Monthly Archives: February 2015

Which Is Better For Boat Steering A Tiller Or Steering Wheel?

Tiller Vs Wheel Steering for your Next Boating Rig

By Bob Jensen

It’s Boat Show and Sportshow season across North America. It’s also the season when many anglers and boaters are looking for a different boat for the upcoming fishing and boating season.

One of the primary considerations for northern anglers is whether to get a rig equipped with remote steering—that is a steering wheel—or direct steering: tiller.

While it’s rare to see tiller steering on anything much over 25 horsepower in most of the country, up in walleye and lake trout country, tillers are common and are even the favorite of many top level anglers.

With tiller steering, you’ll sit in the back of the boat and hang on to a handle extending from the engine. The steering and speed control are in that handle. If you’ve never run a tiller boat before, there is a bit of a learning curve, but you’ll catch on quickly.

Which is best?

Which is best?

Notice all the open area in this tiller boat. For smaller water, a tiller boat is tough to beat.

The advantage of the steering wheel is you’re probably going to be familiar with the steering. You’ll also have a windshield, so you’ll be more protected from the elements and spray when you run from spot to spot. If you’re traveling long distances by water, the steering wheel is much less tiring than the tiller steering, although there are tiller-assist kits that really reduce fatigue from tiller steering.

The advantage of tiller steering is that it really opens up the boat. The steering console is gone, so there’s lots of room to move around.

Boat control is also better with the tiller when you’re employing some techniques, especially if you’ll be backtrolling for walleyes. Some of the electric motors that go on the bow do an outstanding job for boat control, but if you want the ultimate in boat control while backtrolling, a tiller boat provides that. Back in the day, almost all of the walleye guides and tournament guys fished out of tiller boats that were eighteen feet long and had a fifty horsepower motor. Now, because they’re fishing bigger water much of the time, console boats with steering wheels are the deal, although there are some twenty foot tiller boats with big outboards on the back of them out there.

Keep in mind also whether or not your boat will do double duty to pull skiers or tubers. This can be done with a tiller boat, but it’s easier done with a console boat.

Consider how much you’ll be on big water. If most of your fishing is done on big bodies of water and you’ll be running several miles or longer on a regular basis, a wheel boat will probably be better.

If you like to fish the smaller lakes and rivers that aren’t affected by the wind so much and you won’t be running long distances, a tiller boat might be perfect for you.

Tiller boats usually require less horsepower and the rigging is less costly, so the cost to get into a tiller boat is usually less. Also, with a tiller boat you can fish from the back, so you don’t need an electric motor or depth-finder on the bow, and you won’t need a kicker motor either. You can put a transom mount electric motor back by the outboard for the slowest presentations if you want.

I ran a Larson FX 1750 tiller boat last year with an Evinrude E-TEC 90 HO for power. This rig did an outstanding job for me. I fished some lakes that were large, but mostly smaller lakes. I didn’t miss the steering wheel all that much, although there were a couple of times when a wheel boat probably would have been better.

If you’re thinking about a new-to-you boat this year, keep these ideas in mind. If you do, you’re on the way to a boat that will do a good job most of the time.

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I Like Tunnels and Caves

Holes have always fascinated me and I dug a lot of them growing up. But tunnels and caves draw me to them for some reason, and I always approach with a mixture of curiosity and fear. Some are much worse than others.

One of my first experiences with a real cave was a visit to Luray Cavers in Virginia. My family visited my uncle in Newport News each summer and we took a day trip to the huge cave on one of them when I was about eight years old. It was amazing to see in person the stalactites and stalagmites I had studied in school.

The water dripping from the ceiling and flowing under the walkways drew my interest. I was looking for fish in the pools and streams and wondering if they allowed fishing in the cave. The guide said there were some small blind fish in some of the pools but I couldn’t fish for them.

Another trip to Virginia when I was about 14 introduced me to man made tunnels. We crossed the newly completed Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, driving across it, turning around and coming back. We stopped at the visitor’s center on one of the islands and got information on it.

I have to admit, although the tunnels and bridges were amazing, my attention was mainly focused on the fishing boats around them. Uncle Mahue had taken us fishing in the bay for spots, crocker and flounder and I really wanted to be on a boat trying to catch something. I was just sure the bridge pilings and riprap around the tunnels would hold lots of fish I could catch.

Linda and I took a driving tour back in the 1990s, leaving Griffin and driving north to Wisconsin where we turned left and drove to Wyoming. We turned left again, drove to New Mexico then made another left back to Griffin. We saw some amazing sights from the badlands to Yellowstone Park.

In Yellowstone Park I caught some cutthroat trout in the Yellowstone River downstream of the lake. We through we would never make it back from what was supposed to be a five mile hike that turned out to be 11 miles round trip, but that is another story.

In Colorado we kept seeing holes in the sides of the mountains and we would stop at some we could get to and look at the old silver mines. I wanted to go into them, but danger signs posted all around them scared me too much.

I did get to go into a silver mine. Linda and I pulled up at a tourist trap that offered tours of a mine. We got there just in time to buy tickets for the tour that was leaving in a few minutes and went to the mouth of the mine where folks were loading on a mine train.
This “train” was a small engine ahead of cars that were nothing but wheels on a track with a bench type seat down the middle. We got on the last car, straddled the seats and were told to keep our knees and elbows tucked near our bodies and our heads down.

