Monthly Archives: March 2016

Why Make A Fishing Plan?

Sometimes sticking with a plan works in the long run, even when its a fishing plan. While getting tackle ready for the Spalding County Sportsman Club tournament last Sunday I had a feeling that if I fished some specific places in specific ways I would catch fish.

Pro fishermen sometimes tell me that they often get this feeling. Peter Thliverlos, a pro fisherman usually called Peter T, is known for his saying “if you think it, do it.” I usually get it a couple of times a year. I think that “sixth sense” is what separates the weekend warriors like me and the upper levels of fishermen.

Some of that “sixth sense” comes from spending a lot of time on the water. The more experience you have in anything the better you will do. I compare it to playing baseball or the piano. Anybody can learn to play baseball but no matter how much you practice and play very few will ever make it to the major leagues. Anybody can learn to play the piano, but no matter how much most folks practice only a tiny percentage will ever play at Carnegie Hall. They need that sixth sense.

I fish a lot, to the extent of fishing 443 days in a row a few years ago. I am in a bass boat at least five days a month, usually much more, fishing for bass. And I have been fishing for bass for over 55 years and competing in club tournaments for 42 years next month. But I will never be able to compete consistently in bigger tournament trails.

I love it when I get that feeling, it gives me confidence. But last Sunday I almost gave up on my plan after almost two hours without catching a keeper bass.

In the Sportsman Club tournament 16 members and guests fished for 8.5 hours at Bartletts Ferry. The windy, cool day made it tough to fish some places but 10 of the fishermen had limits. Only one fisherman didn’t catch a keeper.

I won with five weighing 13.04 pounds and Russell Prevatt placed second with five at 12.87. His 5.11 pound largemouth beat my 5.05 pounder for big fish. Larry Cook was third with 10.58 pounds and Jay Gerson had five at 9.05 for fourth.

There is a place near the ramp at Bartletts Ferry where I like to start first thing in the morning, especially if we start when it is fairly dark. At 7:30 it was pretty dark Sunday so I stopped there. I have often caught a keeper in the first few minutes of a tournament to start my day.

Plus, I wanted to go to the other side of the river. There is a mud ridge running right down the middle of the river so it is safer to go around it when it is good light. Logs often float down the river and stick on the edge of it, making it dangerous to run until you can see them.

On one of my first few casts with a spinnerbait I felt a thump but did not hook anything. I figured it was a bream or a small spotted bass so it didn’t worry me too much. But then I felt a hit and when I set the hook a two pound bass came to the surface and came off, not the way I wanted to start.

By now it was light enough to see so I ran to a small creek on the other side of the river. I just knew I could catch something there but after fishing it for thirty minutes I had not had a bite. Then a fish made a fool of me while I was fishing a jig and pig.

I felt a light tap and tried to get my line tight to set the hook. When I thought it was tight I reared back and my line zinged under the boat, the fish had come off the bank and run under the boat 25 feet away in the couple of seconds while it tried to tighten up my line. It came off.

A few minutes later I came to a small brush top at the mouth a little ditch in that creek. I cast my spinnerbait to both sides of it but no bite. I felt like there was a fish there, it was the perfect set-up, and I remembered a trip with pro fisherman Boyd Duckett. The first place we stopped that morning was a ditch with a small brush top in it and he cast to it repeatedly, saying he just knew a bass was there. After about a dozen casts to the same place he caught one.

I kept casting to the little brush top and on about my seventh cast, when I stopped the spinnerbait and let it fall, I saw my second biggest bass of the day come up and hit it. I managed to land it and felt a little better.

About an hour later I was in another small creek and cast a Carolina rigged lizard near a boat dock walkway. When I started to move it, it felt mushy. I thought I had picked up a leaf on my lead but then I realized my line had move out under the dock and something started pulling. I didn’t have time to set the hook, I just started reeling.

I managed to net the 5.05 pound largemouth as the hook fell out of its mouth. That was a fish that was just meant to get caught, one I should have lost. That made me feel much better about missing the earlier fish.

The rest of the day I fished a jig and pig and caught four more keepers and culled a small spot. Then with less than 30 minutes to fish I did something dumb and lost a three pounder. The wind was blowing me down the bank and I felt a thump on the jig. My line started moving out toward the back of the boat and, rather than turn and get good hook set I tried to set it over my left shoulder kinda backwards. The three pounder came to the top and came off.

I hated losing that fish but all in all following my plan worked pretty well!

Where Is Tarpon Central?

Tarpon Central

The amazing silver king fishery at Boca Grande

By Frank Sargeant
from The Fishing Wire

Boca Grande Lighthouse

Boca Grande Lighthouse

The historic Boca Grande Lighthouse marks the pass of the same name, where the world’s greatest tarpon fishery occurs from April through June each year. (Frank Sargeant photo)

There are many places to catch tarpon in Florida and throughout Central America, but there is no place where the silver king is so synonymous with the location as Boca Grande, the massive pass at the southern tip of Gasparilla Island.

