Monthly Archives: August 2013

How Can I Catch Bluefin Tuna From A Small Boat?

Bluefin Tuna are great to eat

Bluefin Tuna are great to eat

Catching Tuna From A Small Boat
from The Fishing Wire

You don’t need a big sportfisherman to chase summer bluefin

Jigging up a bluefin tuna is super summertime sport, and fish this size can be handled without resorting to big game tackle.

Summertime presents an interesting fishing opportunity for outboard boat owners in the Mid-Atlantic region as schools of small-to-midsize bluefin tuna take up residence on the middle grounds. That means that boats incapable of making the run to the edge of the Continental Shelf and the many submarine canyons that attract yellowfin and bigeye tuna, have a shot at catching those species’ very substantial inshore cousins.

Bluefin are hard-fighting gamefish that can grow to four times the size of their next largest relative. These summer fish tend to weigh between 30 and 100 pounds with some as large as 250 pounds. They are truly big game, so be prepared for a fight if you’ve never caught one before.

Bluefin are highly regulated and therefore U.S. restrictions on seasons, sizes and bag limits must conform to the plan developed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

To fish for bluefin, you must have an Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Angling Permit, which is issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). You can purchase a permit online by going to, paying the $20 fee with a credit card, and then printing it out on your computer printer. The permit is for the boat, covers all anglers aboard and is good for the calendar year in which you purchase it. There are no individual angler permits required.

Lots of delicious steaks in hand–but only one per boat per day is permitted.

Since conservation of bluefin tuna is paramount at this time, commercial and recreational fishing is tightly controlled. On the recreational side, retention is strictly limited. Currently regulations stand at one fish per vessel per day, larger than 27 inches and smaller than 73 inches. The season is open until NMFS estimates that the quota has been reached, although that is not expected to occur until later in the year. With these restrictions in place, the fishery is overwhelmingly catch and release. The good news is that bluefin have an extremely low estimated release mortality rate, but care should always be taken when handling them.

The Yamaha crew joined Captain Jim Freda of Shore Catch Guide Service recently for a day of bluefin tuna fishing aboard his twin Yamaha-powered 28-foot Parker® Sportcabin. We left from Manasquan Inlet, N.J. in the dark for a slow ride to an area of lumps about 50 miles offshore, carefully watching the radar until the sky started to lighten with the rising sun. We arrived in an area where the water changed from a dull green to a clear, green/blue color, and the water temperature bumped up a few degrees. There were slicks throughout the area, oily calm spots amid the waves and chop, created by tuna and bluefish feeding on the schools of baitfish below. You could actually smell the fish, a pleasant watermelon type of aroma, when we got into the area. Tuna chicks, small dark colored sea birds that flit across the surface picking up pieces of baitfish that float to the surface, were present by the hundreds. These are things offshore fishermen call “signs of life” and when we stopped, the depthfinder lit up with massive schools of baitfish near the bottom in 180 feet of water.

The initial plan was to troll spreader bars, small plastic lures and cedar plugs, a very effective method of catching bluefin, and when we stopped Freda began prepping the boat by dropping the outriggers. While he was doing that, he instructed us to grab the jigging outfits and drop a variety of jigs to the bottom. As soon as the first one hit and was lifted and dropped a couple of times, the line came tight and we were into our first bluefin of the morning. It wasn’t a big one, but it fought hard, running line off the jigging outfit at will. Then a second one was hooked, and Jim put the outriggers back up and grabbed a jigging stick. The tuna’s response to the jigs was good enough that we never switched to trolling. The tally by morning’s end was nine tuna at 50 pounds, one 40-pounder on ice in the boat, and the rest released. Four of the bluefins released were tagged with ICCAT research tags, something Capt. Jim does on a voluntary basis.

Use a jig to catch bluefin tuna

Use a jig to catch bluefin tuna

Heavy jigs that look like slender sand eels are among the most effective jigging lures.

Jigging is an extremely effective method for summer bluefins, especially when the bait is low in the water column. We were over schools of sand eels, small thin-bodied fish that swarm by the millions and tend to hug the bottom, diving into the sand to escape predators. When the tuna are feeding deep, trolling near the surface is not very effective. However, dropping jigs to the basement puts you right in the middle of the action. It is loads of fun because the specialized rods and reels used for this fishing are small, light and make fighting tuna both fun and challenging. The reels are all packed with thin 50- or 65-pound test braided line so you can get the jigs deep and feel them easily. The jigs vary in weight so you can get to the bottom and stay there regardless of the current or drift speed. We were using 200-to-260 grain jigs made by a variety of manufacturers, letting them hit the bottom and then bouncing them up and down rhythmically.

