Monthly Archives: March 2014

What Are Wobble Jigs and Why Should I Fish With Them?


This specialty bait is sometimes the only one you need.

By Frank Sargeant
from The Fishing Wire

What might be called “wobble-jigs” or bladed swim jigs are the ace in the hole of many expert anglers. They perform as a combo of crankbait, swimbait and swimjig, with a bit of spinnerbait flash and buzzbait clatter thrown in on some versions.

Scrounger Jig

Scrounger Jig

The Scrounger features a plastic collar that causes the lure to wobble. Other wobble jigs have a metal plate ahead of the jig head.

The lures have accounted for two major national tournament wins already this spring, one at Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, the other just this past Sunday at South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell. Clearly, for pre-spawn and post-spawn bass, these lures have got what it takes.

The lures are basically a jig with something extra, either a metal plate or a plastic lip that makes them wobble when retrieved steadily. The Z-Man Chatterbait, the BooYah Boogee Bait, the Strike King Pure Poison and the Choo-Choo Lures Shaker are all designed with metal plates at the head of the jig that wobble and flash and cause the trailer to swim like mad. The Luck-E-Strike Scrounger is somewhat different-it’s a jig with a flexible plastic collar-but it still has the same wild action.

When dressed with a swimming soft-plastic tail, all of these lures come to life with a remarkably fishy wiggle–sort of swimbaits on steroids–and in many lakes when conditions are right, the bass kill them.

Quality Bass On Wobble Jig

Quality Bass On Wobble Jig

Quality bass like this one captured by Guntersville guide Mike Carter at sunrise are suckers for wobble jigs in spring.

The lures have a wobble similar to a crankbait, but since they sink rapidly, it’s easier to get them down to where the fish are and keep them there-without extremely long casts, thin lines or rapid retrieves.

The single hook of these lures means they’re much less likely to pick up weeds or to get snagged than a standard treble-hook crankbait, and are also easier on fish you tend to release. And for bouncing off hard cover, the shovel-like wobbling plate works like the bill of a crankbait.

Wobble-jig fans agree, one key to success with these lures is to use a tail of the appropriate size-too big and you don’t get an adequate wiggle, too small and the profile of the lure is less attractive to quality fish. Another factor is retrieve speed. Too slow and you don’t get the rapid wobble that draws the bites, too fast and some versions simply roll over and plane to the surface. As with a crankbait, the rod will tell you when the speed is right-the perfect speed is the one with the most resistance.

The classic Chatterbait-apparently the original of the genre–is a 4.5 inch lure dressed with plastic skirt, available in weights of 5/8 to ¼ ounce. A slightly longer version, the Chatterbait Trailer in 3/8 ounce, has added length to the skirt, while the Chatterbait Pro has an added nylon weedguard, twin rattles and oversized reflective eyes. The lure also comes in skirtless models with baitfish profiles on swimming plastic bodies.

The single hook jigs stick and hold, but do less damage to fish than treble hook lures and are also easier to remove.
The Booyah Boogee Bait has a couple of interesting innovations, including a spring-like flex zone in the hook shank which the company says will help to prevent fish from shaking the lure. The Boogee Bait also has the longest hook shank of the four bladed baits, aimed at sticking short-strikers. Also unique, says company spokesman Lawrence Taylor, the wobbling plate sits on a clip-release allowing you to quickly change swim-jig bodies without retying the line to the plate.

Lake Guntersville guide Mike Carter is a big fan of the

“You get the swimming action without the extra hardware up front, and when the fish want a more subtle presentation, the Scrounger does the job,” says Carter. He fishes the lures in heads from 3/8 ounce for shallow water to 3/4 for water up to 8 feet deep–any deeper and he switches to a standard jig or crankbait.

In short, there are lots of options when it comes to using wobble-jigs. Tie one on one of your working rods this spring-you may be surprised at how it adds to your catch.

Booyah Baits:
Choo-Choo Lures:
Strike King:

Nighttime Is the Right Time for Fishing This Time Of Year

Things That Go Bump While Fishing At Night

Nighttime is the right time for fishing this time of year, but things that go bump can be scary – or funny. Often they are scary when it happens but you can laugh when thinking back about them.

For many years I ran bank hooks, trotlines and jugs at Clarks Hill. One night while idling across Germany Creek at about 1:00 AM there was a little fog rising off the water and it was a little spooky. I was using a spotlight to find my way and suddenly something loomed up out of the water out in the middle of the lake.

It was only about 100 feet from the boat and I knew nothing was supposed to be there. I didn’t slam the gas wide open and spin the wheel the opposite direction like I first wanted to, at least until I got a good look at it.

The long, skinny thing lay low in the water but one end raised up and crooked, like a neck and head. It was at least 30 feet long. I was sure I had found the Clark’s Hill “Nessie.” After catching my breath and slowing my heart beat, I realized it was a log with a big branch on it. It had drifted out into the middle of the lake since the last time I had gone out to check hooks.