For years anglers made wild estimates of how many tarpon swarm into this pass each spring, roughly between April 1 and the end of June, but nobody knew for sure until the state’s Fish & Wildlife Research Institute put counting devices on the bottom a decade or so back and came up with a reasonably accurate number.

The count was 10,000 fish–at one time! And the biologists who did the counting note that tarpon are coming and going throughout the season, so this number does not represent all the fish that visit the pass, only those that were there during the counting period.

It’s no wonder that the pass draws anglers from all over the nation–and from worldwide locations–to sample the action. There simply is no place on Earth where your odds are better, in one four-hour trip, of hooking up with one of these silver giants, which are typically about the length of a tall man and weigh 100 pounds or more. They are not only powerful, but they are given to aerial acrobatics that leave first-timers speechless–leaps near 10 feet into the air are not uncommon.

Mature tarpon

Mature tarpon

Mature tarpon typically weigh 100 pounds and up, with fish over 150 pounds caught with some frequency. Nearly all are released since the species is not considered edible. (Frank Sargeant photo)

Boca Grande has the added attraction of allowing anglers to see the fish before they catch them on most days–pods of 10, 20, even 50 at a time come rolling to the surface like schools of silvery porpoises, sometimes almost close enough to touch.

The fish apparently swarm here to feed prior to spawning–the pass is loaded with crabs and baitfish at this time of year, giving them a place to bulk up easily before making the journey offshore, as much as a hundred miles, to drop their eggs in the open sea.

Not surprisingly, a resource this amazing draws a crowd–it’s common for 50 boats or more to float through the pass in a loose fleet. When they reach the bottom of a drift, they return to the top and try again. Some anglers fish with jigs, easing close to concentrations they see on sonar screens and dropping into their midst.

Both live bait and artificials are successful, though the latter are less so since a device known as the break-away jig was banned a few years back. Either way, your chances fishing with a guide here are probably better than almost anywhere else–it’s common for a single boat to fight three or four fish in a four-hour charter.


The grand old lady of the island is the Gasparilla Inn, which has been housing anglers, captains of industry and movie stars for more than 100 years as they come to pay homage at the shrine of tarpon fishing, the blue-green pass that’s just around the corner from the harbor.

The Gasparilla Inn has been welcoming tarpon fisherman to the island and Boca Grande Pass for more than 100 years. (Photo Credit Gasparilla Inn)

The Victorian-style inn maintains the historic character of the early 1900’s, but it has been steadily upgraded and improved over the decades into a world class resort destination. An 18-hole golf course on the bayside, where you can occasionally see snook and reds swimming along the seawalls, welcomes a respite from the tarpon wars. And the inn is one of the few locations in the nation where there are still croquet courts–the Mallet Club–where the greens are as meticulously maintained at those on the golf course. There’s a beach side tennis club, and of course a marina for the anglers, and the whimsical Pink Elephant Restaurant, just across the street from the docks, where anglers gather to share tall tales–and where wild 3-foot-long iguanas occasionally peek out of the hedges. They’re an invasive species, but still very interesting to see at close range.

The town itself is still much like it has always been–tight zoning laws plus the astronomical value of the land here has kept the development that has ravaged much of mainland Florida at bay, and the toll bridge at the north end of the island is also a factor, forming a sort of mote that helps maintain the laid back tenor of the village and the island. It’s a place that welcomes walking and biking tours–there’s an island-length biking/jogging trail, and plenty of bikes for rent. It’s predictably pricey, both for accommodations and food, but for a weekend or a vacation splurge, it’s one place in Florida everyone just has to visit at least once.

For details on the Gasparilla Inn, visit

Why I Will Never Buy Walmart Batteries Again

For many years i have run Walmart Batteries in my bass boat, using from one to four depending on the boat. They were relatively inexpensive, you could trade them almost anywhere if you had problems, and I could get from two to two and one half years service from them.

My current boat, a Skeeter ZX 225, has a cranking battery, a batter for accessories like deptfinders and aerators, and two trolling motor batteries for the 24 volt Motor Guide trolling motor. I started using a different battery for accessories a few years ago when my boqt would not crank, the aerators had been running all day and I had stayed in one creek all day. I vowed that would never happen again.

In November my two Walmart Batteries were drained the first day of a Top Six tournament on a very windy day. That night a windstorm blew a tree down on the power lines going to my campsite so my batteries didn’t get fully charged. I was dead in the water by 9:00 the next morning. Since the batteries were about 30 months old, and I usually got from 24 to 30 months from Walmart batteries, I replaced them and the third battery too.

By the first tournament this year, only 13 months later, those two batteries would not hold a charge for more than half an eight hour tournament day. I took them in but they tested ok. They would hold a charge but were useless for a trolling motor used all day.

Even worse, last fall, less than a year after putting a new Walmart battery in for accessories, it started falling after about six hours. It was running an HDS 8 unit up front and an HDS 10 on the console and most of the day the console unit was on standby. Both aerators were also running. Again I took it in and it tested ok – and it will hold enough of a charge to use as a cranking battery in my Ford 1510 tractor.