When a tuna grabs one, the drill is to reel like crazy until the line comes tight and then set the hook hard. After that, you have to hold on because you are likely in for quite a ride.

Before you go offshore for bluefin, you should have your boat prepared. Your engines should be in top condition, fuel tank topped off, all your safety gear checked and easily accessible, and you should have more than just the basic emergency equipment. An EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon) and a life raft are musts. There are valise-type rafts available for smaller boats that are easy to stow and deploy should an emergency arise. Take the use of PFDs very seriously, especially if the water is rough. Remember, you’re likely to be be a half hour away from rescue help by Coast Guard helicopter and two hours away by Coast Guard boat at the minimum.

When packing your gear, you should be prepared for three possible techniques: trolling, jigging and chunking. Trolling is usually the top producer earlier in the bluefin season when bait and tuna tend to be closer to the surface. Jigging comes on strong as the surface water warms and tuna do more feeding below the thermocline on baitfish like sand eels. Chunking can work from midseason through the fall. This technique usually requires anchoring the boat and using sardines cut into small pieces as chum and whole ones on your lines as hook baits.

You should also have a large enough supply of ice on board to cover a tuna that could run to well over 100 pounds in your fish box. Bluefin can spoil quickly if not properly cared for, and it would be a shame to ruin a delicacy because you didn’t plan ahead. When you get a retainable fish on board, it should be bled while alive. The next step is to collar the fish (remove the gills and organs inside the body cavity) and finally get it on ice, completely covered, until you get back to the dock to cut it into loins and steaks.

Of critical concern is picking a weather window for your trip. While many modern small outboard boats with twin engines are quite seaworthy and can easily handle moderate sea conditions, you have to take safety and passenger comfort into consideration. It’s not much fun getting thrown around a small boat in four-to-six foot seas. Make sure you hook up with the best marine forecasting services, and check them religiously before you make the call to head offshore.

What size boat can make the run to the bluefin grounds? You’d be surprised. During the day we had outboard powered boats fishing around us that varied from 23-to-38 feet with single, twin and triple engine applications. So if you’ve always wanted to catch a tuna and you’re up for running your boat a couple hours from shore, this is your chance.

Fishing A West Point Tournament and Blowing Up My Motor

Bass like these helped me place third

Bass like these helped me place third

The Flint River Bass Club held its September tournament at West Point on a Sunday a few years ago. After fishing from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM the nine members of the club brought in 24 keeper bass weighing about 34 pounds. There were two limits and one person didn’t have a keeper. There were 14 spotted bass and ten largemouth brought to the scales.

Bobby Ferris won with a five fish limit weighing 9.16 pounds. He also had big fish with a 2.91 pound largemouth. Lee Hancock came in second with the other limit weighing 7.46 pounds. My four weighing 5.90 pounds was third and Kwong Yu had three weighing 4.06 pounds for fourth.

My day started out pretty good. I left the Glass Bridge ramp and wanted to stop on a nearby shoal but there was a boat sitting there, so I ran on up to the Highway 109 Bridge. On my second cast to the riprap I hooked and landed a two pound largemouth. Putting one in the live well that quickly made me feel good.

After about an hour fishing around the bridge and catching a few short spotted bass I cranked up and ran to a point about half way to the railroad bridge. As I came off plane my 225 Yamaha made a strange rattling noise and shut off. When I tried to crank it there was a bad noise.

There I was, several miles from the ramp with about seven hours left to fish. I decided to fish my way back, working banks and points on the way. Since I was fishing by myself I didn’t mess up anybody else’s day.

I caught a few small spots then, near the highway bridge I got a keeper spot in the back of a pocket on a jig head worm. I would not have fished there if my motor had not died. At the bridge I caught a third keeper, another small spot, off a bridge piling on a small jig and pig.

By now it was noon and I had a long way to go, so I put the trolling motor on high and headed across the shallow flats in front of Pyne park. As I cruised along a school of fish came up and I grabbed my topwater popper and landed a two pound spotted bass. Another place I would not have been if my motor was running.

After catching a few more short spotted bass I got back to the ramp before the deadline.

How Can A Gamble Pay Off In A Tournament?

Rapala Pros Gamble and Win in New York Bassmaster Tournament

Taking chances paid off last week for three Rapala bass pros who finished in the top 10 in a Bassmaster tournament on New York’s St. Lawrence River.

They weren’t taking chances, however, on what to fish with, but rather where and how to fish. And their gambles paid off – Brandon Palaniuk won the tournament, Ott DeFoe placed third and Bernie Schultz placed sixth.