One night I made the mistake of going out and tying limb hooks after dark. There was an old willow snag hanging over the water and I eased up to it and grabbed a limb to tie the hook. Something seemed strange and I shined the light on one of the biggest wasp nests I had ever seen, hanging on the snag about a foot from my hand. Thank goodness wasps don’t fly at night!

Frog gigging always puts you in interesting situations. One time Bobby, Harold and I were in a pond a mile or so from my house looking for fat frogs. Bobby was paddling, Harold was in the front with the gig and I was in the middle of the boat holding spotlight.

We eased the front of the boat under a willow tree going after a huge bullfrog. I grabbed a limb to steady the boat and then looked at it. A snake was on the limb just inches from my hand. We backed out very quickly! I have often wondered why the snake didn’t drop off the limb. It would have landed on Harold’s back.

Looks like I would have learned about willow trees in the dark. The poor snake stayed there long enough for us to go home and get a .410 and send it to snaky heaven.

Pulling in trotlines and feeling something moving on it is always a thrill, but I got more than I bargained for one night. I felt a little tugging out near the middle and I thought it was a small catfish. As the drop line came out of the water I realized it was not a cat, but a snake that had eaten the minnow. I dropped it fast and waited an hour to come back, knowing the snake would have drowned by then.

When I pulled up the line ready to get rid of a dead snake I got another shock. There was a smaller snake, not on the hook, staying right with the dead one. I don’t know if it was a young one staying with mommy but, thanks to a paddle, it joined her at the bottom of the lake.

There is nothing quite as exciting as a snake, but one night while out gigging we went across a shallow sandbar and found a different thrill. The paddle dragging on the sand must have scared a bluegill that jumped out of the water and landed in my lap. I almost swapped place with it but managed to stay in the boat.

Bats can make things interesting, too. They don’t really bother me although I had heard tales all my life of them getting tangled in your hair and biting you. When one suddenly darts out of the dark inches from your face, it really makes you think hard about those old tales.

I have also set the hook many times when fishing a plastic worm in the dark when a bat swoops so close to my line it feels like a bass thumping it. That gets very frustrating.

Give night fishing a try this summer. You are almost guaranteed to get some kind of thrill, and you might even catch some fish.

How To Take Charge Of Boat Fuel Efficiency

Take Command of Fuel Efficiency
from The Fishing Wire

Yamaha gives you the tools to reduce fuel consumption

Gasoline-it was once so cheap it was a non-factor in everyday life. You stopped at the gas station and filled up that gas guzzling four-wheeled monster without a second thought. The same went for your boat. Gather up the family, fill the tank and away you’d go for an afternoon of fishing, waterskiing or cruising because fuel expense was just no big deal for the average middle class family.

As we all know, those days are gone and things have changed significantly. Gas prices now fluctuate between three and four dollars a gallon, and even more for marine gas purchased on the water. Today’s drivers and boaters are constantly striving to wring more miles from each gallon.

Manufacturers are working harder all the time to offer more fuel-efficient boats and motors, but the challenge is a bit more daunting than it is with road vehicles. Pushing a boat hull through the water requires considerably more power than rolling a car over a smooth roadway. Obviously, the engine dynamics and power requirements for a boat are more complex, but boat and engine manufacturers have been finding ingenious ways to make recreational vessels burn less fuel. That said, as a boat owner you can exercise more control over the amount of fuel you use than you might think. No, we’re not talking about using your boat less, just operating it more efficiently. All you need are a few critical bits of information while running your boat. The tools that provide this information can help you to make smarter operating decisions.

Yamaha’s four-stroke engine technology is on the cutting edge of fuel efficiency. In each horsepower class, Yamaha provides the power you need while burning much less fuel than outboards did just a few years ago. Yamaha engineers also understand the importance of providing critical engine information to you while you are operating your boat. It is this information that makes it possible to run it farther on less gasoline, thus reducing operating expenses and extending your boating enjoyment. The tools they developed for providing this information are the Command Link® and Command Link Plus® engine gauge systems. The same gauges that tell you engine RPM and vessel speed can also provide continuous, highly accurate fuel consumption data as you run the boat. With this information, you can adjust engine RPM to squeeze the most nautical miles out of each gallon of fuel burned.

Let’s take a look at how the system works. Most modern outboards are equipped with an Electronic Control Module (ECM), essentially the engine’s computer brain. It accounts for and orchestrates all operational aspects of the engine, including fuel and air mixture supply, spark timing, and operating temperature. It also includes a host of early warning systems to prevent engine damage.

“The ECM on Yamaha outboards continuously calculates exactly how much fuel is being consumed using an ‘injector-on-time’ system,” said David Meeler, Yamaha Marine Group Product Information Manager. “The ECM, through a vast array of sensors, is responsible for metering just the right amount of fuel for any given throttle setting and engine speed. It accounts for all facets of performance-things like in-gear idle, hard acceleration, cruising in the mid-range, or running on the pins. The ECM then relays the data regarding the amount of fuel that passes through the electronic fuel injectors in real time to our Command Link engine monitoring systems. The process is extremely accurate.”