I had not really had time to look at the tunnel or think about what was about to happen. As the guide started moving I looked ahead to a small opening about five feet high and four feet wide. As our car entered I quickly realized why we were warned to keep tucked in. If our knees or elbows extended out they would hit the wall on either side and I could have reached a foot above my head and touched the ceiling!

We were told we would ride about a quarter mile into the mountain, which did not seem very far but quickly became a nightmare. Before we were 100 feet into the tunnel I had a panic attack. I had never felt claustrophobia before but I swear I could feel the weight of the mountain on me.

There were a couple of overhead bare light bulbs near the mouth, but after we passed the second one it got totally dark. I looked back and saw a small point of light behind us and I almost got off and ran toward it. I started talking to Linda and that calmed me down.

At the end of the tunnel the working area of the mine opened up and it was interesting to hear about how the silver ore was mined. And the bigger, lit cavern was great after the tiny tunnel.

At Clarks Hill there is a tunnel that amazes me. Up one of the creeks a high ridge runs out in a rocky finger into the creek. In the cove beside it near the back the ridge rises about 100 feet at a steep angle. Right at the water line is a round three foot tunnel opening. You can’t see the end of it with a strong flashlight.

I have no idea if it is natural or man made. I can imagine civil war soldiers tunneling in and making a hiding place in the ridge. Or it could be an old gold mine, there are many in the area but all I have seen are open pit type mines. I have often wanted to crawl into the tunnel but it is so small I could not turn around in it so would have to back out, and it scares me too much to try it.

I found the tunnel while fishing for crappie and bass in the cove and have caught a lot there. I probably would catch more if I paid more attention to fishing than to the tunnel.

I will never be a spelunker but I will always be attracted to tunnels and caves. Especially if there is good fishing around them!

Reevaluation of Red Snapper Stock

Alabama Anglers, Fishery Managers Optimistic at Reevaluation of Red Snapper Stock

David Rainer
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire

Editor’s Note: Today’s report on the implications of a new stock assessment of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico from our friend and contributor, David Rainer of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Red snapper on lure

Red snapper on lure

Thankfully, a new red snapper stock assessment has confirmed what Alabama anglers and fisheries managers have said for a long time: There are a lot more red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico than previous assessments indicated.

Whether that changes the parameters of the 2015 red snapper recreational season has yet to be determined.

At the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting held last week at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Ala., the new red snapper stock assessment was discussed, as well as a number of other items that could impact anglers off the Alabama Gulf Coast.

“With the stock assessment they just completed, it looks like there could be up to a 2.9-million pound increase in the annual catch limit,” said Chris Blankenship, Alabama Marine Resources Director. “Council members asked for some clarification from the Scientific and Statistical Committee about the stock assessment. What happened was the committee didn’t have the complete landings data from 2014, so they used 2013 data like it was the same exact data as 2014. But the landings were less in 2014, so they’re waiting on the final landings numbers to put into the assessment and have that at the March Council meeting. The March meeting in Biloxi (Miss.) is when they will set the 2015 season.”

One of the reasons the stock assessment indicated higher numbers of red snapper is because of the new survey system MRIP (Marine Recreational Information Program), which was implemented for the 2013 season. When NOAA Fisheries (aka National Marine Fisheries Service) looked at the new MRIP data compared to previous years’ data, it decided to adjust the older data.

In an ironic twist, because the previous data underestimated the red snapper catch, the adjusted data was justification for raising the annual catch limit.

“When they recalibrated the landings from previous years, it showed that more fish were caught than they had previously estimated,” Blankenship said. “It’s interesting how the model works. When it showed more fish were caught in the past, they looked at how the stock is still doing with those increased removals, which shows that the stock is healthier.”

That was one reason the allowable catch limit was raised; the other had to do with fishing choices, mainly the size of the fish anglers landed.

“They also added selectivity into the model,” Blankenship said. “Essentially that means that people are purposely choosing to bring in larger fish. Instead of a 16-inch fish, people are bringing in 8-, 10- or 15-pound fish. When you only get two fish in not many days, people are choosing larger fish. When you add that selectivity in, it caused the increase in the limit.”

To more accurately assess the number of red snapper landed in Alabama, Marine Resources implemented the Red Snapper Reporting System, which required that anglers who landed red snapper in Alabama fill out a form available at the boat landing or report the catches via Smartphone app or online at NOAA estimated Alabama’s 2014 red snapper catch at just over 1 million pounds. The Alabama Red Snapper Reporting System indicated Alabama anglers landed about 418,000 pounds.

“It was not used in the stock assessment they just completed,” he said of Alabama’s reporting program. “We’re still working with NOAA to figure out how they can use that data, like for quota monitoring or something like that.

“One of the biggest things we were able to accomplish at this meeting, we are looking to change the spawning potential ratio (SPR) they use to manage this fishery. The lower that number, the more fish you can catch now. We’re arguing that this stock is rebuilding much faster than anticipated, so we should be able to catch more fish now instead of waiting until 2032 to increase the quota and the length of the season. What we were able to do at this meeting was to get NOAA to start working on analyzing the spawning potential ratios so by later in the year we could select a different spawning potential ratio, which could theoretically give us a large increase in the number of pounds for 2016 and the next few years.”

