Monthly Archives: November 2014

What Is Special About Late November and December Fishing?

Fishing in late November and December can be special. But it can be very variable, too. One day you can fish in a short sleeve shirt, a couple of days later you need a snowmobile suit. But fish often bite and big bass seem to feed more this time of year.

Some folks say you are crazy to fish in the winter, that it is too cold. But it is never too cold for some of us. And if you dress right you can be comfortable even on the most miserable days.

There is something special about sitting in a bass boat, watching your breath steam as you wait for a tournament blast off. Then you pull down your face mask and take off, so you don’t even feel the bite of the cold air while running down the lake at 50 plus mph. Encased from head top to toe tip, you are warm.

The biggest problem is when you stop and try to fish. There is really no good way to fish and keep your hands warm. I have never found any gloves I could wear that both kept my hands warm and allowed me to cast or feel my rod. Switching from a spinning reel to a bait casting reel every 20 casts or so seems to help, and hand warmers in your pockets allow you to warm your hands, or one at a time while holding the rod with the other.

You need to fish slowly in cold water anyway, so you can cast out a jig, put one hand in a pocket while it sinks, and move it with the rod tip while still keeping that hand in your pocket. And you can even move your jig by moving the boat slowly with the trolling motor without ever taking your hand out in the cold.

Everything on the water seems to be more intense this time of year. The smell of a fire on the bank is so nice it seems to warm you a little and invite you to get closer. Without all the pleasure boaters around the sounds you miss in the summer are noticeable. The splash of a loon diving. The lap of small waves against your boat. The scurrying of a squirrel on the bank. All are enhanced.

I will never forget one cold December tournament at Jackson. Soon after daylight it was a little foggy, making the water almost surreal. I was in a cove in Tussahaw Creek and could smell pine straw burning on the bank. Then, from a cabin, came the haunting melody of a blues song. I have tried for years to find out what the song was so I could get it, but it probably would not sound so sweet under other circumstances.

Even the birds on the bank and over or on the water seem more colorful. A cardinal hopping from shoreline bush to bush is the brightest thing in sight. A mallard drake with his bold green head is stark contrast to the steel gray color of the water. And a seagull’s white body stands out against the sky and water, and you watch it carefully to see if it dives and points the way to feeding fish.

Until the winter rains muddy the water fish are much more colorful, too. A spotted bass hooked in clear water shows sharp contrast in its green markings and black belly spots. Even a largemouth seems to have more defined markings.

Bass fight hard until the water gets extremely cold, too. A spot hitting a crankbait will make you swear it weighs five pounds until it comes into sight and proves to be a two pounder. I think spots hit at full speed, almost always going away from you, and that intensifies the jolt.

Hybrids and stripers feed much better in cold water. Hook a six pound hybrid or a 12 pound striper and you will wonder if your tackle can hold it. And it won’t if you don’t have your drag set right to let line strip off your reel against their hard runs.

Crappie feed and you can catch a lot of them on minnows or jigs. They don’t fight as hard as some fish, but no fish tastes better than a crappie caught in cold water, cleaned quickly and cooked within hours of being swimming in the lake.

You are aware of the dangers though. Your heavy boots and insulated clothes will pull you under fast if you fall in. In addition, the heavy clothes and boots make it more likely you will stumble or trip in the boat and fall in. And the ice water will cause your muscles to stop working very soon after falling in, even if you can somehow stay on top. That is why I always wear some kind of life jacket in the winter.

Even with the problems and dangers fishing in the winter is well worth it. I will be on the water while other folks watch football by the fire. I would have it no other way.

Internet Routers and Other Computer and Phone Hardware and Software

I have had a Linksis 2.4 GH router for many years. Recently I got a Windows 8 computer and everything worked fine with my old computer on Windows Vista. WHen my wife got a new computer, a Dell like mine with Windows 9, every time she turned it on it crashed our router. We are ordering the router below to see if that solves the problem – Dell says it can’t be the computer! We will see.

Update – I ordered the router below and received it in two days. It works! I have two Dell Windows 8 computers, an old Dell with Windows Vistas, a Dell laptop with Windows Vistas, a Samsung netbook computer with Wiondows XP and a Lexmark printer all running through it and it is handling them all fine. And it seems faster!

Lexmark printer ink I use.

I dropped my IPhone 4s and broke it so I upgraded to an IPhone 5. Of course the power cords from the 4s don’t work so I had to order new cords. I had plenty of the USB plugs for outlets and cigarette lighters so all I needed were the cords and they are not too expensive.

I also put my new phone in an Otter waterproof case. It costs $90 at the Verizon store – should have waited to get it from Amazon! I am on the water a lot so waterproof is important. Of course, if I drop it in 30 feet of water the phone wills still work but I could not get it back but if I fall in with it in my pocket, or get soaked in a downpour, the case should protect the phone.

What Are Rockworms and Doodle Bugs?

“Doodlebug, doodlebug, where are you.” Some people will know what I am talking about when they read those words. They, like me, have sat on the ground with a straw trying to get a doodlebug to come out of its hole.

The house I grew up in was way off the ground on pillars of rock. The soft, dusty dirt under the house was always dry, a perfect combination for doodlebugs. There were many funnel shaped depressions scattered around in the soil from them. I spent many hours as a child wiggling a straw in the hole, trying to get the doodlebug in it to come out.

I do not ever remember seeing a doodlebug until I was grown. When teaching life science, I found out they were really ant lions, a small but ferocious looking bug that lived in the ground. Their holes were actually traps!