How accurate? When you first set up a Command Link system you will enter in the size of your boat’s fuel tank in gallons and as you run the boat, the system will calculate how many miles are left in the tank until it is empty. When you fill up, don’t be surprised when it takes almost exactly the amount of fuel the system tells you was burned. That simple test provides the proof of a fuel management system’s accuracy.

Fuel data is transmitted to the Local Area Network (LAN) and displayed to the operator by the Command Link or Command Link Plus gauge system as fuel flow in gallons-per-hour (GPH). With a little mathematical calculation, you can ascertain that all important bit of information that tells you just how efficiently you are running at current speed called miles-per-gallon (MPG). The calculation is simple enough, just divide speed by GPH and there you have it. Calculating long division while driving a boat, however, might not be such a good idea. So to make it easier, the Yamaha system incorporates the vessel’s speed from its electronic speed sensor and feeds that into the LAN where it is used to provide the vessel operator with continuous exact fuel economy readings in MPG at current speed.

So how does this help you save fuel? Most boats are operated at cruising speed a majority of the time, yet most boat owners have no idea what the most economical cruising speed is for their vessel – the “sweet spot” where the boat is achieving the greatest distance per gallon burned. Different hull designs have different operational characteristics, which are complicated by how they are powered. A boat that is underpowered can actually consume more fuel at cruise than a boat that is correctly or evenly overpowered. Every hull and engine combination
varies and additional factors affecting fuel economy include the weight the boat is carrying (fuel on board, number of passengers, gear, etc.) and sea conditions. Without a continuous MPG reading, you have to guess where the sweet spot is and that is a very difficult assumption to get right. Some boat owners are surprised to find that their boats actually operated more efficiently at speeds faster than they estimated. Others realize that if they trimmed a few hundred RPM off their cruising speed, they could reduce fuel consumption by a significant margin. The ultimate telltale for finding the sweet spot for your vessel is that all-important continuous MPG readout displayed by the Yamaha Command Link and Command Link Plus systems at the helm.

Any outboard motor that provides this critical information accurately puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to fuel economy. Yamaha Command Link and Command Link Plus systems definitely let you take command of how efficiently you run your boat, and ultimately help to mitigate high fuel prices.

In the Spring A Young Man’s Fancy Lightly Turns To Thoughts Of Fishing!

Spring Means Fishing

In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of … fishing! Not to mangle Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous quote too much, but when I was a young man fishing definitely occupied most of my thoughts. In fact, it still does.

There is something almost magical about watching a cork bobbing on the surface of the water, anticipating the thrill when it disappears and you hook whatever finny critter fell for your bait. If you don’t believe in magic, just take some kids fishing and watch their faces.

Fishing can be different things to different folks. My mom loved fishing just for fishing’s sake. She could be happy sitting for hours hoping for a bite. My dad thought fishing was only worthwhile to put something in the frying pan. I take after my mom.

If you love to fish, have you ever tried to figure out why you like it? One time, when I was about 12 years old, I was fishing at one of my uncle’s ponds. He was not a fisherman but kept a stocked pond for friends and relatives. I was happily casting a Heddon Sonic, trying to hook a bass, when he walked over to me.

“Why do you like to fish?” Uncle J.D. asked. I responded that I liked to feel the fish pulling on my line. He pointed and said “tie your line to that Billy goat – he will pull harder than any fish you are going to hook.”

Since then I have often wondered why I like fishing and have asked many people. Most respond with something about the fight, the food, or the challenge of outsmarting a fish. Think about that one. You are trying to outsmart a fish, an animal with a very rudimentary brain that cannot think; it just reacts.

I never played sports and don’t like games, I am just not competitive in anything but fishing. That is strange, fishing is supposed to be a contemplative activity where you enjoy the quiet and calm of nature, and I love that, too. But I also love fishing bass tournaments, trying to catch more and bigger bass than others in the tournament.

One reason I think I am competitive in bass fishing is the fact you are not really competing with other people, you are competing with the fish. And, like I said, they can’t think! In a bass tournament it makes no difference what others do, if you catch more fish, you win. So the conflict is between you and the bass, trying to figure out what they are doing and how to make them bite your bait.

Sitting by a pond watching a cork is great and one of the best things about fishing, but blasting down a lake first thing in the morning in a bass boat is special, too. There is nothing else that feels like running 60 miles per hour on a calm lake. The boat almost feels like it is floating, not connected to anything on earth. I guess it is as close to flying as I will ever get.

Opposed to that feeling, one of my best memories is of my mother and me putting a trot line across a cove at Clark’s Hill, then building a fire on the bank and casting out chicken liver for bait with our rods and reels, waiting on a catfish to bite. I was in college at that time and we talked as adults, one of the first times I remember being treated as an adult by her.