Red snapper school

Red snapper school

There was also discussion of Amendment 39 (aka regional management), which would give management of the red snapper fishery to the five Gulf States, based on historical catches. Blankenship said the sector separation amendment had changed the dynamics of Amendment 39, which would be discussed in length at the next meeting. Blankenship added the recalibration of the MRIP data does benefit Alabama significantly, raising its potential allocation several percentage points above the 27 percent previously discussed.

Blankenship said Alabama Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. attended the reef fish committee meetings last week and had productive meetings with the Coastal Conservation Association, the charter boat industry and fisheries representatives from the other four Gulf states. The Commissioner also met with Dr. Roy Crabtree, Southeast Regional Manager for NOAA Fisheries, and Sam Rauch, Acting Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, about regional management.

One discussion at the Council meeting centered on changing the minimum size on amberjack from the current 30 inches to 34 or 36 inches, which would increase the length of the season considerably, according to Blankenship.

“What they would like to do is increase the minimum size and keep the closure for June and July (during red snapper season) and theoretically open it up for the rest of the year,” he said. The Council asked for more analysis and no action was taken. Final action on this issue should be taken at the March meeting.

There was also no action taken on Amendment 40, which separates the charter boat industry from the private recreational anglers. Amendment 40 was passed at the previous Council meeting, but the details of how that separation would work have not been decided.

“The Secretary of Commerce still has not signed off on Amendment 40,” Blankenship said. “If the Secretary signs it, it would go into effect this year. The charter industry has asked for a split season, where they take two-thirds of their quota when the season starts in June. Then they would analyze the catch and if there was any quota left, they would have a fall season.”

On a sour note, the 2015 quota for gray triggerfish in the Gulf has already been reached, prompting the closure of the fishery until the end of the year. The reason for such a quick closure is because catch overruns in previous years left only a little more than 30,000 pounds for the 2015 quota.

“There is a lot of frustration with triggerfish closing,” Blankenship said. “That has to do with recalibration as well. They set the quota using the old landings data, and they managed the quota using the MRIP data. Therefore, the quota is lower than it should be, and it’s being filled faster every year. They have the payback provision, so when they overran the quota in 2013 and 2014, that’s why the season was so short this year. There’s not much we can do until we get another triggerfish assessment, which is next year, I think.

“Like I’ve talked about before, we have so many issues with red snapper, the Gulf Council doesn’t have time to work on other species. If we could get regional management and get red snapper settled, we’d have more time to devote to other fish, like triggerfish.”

Casey Ashley Wins the 2015 Bassmasters Classic

Hometown Favorite Casey Ashley Wins Bassmaster Classic Title

GREENVILLE, S.C. — On Sunday evening at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Casey Ashley completed a journey that began more than three decades ago and seemed to drag on forever these past few weeks.

The 31-year-old South Carolina native, who has lived just a few miles from Lake Hartwell all his life, caught five bass that weighed 20 pounds, 3 ounces to cap a moving victory in the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro on his home waters with a three-day total of 50-1.

The weight was enough to help Ashley pass Elite Series pro Bobby Lane of Florida, who finished second with 46-15, and Texas angler Takahiro Omori, who placed third with 44-3.

The end of the weigh-in meant Ashley could finally take a deep breath after seven weeks when the lake was mostly off-limits due to B.A.S.S. rules and when virtually everyone he saw wanted to talk about him being the favorite to win.

“I worked a show in Greenville at the TD Convention Center (in mid-January), and I bet I thought about the Classic 50,000 times while I was standing there,” said Ashley, who won the Classic on his sixth try. “My first Classic was here (in 2008), and ever since then I’ve been saying I’d like to have that one back.

“I wanted to win so bad here at home, and I had a long time to think about it. It was pretty rough.”

Once it began, Ashley made the most of his opportunity.

An accomplished singer, songwriter and musician in addition to his career as a pro angler, Ashley opened the event with a stirring rendition of the national anthem before Friday’s frigid opening-round takeoff at Green Pond Landing in Anderson, S.C.

Then he went out and steadily caught fish every day on a homemade fish-head spinner rigged with a Zoom Super Fluke Jr. in pearl white. His father, Danny, made him about 20 of the baits before the tournament began.

Ashley prefers to fish a jig — and he won an FLW Tour event last year on Hartwell doing just that. But the more he tried it this week, the more he realized it might sink him if he didn’t abandon the tactic and stick with the baits his dad made for him.

“I was going out and getting a good limit with that bait and then going and fishing brushpiles and structure looking for big fish with a jig,” Ashley said. “I burned a lot of time doing that the first two days.

“Then Saturday night, I was lying in bed and the (country music) song ‘Why Lady Why?’ kept going through my mind. So I asked myself ‘Why do I keep doing that?’”

With the conditions rainy and overcast on Sunday — just perfect for what he’d been doing with the homemade bait — Ashley stuck with the tactic that helped him catch 10 fish that weighed 29-14 on Friday and Saturday. It paid off as he steadily culled fish throughout the day Sunday.

He rose from fifth to first with his catch of 20-3.

“I knew I had to catch a big bag today, and the weather was textbook for me,” Ashley said. “It all came together, and I could just see it getting closer and closer and closer.”