Ant lions are the larvae of an insect that looks like a dragon fly. They live in the ground, eating small insects they can trap, until they mature and change into the flying stage of their life cycle.

After learning about them while teaching, I looked around and found some at my house in Griffin. Their conical holes were just as I remembered. I found some ants nearby and got one on a stick. When I dropped it into the hole, it tried to climb out but kept slipping back. Suddenly grains of dirt were being flipped out of the bottom of the hole toward the struggling ant.

This dirt hitting the ant made it slip even more. It fell to the center of the hole and something under the dirt grabbed it! That looked like something out of my wildest nightmares, being grabbed from under the ground and slowly being pulled down.

The ant struggled, but it was in a firm grip. It quickly disappeared completely. The last thing I saw of it were its antennae waving as they slipped under the ground.

I got a piece of paper and managed to scoop up the hidden critter. It looked like a small beetle with huge jaws. This bug sits under the ground, waiting on an ant or other small insect to fall into its trap. When it feels the struggle of its prey, it starts flipping dirt at the ant to make it fall. When the ant hits the ground right over the hidden jaws, the doodlebug grabs its dinner!

There was an Outer Limits TV show while I was growing up that showed a similar theme. Explorers landed on another planet and members of the crew kept disappearing. They finally found out it was critters living below the sand, pulling them down for a meal. I wonder if the writer of that show got the idea from doodlebugs?

Nature is not always nice. Animals die. I often tried to imagine what the ant must feel like, being grabbed and pulled down from below. Then I realized ants do not have feelings or emotions. They do not think. It would be a terrible way for a person to die, but I do not think ants have the same fears as I do.

Rock worms are cousins of doodlebugs, but they live in the water. Their jaws have pinched many a fisherman on the Flint River when the worms were used as bait for bass and catfish. They live in the moss on rocks and catch small water bugs and minnows for their food. Doodlebugs look like small, short rock worms.

I am glad rockworms and doodlebugs don’t get any bigger. If they did, it might not be safe to walk on soft dirt or wade the river!

Check out your back yard for doodlebugs. They are a great example of the ways nature works. Observe other interactions in nature and realize we are part of it. Spring is a great time to be outside, looking at the wonderful world we live in!

Do Forrest Buffers Provide Benefits for Waters Like the Chesapeake Bay?

Forest buffer research reveals more benefits than previously thought

Here’s food for thought for land managers all over the nation from Karl Blankenship, Editor of The Bay Journal, the great conservation publication that keeps watch over Chesapeake Bay.
from The Fishing Wire

White Clay Creek at Stroud Center has transformed from ‘impaired’ stream into habitat for trout.

By Karl Blankenship, Editor
The Bay Journal;

Stroud Water Research Center

Stroud Water Research Center

The Stroud Water Research Center in Chester County, PA. (Dave Harp)

Standing amid tall trees next to White Clay Creek, listening to the forest birds sing and the water splash along rocks, roots and fallen branches, one could imagine the creek had always looked like this.

But, walking through the site one summer afternoon, Bern Sweeney pointed to a tell-tale sign that the site wasn’t as pristine as it appeared. “If you look over there,” he said, “the trees are all in rows.”

Just a bit more than three decades ago a cornfield grew right to the edge of the stream. Another section was a pasture, again to the edge of the stream.

Sweeney and other scientists from the Stroud Water Research Center planted trees on a portion of the field and the pasture, and have been watching – and studying – changes ever since.

Just a few hundred yards downstream, the creek winds through a meadow and is so narrow a person could jump across. Here, among the tall trees, it requires a bridge – even though this upstream site was carrying less water.

“There is a lot of stuff happening here that is not happening down there,” said Sweeney, who helped plant the rows of trees as a young scientist and is now the center’s director. Despite the unnatural neat rows of trees, they have helped to transform what was once an “impaired” stream into one of the healthiest waterways in the region, with reduced pollution and improved habitat – and one that seems to keep getting better over time.

Located in Chester County, PA, the 48-year-old Stroud Center is just outside the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but its work, dating to that first planting in 1982, has greatly influenced Bay restoration efforts.

Its research was pivotal in convincing the state-federal Bay Program partnership that forested stream buffers should be a key restoration objective. That led the Bay Program in 1996 to adopt the nation’s first regional forest buffer restoration goal. That, in turn, led to the creation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which made funding available to plant buffers and resulted in the quick achievement of the initial, 2,010-mile buffer goal.

“I do not believe the Bay region would be a champion of riparian forest buffers had it not been for the early intervention and education provided by Stroud,” said Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, an advisory panel representing state legislatures that was a champion of the forest buffer goal.

Sweeney and Stroud scientists showed policy-makers like Swanson how forest buffers were the last line of defense for waterways against the human activities on the watershed. They could slow runoff, absorb nutrients and trap sediment before the pollutants could reach streams.

“Their science has been crucial to our understanding of how streams work and what makes them healthy,” said Al Todd, who is now executive director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay but in the mid-1990s led U.S. Forest Service efforts to develop a Bay buffer policy.

“But more than just doing good science, people like Bern Sweeney have the unique ability to tell the story of riparian forests and stream health in a way that anyone can understand,” Todd said. “And Sweeney has not been timid about telling farmers or policy-makers they need to pay attention.”

More reductions than thought

One of the things that Sweeney and colleagues increasingly stress is that forest stream buffers are substantially different from other management practices used to control runoff. Not only are they highly effective at reducing nutrient runoff, but buffers also provide a host of additional stream benefits, such as stabilizing banks, regulating water temperatures and improving habitat quality.

