weed types appear on sonar. The lessons continue, and it’s not full-proof, but I find myself able to find grass like coontail and cabbage that usually holds fish and avoid those that typically don’t.

This information is so valuable that I am now investing time simply to compare what I am seeing on sonar with the camera. In the process, I am becoming more efficient at finding fish.

One other thing about grass, and I am embarrassed to admit this: in some cases, particularly in areas with current, isolated patches of soft-stalked grass like milfoil, will lay horizontal to the bottom. On sonar, these areas can look like a school of four to five fish (and I thought they were).

Another lesson learned.

Bottom Hardness Identification

My sonar/camera system is also invaluable for confirming bottom composition and clarifying what my sonar is telling me. In many situations, with sonar alone, I was left wondering: Is that rock or thick coontail clumps on bottom. Hard bottom or soft? A bottom transition from one to the other? Now I understand what that looks like on sonar and can validate it 100% of the time with camera, which is critical. Bottom hardness transition areas are underwater super-highways for countless fish species.

Studying bottom composition has led to some interesting discoveries, too. I’ve spotted lost anchors, sunglasses, lures and rods on the bottom of lakes, as well a surprising number of golf balls.

Parting Thoughts

These days, I am dedicating more time to viewing because its making me a more productive fisherman. Oh, it’s fun to drop a camera and drift over cover and get a peak into the underwater world below. “Look, there’s a big smallmouth!”

But what the sonar/underwater combination reveals is much more than just fun… it’s also incredibly educational. I find myself dedicating days to leaving the rods in the locker and studying specific structure. Why is this specific spot holding fish? I’ll study spots for awhile, make mental notes, and drop waypoints, and this is putting more fish in the boat.

About Steve Pennaz
Steve Pennaz is a hall of fame angler who excels at finding and catching fish on new waters, a skill developed over 30 years of extensive travel in search of giant fish. His television series, Lake Commandos, Man vs. Lake vs. Man, helps anglers understand the steps to building successful patterns on the water.

Did Hook Tweaks Help Rapala Pro Ott Defoe Win?

Hook tweaks help Rapala pro Ott Defoe win Bassmaster tournament

Tweaking your hook set-ups can improve hook-up ratios and put more fish in the boat. Such was the case last week for Rapala pros Ott DeFoe and Seth Feider, who respectively won and placed second in a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on the Mississippi River near La Crosse, Wis.

A new hook set-up and new knot helped DeFoe beat 106 of the best anglers on the planet and win his first regular-season, full-field Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. For Feider, a new take on a classic bassin’ rig put fish in the boat when it counted, rewarding him with his highest-ever finish in two years on the Elite tour.

Although DeFoe and Feider fished in different areas with different techniques, the Rapala family of brands contributed key elements to their success, including VMC hooks and terminal tackle, a a Storm topwater bait and Sufix fishing line.

Swim a Treble

Fifteen of the 20 fish DeFoe weighed for a four-day winning weight of 62 pounds, 7 ounces came from a well-known community hole below a low-head dam’s spillway. Although many other competitors fished in the area also, DeFoe caught more bass there than anyone else by throwing a soft-plastic swimbait with a non-traditional hook set-up.

Rather than rigging the swimbait with a weighted swimbait hook or swimbait jig head – as he most often would do – DeFoe fished it weightless, armed with a treble hook. The way cavitating current in the spillway was causing bass to bite led to DeFoe’s decision.

“In this particular situation, the hook-up ratio can be considerably better with a treble hook,” he explains. “When smallmouth in current come up under a bait to bite it, they have a tendency to just slap at it. So an exposed No. 1 treble hook back there, rather than just a single hook, can really help land more of those fish.”

Forged from the finest high-carbon steel, VMC Round Bend Treble 1X hooks are the leading choice for lure manufacturers and anglers who value maximum strength and sharpness. Available in a wide size range, VMC’s model 9650 round-bend trebles give savvy anglers multiple options for switching up the hook set-ups on their favorite baits to adjust to unique or changing conditions.

That’s exactly what DeFoe did to catch his spillway smallies, which were suspending in the top two feet of the water column as heavy current – caused by rain upriver prior to the tournament – washed stunned baitfish over the spillway, practically on top of them.

“There were a lot of other guys in here at the beginning, but I’d guess most of them were fishing under the fish, you know, with weighted baits,” he says. “Rigged weightless with a treble hook, that swimbait gives you almost like a topwater bite.”

DeFoe casted upstream and reeled in at the same speed as the current – not faster, not slower. “That’s so important about the retrieve,” he says. “You want your bait moving the same pace that something naturally flowing down through there would be.”

DeFoe caught the tournament’s biggest bass in the spillway late on the second day of the four-day event, a 6-pound, 1-ounce smallmouth that would prove instrumental. After he caught the 6-pounder, he culled a 2-pounder, for a net gain of about 4 pounds. He beat out Feider for first place by only 1 pound, 3 ounces.

Follow these steps to rig a swimbait with a treble hook:

• Using a line-threading tool, run your main line through your swimbait’s nose and down through its body, exiting just short of the middle. “This will end up putting the hook about dead in the middle of the bait,” DeFoe explains. If you don’t have a line-threading tool, he says, a needle or a long, thin-wire hook like a VMC Neko Hook will “do the trick just as well.”

• Attach a VMC split ring to a No. 1 VMC Round Bend Treble 1X hook.

• Tie your line to the split ring.

• Stick one of the treble’s three “arms” up into the swimbait’s body, vertically centered. The other two treble arms will flare out slightly to the sides. “This will keep everything settled on the cast,” DeFoe explains.

New Knot, Same VMC Hook

It was not a new hook, but a new knot that helped DeFoe land keeper largemouths when he was resting his spillway smallmouth.