Memories are one of the reasons many people fish. Fishing trips provide the best memories for many folks about their youth. If you went fishing with your parents, think back. Can you remember any of the trips and the special feeling you had? There is an old saying that God doesn’t count time spent fishing against you. Fishermen often live longer because they have an escape from the hassle of every day living, and learn to relax and enjoy life, as well as learning to accept what happens without going crazy.

When kids go fishing with parents they learn many things, and kids that fished growing up seem to be happier and stay out of trouble. But that is true of any activity that parents and kids enjoy together. Fishing just enables them to talk without too much distraction.

If you have a child, take them fishing and make some memories. If makes no difference how old they are!

Are Snook Florida’s Poster Child Fish?

Florida’s Poster-Child Fish

Florida Snook

Florida Snook

The uncommon Common Snook

By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

Florida’s spring snook season is upon us, and odds are that after the winter closure, Sunshine State anglers are going to find a lot of dumb, happy snook eager to take their baits and lures.

Snook have a special attraction both for resident anglers and for visitors from all over the world. Someone aptly noted they behave like “largemouth bass on angel dust” when hooked–they truly go berserk, and many of them have awesome size to add to their unique speed and jumping ability–fish of 8 to 10 pounds are common, and 20 pounders are always a possibility.

Whether you decide to kill your legal fish-one per day between 28 and 33 inches on the west side of the state, one per day between 28 and 32 inches on the east side-or release it is between you and the conservation gods, but if you choose to release it, FFWCC biologists say there’s a great chance it will survive. In tests where captured snook were held for several days after being hooked, transported in a livewell and then released into a mesh pen, 98 percent survived long term.

Of course, that’s assuming the next angler to come along and hook it does not decide he’d rather have the fillets than a chance at catching a bigger fish later on.

Though tens of thousands of snook died in the 2010 freeze, the Fish & Wildlife Commission noted the species has staged a strong comeback in the intervening years, and determined there are now enough “spare” fish in the keeper slot to allow harvest.

Whether you agree or disagree with this-and some guides and expert anglers would just as soon see snook closed permanently, to become a catch-and-release species-if you want to tangle with snook this spring, a few basics will help you get hooked up.

First, though there are some straggler populations as far north as Crystal River on the West Coast, and up to Daytona Beach on the East Coast, the best fishing is a bit farther south on either side–roughly from Holmes Beach on the west side, and from Fort Pierce on the east.

On either shore, snook feed best when and where currents are strongest. While the strong flows around the new and full moons make good fishing most everywhere in the back country, the intermediate moon periods mean best fishing is limited to the deeper passes, sloughs, cuts, holes and mangrove points on peak tidal periods.

And of course those peak flows change progressively as you move from the beaches to far up in the black-water areas and tidal rivers. Learning to gauge the difference from the published tide tables to your chosen fishing area is key to catching snook.

If you are not an expert lure fisherman, forget artificials and invest in a cast net and a big live well. Live scaled sardines make these very smart fish stupid. Use the sardines both as live chum, pitching a few out to drift down deep shorelines and through cuts until one gets blasted, and as live bait, nose-hooked on short-shank 1/0 livebait hooks.

The season continues until May 1 on the West Coast, June 1 on the East Coast, then is closed until September 1 on both shores to allow the fish to spawn in relative peace. The spawn continues into September most years, and you’re likely to find concentrations of catch-and-release fish behind the first breakwater or the first side bay off major passes from the gulf, as well as from the larger bays. The spawn occurs around the new and full moons.

Most of the snook you catch in Florida these days will not be in the slot-it’s just 5 inches wide on the west side, 4 inches on the east side. So use single hook rigs or lures and have a dehooker at hand, ready to get the barbs out quickly and get the fish back over the side after a quick photo; that way, we can be sure the return of the snook population continues, and hopefully there won’t be another extended closure any time soon.

Top Water Bass Fishing

Topwater Time in Georgia

The pond is absolutely still in the early morning haze, without a single ripple in the water, even from your paddle. Your Hula Popper makes a flat arch and falls just past the stump in the edge of the water. It sits still as long as you can stand it, then you let it sit a little longer. A tiny twitch of your rod tip makes it gurgle beside the stump, and the water explodes.

The big reservoir has a slight ripple on the surface as the sun tints the eastern sky. Shad flicker on the surface. Your Zara Spook flies long and fast to the far side of a shallow gravel point. As soon as it touches the water you start twitching your rod tip, making it flip from side to side, walking the dog. A huge swirl makes it disappear and the fight is on.

The shallow grassy flat in the back of a creek on a lake is still. Your buzz bait lands near the bank and you start reeling it fast enough to keep it on the surface, churning along making a nice wake. A shower of water interrupts it track and your rod bows as you set the hook.

These kinds of events are the reason topwater fishing is so fantastic. You can see your bait and the hit of the bass, making it even more thrilling than other kinds of strikes. And bass seem to hate topwater baits, annihilating them with gusto.