White Clay Creek

White Clay Creek

White Clay Creek, once an “impaired” stream, is now one of the healthiest waterways in the region, and it seems to keep getting better over time. (Dave Harp)

New research by scientists at the center offers tantalizing hints that buffered streams may reduce nutrients even more than previously thought.

Furthermore, many benefits related to a forest buffter appear to increase as the buffer ages – unlike other pollution control efforts, such as grass buffers, which become less effective over time.

The center has stepped up efforts to spread the word about buffers – and helped to get more of them on the ground. It has increased research about cost-effective ways to plant buffers, and it established a new watershed restoration group to quickly translate its science into on-the-ground initiatives. “We see it as a way to directly inject science into an applied role,” Sweeney said. “And that needs to happen.”

Indeed. The rate of forest buffer plantings in the Bay watershed has dropped sharply in the last decade. Last year, just a little more than 200 miles were planted, down from a peak of more than 1,100 miles in 2002, and well short of the 900-mile-a-year goal contained in the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

Numerous factors have contributed to the trend: High commodity prices have made farmers reluctant to take crop land out of production to plant buffers, and the bureaucracy involved with the CREP program – which funds most buffer plantings – can be difficult for landowners to navigate.

Also, state restoration programs often haven’t prioritized forest buffers. Virginia instead has prioritized stream bank fencing to keep cows out of streams, and along a narrower band than is required for an effective buffer. Maryland’s forest buffer goals are modest compared with those of other states.

In Pennsylvania, the state legislature recently sided with builders and their allies to roll back a requirement that new development in state-designated exceptional value or high-quality watersheds maintain a 150-foot buffer along streams, contending water quality objectives could be met with other pollution control technologies.

Environmental groups and the state Fish and Boat Commission – citing Stroud’s work – argued that other pollution control practices could not match the full range of stream services provided by forest buffers. They lost.

Such emphasis on pollution reduction, rather than a more holistic view of stream health, frustrates buffer advocates. “I think the segregation of the Bay goals from local water quality sometimes has not helped,” said Matt Ehrhart, director of watershed restoration at the Stroud Center, and former executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Pennsylvania office. In Pennsylvania, he noted, streams are placed on the impaired waters list based on the presence of insects and benthic organisms that generally need conditions provided by forests.

Forest buffers are not a silver bullet that eliminates the need for other pollution-control practices upland, Ehrhart cautioned. But they provide an essential part of the solution, especially when it comes to stream health.

“At the end of the day, you can reduce phosphorus, but if you don’t have cooler temperatures and the conditions that foster your stream ecology, you won’t see the local changes that we’re looking for,” Ehrhart said. “Or trout.”

Forests vs. grass buffers

When Capt. John Smith explored the “faire bay” fed by “clear rivers and brooks,” he noted the landscape was “overgrown with trees.” Smith may not have recognized that the condition of the Bay and its tributary rivers was closely linked to the trees. At the time of his explorations in 1607-08, an estimated 95 percent of the watershed was forested.

The giant trees, their expansive root system, along with understory plants, greedily absorbed available nutrients. Their roots held sediment in place, resulting in a network of clean waterways that fed the Bay. Sweeney characterized the wholesale clearing of forests following European colonization as perhaps having the most devastating impact on Eastern streams.

As forests were removed, sediment and pollution entering waterways increased. Water quality worsened, and sunlight pounded the water, making it too warm for trout. Fish and other aquatic dwellers began to disappear. Flooding increased. Soil from clear-cut uplands flooded into valleys where it was trapped by a proliferation of small dams that powered grist and saw mills, smothering floodplains.

When grasses replaced trees along streams, as in the meadow immediately downstream of Stroud’s forested research site, they proactivey extend their root systems into the water and trap sediment. The sod that is formed at the stream edge causes the stream banks to gradually creep towards one another – narrowing the stream to an unnatural configuration. That forces the stream to dig deeper, cutting a narrow, steep-sided channel through the soil. Eventually, the channel digs below the roots, and begins eating away at the banks, causing the surface to collapse into the stream, releasing sediment but, more importantly, causing instability as the stream rapidly moves in an unnatural way across its floodplain.

No trees along a stream also means no leaves to fuel the diverse variety of insects and microorganisms that evolved in the stream over thousands of years of forest cover. Steady influxes of sediment from destabilized stream banks would smother much of their bottom habitat, anyway.

Bern Sweeney

Bern Sweeney

Bern Sweeney conducts a Stream and Buffer Ecology Workshop along White Clay Creek at the Stroud Water Research Center. (Dave Harp)

But along reforested sections of White Clay Creek, some of those lost functions are returning. The stream channel has widened and stabilized. Diverse stream insects thrive. Instead of a mud-covered bottom, the creek has pools, riffles and runs, offering habitat variety. Each fall, the food chain is fed by a huge influx of leaves – almost all of which are consumed before they can travel 100 yards downstream.

Sweeney is cautious about using words like “pristine” or “natural” to describe the stream. That’s because there are no untouched streams in the Piedmont for comparison. “We don’t have the ultimate reference site.” And, outside the stream channel, a layer of built-up sediment remains beyond the edges of the stream, over what was once a larger floodplain.

But, it does have something it didn’t used to: a reproducing trout population.

“I would argue it is a functional stream, ecologically,” Sweeney said, noting the state now classifies it as an “exceptional value” waterway. “It is a protected stream because it is so close to being natural. It has a great community in it with reproducing trout. We know that it processes nitrogen effectively. It works.”