Palaniuk’s big run pays off

Palaniuk won the tournament

Palaniuk won the tournament

Rapala pro Brandon Palaniuk won the Bassmaster Elite Series event and $100,000 with a 220-mile daily roundtrip to Lake Ontario via the St. Lawrence River.

Because Palaniuk needed a tournament win to qualify for next February’s Bassmaster Classic – the so-called “Super Bowl of bass fishing” – he took a chance on a 220-mile round-trip run through waves as big as six feet to Lake Ontario. Depending on weather and waves, the gambit would afford him only 30 minutes to two hours of fishing time, and would not guarantee that he’d be able to get back to weigh-ins in time to score his catch.

“I was making such a huge gamble,” Palaniuk told Bassmaster tournament emcee Dave Mercer on the weigh-in stage Sunday. “I had all the confidence in the world that I was going to win that gamble, but it’s still a gamble – there’s so many things that can go wrong.”

But the gamble paid off. Palaniuk sacked consecutive bags of 23.9 pounds, 21.5, 20.9 and 23.5 to win the tournament and the $100,000 prize.

“I literally had nothing to lose,” Palaniuk told Bassmaster TV’s Mark Zona and Tommy Sanders in an interview webcast after the tournament on That’s because decent – or even good – finishes in the season’s last two tournaments would not earn him enough Angler of the Year (AOY) points to qualify for the Classic. Only a tournament win would qualify him. Bassmaster’s “win and you’re-in” provision awards a Classic berth to any angler that wins a Bassmaster Elite Series event.

Of the 99 other pros fishing the tournament, few others ran to Lake Ontario. And none ran as far as Palaniuk. One top contender proclaimed such a run not worth the risk.

“A lot of these guys were afraid to make that gamble out on the lake because of [AOY] points,” Palaniuk explained.

For those competitors, a conservative game plan would likely result in a good enough finish and enough points to maintain their places above the cutline for Classic qualification. Palaniuk, however, was below the cut.

“I literally had to win,” he said. “It made it a lot easier to gamble, I guess.”

After finding big fish in the Monday-Wednesday practice period before the Thursday-Sunday tournament, Palaniuk believed he had the winning strategy – provided weather and water conditions would allow a long, risky run four days in a row.

“I had such a good practice day on Tuesday that I knew I was going, no matter what,” Palaniuk said on the weigh-in stage after being crowned champion. “I felt like that was my only shot to win.”

You can follow Brandon Palaniuk on Facebook and Twitter.

Schultz gambles on shallow bite, when most others are fishing deep

Bernie Schultz took a gamble and it paid off

Bernie Schultz took a gamble and it paid off

Bernie Schultz used a Rapala Skitter Walk to earn 6th place in the St. Lawrence River event

Florida pro Bernie Schultz took a chance on a shallow bite, when most other top contenders were fishing deep with drop-shot rigs. The gamble paid off with a sixth-place finish, his best since Bassmaster launched the Elite Series tournament format in 2006.

“A lot of big fish were caught deep on drop shotting,” Schultz acknowledged last week in an exclusive interview. “I don’t mind drop shotting, but if they’re going to eat a reaction lure, you can bet that’s what I’m going to be doing… I guarantee I had more fun than [the drop shotters] did, because topwater is a blast.”

Schultz’s main pattern was fan-casting a Rapala Skitter Walk topwater bait over the tops of shoals and humps within a mile-long stretch of the St. Lawrence near the mouth of Lake Ontario.

“And that was fun!” Schultz gushed. “I had some big fish blow up on it… They weren’t really in a feeding mode – a lot of them would strike the bait in aggravation. But I did get a lot of those bites.”

And although he knew other anglers were mining the depth for leading limits, Schultz liked what he saw up shallow. “It was just ideal habitat,” he recalled. “And you could see the fish swimming around, on a calm day. There were ‘sweet spots’ in that mile-long stretch that I focused on.”

Some of his spots were as shallow as three feet, but he spent most of his time targeting shoals that topped out at six to 10 feet.

“Then they would drop off right into almost infinity,” Schultz said, only half kidding. “That river is deep. There was 50 feet of water right next to ten foot of water. There were breaklines related to really healthy… shallow habitat, so the fish had a chance to move up and feed or suspend off the drop in a matter of just 10 yards.”

When bass weren’t up and active on top of a shoal, “where the wind would let me work a topwater,” Schultz explained, he would throw a Rapala X-Rap along the shoal edge.

“It seemed like whatever the prevailing wind was at the time, the fish would act accordingly,” he said. “And generally, the windier [it was], they moved off to the deeper water.”