I got my introduction to topwater fishing in the 1950’s when I sculled the wooden boat for my father and uncles while they cast wooden plugs. I wanted to fish but knew I had to put in my time on the paddle.

One of my most exciting topwater bites came when I was about 12 years old. Three of us young boys were with our fathers at Clark’s Hill. We pulled a jon boat with an old wooden runabout to a cove and they left us at the mouth, paddling the jon boat to the back to fish for bass. They told us we were too loud and would scare the fish so we had to stay well away from them.

Shouts told us they were getting bites. I had a Devil’s Horse topwater plug, a thin wooden plug with spinners on both ends, tied to the line on my Mitchell 300 spinning outfit. As we tried to move the big, heavy boat around with paddles and cast I threw it toward a button bush near the bank.

My cast was way off target so I cranked it back for another cast as fast as I could turn the reel handle. The plug was buzzing across the surface when the water exploded. I hooked and fought a huge bass, the biggest by far that I had ever hooked, to the boat.

That bass weighed just over seven pounds at the store on their meat scales, and we talked for days about how crazy that bass was, hitting a plug moving way too fast over open water. Everyone knew you were supposed to fish topwater baits very slowly by cover in the water. If I had just realized it, I had come up with the idea for buzzbaits at a very young age!

A much more recent topwater memory was in a club tournament at West Point a couple of years ago. I looked at my watch as I put my trolling motor in the water and it was exactly 7:00 AM, our first stop. Five minutes later I looked at my watch again as I put my fifth keeper in the live well.

I had made seven casts, got hits on a Sammy on every cast, lost two bass and landed five. My partner had stopped fishing and was just netting my fish, unhooking them and putting them in the livewell for me.

I told him he needed to be casting but he said he was having too much fun watching me. I know I get excited when I catch a fish, but I would never have too much fun to not cast when the fish are biting!

For the next few months bass will give you a thrill on top no matter where you fish. Tie on an old reliable topwater plug or try one of the newer, fancier ones. They will all get hit and give you a thrill!

Lake Trout Ice Fishing

Lake Trout Thru the Ice Made Easy

Hardwater ace offers surefire lake trout tactics

By Dan Johnson
from The Fishing Wire

Lake trout are hard-fighting, fine-tasting quarry worthy of ice anglers’ serious attention, yet many hardwater warriors shy away from these feisty salmonids due in large part to the intimidation factor. After all, finding and fooling mobile, moody wintertime trout borders on the impossible for all but seasoned experts, right?

Hardly. Just ask veteran guide and longtime laker fan Bernie Keefe, who each season helps scads of aspiring trout bums connect with stellar icewater catches. “If people are intimidated, they shouldn’t be,” he says. “By following a few basic principles of location and presentation, it’s possible for even first-timers to put fish on the ice.”

Putting yourself on a solid fishery is job one. It’s accomplished easily enough, by querying state fishery biologists, local guides and bait shop regulars, as well as monitoring the chatter on internet fishing forums. Keefe spends much of his time on high-country Colorado gems like Granby, Shadow Mountain and Grand lakes, but options abound in a number of states and Canadian provinces.

Once you’ve settled on a promising honeyhole, Keefe offers tips on zeroing in on productive areas. “In winter, lake trout can mostly be anywhere they want to be,” he begins. “Lake-wide, the temperature is right in their wheelhouse. Same goes for the water column. It’s 39 degrees at the bottom and 32 on top, so suspended fish are not uncommon.”

Still, there are mitigating factors. In mid- to late winter, oxygen depletion in deep water often pushes trout higher in the column, so it’s possible to eliminate extreme depths when this occurs. “February into March, you’ll see a lot of fish moving up, suspending 50 feet down over 100 feet or more of water,” he says.

In a structural sense, Keefe often follows a point or ridge from shore into deeper water. “Sometimes you find them by veering off the structure halfway out, and other times by following it to the end, then walking a little farther out over the abyss,” he explains. “It sounds funny, but they like being in the middle of nowhere, yet close to some type of structure.”

Since trout are cold-water eating machines, Keefe keys on areas with ample forage. “Fifteen- to 20-plus inch lakers, the ones easiest to catch and the best to eat, have predictable feeding habits,” he says. “Basically, they’re like teenagers. They’ll eat you out of house and home.” Favorite foodstuffs for these size lakers in Keefe’s core lakes include Mysis shrimp, plankton and small minnows. In other systems, the menu includes a variety of insects, plus ciscoes, smelt and other fare. Large trout, which are always a possibility, favor bigger meals, and aren’t above cannibalizing other salmonids, including juvenile lake trout. In systems offering a bit of current, Keefe checks places where the flow concentrates forage, thereby condensing the food chain into smaller areas.