Lessons learned

Almost everything along the stream seems to be monitored. The creek is lined with monitoring wells on either side so scientists can test water quality at different depths as it moves through the forest along the stream. Nets over the stream even collect flying aquatic insects.

The monitoring gives scientists new information about how the stream works. As it has gotten wider and shallower, the water it carries is more likely to come into contact with the microbes and insects that dwell on the bottom. Those organisms consume, or otherwise alter material, that the stream is carrying. Bacterial communities can remove pollution-causing nitrogen compounds from the water by turning it into harmless nitrogen gas – a process known as denitrification. Others break down pollutants such as pesticides into harmless components.

Some of those functions can take place in narrower streams, but the increased amount of stream bottom, combined with the presence of rocks, riffles and roots that slow the water through wooded areas, gives those organisms a greater opportunity to “process” the streamwater.

That’s further enhanced in the fall when an influx of leaves pours into the stream, providing more surface areas for bacteria, and food to fuel their growth – the leaves themselves. “All of a sudden we see a huge increase in the stream’s ability to take up something like nitrogen,” Sweeney said. “A deforested stream is not going to have that.”

Those processes may get better with age, according to Sweeney, as the wide forest streams stabilize and the trees exert more influence over the local environment, including the microbial communities in both the soil and the water. In addition, as trees become old and begin to drop “large woody debris” into waterways, those tree limbs and trunks provide additional habitat for still more organisms, and further slow the water, allowing more processing time.

Researchers at Stroud are hard at work trying to quantify those added benefits associated with forest buffers. “We don’t have a good handle on that yet, and those are really important services that we need to quantify because it puts additional value on the buffer,” Sweeney said.

But some research by Stroud scientists about the added denitrification potential of forested streams has begun to influence policy. An expert panel reviewing the Bay Program’s assumptions about forest buffer nutrient reductions recently gave a nod to that work. Historically, the Bay Program’s estimates of forest buffer nutrient removal were based solely on what happened in the buffers. In an updated recommendation, the panel suggested that streams with forest buffers on both sides be given an additional 4 percent nitrogen reduction credit because of the in-stream processes.

Sweeney thinks research will eventually show the in-stream benefits are even greater. “In my opinion, I think at some point the in-stream aspects that are associated with a forest buffer are going to actually be greater than what we are getting from the filtration from the buffer, or at least equal to,” he said.

“We weren’t even paying attention to this back in 1990 when we started talking about buffers, and now we realize that this is a big part of the overall equation.”

Sweeney wants to see the lessons learned at Stroud transferred to technicians who work with landowners, and to policy-makers and the staffs of agencies and environmental groups. That was the impetus for the launch last year of the center’s Watershed Restoration Group which, besides Ehrhart, also employs former Pennsylvania CBF staffers David Wise and Lamonte Garber.

The disconnect between what scientists know about the function of buffers and the policies and technology that guides their implementation has had real-world consequences. Sweeney had learned from the earliest planting along White Clay Creek, that if newly planted seedlings were not protected from invasive plants and browsing deer, they were unlikely to survive. He and colleagues published a paper in 2002 showing the importance of using 5-foot tree shelters and herbicide treatments for the survival of tree plantings.

But that paper went unseen by people working in the field, and funding for those actions was not initially included in federally funded buffer planting programs. “That gap in knowledge killed a lot of trees for three years,” Ehrhart said.

Staff from the restoration group, along with scientists, conduct workshops and meet with professionals throughout the region to tout the latest information and techniques.

Meanwhile, the center is branching out into new research to better address buffer planting issues. For instance, the use of herbicides is generally considered essential to keep invasive plants from overwhelming newly planted trees. But that’s not an option for organic farmers interested in tree buffers, so they are looking into non-herbicide methods, such as placing stone around seedlings to keep plants away.

Voles, tiny mouselike animals, can be a plague on newly planted trees. The biodegradable plant shelters that are routinely placed around seedlings to protect them from deer sometimes become “vole condos” in which the trees fall victim to small mammals instead of large ones. Stroud is experimenting with a product from Europe that has a small tree tube to exclude voles within the larger tube that excludes deer. “These things are only 20 cents, and they only take a second to put on,” Sweeney said. “If they work, a big problem goes away for us.”

They are also experimenting with new, low-cost planting techniques, such as planting seeds instead of seedlings and protecting them with fences instead of individual tree shelters. While most won’t survive, the hope is that enough will to create a functional buffer. “It’s not just about success, but also about cost-effectiveness,” Ehrhart said.

Another project under way is importing large pieces of trees and placing them in a stream that is getting a new forest buffer planting. The idea is to mimic the services provided by large woody debris, and determine whether it achieves measurable benefits.

One for the biggest goals is to avoid past mistakes. Ehrhart said that one of the impediments to putting forest buffers on the ground today is the lingering effects from early failures when buffer plantings were ramped up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, often with staffs and programs ill-prepared for the challenges and maintenance required by newly planted buffers.

“There are some areas within the whole Bay region that have a lot of pushback to Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program just because it created weed patches and trees died,” Ehrhart said. “We think there is a definite incentive to not go back to that. Whatever we do, we want to know that we are going to be successful with it.”

Forest Buffer Benefits

Riparian, or streamside forests, serve as a buffer, or “last line of defense” between upland areas and streams. Research shows that forest buffers of at least 100-feet width on each side of a stream provide such benefit as:

Moderate Stream Temperature: Leafy canopies shade and cool water, especially in small streams, preventing sharp fluctuations in temperatures that can stress fish and aquatic life. Cooler, stabler temperatures also promote the growth of beneficial algae and aquatic insects and contains more oxygen.