You can follow Bernie Schultz on Facebook and read his columns at

Ott DeFoe changed his fishing place the last day

Ott DeFoe changed his fishing place the last day

DeFoe scuttles safe game plan, takes risk on long ride

Ott DeFoe used VMC Dropshot hooks in his finesse rig during the St. Lawrence event.

After a conservative game plan in the main river channel qualified Ott DeFoe for championship Sunday, he gambled on the tournament’s final day, making a long run to fish the Duck Island area in Lake Ontario. Not only had he not fished there in any of the first three tournament days, he had not practiced there either.

“I did something today that’s not really my style,” DeFoe said on the weigh-in stage. “Today I went for a boat ride… I said I’m in ninth place, I want to go up, I’m going to go for a ride.’ That’s generally not my style. I’m not that kind of a risk taker… Apparently it was a good decision today.”

DeFoe caught all the fished he weighed in the tournament on a VMC drop-shot hook.

The “neat thing” about the St. Lawrence River/Lake Ontario fishery, DeFoe said, is that “you can go out there and catch 18 pounds in five feet of water or you could do it 30 feet of water.”

Although good populations of smallmouth swim in the waters in and around DeFoe’s Knoxville, TN, home, he acknowledged that Yankee smallies and Southern smallies are practically a different breed.

“They are a different animal, there’s no question,” he said in an interview with the podcast Fantasy Fishing Insider. “The smallmouth where I live, you want a cloudy, rainy, nasty kind of day and that’s when they really bite. But up there – and it seems backwards – if you get a flat, slick, calm day, bright sunny skies… the fishing is just phenomenal.”

Northern smallmouth “really used to confuse me a lot,” DeFoe said Sunday on the Bassmaster weigh-in stage. “I don’t know if I’ve really got them figured out, but I sure am having a lot of fun with them.”

You can follow Ott DeFoe on Facebook and Twitter.

Fishing Lake Hartwell and Lake Wedowee

Josh Fowler with Hartwell largemouth and redeye bass

Josh Fowler with Hartwell largemouth and redeye bass

A few years ago on a Thursday I went to Hartwell to fish with Josh Fowler to get information for a Georgia Outdoor News article. This big lake on the Georgia/South Carolina line is at the headwaters of the Savannah River and is a deep upland lake. The water is clear on the lower lake and it has largemouth, spotted bass and red eye bass.

Topwater is usually the way to go in the clear water at Hartwell and blueback herring in the lake, the preferred food of bass there, will make them come up from deep water to hit on top. Josh and I fished many points and humps with brush on them and we caught a few small bass but saw other, bigger bass following our lures in the clear water but not hitting them.

There was no wind Thursday and the clear water allows the bass to see your lure too well. Bigger bass are wise to the “catch” in some of their food when they spot dangling hooks! Wind breaking up the surface really helps.

Josh tried a drop shot rig, saying it was a sure fire way to catch a spotted bass. We had landed largemouth and redeye and wanted a spot for comparison pictures. As fishing luck goes, he caught several largemouth but no spots. We never landed a spot.

The Georgia Bass Federation Nation held its Top Six at Hartwell in November then next April the Georgia Bass Chapter Federation was be there for its Top Six. A new mega ramp was put in near the dam in Gum Branch to attract tournaments so both groups are going to Hartwell. Griffin club fishermen fished both tournamnets. I did ok in both, placing 7th in the Federation Nation tournament in November and 17th in the other federation in April.

The Friday after the trip to Hartwell I went to Lake Wedowee for an Alabama Outdoor News article. It is about 30 miles west of the Georgia/Alabama state line. This pretty lake on the Little Tallapoosa and Tallapoosa Rivers is similar to Hartwell in the steep banks and clear water of an upland type lake. It too has spotted and largemouth bass, but no red eye bass or blueback herring.

Bass there were hitting on top, chasing shad most of the day. I was fishing with Bryan Morris and his family owns a marina on the lake. He caught the biggest bass of the day, a solid 2 pound largemouth, on top at 11:00 in the bright sun. We also landed several other smaller bass on top.

Fishing was tough there just like Hartwell. And we didn’t land a single spotted bass, all were largemouth. That is very unusual on that lake. We agreed the bright sun and lack of wind caused the spots and bigger largemouth to stay deeper than we were fishing.

Several people from Griffin bought lots and built houses on Wedowee when it was first dammed. It is not a long trip but you do need an Alabama fishing license there since it is totally in Alabama. A Georgia license is good on Hartwell since it is on the line.

Either of these lakes would be a good choice for a fall trip for bass – if you can stay out of the deer stand long enough to go fishing!

What Are Coast Guard Safety Inspections?

Boats like these may check your boat.

Boats like these may check your boat.