Omori, the Day 2 leader, was the final angler to weigh in — and when his weight fell far short of what he needed to win, Ashley was overcome with emotion. He was named champion and handed the 45-pound Classic trophy with his own song, “Fisherman” blaring over the speakers and a capacity crowd on their feet inside the arena.

Ashley, who held the trophy above his head with the song still playing and confetti spraying around him, said he considered his Classic victory a “win for everyone.”

He was also proud to be one of the few anglers who has managed to win a Classic on his home waters despite all of the distractions and potential pitfalls that come with the scenario.

“I know everybody wanted to win this tournament, but they couldn’t have wanted to win more than I did,” Ashley said. “I broke that record — that nobody can win on their home lake. There have been a lot of guys who said they fished the Classic on their home waters through the years when it really wasn’t their home waters. It was just close to their home.

“But these are really my home waters. This is my back yard — and that’s special.” Only two other anglers in 45 years have won the Classic in their home state.

Behind Ashley, Lane and Omori, were Arizona pro Dean Rojas (43-13), Virginia pro Jacob Powroznik (43-1) and New Jersey pro Michael Iaconelli (42-6).

The GEICO Everyday Leader Award of $1,000 was presented to Rojas on Day 1; an additional $1,500 was awarded to Rojas for having a GEICO decal on his boat’s windshield. Omori earned the Day 2 GEICO Everyday Leader Award of $1,000, and the $1,500 GEICO decal bonus.

Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., was awarded the GoPro Big Bass award of $2,500 for his Day 2 big bass of 6 pounds, 11 ounces.

The local host for the 2015 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro are VisitGreenvileSC, Visit Anderson, Greenville County, Anderson County and the state of South Carolina.

2015 Bassmaster Classic Title Sponsor: GEICO

2015 Bassmaster Classic Presenting Sponsors: GoPro

2015 Bassmaster Classic Premier Sponsors: Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha

2015 Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo Presenting Sponsor: Dick’s Sporting Goods

About B.A.S.S.
B.A.S.S. is the worldwide authority on bass fishing and keeper of the culture of the sport. Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., the 500,000-member organization’s fully integrated media platforms include the industry’s leading magazines (Bassmaster and B.A.S.S. Times), website (, television show (The Bassmasters on ESPN2), social media programs and events. For more than 45 years, B.A.S.S. has been dedicated to access, conservation and youth fishing.

The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the most prestigious events at each level of competition, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series presented by Allstate, Old Milwaukee B.A.S.S. Nation events, Carhartt Bassmaster College Series, Costa Bassmaster High School Series, Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.

Lyme Disease In the Southeast

Slow Diagnosis Leads to Slower Recovery Since Lyme Disease Is Not Supposed To Be In the Southeast

The Fishing Wire Editor’s Note: We’re cautious when it comes to serious health threats. Our staff knows two people suffering right now from the effects of Lyme Disease because of late diagnosis by doctors who believed “this region doesn’t have Lyme Disease”. Because of that, we’re featuring Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources staffer David Rainer’s report on how a similar reluctance to pronounce a diagnosis of Lyme Disease lead to undue medical suffering. It’s a cautionary tale we hope will increase sensitivity; not create undue concern.

From Ronnie Garrison – I tested positive for Lyme Disease in central Georgia a few years ago and suffered problems for a year before finding a doctor in Alabama that would treat it in a non-standard method.


David Rainer
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Unlike most victims, Chuck Sykes knows exactly when a deer tick bit him that led to a six-month journey through pain, suffering and frustration.

“I was bitten on July 30,” said Sykes, Director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. “I knew I’d been bitten. I was looking at some potential rabbit research projects with the dean of Wildlife and Forestry at Auburn University. On the way home, I felt a tick bite me behind my knee. I pulled over to the side of the road and got him off.”

As a lifelong outdoorsman, Sykes said the tick bite didn’t raise any unusual concerns because of previous encounters with the blacklegged tick (aka deer tick).

“I didn’t think anything about it; I’ve been bitten a thousand times,” he said.

But between two and three weeks later, Sykes started having symptoms of the disease named for the area around Lyme, Connecticut, where numerous cases were observed in the 1970s.

“I would walk the dogs at night, and when I would come back in, my hands would be hurting from holding their leash,” he said. “I’d get up in the mornings to get on the treadmill, and my feet were hurting so bad I couldn’t get on the treadmill. I had fatigue and joint paint. Sounds like Lyme disease to me.”

That’s where the frustration started. When Sykes posed that possibility to the first doctor he went to, Sykes said the doctor gave an incredulous look.

“When I told him I thought I had Lyme disease, he had the same reaction that I have when someone tells me they saw a black panther,” Sykes said. “He told me, ‘No, you don’t. We don’t have Lyme disease down here.'”

Sykes then learned that, because he was bitten on the job, he needed to follow a specified protocol for work-related illness or injury in having his illness assessed. The resulting reports from those initial numerous medical exams and extensive blood tests produced no answers on the cause of Sykes’ increasingly debilitating symptoms.

At that point, Sykes decided to turn to specialists recommended by friends. After another round of multiple doctors, with numerous exams and blood tests, various explanations for Sykes’ illness were offered and explored, but none confirmed. Like the initial doctor, none of the medical professionals thought the cause was Lyme disease.