Protect Stream Banks: Healthy riparian forests help stabilize stream banks and reduce erosion. Tree roots hold soils in place. Roots and fallen branches protect stream banks by reducing stream flow velocity.

Filter Pollution: In many settings, forest buffers are among the most effective controls for reducing runoff. Their soils trap and remove nutrients moving in surface flows, while their deep roots absorb nitrogen in shallow groundwater. Depending on the setting, the Bay Program estimates forest buffers remove 19-65 percent of the nitrogen; 30-45 percent of the phosphorus; and 40-60 percent of the sediment that would otherwise enter the stream. Additional amounts of these pollutants can be removed by in-stream processes promoted by forest buffers.

Sustaining Aquatic Habitats: Orga-nic material entering the stream from the forest, whether from fallen leaves or organic matter collected by water flowing through the forest floor, provides the food needed to feed stream organisms that evolved to live in forested settings over thousands of years.

Source: State of the Chesapeake Forests / Chesapeake Bay Program

Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship

About Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and Executive Director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991.

Why Does A Cold Front Affect Bass?

Last Sunday at Lake Sinclair, 13 members of the Flint River Bass Club fished our second tournament of the year. The cold front that came through, producing bright blue skies, high pressure and wind, did the usual to the bass – made them not bite at all!

There are a lot of theories about why bass do not feed after a cold front. Some say the high pressure affects them and makes them feel bad. High pressure can give people headaches, so it might affect bass, too. I often wonder about that, though, because a change of a few inches in depth of water will change the pressure on a bass much more than any cold front possibly could.

The bright sunlight is another factor that may make the bass less likely to feed. Bass are ambush predators and darkness and shadows help them get close enough to their food to catch it. When the sun is bright, they tend to feed less. They definitely stay closer to cover after a cold front produces bright sunlight.

Wind associated with a cold front often makes it very difficult to fish. That affects the fisherman much more than the fish, but it can contribute to the problem of catching bass. It is hard to cast on target, boat control is difficult at best, and the cold wind makes exposed skin miserably uncomfortable.

Some bass can be caught. The 13 of us managed to bring in a total of four bass after eight hours of trying. Greg Calhoun caught two of them and won it all with a total weight of 1-12! His partner Bruce Goddard had big fish and second place with one bass weighing 1-1. And my partner George Hamby had the other bass, a 15 ounce keeper, for third place. The other 10 of us watched the weigh-in with our hands in our pockets.

George and I tried all the usual patterns at Sinclair to catch a winter bass. We fished grass beds with spinnerbaits, riprap with crankbaits, brush piles, docks, deep points and other structure, all without a strike. During the day we talked about how much luck can be involved in finding bass to catch in a tournament.

A press release I received the week before highlighted this to me. I told George how a fisherman finishing in the top five at a big BASS tournament said he accidentally found the structure holding the bass. He was riding in his boat and saw something on his depthfinder. He checked it out and caught enough bass to win several thousand dollars.

At about 2:30 PM, 90 minutes before the end of the tournament, I pointed out a sudden drop that showed up on the depthfinder as George and I idled away from a place we had fished. The bottom dropped from 26 to 35 feet deep and there was brush on the edge of the drop. When I turned and went back across the drop, we saw what looked like fish as well as more brush.

I stopped the boat and started jigging a Little George, probing the bottom and the brush. George started fishing a worm on a Carolina rig and suddenly set the hook. He landed his keeper bass! A few minutes later, after switching to a Carolina rigged lizard, a fish almost jerked the rod out of my hand when I was not paying careful attention. It was the only bite I got all day, and I missed it!

We stayed on that drop off for over an hour, and George caught a small crappie that hit is worm. We found the drop had rocks as well as brush on it. It is a place I will fish in the future for bass as well as crappie. I am sure it will hold both kinds of fish year round, and I look forward to catching more there.

Although the spot did not pay off for me in the tournament, it did produce a keeper for George. If we had been lucky enough to find it earlier we might have caught more than the one bass. As is was, we were lucky to find the spot, George was lucky to catch a bass there, and I was unlucky, or unskillful, and did not catch anything when I got the chance.

Someday I wish I could get skillful and not have to depend on luck to catch bass!

Does Florida Track Trophy Bass Releases?

Florida Trophy Catch Logo

Florida Trophy Catch Logo

TrophyCatch tracker
from The Fishing Wire

Florida is now wrapping up the second year of what has turned out to be a highly successful effort to encourage anglers to release trophy-quality largemouth bass, thus allowing them to grow even larger while at the same time growing the state’s reputation as a destination for bass anglers. Here’s an update from the FFWCC:

Many of our readers already know that in 2012 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) launched TrophyCatch, a new incentive-based conservation program designed for anglers who catch-and-release largemouth bass heavier than eight pounds, in Florida. Goals of this new initiative include providing verified catch data about trophy bass to guide conservation-management strategies, encouraging live release, and recognizing and rewarding anglers for participating in this citizen-science effort. This will ultimately increase trophy bass fishing opportunities and add to our knowledge of these valued fish.

Check out now to register for free for the 3rd year’s boat drawing and to learn how to submit your catch, so the data can contribute to the future of bass fishing in Florida and you can earn great rewards from our sponsors. While there, check out the Gallery of Catches, or do a search to find where trophy bass have been caught near you. Meanwhile, be sure to “like” us on to keep up with the latest developments.