Coast Guard Safety Inspections
from The Fishing Wire

Is your boat equipped and ready to pass one? It should be.

Coast Guard safety inspections can be performed any time you’re boating in an area supervised by the Coast Guard–have your boat ready for them.

It was a hot Saturday afternoon in July, and the river was busy with boats returning from the ocean waiting to pass through a narrow railroad bridge a quarter mile from the inlet. There were recreational boats of all sizes-large sportfish and cruiser types, personal watercraft and outboards of very description. While waiting to make the passage, a familiar orange vessel appeared off our starboard side with its blue revolving light shining brightly. It was a Coast Guard RIB, short for rigid inflatable boat, and a guardsman was standing on the bow motioning to our boat.

“Good afternoon, Captain,” he said. “We would like to conduct a safety inspection of your vessel. May we board, please?”

Coast Guard inspections of this type are mandatory so the question was a courtesy. A boater can either be pleasant or confrontational, but there is never a good reason for not complying. This is especially true when you think about the difficult job these hard-working men and women undertake, and that they put their lives on the line when called on to make hazardous rescues at sea.

So my appropriate response was a pleasant greeting and a simple welcome aboard. The coxswain, the guardsman at the helm of the RIB, brought the boat alongside and two others, wearing dark blue uniforms and bright orange PFDs, stepped aboard. The boarding officer announced his intention: to identify the vessel, the owner and the operator, check the paperwork and conduct an inspection to be sure it had all the safety equipment required by Federal Regulation for that classification of recreational vessel.

“You may continue through the bridge,” the officer said, “and proceed to your destination while we conduct the inspection so we don’t slow your progress.”

A “ditch bag” you’ll take with you if you ever have to abandon ship is always a good idea. Including an EPIRB, VHF and handheld GPS is a good idea if you boat on large bodies of water.

He told us that the crew in the RIB would follow along and pick them up when the inspection was finished. He then asked for our vessel registration, which is mandatory, and the operator’s driver’s license, social security number and date of birth, which is voluntary. Since we were in a state that requires a vessel operator to have a safe boating course certification, that certificate was also provided with the other documents. The documents were passed from the boarding officer to the other guardsman, who entered the data into a hand-held electronic touch-pad device with a built-in printer.

The next step was a check of the mandatory safety equipment on board. Since we were wearing inflatable PFDs at the time, they were checked to assure both were Coast Guard-approved and properly armed. An approved PFD is required for every person on board a recreational vessel, so we keep a valise stowed in the console with four additional Type III units. A throwable floatation device is also required, which can consist of an approved life ring or a flotation cushion. That was also checked to be sure it was in good condition.

During the inspection, an interesting discussion with the boarding officer ensued about the whole procedure. He explained that it was the Coast Guard’s policy to do safety inspections as a method of outreach to the boating public to impress upon them the importance of carrying the necessary safety equipment in case of an emergency.

Next, he asked to see and test our audible signaling device, a horn, which can be an electric horn mounted on the vessel or a hand-held device powered by a compressed air canister. Then he requested we show him the boat’s emergency flares to make sure we had them aboard and that they were not expired. All flares have expiration dates stamped on them and should be properly disposed of and replaced when that date is exceeded. The flares are kept in a “ditch bag” stowed in the console and when we took it out, the boarding officer was duly impressed. He asked if he could look inside and was surprised to see a PLB (personal locator beacon), a waterproof hand-held VHF radio, additional signaling devices and flares.

Inflatable PFD’s are cool and comfortable, but be sure the CO2 cartridge is fully-charged and functional.

When the inspection was complete, the boarding officer gave the vessel a once over, complimented us on the fact that our safety equipment went above and beyond regulations, noted the vessel was well maintained and organized, and thanked us for our cooperation. The guardsman recording the results of the inspection asked our captain to sign the touch-pad on his device, and it printed out a boarding report indicating that the vessel had no violations or warnings. If the inspection had uncovered any flagrant violations, a summons that can include civil penalties would have been issued. If the violations were minor in the judgment of the boarding officer, a warning can be issued and a follow-up inspection could be required to make sure it was satisfied. It’s important to keep any completed boarding reports aboard your vessel. These reports can be shown to Coast Guard officials in the future and can help you avoid a repeat inspection within a specified time period.

The entire experience lasted about 15 minutes, and at all times the boarding officer was courteous, friendly, knowledgeable and professional, willing to answer any questions and provide additional information on the procedure and the equipment requirements.

The question is, “Are you ready to pass a Coast Guard Safety Inspection?” If you would like to find out more about recreational vessel safety regulations, go to the Coast Guard Boating Safety Resource Center at

You can even find a local provider that will conduct a comprehensive safety survey of your vessel to make sure it is in top operating condition and equipped with all the necessary equipment.