To speed your search the first time out, he suggests tapping easy-to-access areas adjacent to community holes. “In the Rockies, walking out from roads and ramps often lands you over 60 to 100 feet of water in a hurry,” he says. “Find a spot where the mob has been fishing, and either follow the same depth contour parallel to shore, or move out a little deeper.”

Unlike ice fishing for many other species, where marking fish with sonar is important before actively fishing an area, trout are such cruisers that it takes a bit more faith. “Don’t worry if you don’t mark fish at first,” says Keefe. He doesn’t. After dropping his Vexilar sonar transducer into a hole, he lowers a beefy jig into the water and methodically works down the water column with slow and steady jig-strokes. “Once you hit bottom, bang it a few times, then start back up,” he says.

Go-to heads include Lazer TroKar’s #810 jig hook. Tippings trend toward softbaits like a 3- to 4-inch Berkley Gulp! Minnow, or 2- to 3-inch Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub, tube or similar softie. “Choose contrasting jig and softbait colors,” he notes. “I like orange, chartreuse or black for the head, and white for the trailer.” He also skewers a small slice of succulent sucker meat on the hook for added attraction. “Just a little piece,” he cautions. “No longer or wider than the jig.”

While jigging, Keefe eyes his sonar screen, which is set to cover the entire column. “Watch for marks coming in,” he says. “When you see a fish, get your jig to that level and experiment with pauses, shakes and raises until you figure out what they want.” Since most strikes occur on the fall, Keefe keeps a tight line throughout the presentation. And when a fish strikes, he sets immediately. “Lakers have a tough mouth and are designed to get away,” he says. “The second they feel the jig, they look up at you, open their mouth and shake their head violently. If you don’t have them hooked good, and keep the line tight, they’re gone.”

Keefe says an ice rod with a stout backbone yet somewhat forgiving tip is ideal for hooksets and battles. “I use a 36-inch, medium-heavy Dave Genz split-handle rod from Clam Outdoors,” he says. “And spool it with 10-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100 Percent Fluorocarbon.”

He advises reeling trout slowly toward the surface, to reduce the chances of post-release mortality. On lakes with healthy trout populations, keeping a few smaller fish for dinner yields table fare that’s both delicious and packed with a variety of nutrients. Keefe suggests immediately bleeding out trout destined for dinner, to further improve their flavor. Following his advice, it’s possible for even novice ice fans across lake trout territory to crush the intimidation factor and enjoy great catches and fine dining all winter long.

I Will Never Forget the First Bass I Caught

I will never forget the first bass I caught. My mother and I were fishing the creek just below the Usury’s pond dam, catching bream and small cats on earthworms. When my cork went under I expected a fight from a fish that stayed underwater and pulled in small circles. Instead, when I raised my cane pole the fish took off sideways then jumped out of the water! The eleven inch bass hooked me on more exciting fishing.

I soon graduated to a Zebco spin cast reel on a limber rod. I used it to cast plugs like Lazy Ikes, Hula Poppers and Rapala minnows to try to catch bass. I also used Mepps spinners and the new fangled rubber worms from Creme. Fishing in ponds around my house, I learned to cast to stumps and other cover where they lived.

Fishing ponds was always a quiet, contemplative activity. There were few unnatural sounds. In fact, back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were so few cars on nearby roads we usually looked to see who was going by – we always knew them. And if an airplane went overhead, we would stop and watch it until it was out of sight they were so rare.

Although I usually fished from the bank or waded the shallows while fishing, sometimes I got the chance to fish from a wooden jon boat. We sculled the boat with a paddle, easing silently around the pond looking for places I could never reach from the bank. One of my uncles got an electric motor, a huge, heavy thing that was fairly quiet but made moving around on the water much easier. We kept it turned off most of the time to stay quiet.

We also sometimes used a small gas motor to push us around. They were loud, smoky things that we seldom cranked since they were often hard to start with the pull rope and we just knew the noise and commotion they caused scared the bass.

I got to go to Clark’s Hill, the new reservoir about 20 miles from my house, a few times a year. It was huge but my fishing was usually limited to casting from the bank or wading the shallows, just like in ponds. My bus driver had a moving around on the water much easier. We kept it turned off most of the time to stay quiet.

We also sometimes used a small gas motor to push us around. They were loud, smoky things that we seldom cranked since they were often hard to start with the pull rope and we just knew the noise and commotion they caused scared the bass.

I got to go to Clark’s Hill, the new reservoir about 20 miles from my house, a few times a year. It was huge but my fishing was usually limited to casting from the bank or wading the shallows, just like in ponds. My bus driver had a slightly larger boat with a bigger motor and he took me to the lake a few times. It was thrilling to putter along at about five miles per hour, slow, but it opened up a lot of new fishing water. We still sculled it around to fish.

On the big lake we saw few other boats and they were like ours. It was normally very quiet even there.

By the time I got out of college and moved to Griffin in 1972 bass fishing had changed. Bass boats were getting popular and I bought my first in 1974, a 16 foot boat with a huge, for the time, 70 horsepower motor. When I joined the Spalding County Sportsman Club that year I had the second biggest motor in the club!