The first year of TrophyCatch (Oct. 1, 2012 – Sep. 30, 2013) wrapped up a year ago. Here were some highlights from TrophyCatch year one:

– 1,941 registrants.

– Almost 200 verified largemouth bass Lunker, Trophy, and Hall of Fame Club winners.

– Phoenix bass boat powered by Mercury awarded to random-drawing finalist Frank Ay from N Lauderdale (on left in photo).

– $10,000 from Experience Kissimmee awarded to Peter Perez for the largest bass caught in Osceola County (second from right).

– TrophyCatch Champion Ring awarded to Bob Williams from Alloway, NJ for the largest entered TrophyCatch bass, 13 lbs., 14 oz.

– Over $70,000 total in prizes awarded.

As TrophyCatch continued into its second year, FWC announced simplified submission requirements and increased prizes. The largest change in submitting a bass is that only one photo, of the entire fish on a scale with the weight clearly legible, is required. However, photos of the length, girth, angler holding fish, and release are encouraged. Phoenix and Mercury again provided a bass boat package for year two, this time including a Power-Pole anchor. The big winners of this year’s major prizes haven’t been announced at time of writing, but will be included in the next issue. In the meantime, here are the latest TrophyCatch statistics as of September 2014:

– Over 8,000 total registrants.

– Nearly 1,000 verified largemouth bass Lunker, Trophy, and Hall of Fame Club winners.

– More than $102,000 in prizes awarded during Year 2.

Stay tuned for the 2013-14 winners, and for exciting prizing updates for the new 2014-15 TrophyCatch year! For more information, and to register or submit fish, visit

Should I Change Fishing Lures When the Weather Changes?

Changes in Weather Often Mean Changes in Lures

Autumn’s Cooler Temperatures Can Affect How Certain Fish Feed

Although cold fronts and other weather changes in the autumn months are seldom as severe as those occurring later in the winter, they can still change bass behavior very quickly. That’s why Yamaha Pro Marty Robinson always has several rods with completely different types of lures rigged and ready to cast whenever he goes fishing this time of year.

jigs work well after a cold front

jigs work well after a cold front

Yamaha pro angler Marty Robinson switches to a jig when sustained north winds start to blow, slowing action on buzzbaits and spinnerbaits.

“The cold fronts in the autumn normally don’t change the water temperature that much,” notes Robinson, “but they often change the wind speed and direction, and that seems to be what changes the fish.

“I know from experience that whenever a front changes the wind direction from the south to the north, for example, the fishing is going to slow dramatically.”

One of Robinson’s favorite fall lures, and a favorite of bass fishermen everywhere, is a topwater buzz bait, a noisy lure with a rotating blade that churns and clatters through shallow cover and often attracts big bass. It seems to produce best when the wind is blowing from the south, but a change to a north wind all but eliminates the bite.

Robinson’s solution is to change to a lure he can fish close to the surface but not on top of the water. His favorite choice is a spinnerbait, which he retrieves fast, or “burns,” just below the surface. If the spinnerbait doesn’t produce, he then changes to jigs or soft plastic creature baits and worms.

“I’ve really caught a lot of fish burning the spinnerbait over submerged cover like stumps, laydowns, rocks, and vegetation,” continues the Yamaha Pro. “The bass still seem to be very active and they strike reactively, but they apparently don’t want to actually break the surface. Sometimes, just a simple presentation change like this is all that’s needed to start the fish biting again.

“Other times, slowing down and fishing specific targets more thoroughly may be what’s needed. This is when I start pitching and flipping a jig or some other bottom-bumping lure, and instead of just making one or two casts to a log or stump, I’ll make five or six and fish much slower and tighter to the cover.”

When fishing really slows, Robinson frequently changes his fishing targets as well as his lures. Instead of concentrating on stumps or laydowns, he looks for thick vegetation, such as milfoil, hydrilla, or other greenery in shallow water.

Weed mats are good targets for jigs

Weed mats are good targets for jigs

Robinson says he sometimes finds more fish under weed mats than in open water cover as the water cools, but the jig is a good weapon in the mats, as well.

“During the autumn months, vegetation will be the thickest it’s going to be all year,” he explains, “and it will attract both baitfish and bass and hold them well into the winter. In some lakes where the vegetation forms a mat at the surface, you can bring fish up with plastic frogs, but flipping jigs and soft plastics may produce even better results.

“I’ll work along the edge of the matted vegetation, and flip into little holes and to any irregular points, let the jig reach the bottom, and just hop it once or twice. If a bass is there, it will usually strike pretty quickly.”

The Yamaha Pro also pays attention to the late afternoon rain showers that often come with autumn weather changes. Immediately before the rain starts falling, the fishing can be excellent, but once the bass stop biting, it may take as long as 24 hours for them to really become active again.

“Part of this is caused by a changing barometer,” concludes the Yamaha Pro, “but you can fish your way through it. When the barometer is falling, as it usually is as a storm approaches, the bass are nearly always more active and will really hit spinnerbaits and crankbaits, but they stop biting once the barometer starts rising immediately after the front passes. When you know this is happening, you just have to slow down and fish more carefully with more target-specific lures until the barometer settles again.

“That’s why I think it’s important to have a variety of lures rigged and ready to use during the fall months. The bass can change their behavior very quickly, but you can still catch them.”

Can I Pinpoint Places On the Ice To Drill Holes for Fishing Based On Surface Irregularities?