Fishing Muddy Water

Its hot, yes I am wet with sweat, but this bluegill put a smile on my face

Its hot, yes I am wet with sweat, but this bluegill put a smile on my face

All the rain the past few weeks has made fishing interesting in my ponds. Both ponds got pretty muddy and that made the bream bite better. Since I fish out there most days and let most of the bream go that I catch, I have taught the danger of a hook. I often see a bream, especially the bigger ones, swim up to a piece of food on the #6 hook and stop. It is like they are thinking “I know there is a catch to this, I have seen something like this before.”

Muddy water makes it harder for them to see the hook as does other low light conditions. Late in the afternoon and early in the morning the bream bite better. Some wind rippling the surface of the water also breaks up the light and makes it harder for them to see the hook.

Bass fishermen should take note. If bream can learn to avoid hooks, I am sure bass can, too. And bass get fished hard on our big lakes. One nice weekends you often have to take a number and get in line to fish a good point on many of our lakes.

There is an old joke that the bass at Jackson Lake know the Bass Pro Shops catalog number of each plug they see. That is one reason a new bait can be hot for a time when it first comes out then the fish seem to stop hitting it. They learn what it looks like and how it moves in the water.

Fishing for bass under low light conditions works. Early morning and late afternoon, as well as after dark, is more comfortable and the bass bite better. Wind blowing onto a point is a classic type situation to catch bass and the disturbed surface and water makes it harder for the bass to see the bait and more likely they are going to hit.

There is no bad time to go fishing but some times are better than others for catching. Go any time you can but take advantage of anything that makes it harder for fish to see your bait. Under those conditions fishing is more likely to also be catching.

Can I Catch More Walleye On Artificials Or On Live Bait?

Use Artificials To Catch More Walleyes? Leave the Live Bait at Home.

You can catch walleye like this on artificial baits

You can catch walleye like this on artificial baits

Meatless Walleyes
from The Fishing Wire

Like a lot anglers in the heart of walleye country, Steve Pennaz finds himself using live bait less often when pursuing ol’ marble eyes.

“Ten years ago live bait was my go-to offering when fishing walleyes,” said Pennaz. “Today, I use it only occasionally, maybe 10 percent of the time.”

Flavored artificials work just as well as live baits for walleyes, and stay on the hook much better.

Across the walleye belt, regulations on the transportation of live bait have been significantly tightened to slow the spread of invasive species like zebra mussels. In states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, anglers are now required drain their bilge, livewell and baitwell prior to exiting the lake access area. They must also empty all live bait containers of lake water and replace it with tap or bottled water if they want to transport their minnows elsewhere.

Even the use of dead bait is highly regulated. But these regulations are not the reason Pennaz usually bypasses live bait these days.

“It’s simple,” says the long-time Yamaha pro. “There are better options, even when you leave crankbaits out of the equation.

“It used to be I would automatically reach for a minnow, nightcrawler or leech when fishing walleyes,” says Pennaz. “Then, I fished with one of country’s most successful river walleye anglers. I was shocked when he told me he never used live bait. His bait of choice was a soft plastic shad. I soon learned what he already knew…not only do soft plastics work for walleyes, they are often the best choice.

You can cast artifiicals for walleye

You can cast artifiicals for walleye

Whether casting or slow-trolling, a jig or spinner trimmed with a flavored soft bait can turn on the walleye bite.

“Look at the advantages: You can fish them fast, making it easier to cover water quickly. They hold up better than live bait in waters where panfish are a problem. And they come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes, which makes it really easy to fine-tune your presentation.

“My favorite soft bait for walleyes is the 3-inch swimming grub, though it soon may be replaced by the 4-inch ring worm. Both baits fish well on light jigs; I generally use 1/16- and 1/8-ounce most often.

“The third option includes minnow imitators like the 3- and 4-inch Gulp!® and PowerBait® minnows. I also fish these baits on a jig, hooking them like a live minnow (hook running from bottom to top through the head).

“I fish Gulp!® and PowerBait® minnows exactly the same way I fish live minnows. However, I am not afraid to work them more aggressively when fish are active.

“Years back, I was fishing Rainy Lake with a friend from the South. We located an offshore hump that topped out at 23 feet, with 75 feet of water surrounding it. The place was crawling with walleyes, but after an hour of dragging live leeches and nightcrawlers through them we had caught just six fish.

“My buddy finally threw up his hands and said, ‘I can’t fish like this; give me another option.’ So I switched him to a 3/8-ounce jig, tipped it with a 4-inch PowerBait® minnow and told him to snap jig. His jig strokes started looking like hook-sets. Just seconds later he was into his first fish. We landed 42 more in the next hour.”