Bass fishing had gotten nosier, with bigger motors on fishing and pleasure boats. And more and more people were on the bigger lakes since they were

On the big lake we saw few other boats and they were like ours. It was normally very quiet even there.

By the time I got out of college and moved to Griffin in 1972 bass fishing had changed. Bass boats were getting popular and I bought my first in 1974, a 16 foot boat with a huge, for the time, 70 horsepower motor. When I joined the Spalding County Sportsman Club that year I had the second biggest motor in the club!

Bass fishing had gotten nosier, with bigger motors on fishing and pleasure boats. And more and more people were on the bigger lakes since they were accessible to all. Much of the peace and quiet disappeared.

Tournaments got bigger and bigger, too. The first Bassmasters Classic was a fairly small affair where the qualifying fishermen were flown to a mystery lake. Now tournament sites are announced months in advance and hyped by the tournament organization and local businesses.

Weigh-ins have become a circus, with blasting music, flashing lights and fireworks. Competitors are encouraged to put on a show, yelling and dancing. Some have even done break dances on the stage and in their boats. All if filmed for TV and draws millions of viewers.

Bass boats now look like NASCAR racers, wrapped with advertisements and costing more than many houses. They have huge motors with 250 horsepower being standard. Electronics will show you exactly where you are with the GPS and every detail under, and even out to the sides of the boat, with the “fishfinder.” Many even incorporate radar so you can run in the fog and see other boats.

Competitors blast off from the starting point and race at 70 plus miles per hour to fishing holes. It is not unusual, in a seven hour tournament, for anglers to use five or six of the hours running to a place far away where they think they can win. Running 150 miles each way to fish one spot for an hour sometimes pays off with winning stringers.

I love tournaments, but will never give up the peace, quiet and joy of fishing smaller waters, without all the hype!

Why Are Fires Good For Warming Yourself?

Warming Yourself with A Fire

There is nothing quite like warming yourself with a wood fire. I have spent many hours standing or sitting around a campfire outside and have an insert in my house that does a good job keeping the whole house warm. Both require work, but some of that is fun, too.
An open fire in camp this time of year is a mixed blessing. The smell of wood burning always warms me, even when I am far from the fire. Often when fishing I will smell a fire at a cabin and the smoky smell gives me a good feeling no matter how cold I am.
Gathering sticks and bigger wood for a camp fire is a pain but not too bad. Most fuel can be easily found in the woods and dragged or carried to the fire pit. Breaking up small limbs by hand and chopping bigger stuff with an ax is more pleasing, but not nearly as fast, as with a chain saw. But I hate to disturb the peace and quiet in the woods with my saw.
When the fire is going good on a really cold day you can stand or sit by it and get nice and toasty – on one side. The side away from the fire will still be freezing cold. That is why rotating the side of your body facing the fire ever few minutes is standard.
I really enjoy cutting wood, at least parts of it. I like using my chain saw to cut down trees and then cut them up into useable lengths, but picking up big pieces, loading them on the truck and then unloading them is back-breaking work.
It is said firewood will warm you seven times. When you cut it, load it, unload it, split it, stack it, carry it to the fire and while burning. In fact I am often sweating on freezing cold days while loading the truck. That is the hardest part of it all to me.
I have some great memories of fires but my favorite is a fire I never saw. One cold December morning just after daylight while fishing a tournament at Jackson I was in a small cove. It was foggy with wisps of gray tentacles curling around the cabins and trees on the bank. The only sound at first was the gentle lapping of water against my boat.
About the time I smelled wood smoke and felt the warm glow from it someone on the bank started playing a haunting, slow blues song. It was soft and gentle. I have tried to find that song but never knew the name or artists. I still get a flood of warm feelings from the memories of the sound, smell and sights of that morning.
The big fire at deer camp always brings back great memories. For years we kept a big cast iron caldron hanging over the fire, keeping water hot for dish washing and other chores. That fire burned from the beginning of camp until the end. We never let it go out.
The stories told around that fire at night and the anticipation felt around it as we prepared to go to our deer stands in the dark of early morning added to the mystic of the fire. And the boiled peanuts that simmered in the big pot and were always great.
Campfires were a staple of backyard camping and camps in the woods when I was growing up. We were good boy scouts and always tried to start the fire with flint and steel or rubbing sticks together, but never went without matches as a backup. And we always had to use them.
Cooking food on an open fire is always an interesting experience. From bacon burned on one end and almost raw on the other to scrambled eggs that are full of ashes, nothing tastes so good. And a bird or squirrel roasted over the fire is a delicacy even if tough and chewy!
Another great fire memory was with my mother. We put a trotline across a cove at Clarks Hill then, just as it got dark, started a small campfire on a sandbar near it. After baiting our rod and reels with chicken liver and setting them up in forked sticks, we sat on the ground by that fire and talked for hours.
I was a freshman in college at the time and it was one of the first times my mother had talked to me like I was a man rather than her kid. I don’t remember catching any fish but I do remember sitting there with her and talking.
This is a great time to have a campfire or to keep your house warm with a fire. The work can be hard but well worth it. And both will make great memories.