I knew better but got another Walmart Battery for the accessories in November. In February it would not hold a charge for an eight hour tournament day running just two depthfinders and two areators. i had to use jumper cables to keep aerators running until the end of the day. Early in March I would fish all day in the wind at Eufaula. When I came in the two Exide Batteries I put in this January would be down to 90 percent charge. After a couple of hours they would be at 100 percent and still be at 100 percent the next morning.

The five month old Walmart battery would be down around 50 percent when I came in, the point where the depthfinders started failing. It would charge back to 100 percent overnight with my three bank on board charger and a stand alone charger hooked to it. But an hour later, after taking the stand alone charger off, it would drop to only 80 percent.

I put another Excide battery in today for accories! I will never buy another Walmart Battery.

How To Catch Spring Walleyes

‘Eyes of Spring

by Chip Leer

Spring Walleye

Spring Walleye

Catch the early season river bite for spring walleyes

Winter’s demise signals the beginning of an annual rite of spring, as schools of prespawn walleyes surge upstream into rivers across the Walleye Belt.

Although the water is cool and fish location often changes day by day—even hour by hour—savvy anglers can enjoy some of the year’s best fishing.

My favorite scenarios are rivers that flow into larger bodies of water, such as the Rainy River at Lake of the Woods or Detroit River at western Lake Erie. In these situations, walleyes from the main lake gather at the river mouth in late winter, then move upstream toward spawning areas as the ice recedes, boosting the river’s walleye population to its highest point of the year.

I typically start my search at the river mouth and work my way upstream, checking channel edges and a variety of current breaks. Main-channel holes are among my favorite stops, because they attract waves of migrating fish and often “recharge” several times during a day of fishing.

Current seams and shoreline eddies also hold fish, but don’t overlook anything that blocks the current or offers winter-weary walleyes a chance to rest and feed.

Top tactics include vertical jigging, either from an anchored position or while slipping your boat downstream with the trolling motor, keeping your line as vertical as possible.

Long-shank leadheads like Northland Fishing Tackle’s Slurp! Jig and round-headed RZ Jig are hard to beat because they hold live and artificial tippings well, while yielding solid hooksets. Northland’s new Swivel-Head Jig is another great choice, because the rotating hook gives plastics and live bait extra action you don’t get with fixed-position hooks.

Tip jigs with a 3- to 5-inch scented soft plastic trailer, which gives walleyes a target in the turbid, relatively dark waters common in spring river fishing. A variety of softbaits attract fish and trigger strikes, including Northland’s Impulse Paddle Minnows, Ringworms, Smelt Minnows and even old-school creature designs. Sweeten the presentation with extra scent and flavor by skull-hooking a shiner or fathead minnow on top of the plastic piggy-back style.

Since the water is still very cool, keep jig strokes to a minimum. Often, a slow and methodical lift-drop cadence within a few inches of bottom is all it takes, but sometimes simply holding the jig as still as possible an inch or two off bottom is the best approach.

As the water warms, walleyes often shift into shallower water near shoreline spawning areas. Pitch the same style jigs and tippings toward the bank and swim, drag and pendulum them back to the boat, keeping the jig close to bottom on the retrieve.

Based in Walker, Minnesota, noted fishing authority and outdoor communicator Chip Leer,, operates Fishing the WildSide, which offers a full suite of promotional, product development and consultation services. For more information, call (218) 547-4714 or email

Farm Ponds and Small Lakes Offer Excellent Fishing

Farm ponds and small lakes offer excellent fishing earlier than other waters

Editor’s Note: Today’s feature comes to us from Lee McClellan of the Kentucky DFWR, but the advice applies to farm ponds and small lakes everywhere this spring.

Farm Pond Bass

Farm Pond Bass

FRANKFORT, Ky. – When air temperatures crest the 70-degree mark for the first time in March, anglers swarm reservoirs and state-owned lakes to fish. The warm weather stirs up high expectations, but these anglers often return home frustrated after a fishless day.

These big waters still retain their winter cold and a few days of shirt-sleeve weather doesn’t warm them up enough to get largemouth bass, bluegill or catfish active. They still feel the lethargy of winter.

Farm ponds and small lakes less than 10 acres are the perfect antidote for this situation. Their small size and relatively shallow waters warm up quicker in spring than large reservoirs sprawling over thousands of acres or state-owned lakes several hundred acres in size.

The extended warm front forecasted for this week is the ideal situation to catch the biggest largemouth bass of the year. “A lot of those largemouth bass are moving up into shallow water with these warm temperatures,” said Jeff Crosby, Central Fisheries District biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “If we get a nice warm rain coming up this week, the water temperatures will jump and it will be ‘katy bar the door’. The big gals are moving up right now. It is going to get hot.”

Three days or more of air temperatures warmer than 70 degrees bring largemouth bass into water two feet deep or less, especially after March rains color the water. They nudge their noses right up on the bank and hide in shoreline cover, small cuts in the bank or even among clumps of shoreline grass that extend out into the lake.