Meatless Spinner Rigs

Dragging a bait works well

Dragging a bait works well

Dragging a soft plastic down a gravel bar or over an offshore hump is a sure way to find fish.

As deadly as spinners are on walleye, there is still much to be learned about this combination of blade, beads and bait. Traditional walleye anglers still tip their spinner rig with a lively nightcrawler, but Pennaz has found artificials offer definite advantages over the real thing.

“The challenge with using real crawlers is simple…every freshwater fish on the planet likes to eat them. So when your spinner flashes by a school of perch or bluegill they almost always attack the ‘crawler and you are left with a mess or two bare hooks.
“To combat this problem, I started experimenting with the use of plastic worms on spinner rigs. The problem is, none I tried ever worked well. That changed when Berkley® came out with the Gulp!® Crawler. Unlike the worms I had tried before, this one was only four inches long and featured a small paddle that swims back-and-forth, even at a slow retrieve of a spinner rig.

“I’ve found that real nightcrawlers and the Gulp!® Crawler produce about the same number of fish when fished on spinners, and there is no mess with the Gulp!.®

“On Green Bay once I tipped a spinner with a chartreuse/pepper Gulp!® Crawler. The thing was so bright I laughed when letting out the planer board. A half-hour later a 9-pound stud inhaled that bait. Yes, I was stunned.”

Going meatless for walleye? Sounds like an idea whose time has come.

Alaska Wildlife

Whales were everywhere!

Whales were everywhere!

Some of my best memories of the Alaska trip three years ago are of critters I can’t hunt or catch. Whales, sea lions, seals, orcas and dolphins all accompanied us on our cruise and we saw some of them most every day. And the day we visited a glacier and watch it calve, hearing the thunderous roar as huge chunks of ice fell into the bay, was amazing.

The first day out of Juneau we cruised into an arm of a fiord formed by glaciers over the past thousands of years and started seeing icebergs. The further up the fiord we traveled the thicker the ice got. While standing on the bridge beside the captain an watching the beautiful floating ice cubes I spotted movement.

Through binoculars I could see a spout and thought it might be dolphins, then saw something bigger, black and white, surface for a second. I asked the captain if there were killer whales in this area and he said yes, they came in there to hunt the harbor seals that had pups on the ice floes. I pointed out the movement to him and soon we spotted a pod of orcas surfacing as they moved up the fiord.

We were able to follow them for many minutes, watching as one big male with a huge dorsal fin kept to himself. Females, a couple with smaller versions of themselves, were closer together. The calves kept close to mama, following her every move.

A few days later we were halibut fishing and a big pod of orcas came by. Some would breech, jumping completely out of the water. A couple of the skiffs followed them but we kept fishing, trying to get our limit of halibut. Our boat got five that day for four fishermen, better than any of the others, but we missed most of the orca show.

For all one afternoon we cruised among humpback whales. At first when we saw the big spouts as they blew before diving everyone got excited. Several hours late they had to do something spectacular to draw an “ooh” or “ah,” like a breech by jumping out of the water or tail or fin slap. One whale slapped its long pectoral fin over and over. Later one slapped its tail repeatedly.

We were not allowed to approach them but several times they swam right up toward the ship. We watched one dive and blow a bubble ring, then come up in it to eat the small fish trapped by its “net.” At times we could see a dozen or more whales at one time.

A huge colony of Stella Sea Lions made lots of noise and smelled horrible, even from a couple of hundred yards out from where they fought on the beach. It was amazing, the sand and rocks were solid with their huge bodies and every time one moved several around it seemed to get mad and make noise, so the whole time there was constant movement and fussing.

The day we visited the glacier we got within a quarter mile of its face in the 18 foot skiffs and drank hot chocolate, braced with a little Bailey’s Irish Cream, while chunks of ice the size of our bigger ship fell into the water. The waves they created made big swells that made us hold on, even a quarter mile away, and ice bergs that fell earlier floated all around the skiff.

We watched harbor seals swim around us and lay on ice bergs near the glacier. Some of the bergs were an unbelievable blue, a color you just don’t normally see. And small dolphins often swam near the ship in their constant hunt for food.

A trip like this makes me realize how much wildlife there is left in places man has not destroyed – yet.