By this time, it was October and Sykes could barely walk. His ankles were swollen and his feet hurt so badly that his gait was substantially impaired. “I was basically shuffling around like I was 90,” Sykes said.

Although a very early Lyme disease test had returned as negative, Sykes had learned that the disease can take an extended time after exposure to show up in testing. Given what he knew of his symptoms and those of Lyme disease, Sykes felt compelled to make certain that was not his problem.

Finally, a coworker told him about a local doctor with a keen interest in Lyme disease. Sykes made an appointment as quickly as possible. The doctor had found a laboratory in California that was at the forefront of the detection of Lyme disease. Sykes pulled $1,500 out of his bank account to pay for the testing that insurance wouldn’t cover.

“Lo and behold, it comes back to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) as positive for Lyme disease,” Sykes said. “The doctor put me on a cocktail of antibiotics, and within three weeks I was 90 percent back to normal. I will be on antibiotics for another six months, but I’m at least headed in the right direction.”

Sykes said others in Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries have suffered from Lyme disease, and some haven’t responded as well as he has to the antibiotics.

Recently, I wrote a column on Carrie Mason, a teenager from Wetumpka who was a participant in the Buckmasters Life Hunt who has suffered the debilitating effects of Lyme disease. Mason’s family ran into the same kind of obstacles that Sykes encountered and ended up in Washington, D.C., for treatment.

Also called deer tick

Also called deer tick

The blacklegged tick is found in most of the eastern United States. The tick can transfer the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, although diagnosis is difficult. Image courtesy of the CDC with permission.

Sykes’ case does not follow the CDC theory that the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours for it to transmit the bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme disease.

“I know when I was bitten, and I know when the symptoms started,” he said. “Whether I had been exposed 10 years ago, I don’t know. I know that I didn’t have the symptoms. With this tick bite, I know exactly when the symptoms started.”

The CDC gives guidelines about how to extract a tick to ensure that the head is not left attached to the victim’s skin.

“That one bit me and within 5 minutes I pulled it off,” Sykes said. “I got the whole tick; he was still crawling before I killed him and threw him out the window.”

During his ordeal, Sykes heard about a tick-borne illness seminar at Auburn University that was organized by graduate student Emily Merritt under the guidance of Graeme Lockaby, Dean of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn. Funding is being sought for Merritt to conduct a doctorate-level research study in Alabama this year.

Lockaby, who was with Sykes when he was bitten, said Merritt had shown particular interest in tick-borne illnesses because she hails from an area where Lyme disease has the attention of medical professionals.

“Our intention is to do a state-wide assessment of the status of ticks and tick-borne illnesses in the South,” Merritt said. “We’ll be looking at all different tick species and hopefully sample several different pathogens that they might be carrying. First and foremost, we’ll look at Lyme disease, but we’ll also look at Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Southern tick-associated rash illness.

“We’ll take tick samples off wildlife and dogs. We’ll also drag for ticks in likely places. Hopefully, we’ll eventually be able to identify hot spots across the state, areas where people have to be concerned about contact with ticks. We don’t know how bad it is. That’s what we want to figure out.”

Merritt says she doesn’t know why the CDC doesn’t list Lyme disease as a threat in the Southeast because, like Sykes, she knows of numerous people who have been affected by Lyme disease.

“Being from New York, I’m hyper-aware of ticks and tick-borne illnesses,” she said. “Part of the reason that I decided that Auburn should be studying this is I know several foresters, hunters and people who work outdoors who talk about all the people they know who’ve had Lyme disease. It’s scary to hear about it as much down here as I do when I talk to people up north.

“That’s why I think it’s a bigger issue than what we know about it. But it is hard to prove in the lab. So our biggest battle will be to find a sample and confirm it in the lab so we can say, hey, here’s the evidence. Even if the proportion of ticks with the bacteria is not as huge as it is up north, the chances of you getting Lyme can still be great, depending on where you are. The chance is still there even if it’s not as prevalent as it is up north.”

Thoroughly convinced that Lyme disease is a concern for people who enjoy the outdoors in Alabama, Sykes said, “Unlike the black panther stories, I’ve got scientific documentation and proof of Lyme disease that occurred in Alabama.”

How Is Winter Fishing On Lake Guntersville and Lake Blackshear?

Two fishing trips in the past week were to very similar but very different lakes. A week ago yesterday I fished Lake Guntersville for my March Map of the Month article. Guntersville is one of the most famous, if not the most famous, big bass lake in the US.

Guntersville is a big lake on the Tennessee River in north east Alabama, about 3.5 hours drive from Griffin. It has huge grass filled flats that are bass factories, and fishermen flock to the lake year round.

I fished with Brad Vice, a college team fisherman from the University of North Alabama. He is a very good young fisherman and knows the lake well since he lives in the area and has been fishing it all his life with his grandfather, father and two uncles, all of them bass tournament fishermen.

You hear about the great catches there and there are many outstanding catches in tournaments. But you don’t hear much about the lake being the toughest one in Alabama for club fishermen to catch a keeper in their tournaments, according to the Alabama creel reports.

Brad and I had the typical experience, fishing from daylight to dark and getting three bites. But the two bass he caught weighed 3.5 pounds nd 6.5 pounds, and the one I caught weighed about 2.5 pounds, all good fish. You can catch big bass there, but it is hard to catch many bass.