Largemouth bass use objects such as stumps, rocks, grass clumps or fallen tree tops as reference points in muddy water, much as humans use objects to navigate a dark room.

Parallel the bank with a brown and orange shallow-running, square-billed crankbait and retrieve it as slowly as the lure allows. A 4-inch green pumpkin-colored lizard rigged weightless with a 3/0-worm hook and crawled slowly along the bottom is deadly in this situation.

A 1/8- or 3/16-ounce black jig paired with a black and blue trailer also excels as does a 4-inch boot-tailed grub in the pumpkin pepper color. These lures work well in both murky and clear water.

Banks that fall off quickly into deeper water are best for fishing a parallel retrieve for largemouth, with the dam face being the paramount choice on small lakes.

March rains that cloud the water also pull largemouth into shallow waters in coves on small lakes and the upper end of farm ponds. Any isolated cover on the shallow flats should be probed with the jig and trailer combination, the lizard or the grub. Cast on the bank and gently pull the lure into the water to avoid spooking fish.

Stealth is vitally important to fooling largemouth bass in water a foot deep. Walk softly, keep low and wear drab colors, even if the water is muddy. Careless anglers who stomp around the shoreline may notice V-shaped wakes heading off toward deeper water formed by largemouth bass spooked from their shallow lairs. These fish won’t bite again for hours.

Bluegill anglers can find great sport in early spring on farm ponds or small lakes. Water clarity dictates how and where to fish.

Murky to muddy water means anglers should fish small in-line spinners or 1-inch white or yellow curly tailed grubs near any available cover. Many farm ponds are simply gouged out bowls in the ground and have little to no fish holding cover. Simply cover water with these lures until a bluegill strikes.

In clear water, fish redworms near cover either on the bottom or suspended under a bobber, threaded on a No. 6 Aberdeen hook. Bottom fishing works best on bright days.

The new soft baits designed for panfish that broadcast scent work extremely well fished on the bottom or to tip a 1/32-ounce yellow feather jig fished near cover and suspended under a bobber.

Prolific breeders, keeping and eating bluegill benefits the pond or small lake and provides a tasty, nutritious meal as well.

Channel catfish move toward the shallow flats of the upper end of a farm pond or small coves in the section farthest from the dam in a small lake during a March warm front. Rains that tint the water with runoff draw huge numbers of catfish into these spots, gorging on worms flushed into the pond or lake.

Nightcrawlers threaded onto a 4/0 circle hook and bottom fished in these areas can lead to some of the fastest catfish action of the year. Dead minnows, chicken livers or commercial prepared stink baits all work for channels in small lakes and farm ponds in murky water or clear.

The warm winds of March are here. Forgo the big lake and hit a small lake or farm pond instead. Remember, the new fishing license year began March 1 and you must now purchase a new one before fishing in 2016.

By Lee McClellan, Kentucky DFWR,

Two Lake Eufaula Tournaments

Every year I look forward to the Georgia Bass Chapter Federation Top Six tournament. I have missed only one of these tournaments since 1979 and have done well in some and not caught a fish others but I usually can’t wait to go.

In this tournament each affiliated club in Georgia sends a six man team to compete against other teams. The team members also compete individually. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s we always had between 90 and 100 teams competing. Recently the numbers have dropped to only 42 teams at West Point last year and 30 at Lake Eufaula this year.

I went to Lake Point state park a week ago last Tuesday to practice for two Lake Eufaula tournaments, the Top Six and for the Potato Creek Bassmasters tournament on the Saturday and Sunday on Eufaula before the Top Six on Monday and Tuesday. The folks at Lake Point were excellent and treated all the fishermen great. They seemed to want tournaments there, unlike Wind Creek State Park on Lake Martin where they seem like they would rather we not be there. And I had a good campsite at the park.

My trip started off as a disaster. The first place I stopped Wednesday morning I idled in water too shallow and sucked muck into my motor. I could run about a half mile before the heat warning on my motor went off.

Luckily I had called Russell Prevatt about a place I was fishing and when he called me back I told him about my problem. He gave me Mike Bice’s phone number. Mike had come to Lake Point and put a new lower unit on his boat last year.

Mike lives in Dothan and will come to lakes like Eufaula and Seminole and can do most repairs in the parking lot. I spent most of the morning getting back to the ramp and met Mike. He took my engine apart enough to get the mud and grass out of it. If you need work on your motor on the lakes in south Alabama and Georgia call Mike at 334-491-7546. He charged me $150 after driving three hours round trip and working on my boat for over an hours.

Thursday and Friday I fought the wind but the wind won on the lower lake. I never caught a keeper either day. But in one small creek a guy from Alabama was fishing across from me late Friday afternoon and we started talking. Suddenly he said “There’s a good one.” I looked over in time to see a nice bass jump. When he landed it he asked if I had a scale and we met in the middle of the creek where he weighted it. It was just over five pounds.

Saturday morning I went back to that creek and caught three keepers, two on a spinnerbait and another on a jig head worm, before lunch. Then about lunch time I landed two more, these on a Carolina Rig, to fill my limit that weighed 9.6 pounds. I never left that creek.