Fishing and Boating with Dogs

My dog Rip loved to go fishing with me

My dog Rip loved to go fishing with me

The Boating Dog’s Days of Summer

BoatUS: Tips on Boating with Dogs
from The Fishing Wire

ALEXANDRIA, Va.,- Some dogs were born for the water, others less so. The key to boating with dogs, says Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS), is taking it slow and making safety #1. Here are eight tips to get you started:

Before you go:

Get a good fitting life jacket and have the dog wear it a few times around the home before they get on a boat. Any pet life jacket should have a handle to easily lift the animal out of the water. Here’s a buying guide for dogs of all sizes:

Have a special ID tag with the name of the boat, marina, slip number and cellphone number on it just in case. If the dog gets lost, it’s a lot easier for the person who finds them to get them back to you quickly.

If there is any chance you’ll be going to Canada and Mexico, make sure you have current rabies vaccine and other shot documentation with you as dog tags are not acceptable proof of immunizations. It is also a good idea to check with customs because the rules and requirements often change.

Getting started:

Familiarize the dog with the boat slowly – don’t just get on the boat and leave the dock right away. Ideally, bring the dog to the boat for the first time without leaving the dock, and let give them a chance to sniff around and get their sea legs. It may help to start the engine so they are used the sound.

Plan for falls overboard, either from the boat or dock. If the dog falls overboard underway – or jumps in – you may be able to circle back and retrieve Fido just like a fallen water skiier, pulling up slowly, cutting the engine and luring the dog to the swim platform with a treat. If you don’t have swim platform, smaller dogs may be lifted over the side by their life jacket handle, but bigger dogs may require a different solution. If a dog falls off a dock, know that seawall bulkheads may prevent the animal from a self-rescue.

Bring plenty of water and make sure there’s some place the dog can get out of the sun and stay as cool as possible. Know the symptoms of dog heat stroke. While seasick dogs may vomit, that’s also one sign of heat stroke. Rapid, loud or difficulty breathing, extreme thirst, thick saliva, disorientation and a bright red tongue and pale gums are a few of the others.

If you’re going to be out on the boat for more than a few hours, plan on how your dog will relieve themselves, and pick up after your dog, no matter where they go. If you see where someone else didn’t pick up after their dog, pick it up for them. You don’t want to give any opportunity to show why dogs shouldn’t be allowed in your marina, and your boating friends will love you for it.

Does your boat’s insurance policy cover pets? All BoatUS policies do. For more information go to

About BoatUS:

Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) is the nation’s leading advocate for recreational boaters providing its over half-million members with government representation, services such as 24-hour on the water boat towing as well as roadside assistance for boat trailers and tow vehicles, feature-packed boat insurance programs, money-saving benefits that include marina and West Marine shopping discounts, and vital information that improves the boating, fishing and sailing lifestyle. Its member-funded BoatUS Foundation is a national leader promoting safe, clean and responsible boating.

Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Spinning Outfit Review

Shakespeare makes good products

Shakespeare makes good products

I recently received a Ugly Stick GX2 rod paired with a Shakespeare 5.2 to 1 ratio spinning reel to test. I spooled the reel with ten pound test Trilene line and tied on a Norman’s DD22N to see if it would work for deep cranking.

Ugly Sticks are tough rods and mostly used for fishing for catfish and stripers in freshwater. They are also great in saltwater. These rods are made to take the abuse big fish, and fishermen, can give them. Since I mostly fish for bass and am trying to get better at deep cranking, I wanted an alternative to a casting outfit. As I have gotten older it is harder for me to deep crank for hours and I thought being able to switch between a spinning out fit and a casting outfit would ease the pain I get in my hands and arms when fishing this way.

With this outfit I could cast the big crankbait a long way. Chris Jackson even commented on how far I could cast the lure while I tested it at Lay Lake fishing with him. I also used it in a club tournament at Lake Sinclair. The rod is a six foot six inch medium action two piece rod. I could cast even further with a longer rod.

The outfit worked well for this application. It allowed me to switch hands holding the rod since I hold a casting rod in my left hand and reel with my right, and hold the spinning rod in my right hand and reel with my left. It took a few casts to get used to the outfit and learn the right angle to hold it to get good depth on the lure and keep it at an angle to absorb the shock of a strike.

The ratio of the reel was fine for deep cranking and the rod action was just right for that type fishing. I will keep it rigged and ready when I want to deep crank for bass.

The outfit would be excellent for many kinds of fishing. It is fairly heavy so it tires you more than a very expensive rod and reel that is lighter, but at $49.99 for the outfit, the cost helps ease the pain. When fishing for hybrids, cats, stripers and other similar fish in freshwater the weight of the outfit would not be a problem since you often put the rod and reel in some kind of holder rather than holding it in your hands while fishing for them. the same is true in many saltwater applications.

The reel did make noise while reeling it and the drag system is not as smooth as I would like it to be.

Disclaimer – I was sent this outfit free to test.