All three bass we caught hit rattle baits fished in grassbeds from four to ten feet deep. That is one of the best patterns this time of year. Brad caught his two on a red bait and I caught mine on a gold rattle bait.

On Friday I went to Lake Blackshear for my March Georgia Outdoor News article. Blackshear, about two hours south of Griffin between Cordele and Americus, is the prettiest lake in Georgia in my opinion. It is full of shallow grass beds and cypress trees. It looks like you should catch a bass no matter where you cast.

I fished with Jimmie Troxell for eight hours on a very cold day. The bass at Blackshear don’t respond well to cold – we never caught a bass. Jimmie has been fishing the lake for over 50 years, guides on the lake for bass and wins many tournaments there Just goes to show you no matter how well you know the lake, it is still fishing, not always catching.

Last weekend there was a tournament on Blackshear that was won with five bass weighing 22 pounds. One of Jimmie’s friends won it and told him where he caught them. We fished there – no bites. But it shows the kind of catches Blackshear is capable of producing. A few years ago Jimmie has a five bass limit in a tournament weighing 28 pounds to back that up!

Veterans State Park has everything you need for a vacation, from camping to cabins, a good boat ramp and even a golf course. It would be a great place to head for a few days to get away from it all – at least all that you want to get away from!

Is A Jig and Minnow the Best Walleye Bait When Ice Fishing?

North Country Walleyes, ‘Meat’ The Precision Jig

By JP Bushey
from The Fishing Wire

Jig and Minnow Walleye

Jig and Minnow Walleye

Bushey’s one-two punch also includes a Custom Jigs & Spins Vertiglo Lightning Spoon, which features long-lasting glow for low light or stained water situations.

In two-line situations throughout North-Central Ontario – and much of the continental Ice Belt for that matter — not much beats a jig and minnow combination for scraping extra walleye off the spots you jig. Spoons, rattle baits and other lures bring fish under you, and a lively dace, chub or golden shiner set up nearby adds a whole other angle to your game. Struggling against the weight of a lead ball in its nose or back, a minnow rigged this way is just too easy for a walleye to eat.

Inside a shelter, rig up a horizontal rod holder and set your drag to slip a little if a good fish scoops up the jig and minnow when you’re not looking. I like shorter rods, from 26 to 32 inches long with a soft tip. A bouncy tip shows what your minnow is doing at all times and gives walleyes a cushion when they pick the bait up. You’ll see them hit before they feel the rod. Set the hook by simply lifting firmly and reeling. A good jig hook slips right in, without much effort.

B FISH N Tackle’s H20 Precision Jigs have emerged as my favorite head for two reasons:

1. A sharp, fine-wire Mustad hook does minimal damage to live minnows, so they stay frisky and looking for trouble.

2. They’re available in huge varieties of weights and colors. They’re one of the few companies that makes a true, gold plated jig head. In the tannin/iron-stained lakes in northern Ontario, this color is just aces for me.

Tip-up fishing

Tip-up fishing

Tip-ups with live minnows generate tons of walleye all winter for us too, but nothing beats watching a fish hit right beside you and then fighting it on a light rod and reel outfit. Of course, look for walleye on your sonar as you jig with more aggressive lures. You’ll be impressed by how many respond to the jig and minnow.

Methods like the jig and meat combo start to shine right about now, when cold snaps start getting measured in weeks and that first-freeze rush has kind of petered out. Walleye are still absolutely catchable using lures with more razzle dazzle, stroked quicker. But season after season, batting cleanup with a well-placed baitfish gets hotter and hotter the colder it gets.

What’s nice about these colder periods is they force me into moving around less and slowing my entire approach way down. How is that even remotely a good thing? For one, camping out on good spots really lends itself to being thorough, meticulous and maximizing what I’m doing. There’s nothing better suited to soaking great structure than a baited jig. Use the cold and rougher travel to your advantage. Ma Nature wants to pin me down all day with huge wind chill or deep slush all over the lake? No problem. I’ll set up on a sweet spot and kill it softly. Don’t fight the bite. If things slow down or you’re unable to be as mobile as you’d like, capitalize on it.

Jig with minnow

Jig with minnow

The author is a fan of B FISH N Tackle’s H2O Precision Jigs – and points to their sharp, fine-wire Mustad hooks and myriad color and weight options. He also thinks their gold finish trumps all others in tannic waters. Adding the smell and taste of “meat” to a H20 jig can be the final touch in turning lookers into biters.

You’ll love the way a jig and bait buries its chances. Walleye eat it and hooking/landing percentages are almost perfect. It’s a key method for mid-winter fishing and a terrific slump-breaker, too. If you’re marking walleye that won’t eat spoons or other lures, send one down, believe me. On your Solunar events or during light changes (daylight to dusk will always be a top one), having this type of tool ready to use makes a huge, huge difference, in terms of walleye caught. It’s really that simple.

It’s worth noting that while walleye in the inland lakes we fish ‘up north’ love the jig and minnow, so too do our big water fish, in places like Georgian Bay and The Bay of Quinte. If you fish anywhere along Ontario’s Trent-Severn system, in the Muskokasor on that big beauty they call Lake Nipissing, get a couple different jig and minnow rods set up and play them.