Sunday morning I went back to that creek. On my second cast, with a spinnerbait by a clump of grass about 20 yards from where I saw the five pounder caught Friday, I hooked and landed a five pound bass. I’m almost sure it was the same fish.

After catching another one on a spinnerbait and one on a Carolina rig things got real slow. Kwong Yu was fishing with me and suggested we go to the next cove at about 11:00 AM. I landed two more to fill out my limit before we had to quit, both on a Carolina Rigged lizard.

In the tournament I had 22 pounds for first and big fish was the five pounder. Lee Handcock was second with 22 pounds, Niles Murray was third with 18 pounds and Raymond English was fourth with 17 pounds.

I decided it was not worth running the 25 miles from Lake Point where the Top Six started to the creek where I caught them because of the wind. So the next morning I ran into a small creek near the park and on my tenth cast landed a 5.72 pound bass on a spinnerbait, a great start. My partner also caught a nice keeper.

But at 10:30 we had not caught another fish so we went to a small creek my partner wanted to fish. I caught a nice keeper on a jig and pig off some grass then, in the last hour we had to fish, I landed three more to fill my limit.

Since I was the eighth boat out that morning we had to go in first, and I was the seventh person to weigh-in. My 13.07 pounds for the day and my five pounder actually lead the tournament and I had big fish – for a few minutes.

Tuesday morning I was the eighth from last boat to take off so I did not even try to go back where I got the big one Monday. Instead, I ran to a creek a few miles away and quickly caught a keeper on a spinnerbait, then added two more. In another small creek around noon I caught a keeper out of a tree top on a spinnerbait then another on a jig and pig to get my limit.

The rest of the day I fished a jig and pig and caught two more keepers, one that culled an earlier catch. I ended up with five weighing over ten pounds.

I came in 15th out of 180 fishermen in that tournament with 25.63 pounds. Niles Murray came in 16th with ten weighing 25.05 pounds. The Sportsman Club finished 14th out of 30 teams. Both Niles and I qualified to go to the next level, the federation regional, by finishing in the top ten percent.

I am pleased at the outcome and am already looking forward to the Top Six at Hartwell next spring!

How To Find Fish

Follow the ‘Birds to find fish

Where to Fish (and How To Get There)
from The Fishing Wire

Big redfish

Big redfish

EUFAULA, AL (March 17, 2016) – Most honest anglers would tell you that every great day on the water is offset by countless days of head-scratching and asking questions like: “Where are they?” and “Where should I fish?” And to be completely honest, these questions are often peppered with a few choice expletives, because let’s face it, the process can be frustrating. It’s a dilemma that goes back to the first nets and lines cast into the water.

Decades ago, Ron and Al Lindner came up with the revolutionary F + L + P formula, which helped scores of anglers reach a new level of fishing success. In a nutshell, they taught how a combined understanding of your target species, location and presentation are the prerequisites for success. The system still holds water today.

Of these prerequisites, Location is often the toughest nut to crack. You can have a brain-full of fish biology and know how and when to throw every bait in your box, but if you can’t find fish, it’s all for naught.

Fact is, good fishing is a lot like buying commercial real estate: success hinges on location, location, location.

Old School Fish-Finding

Many of us remember the early days of fish-finding, learning how to repeatedly position our boats over fish-holding structure by triangulating off landmarks like a radio tower, a tall pine tree, or “that big red barn.” Or timing the distance travelled to our outboard’s speed, a water-logged paper map in our hot little hands, and eyes trained for red blips on a primitive flasher.

We also learned to study shoreline terrain and topography for clues of what might be underwater. And, during periods of low water, we took photos of rock and brush piles for future reference during high-water periods. We also kept our heads on a swivel for busting bait and birds, sentinels of the quarry we pursued. It was a ton of work! That all sound familiar?

This is why the advent of GPS is probably the most significant technological advance in fishing since the birth of the first sonar flasher. Now add new GPS-enabled technologies and our fish-finding arsenal becomes even more powerful. At the forefront of this brave new world is Humminbird’s suite of technologies, which allows anglers of all levels to find fish faster and easier than ever before. Here are a few examples from anglers around the country who use it day in, day out.

Catch a big crappie

Catch a big crappie

Mapping the Far North

With decades of guide experience under his belt, Fishing Hall of Famer Tom Neustrom has seen fishing technology come and go. But he’s bullish on user-generated lake mapping via Humminbird LakeMaster AutoChart Live. “It’s probably the single most important fishing tool to emerge since GPS. The fact that it comes standard in Humminbird HELIX 9, 10 and 12 CHIRP units is big news for anglers of all walks,” says Neustrom.

Legendary Minnesota guide Tom Neustrom says Humminbird’s AutoChart Live is “good for business.” He says he’s learning new patterns while simultaneously mapping and pre-fishing waters for client trips.

“When AutoChart Live came out, a lightbulb went off … this is going to crack the code of uncharted Canadian waters. Now I can create my own map in real-time, right on my Helix units. It helps me find, understand and get back to productive spots time after time. Cuts down on exhaustive looking, too.”