Three Fishing Trips In Five Days

Getting up three days out of five at 4:45 AM to go fishing is almost too much of a good thing. A week ago Friday I drove over to Wedowee to fish with Rusty Mayfield for an Alabama Outdoor News article, then fished a Flint River tournament on Sunday at Lanier. Then I drove to Carters on Tuesday to meet Brian Drain for a Georgia Outdoor News article. All of those lakes are about two hours away.

Wedowee is beautiful and full of bass, and we caught about a dozen between daylight and 2:00 PM when I had to leave. Rusty went back out after taking me to the ramp and caught about 15 more. The bass hit crankbaits and a jig and pig on points and cover from the main lake about half way back into the coves. The spots and largemouth are staging to spawn and the fishing there will get better and better for the next month.

Wedowee has very clear water, as does Carters and Lanier, something I am not used to fishing much. I would go to Wedowee more but there are few good ramps on the lake and almost nowhere to camp, something I like to do when making a trip that far. I want to fish more than one day after dragging my boat 100 miles.

Rusty is a coach near Wedowdee and fishes it a lot, and knows the lake well. The fish are fairly easy to catch on Wedowee and you can catch a lot of keeper size spots to eat. Largemouth are not as common and you have to let all largemouth shorter than 12 inches long, and also release all between 13 and 16 inches long. It is fun catching a 15 inch largemouth but frustrating to have to let it go in a tournament!

Carters is also a beautiful lake with clear water and steep rocky banks rising up to the foothills of the mountains. There is no development on the shores so that makes it even prettier. And it has some huge spots in it. Brian landed pairs of five pounders in two tournaments there this time last year, and in another he had a huge 6.8 pound spot.

In four weekends in a row last February and March he had five fish limits between 19.75 pounds and 23 pounds. Those are quality catches. We didn’t catch any big fish and had motor trouble cutting our trip short, but we landed six keepers on the first and only place we fished.

Fish on Carters are moving in to spawn, too. The ones we caught were holding about twenty feet deep and Brian spotted them on his depth finder. We caught the six to pound fish in about 15 minutes by dropping a spoon down to them.

At Lanier 23 members and guests of the Flint River Bass Club fished from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM and it was tough. There was only one five-fish limit and 12 people didn’t land a keeper. We weighed in 26 bass over 14 inches long, the size limit at Lanier, and they weighed about 57 pounds. Only four of the bass were largemouth.

William Scott fished as a guest and he won it all, with three bass weighing 10.23 pounds and had a huge 6.64 pound largemouth for big fish. JJ Polak, president of the club and owner of Jjs Magic, had the limit and 8.67 pounds for second. My four weighed 7.81 pounds for third and Travis Weatherly had three at 6.78 for fourth.

I always seem to have a tough time catching bass at Lanier but the pretty weather had me fired up to go. Jordan McDonald fished with me and we ran to a small creek first thing that morning. I just knew we could find the fish somewhere in that creek, but after fishing everything in it for 2.5 hours we never had a bite. We did see two keepers holding under a dock but they took off as soon as I skipped a Senko to them.
10.23 pounds and had a huge 6.64 pound largemouth for big fish. JJ Polak, president of the club and owner of Jjs Magic, had the limit and 8.67 pounds for second. My four weighed 7.81 pounds for third and Travis Weatherly had three at 6.78 for fourth.

I always seem to have a tough time catching bass at Lanier but the pretty weather had me fired up to go. Jordan McDonald fished with me and we ran to a small creek first thing that morning. I just knew we could find the fish somewhere in that creek, but after fishing everything in it for 2.5 hours we never had a bite. We did see two keepers holding under a dock but they took off as soon as I skipped a Senko to them.

Jordan wanted to fish the very back end of the Chestatee River so we headed that way, stopping on the way to fish a rocky point. A dock nearby looked good and I caught my biggest fish, a three pound spot, off it on a spinner bait. We wore docks out in that area with no more bites.

In the back of the river we started fishing docks and shoreline cover. On about the fifth dock we fished Jordan got hung at the back of the dock and I cast a crankbait out and ran it under the dock as we moved down beside it. A keeper largemouth hit and I landed it. After getting him loose we eased around to the other side of the dock and I caught a keeper spot on a jig and pig.

We fished that area until 3:00 without catching anything but two short bass. At 3:00 we headed back down the river toward the weigh-in and I stopped on the dock where I got the first fish, and caught another keeper spot on an Alabama Rig. That made four fish on four different baits, but all off just two docks.

We fished everything we could until we had to head in but had no more bites.

Fishing will be great on all three lakes for the next six weeks. This is a fantastic time to go fishing, if you don’t want to spend all your time turkey hunting.