And one more thing: small, heavy, lower-action spoons also make a deadly anchor for a live minnow who’s good and irritated. Think Buckshots, Swedish Pimples or my personal favorite, the Custom Jigs & Spins Vertiglo Lightning Spoon. Knick the minnow around the dorsal fin, give the glow paint a good zap and feed it to ’em.

JP Bushey is a fishing educator and syndicated fishing columnist living in Barrie, Ontario. North-central Ontario is where he spends the bulk of his time on water and ice, from Lake Ontario’s Bay of Quinte to the spawning, Georgian Bay and all points in between.

We Have Too Many Gun Laws and They Are Not Enforced Against Criminals Anyway

Have you ever noticed how often, when an arrest is made, one of the charges is “Possession of a firearm by a felon?” The front page headline story of the Friday Griffin Daily News is the latest example that caught my eye.

I have two questions. One, where did the felon get the gun. It is totally illegal for a felon to buy or possess a firearm. So how did they get around the much heralded “Brady Law” that is a pain for law abiding gun owners but a law those that can not legally possess a gun easily sidestep.

Are there any studies of these felons getting guns? Folks that like to get more laws passed about things they fear or don’t like call for extending the Brady Law. How much sense does it make to extend a law that is not working?

Two, what is done to these felons possessing a firearm? Are their sentences of jail time extended? Is there any additional punishment for breaking the firearm law while they are breaking other laws? If not, why not? It is my understanding the charges of possession of a firearm by a felon are often dropped or bartered away in pretrial negotiations.

So why have a law that is useless? Even less sensible is passing the laundry list of additional gun laws the gun banners hope for, since the ones on the books already are not being prosecuted, enforced or doing any good stopping bad guys from getting guns.

Can I Catch Blackfish On Crabs?

Yamaha Tips: Fish Crabs for Blackfish

White, green or blue will do and hermits catch ’em, too
from The Fishing Wire

Nice blackfish

Nice blackfish

It takes a tough fish to make its living eating critters encased in hard shells, but the pugnacious blackfish fits the bill. Blackfish are also known as tautog or tog, shortened versions of the name given to them hundreds of years ago by the Narragansett Indians who called the fish tautauog. Whatever you call them, they are a popular fish for saltwater anglers in the Mid-Atlantic and New England states in fall, winter and spring, and with very good reason.

Blackfish are capable of growing to over 20 pounds and can live to the ripe old age of 30 years. The current world record of 25 pounds was caught off Atlantic City in 1998, but word of a potential new record catch is now pending approval by the International Game Fish Association. If approved, Kenneth Westerfield, an avid tog fisherman from Bayside, New York, will crush the standing record with a monster 28.8-pound tog caught aboard Capt. Kane Bounds’ charter boat, the Fish Bound, out of Ocean City, Maryland on January 3, 2015.

In recent years, there has been a profusion of tog caught weighing more than 20 pounds. Anything over ten pounds is a handful even on heavy tackle, which is why there is a fraternity of anglers who consider these pugilists of the bottom fishing realm their favorite.

Tog are one of the largest members of the wrasse (Labridae) family, of which there are over 500 species found in tropical and temperate oceans around the world. Most are small, colorful reef-type fish, while others, like the parrot fish and queen triggerfish, grow larger. Most of these colorful fish are rarely associated with recreational fishing, but the blackfish is a horse of a different color.

Stocky, heavily-muscled with a rounded head and a powerful, massive tail fin, blackfish lack the fancy coloration of some of their cousins. The females have mottled markings in shades of brown, while mature males are dark gray to black on the back and sides with a white under belly. Large males have a distinctive jutting lower jaw, and both sexes have large mouths and fat, rubbery lips that hide the prominent teeth used for gnawing mollusks off the hard bottom they live around. While the teeth appear intimidating, anglers familiar with them have no fear of putting a finger or thumb in the fish’s mouth while removing hooks or handling them prior to release. Once a finger touches the inner mouth, they relax.

Further back in the mouth of the blackfish, just forward of the throat, are pads armed with hard, rounded tooth-like bumps used for crushing the shells of the crabs and mollusks they like to eat. This makes them ideally suited for the lifestyle, and explains why crabs are the number one bait used for catching blackfish.

Anglers find blackfish around naturally occurring and manmade underwater structure, most frequently in water less than 100 feet deep. However, they can venture into depths in excess of 150 feet if bottom water temperatures get too cold during the winter. While not migratory, tog do move from shallow to deep water and back again with the seasons. Smaller ones can be found in bays, inlets and around jetties, while even the larger fish will move shallow along oceanfront hard bottom during the warm months of the year and to spawn in the spring.

As mentioned, the most popular and productive bait for blackfish found in ocean waters are live crabs. Green crabs, a shoreside species found in tidal rivers, are easy to catch or purchase at bait shops, and they catch tog quite well. White crabs, the species found around the offshore structure tog inhabit, are harder to come by but can be purchased at bait shops that cater to tog fishermen during the season. Even blue claw crabs, which are more popular for human consumption (think crab cakes and fried soft shell), are used in some areas as are hermit crabs. As far as tog are concerned, if it crunches they’ll eat it.