Case in point, this past fall Neustrom and wife Renee dialed in giant Rainy Lake crappies with the help of AutoChart Live. At nearly a quarter of a million acres, finding Rainy Lake fish can require more pre-fishing than your average lake. “Sure, it’s big water, but my system puts me on fish pretty quick,” says Neustrom.

“First thing I do is look at the lay of the land with Humminbird’s new Lake of the Woods/Rainy PLUS card, which gives me satellite imagery overlay on depth contours. Before I even leave the dock, I drop waypoints on the map, setting up a milk run of back bays and main lake points with adjacent deep water.”

Next, he idles over waypoints with Side Imaging, looking for massive schools of crappies. Once found, he positions directly over the fish with his HELIX 10 SI GPS set to 2D Sonar and Down Imaging in split screen view.

“In fall, crappies will set up on rock-to-mud transitions to feed on roaming baitfish or clouds of bugs that emerge out of the mud, both of which I can see on my sonar. If the red marks are stair-stepped I know the crappies are actively feeding,” says Neustrom.

Speaking frankly, he says AutoChart Live is good for business. “As a guide, your job is to get customers bit, so time is everything. With AutoChart Live I’ll go out to a new lake and map while I’m pre-fishing. It’s made a huge difference. I’m not only finding fish faster than before, I’m learning new patterns that translate to other waters.”

That’s especially good news for retailers: Once limited to ONIX units, anglers can choose units from the HELIX 9, 10 and 12 CHIRP families that best suit boat size, fishing style and budget, and still benefit from the ability to create maps in real-time with AutoChart Live, no PC, Cloud or server required.

Bulls By Satellite

Maps from Lakemaster

Maps from Lakemaster

1,500 miles south of Neustrom, pro redfish anglers “Cajun” Phil and Kevin Broussard are putting another brand-new Humminbird product through the paces deep in Louisiana’s backcountry.
That new tech is Humminbird’s Louisiana Delta v.1 card, which provides unprecedented high-resolution satellite photography of the Louisiana Delta on one micro card (with SD adapter). Anglers get real-life aerial views of shorelines, waterways, landmarks, obstructions, roads, marinas, canals, and channels. Also includes navigation aids, lake names, points of interest and more, visible right on the chart view of Humminbird units.

“Kevin and I got the new product and right off the bat, we loved it. Super-bright readout on our HELIX units, even in the sun. We’ve used it all across the state of the Louisiana: Houma, Delacroix, Shell Beach, into the Biloxi Marsh and beyond. Incredible detail and accuracy that eliminates a lot of guesswork,” says Cajun Phil.

In practice, the card helps Phil and Kevin bee-line to virtually unexplored big redfish waters nearly impossible to reach with standard paper maps. “The LakeMaster aerials show us which inlets are going to get us in and out to these little ponds; eliminates running down dead-ends and having to back all the way out. And when you’re back in these little ponds, it shows you the true cuts. And man, some of these spots hold redfish that likely hadn’t ever even seen a lure …”

Florida: Inshore and Off-Shore

Releasing a fish you dont't want to eat

Releasing a fish you dont’t want to eat

Meanwhile, in Florida’s big redfish country, Sarasota-based pro angler and guide Captain Geoff Page is similarly excited by what Humminbird’s doing.

“I’ve been blown away by the HELIX 10 SI GPS I installed in my Pathfinder. Big, bright display plus the power of AutoChart Live. And having fished in Louisiana with Humminbird’s new aerial imagery card, it’s gonna be a big deal with our light-tackle inshore and off-shore structure fishing,” says Page.

Fishing inshore, Page typically chases snook, redfish and flounder near flowing water or in backcountry bays. “Other than shipping channels and deep intercoastal waterways, we fish a lot of 4-6 feet, even less. It’s about the edges of shallow water. Only a foot difference can be a fish magnet. Over a year many of these areas will change: where water was running may be a sandbar now. If I’m blowing through shallow areas – especially at low tide, I need to know that my data is dialed-in. You can see how this will be an even bigger deal to guys who don’t get out on the same waters every day.”

Florida’s Captain Geoff Page is impressed with the brightness of the Humminbird HELIX 10 screen in full sun, and the power of AutoChart Live gives him to dial in on fish-holding spots and navigate ever-changing inshore waters.

He adds: “From a navigation perspective, Humminbird’s AutoChart Live is data that I know I’ve collected, so I have a high confidence that it’s accurate and it was done right! Technologies like AutoChart Live help me stay on what’s happening.”

Like the Broussard’s search for isolated redfish ponds, Page keys in on difficult-to-reach back bays: “I look for oyster bars and shallow areas with deep waters behind them. But you have to navigate through some shallow water areas to get there. Tides are lower in winter due to predominant north winds, and that only adds to the challenge. That’s the power of Humminbird’s aerial imagery over regular charts.”