Ice Fishing Over the Edge

Surface irregularities serve as a template for pinpoint-hole-drilling during early-ice

By Mitch Eeagan
from The Fishing Wire

Landing a limit of fish through a hole is a lot like running a flourishing retail business – no matter what you’re offering, success ultimately boils down to location, location… location.

Drill the right hole

Drill the right hole

Humminbird’s Master of Flasher, Brian “Bro” Brosdahl identifies irregularities in the ice to choose general drilling zones. “Blemishes” like snow patches and greyed ice provide fish a preferred, built-in sunblock. Photo by Bill Lindner

“Close enough” won’t cut it with fish or commerce. In hardwater angling, the exact position of your hole must often be reduced to mere inches rather than “somewhere within sight.”

With that in mind, enter the guru of ice angling, Brian “Bro” Brosdahl. The Northern-Minnesota-based guide has been successfully taking clients fishing on frozen waterways for decades. And just like you and me, his customers, overall, just want to catch as many fish as they can without having to repack and relocate with any frequency.

On the whole, Bro uses two types of electronics to determine exact places to drop a line – a sonar/GPS combo and an underwater camera. But well before pushing the power button, the Grand Rapids resident identifies areas to cluster those holes by taking a moment to observe his surroundings, noting what the ice-covered surface is telling him.

Look before you leap

Overall, Bro Country, as his turf is termed, is snow country, and later in the season a lake’

Less light under snow island

Less light under snow island

s entire topside will be covered with a thick blanket of snow. This is when modern-day electronics and mapping programs play the roles of their lifetimes.

An obvious snowcapped island provides fish a ceiling of light protection, while at the same time affording anglers underfoot stealth. Photo by Mitch Eeagan

But before the flakes start to accumulate in feet versus inches, Bro aims for areas where the ice has formed differently than its surrounding facade, as well as where small patches of snow have amassed, especially when the ice is clear as a bell.

“There’s a reason the ice has an unusual look to it in different places,” says Bro. “Springs bubbling up from the bottom, a patch of still-green weeds radiating heat from the sun’s rays and even a slight difference in depth are all possibilities. And all will attract fish throughout the season.”

Right off the bat, Bro bores holes along the paths where clear ice butts up to white, heaves protrude from the flatness, cracks have been created and anyplace snow has piled. And when he checks each hole with his Humminbird ICE 688ci HD, sure enough, there’s structure, or better yet, fish below. And in holes not created directly over cover, he confirms the presence of favorable structure and cover with his Aqua-Vu AV Micro 5 underwater viewing system.

“Anywhere light penetration is reduced overhead, even if there is none of the “classic” cover [weeds, wood and rock] nearby, fish will gather,” adds Bro. “Think of it like a swimming platform or dock during the openwater season; here, more often than not, you’ll find fish of all species hanging out in their shadows.

Darkness overhead can be considered “cover”, and it’s where fish congregate, summer and winter.”

The answer is clear

On lakes and reservoirs where little snow has fallen and clear ice covers the majority of the surface, Bro’s initial holes will have a different look and feel about them.

It’s in these holes Bro keeps his power auger running well after its point has protruded from the ice’s underbelly, or when using a hand auger, will lower and lift it quickly it several times so that water is brought up out of the hole and onto the ice. Immediately following, he’ll set up his Frabill flip-over and/or Hub-style shelter over what seems like a sloppy, slippery mess – but there’s a method to Bro’s madness.

“First, the slightly warmer, freshwater from the lake will quickly etch into the slick surface of the clear ice, causing it to cloud and reduce light penetration,” Bro claims. “And the shanty, too, will create a shadow, and the most active fish around will eventually swim over and take shelter under my shelter.” Clever…

Setting up these holes first lets the immediate surroundings calm down while the dedicated guide’s out drilling another swath of holes, setting tip-ups and the like. And by the time everything’s taken care of, he and his clients can quietly converge on the pre-erected shanty and start fishing. “Just keep as quiet as you can,” warns Bro, “and keep your movement to a minimum or you will spook fish.”

Stop. Look. Drill.

Find snow cover to drill your hole

Find snow cover to drill your hole

Hardwater savant, Paul Nelson plugged this victorious hole over a snow-blem on an otherwise clear surface. (Note cleaner ice in the background.) Photo by Bill Lindner

If you’re looking to land a limit of fish early in the ice-fishing season, just remember to stop and take a look around before drilling that first hole. Features seen on the surface of the icescape will often tell you where to start.

Bore your holes where clear ice butts to white, where heaves or cracks have formed, or over snowdrifts that create overhead cover; you’ll stand a better chance of pegging fish than your buddy who doesn’t pay attention.

Mitch Eeagan is an outdoor writer who lives off the land amidst the snow-covered cedar swamps of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Fishing Lake Burton and Lake Lanier

I am very glad I got to fish Lake Burton and Lake Lanier before this cold weather hit. Both are beautiful lakes and the changing leaves made them even prettier. And both have quality spotted and largemouth bass. I managed to catch some of both in both lakes.

On Tuesday I met Joe Thompson at Burton to get information for a Georgia Outdoor News December Map of the Month article. Joe is a recent graduate of Young Harris College where he was on the bass fishing team and has lived in the Lake Burton area all his life.

I met him at noon since I didn’t want to face a cold morning on the water or the terrible morning traffic going up I-285 and I-85. He already had several nice spotted bass in the live well. We fished until the sun went behind the mountains shortly after 5:00 and I landed five bass, one largemouth and four spots, while he landed about seven spots.