After swinging and missing on a few bass while flipping grass with a punch rig, DeFoe re-tied his 4/0 VMC Heavy Duty Flippin’ Hook with a snell-type knot. Such a knot creates a pivot point which, when pressured by a hook-set, causes your hook to kick out into a fish’s mouth.

“I actually didn’t have it snelled the first two days,” DeFoe confides. “The first day I did OK – I missed one, but I caught more than I missed. The second day I only had one bite [on it] and I missed it.”

So on the third day that DeFoe re-tied all the VMC Flipping Hooks in his punch rigs with a knot he learned from a fellow competitor. “It’s not exactly a snell knot, but it works similar,” he says. “I don’t actually know the name of it. My roommate [on tour] showed it to me. It’s a similar style knot where your weight pushes down and it kicks the hook out. That really helped my hook-up ratio those final two days.”

To build your own punch rigs, click these links: VMC Heavy Duty Flippin’ Hook, VMC Tungsten Flip’N Weight, VMC Sinker Stops, Sufix 832 Advanced Superline.

DeFoe caught five of the 20 bass he weighed in the tournament by flipping his punch rig into mats of duckweed and coontail in a 100-yard stretch of river on the southern end of Pool 8. All his flippin’ fish were largemouth. Located about 20 minutes downriver from his smallie spot in the spillway, his largemouth spot featured clean water, current and “a really good edge and canopy,” he says. The vegetation was growing in three to four feet along a breakline that fell to about five to six feet.

“Those transition areas – where the depth changes and the grass ends – give bass an edge to follow and move in and out, up and down,” DeFoe explains. “And it makes a very good ambush point. They can tuck up into that canopy, under that shade, and look out into that open water and watch for baitfish. And they can look up shallow in the other direction under that canopy and look for targets to feed on.”

That being said, it pays to locate numerous such spots. “I found a lot of other places that looked very similar, but only one had fish in it,” DeFoe says.

Feider Finesses ‘Em

While Feider found hungry smallmouth around offshore sandbars with a Storm Rattlin’ Chug Bug, he put them in the boat when it counted with a modified Carolina Rig armed with a sticky-sharp 3/0 VMC Extra Wide Gap hook. While most Carolina Rigs feature heavy sinkers and a leader as long as three feet, Feider fashioned a finesse version popular among river rats on the Upper Mississippi river, but less so elsewhere. While it follows the same formula of main line + weight + leader line + hook, the weight is lighter and the leader shorter. This combination allows an angler to not only get bites in brisk river current, but feel those bites and set the hook soon enough. Feider was throwing a 3/8 oz. weight with a 12-inch leader.

“The really short leader is key,” he explains. “You’ll feel and detect bites better. With a long leader like with a traditional Carolina Rig, your bait just gets blown all around by the current.

“That current I was fishing in was running super hard,” Feider continues. “If you’ve got a three-foot leader behind your sinker downstream and the fish eats it, you’re not going to feel him until you move that sinker six feet.”

The short leader also keeps your bait on the sweet spot to which you often must make repeated casts. “You use the sinker to kind of feel around where the best little spot is and then that short leader keeps the bait right where it needed to be,” Feider explains.

Most of Feider’s Day 3 and Day 4 fish came on his modified Carolina Rig, which was anchored by 3/0 VMC Extra Wide Gap hook dressed with a 3 ½-inch green-pumpkin crawfish-profile bait with the claws dyed orange. He used 17-pound Sufix fluorocarbon for both his main line and leader.

Two of Feider’s key Day 3 bass came on another curveball finesse tactic – a drop shot rig.

“I’ve literally only caught two bass on drop shot on that river before the tournament,” Feider says. “That’s not really a traditional bait that guys throw there. But I knew there were still fish there and it was the next logical step in finesse to catch them. I caught two good fish on it and definitely saved my Day 3.”

Feider’s drop shot rig comprised a 3/8th oz. VMC Tungsten Drop Shot Ball Weight and a No. 2 VMC Neko Hook dressed wacky style with a soft-plastic stickworm.

Despite having no track record of successful drop-shotting shallow smallies on the river, Feider tried the tactic after a couple bass slapped at his modified Carolina rig “but didn’t really eat it,” he recalls. “They’d bite the pinchers off my bait, but wouldn’t really get to the hook. So I knew there were still some semi-active fish sitting there. Twenty casts later with the drop shot, I’d get one of them to eat. It had a little bit more subtle look to it.”

Chug ‘Em Up

Feider’s finesse bites came from about 10 or 20 spots he found in practice with a Storm Rattlin’ Chug Bug. Although each spot was different in subtle ways, each featured current seams in one to three feet around sandbars or small islands that are usually above water, but had been recently submerged by influx of upstream rainwater. Feider calls such spots “sand drops.”

“With the water being high, now they had water going over them and that usually creates a pretty nice drop, or hole, around them,” he explains. The location of these holes are given away by surface disturbances familiar to experienced river anglers.

“There’ll be some kind of key feature in the current that puts the fish where they are on the breaks,” Feider explains. “There’ll be a little swirl on it, or two streams will come together hard.”

In the three days of practice that preceded the tournament, Feider targeted these current seams with a Chug Bug in a chrome pattern. “It’s one of the louder poppers there is and I think the fish really like the profile on it too,” he says. “If there were fish there, they would show themselves on that, for sure.”

And not only did the Chug Bug tell him which spots held hungry fish, it showed him which spots held big fish. “I didn’t have to catch ’em to see how big they were, the way they were coming out of the water to hit the bait,” Feider says. “After the first morning of practice, I was committed to those spots. I feel like there’s more 4-pound smallmouth in that river than there are 4-pound largemouth.”