But Florida is more than stellar inshore fishing, it’s got some serious off-shore haunts as well. Equally passionate structure anglers run a few miles into Gulf of Mexico, chasing grouper and red snapper in 28-foot center consoles or Contender-type boats up to 40 feet.

“The Gulf can be a desert for miles, then you hit one area of bottom change and fish are everywhere. Now, with AutoChart Live, you can map while you’re running and discover new areas, like sharp ledges or hard-bottom edges, where structure guys jig or troll plugs.”

Thanks to these technologies, Page says Humminbird is rapidly gaining ground with offshore anglers who once associated the brand with freshwater bass fishing. More anglers are discovering Humminbird’s ability to map in real time, giant bright displays, touch screens, MFDs like ION, plus CHIRP in HELIX, ONIX and ION—not to mention intuitive navigation features.

“There’s a real shift going on,” says Page.

Fact is, from the Canadian Shield to the Gulf of Mexico, anglers are still following ‘Birds to find and catch more fish. Some things never change.

For more information visit, contact Humminbird, 678 Humminbird Lane, Eufaula, AL 36027, or call 800-633-1468.

About Johnson Outdoors Marine Electronics, Inc.
Johnson Outdoors Marine Electronics, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Johnson Outdoors and consists of the Humminbird®, Minn Kota® and Cannon® brands. Humminbird® is a leading global innovator and manufacturer of marine electronics products including fishfinders, multifunction displays, autopilots, ice flashers, and premium cartography products. Minn Kota® is the world’s leading manufacturer of electric trolling motors, as well as offers a complete line of shallow water anchors, battery chargers and marine accessories. Cannon® is the leader in controlled-depth fishing and includes a full line of downrigger products and accessories.

Georgia and Alabama Lakes Fishing Reports

Check out these weekly updated reports for selected lakes in Georgia and Alabama Lakes Fishing Reports:

Lake Guntersville

Clarks Hill/Lake Thurmond

Lake Lanier

West Point





Eufaula/Walter F George





If any guides or fishermen do weekly reports and would like them published on my site please contact me:

How Do I Make Smoked Salmon and Trout

Smoked Salmon and Trout On a Budget

Use your “freezer fish,” and avoid fishmonger sticker shock!

By Andy Lightbody and Kathy Mattoon
Photos by Kathy Mattoon
from The Fishing Wire

Depending on where you live, it seemed like a long and cold winter, where cleaning out the freezer of last season’s salmon and trout fillets just wasn’t in the cards. Now that most of the “arctic blasts” are over, it’s time to start reliving some of last year’s great angling memories and making room for some of the fresh fish from springtime adventures that are just around the corner!

Little Chief

Little Chief

It’s time to clean out the freezer and turn those fillets into great eating and economical smoked trout and salmon. Instead of $26-$60 a pound for questionable quality, the Little Chief smoker let’s you make “great eats” for pennies on the dollar.

The big bonuses for doing some “refrig-rummaging” is that not only are you going to win a few points from your significant-other and cleaning out the freezer, but you’re going to turn out some mouth-watering smoked fish and likely discover new neighbors and friends that you never knew you had before.

Many of us live in areas where smoked salmon and trout are not something you can find at the local grocery store, or even a fresh fish mart. For many, it’s a treat and delicacy that can be only found by ordering on the Internet, and often times with less than delicious results. Do a quick computer net search and it is not uncommon to see smoked salmon selling for $26-$40 a pound, and rainbow trout at $60 a pound. Add in shipping and questionable eating quality, and I have very few friends that I want to spend that kind of $$$$ on!

Instead, of suffering from credit-card-sticker-shock, it is drop dead easy to make it yourself for literally a few pennies on the dollar.

Begin by defrosting your trout or salmon fillets. Ten pounds of fillets are going to smoke, dry and end up producing about 3-4 pounds of smoked fish when finished. If you want to take the fillets and turn them into jerky instead of moist fish bites, all you do is follow this same recipe and just increase the drying time until the fillets have about 90 percent of the moisture reduced. Ten pounds of fish fillets will turn into around 1 pound of jerky.

In order to keep everything as simple as possible and easy to prepare, our top choice for the brining process is the Smokehouse Trout & Salmon Brine Mix ( It’s a prepackaged, premixed combination of salt, sugar and flavorful spices that mix up with 2-quarts of water and can be used for up to about 15-pounds of fillets. If your fillets are more than ¾ of an inch in thickness, use a sharp knife and do some simple cross-cuts laterally on the flesh-side of the fish. This increases the surface area of the fillet and allows it to better absorb the brine and spices.

Smokehouse Trout & Salmon Brine

Smokehouse Trout & Salmon Brine

The Smokehouse Trout & Salmon Brine Mix is prepackaged, premixed with salt, sugar and spices, and ready to use with 2-quarts of water. One box will do up to 15 pounds of fish and marinates your fillets in the refrigerator overnight or up to 24 hours.