While showing me around the lake Joe pointed out Alabama football coach Nick Saban’s huge lake house, and told me country singer Alan Jackson also had a house on the lake. The houses around the lake are big and pretty, with many looking like castles sitting on the steep hills rising from the water. And the docks are big enough to be lake houses on many other lakes.

We caught fish mostly on jig head worms but Joe says he usually catches bigger bass on a Super Spin, an underspin grub type bait, and a jig and pig. He had a couple of spots just over three pounds and I had a spot and a largemouth about three pounds each, so I thought the ones we caught on jig head worms were pretty big.

Last Sunday 13 members and guests fished the Flint River Bass Club November tournament at Lanier. After fishing nine hours we brought in 24 keepers over the 14 inch minimum length, and they weighed about 49 pounds. All but three were spotted bass and there was one limit. Four people didn’t have a keeper.

John Smith won it big with five weighing 13.13 pounds. My four weighing 8.71 pounds was second, Brian Bennett had three at 6.32 for third and his 3.54 pound spot was big fish, and Travis Weatherly came in fourth with three at 5.20 pounds.

Niles Murray fished with me and we had a slow day. We got a couple of short bass on the first point we fished then went about an hour without a fish. On a hump Niles quickly caught two keepers and I got one. Niles caught his on a Carolina rig and mine hit a jig head worm.

After working that spot hard and trying a couple more like it in the area, I told Niles I wanted to run up the river. There were three points I wanted to try about five miles from where we were fishing. Early that morning only three boats had come down the river so I figured there was a tournament taking off from up there, but it must be a small one.

Just my luck, we got to the first point and a boat was sitting on it. My best point in that area also had someone fishing it, as did the third place I wanted to fish. We tried a couple of places but got no bites, so we headed back down the river.

Back on the hump where we had caught three that morning I quickly caught a nice spot. We fished all around it and another place nearby but got no more bites, so we ran back into the creek where we had to weigh in. With about 90 minutes left to fish we hit two points and got only a small throwback.

With about 30 minutes left I had pretty much given up, deciding the two I had were all I would get. Niles suggested we go up the creek and fish a series of small points so we took off. The second one we hit I landed a largemouth close to three pounds, then on the next one got a barely 14 inch long keeper.

I was surprised to come in second with only four fish, but three of them were pretty good fish. Several guys in the club fish Lanier a lot and know it well, so I expected them to have limits. Nobody had more than three keepers except John and I.

Lanier is a very pretty lake, too, with clear water and changing leaves, but the big yachts cruising on the lake make it rough fishing and riding after about 10:00 AM. It does have a lot of big spots, but fishing pressure makes them tough to catch.

Burton is another hour away from us, but it would be a much better trip if you want pretty scenery and big spots. And Burton is stocked with trout. We saw them in the water and dimpling the surface in a couple of places we fished. I was wishing for a light spinning rod, a #6 hook and a can of kernel corn.

Give Burton a try for bass or trout. And you will probably catch a chain pickerel. Joe landed three. There are even walleye in the lake so you have a chance at a lot of different kinds of fish.

Have You Caught A Tagged Tuna In Louisianna

Recovering Tuna Tags is Rewarding in More Ways Than One
Editor’s Note: Today’s feature comes to us courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
from The Fishing Wire

If you reel in a big one, you might catch more than just a trophy fish for dinner

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is actively implementing a research program that involves the insertion of electronic tracking devices in yellowfin tuna to better understand their behavior. Fish tagging programs are typically designed by scientists, but any angler can contribute to this important research.

Putting a tag in tuna

Putting a tag in tuna

LDWF biologist Jennifer McKinney performs surgery on a yellowfin tuna to insert an internal archival tag.

The most important action that anglers can take to aid tagging programs is to return tags and information. In order for the Department to learn more about yellowfin tuna movements and habitat use in the Gulf of Mexico, biologists are requesting anglers return the internal archival tags when a tagged fish is caught.

“The holy grail of these electronic tags is the detailed data they record,” explained LDWF Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina. “But LDWF researchers can only access that level of information if they get the tag back.”

Not only can anglers expect a better-managed fishery, but the department is also offering up a reward for every tag returned. Individuals who return an intact electronic tag will receive a $200 Academy Sports and Outdoors gift card.

Tuna tag

Tuna tag

Tuna included in this study are surgically implanted with an electronic tag in the abdominal cavity and can be identified by an external green and white conventional tag at the base of the second dorsal fin.

If you catch a tagged yellowfin tuna:
• Record date, time and catch location (GPS coordinates).
• Measure fork length, weight and take photos of the surgical site (when possible).
• Carefully remove the tag from the fish. The light stalk, which can be seen protruding from the abdomen of the fish, must remain connected with the tag body inside the fish.
• Call the reward line at (855) 728-8247 or email to arrange pickup of the tag.

The internal archival tags are surgically implanted into the belly of the fish and record a range of parameters every 30 seconds including depth, light intensity, water temperature and the internal body temperature of the tagged tuna.

Since the study began in June 2013, over 100 internal tags have been deployed with approximately a 10% recapture rate. Thus far, the greatest movement of an internally tagged yellowfin is 155 nautical miles after 417 days at large.

The department will continue the study over the next few years, and resulting data can indicate habitat preferences and feeding and spawning behavior. Findings will greatly improve the body of knowledge of the yellowfin tuna resource in the Gulf of Mexico and its connectivity with the Atlantic-wide population, resulting in improved stock assessments and fishery management.

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is charged with managing and protecting Louisiana’s abundant natural resources. For more information, visit us at, on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter @LDWF.