Finding blackfish is no harder than heading to one of the many near-shore artificial reefs off the coast. They relate to structure, live in and around it, and so do the animals they eat. Artificial reefs are constructed using all manner of hard structure. This can include concrete of all kinds – dredge rock, subway cars, ships, barges, and decommissioned military vehicles – and it can all be inhabited by blackfish. You just have to figure out which spots tend to hold the most and biggest tog. To do this, you need to spend some time exploring the reef structure and trying different spots.

One thing that is critical to tog fishing success is understanding the basics of anchoring your boat accurately. There are times when you can be ten feet away from a structure and you won’t get a single bite. Shift the boat closer to or over the structure, and the bites can come fast and furious.

Use crab for bait

Use crab for bait

The next, and some say the hardest part, of fishing for blackfish is hooking them. Most anglers use a simple bottom rig with a six-to-10-ounce sinker at the lowest point on the line, and a single 4/0 or 5/0 live bait hook on a 12-inch leader slightly above it. For using larger whole crabs, there is a two-hook rig called a “snafu” that you can reference on fishing websites. Both rigs are designed to help you keep a tight line between your rod tip and the sinker, but the baited hook is resting on the bottom alongside the sinker. That makes it easier to feel subtle bites, but still is far from foolproof. Small live crabs can be fished whole with the legs on, but you want the scent to escape the shell. You can do this by popping off the carapace (the top shell of the crab), or by tapping it a few times with the sinker to crush it. Cut off the claws and a couple legs, and insert the hook into the claw hole and out one of the leg holes. Larger crabs can be cut in half or quarters.

When a tog bites, you feel it relayed through the line back to the rod. This is where tog fishing gets interesting. Blackfish are notorious bait stealers. They can mouth a crab so gently you might feel nothing more than a scratching sensation in the rod. They will sometimes push the bait with their nose or take exploratory nips at it with their teeth. There are many schools of thought on just when to set the hook, but the best time is when the fish passes the bait back to the crushers in its mouth. It sounds easy, but chances are you will go through a lot of crabs to get the knack of it.

When you set the hook, lift the rod high and start reeling immediately to lift the fish a few feet out of the structure. Heavy braided line and a stout drag setting make this a lot easier. Once you sink the hook into a substantial blackfish, you will experience what many consider to be the best fight there is from a midsize bottom fish. For a lot of anglers, it becomes an obsession. They prize the big fish so much that they rarely keep fish over six or seven pounds to eat, releasing the bigger fish to grow older, larger and make more little ones.

Blackfish are delicious table fare with white, moist fillets that can be baked, sautéed or fried into an epicurean delight. Add it all up and you just might become addicted to matching wits and reflexes with the mighty tog. Blackfish are regulated by every state, so seasons, size limits and bag limits vary from place to place. Before you head out to hunt for tog, make sure to check the local regulations.

Lake Harding February Bass Tournament

Last Sunday ten members of the Flint River Bass Club fished our February tournament at Bartletts Ferry. We had a beautiful day to fish but the fish didn’t seem to know it. There was one five-fish limit and four fishermen didn’t have a 12 inch keeper after fishing eight house. We weighed in 16 keepers weighing about 25 pounds.

Jordan McDonald won it all with a limit weighing 8.90 pounds and his 3.68 pound largemouth was big fish. Chuck Croft was second with four keepers at 5.87 pounds, Brian Bennett placed third with four at 5.03 pounds and Don Gober had one at 1.96 pounds for fourth. My 1.37 pound spot was fifth and Niles Murray was sixth with one at 1.30 pounds.

I am getting paranoid about February tournaments at Bartletts Ferry. Two years ago Jordan fished with me and beat me like a drum then, too, winning the tournament with five keepers weighing about 13 pounds and had big fish. I had one keeper. Last year Javin English fished with me and had two fish for second place and I zeroed. And Jordan fished with me again this year. I hate getting beat from the back of my boat!

Jordan and I fished several places from 8:00 to 11:00 without a bite, then I caught my one keeper on a crankbait in very shallow water. Then at noon Jordan got his first keeper on a worm beside a dock. About two hours later he caught two keepers on a crankbait almost on back to back casts, then got his big fish on a jerk bait a little later. With five minutes left to fish he caught his fifth keeper on a jerk bait.

I had my chances, missing a fish beside the dock where Jordan caught his first fish. I felt a tap and saw my line moving out, but when I set the hook all I landed was half a worm on my jig head. Then I missed a hit on the jighead on some rocks and Jordan immediately caught two from the same place.

I also really messed up by not paying attention. I cast the jig head to a small brush top beside a dock and felt a fish take it. When I set the hook my line broke. I am sure it was frayed from all the rocks I had been dragging it through. To make it even worse, we fished on down the bank, came back to the dock and Jordan caught his big fish by the same brush pile.

Some days are just like that for me. I make dumb mistakes, like not checking my line for frays or not paying good attention and missing a strike. And I should have tried different baits like Jordan did to find out what they would hit. I never threw a jerkbait although I had one tied on. Carpal tunnel surgery six weeks ago keeps me from working one like it has to be fished.

I will come back from the Classic on Saturday so I can fish the Sportsman Club tournament Sunday. Jordan is fishing with me again. It may be his last trip with me if the same results happen, but he fished with me at Jackson in January and I had a limit and he had one. What goes around comes around!