Once mixed, fish and brine are put in a glass bowl or small plastic bucket and allowed to marinate for 8-12 hours. Even 24+ hours of brining won’t hurt a thing, and we often throw the bucket in the refrigerator and let it soak overnight. The real chemistry behind brining is actually pretty simple. All fish, poultry and meats already contain salt water. By immersing and soaking them in a liquid with a higher concentration of salt, the brine is absorbed into the meat. Whatever spices and flavors that are in that brine are absorbed as well.

After marinating, gently rinse the fillets and lay them out on your smoker rack to air dry for approximately 1-hour. As always, spraying the racks, even the supposedly “non-stick” types, with a non-stick spray or wiping the surfaces with vegetable oil will keep the fillets from sticking while smoking and drying.

Smokers are as much a personal choice and preference as trying to suggest what make/model of car is your favorite. For home-use, ease and affordability, there is little question as to why the Smokehouse Big Chief or Little Chief electric smokers ( reign supreme. They’ve been around since 1968, are easy to operate, provide constant temperatures and turn out “great eats.” Virtually everyone we know began their smoking-careers with one of these!

Regardless of your smoker choice, the idea behind all smoked fish is to dry/dehydrate and add flavor, without turning it into a high-temp oven. Low, slow and with temperatures of 165 degrees F to no more than 200 degrees F is the key to success.

With the fillets on the racks, you’re ready to add your personal touch and “flavor profiles.” Once brined, some folks like to just use the flavor from the wood smoke. Others want to go with Cajun, Lemon/Pepper, Chili, Mexican, Teriyaki, Dill, Rice Vinegar, and Hoisin or seasoned-salt options. Here is where you are limited only by your imagination!

Into the smoker, and our favorite wood flavor is Alder, because it is a light wood and delicate. For a sweeter touch, try apple chunks or chips. If you want to go bolder, try cherry, mesquite or even hickory. As with all smoking of fish or game, too much and it becomes overpowering and equates to eating a charcoal-briquette offering.

Alder wood chips

Alder wood chips

Alder wood chips or chunks are the favorite for making your own smoked trout and salmon. Three or four three pans of chunks/chips will add a light smoke flavor without overpowering the delicious taste of the fish.

Our best results are from using 3-4 pans of wood chips (one immediately after the other) in total. Each pan of chips will burn/smolder/smoke for approximately 45 minutes, so you are actually smoking the fillets for about 3 hours, and they should start to turn a light golden brown as the smoking process continues.

After the smoke, simply use the heat from your smoker to finish the fish, which can vary greatly, depending upon outside temperature, wind conditions and even air humidity. Based on those outside weather conditions, your smoked fillets will be ready in anywhere from 3 ½-8 hours. At this point, the fillets can be brushed with additional Teriyaki, honey, Hoisin, soy sauce, etc. Just keep checking them periodically and dry them till they are done to your taste and texture.

Once smoked and prepared to taste, remove the fillets from the racks to prevent sticking and let them final cool/ air dry for an hour. This however is the most difficult part of the entire process, for you’ll be guaranteed that the temptation to taste, sample or simply eat will be virtually overwhelming. If there are any left to save for later, zip-lock bags and into the refrigerator will let them last up to a week or more. Put into vacuum sealed bags and placed into the freezer, they will last for many months and simply need to be defrosted when ready to eat.

Our rule of thumb is… if you think you made enough, you probably will soon discover that you should have doubled the recipe. Bon appétit!

March Offers Peak Fishing

March offers peak fishing for many of Florida’s freshwater fishes!

Florida Fish Busters’ Bulletin March 2016

By Bob Wattendorf
from The Fishing Wire

Throughout the southeast, freshwater anglers await early spring fishing, not just because of the glorious weather but also because the majority of sportfish are beginning their spawning patterns. The TrophyCatch ( program clearly shows that submissions of bass heavier than 8 pounds, which are caught in Florida, documented and released, peaks each March. This is similar to other sunfishes, which are in the same family of fish as bass and include bream and crappie.

Although February to April are prime spawning periods for these sunfishes, anglers and scientists both know the lunar cycle and weather also play key roles.

Credit for the Solunar Theory goes to John Alden Knight, the author of “Moon Up … Moon Down.” In 1926, he considered folk lore that he picked up while fishing in Florida and decided to evaluate 33 factors, which might influence behavior of fresh or saltwater fishes that caused them to be periodically more active. Of those, three were influential: sunrise/sunset, moon phase and tides. From that effort, this avid fly fisherman created the Solunar Theory (Sol = sun, and Lunar = moon), and published the first Solunar Tables in 1936. These tables are still widely published. In fact, numerous programs, apps and even digital watches use them.

To substantiate this theory, Knight considered the timing of 200 record catches, and found that more than 90 percent were made during a new moon (when no moon is visible). During a new moon, both bodies are in near-perfect rhythm, traveling the skies together with their forces combined. So you may want to consider being at your favorite fishing hole mid-morning on the 8th and 9th of March.

However, other factors can affect the predictive ability of solunar tables. For instance, you should consider local weather patterns. Barometric changes, especially a downward trend, can often ruin fishing. Fish and wildlife have an innate ability to predict weather and react accordingly. If the barometer is steady or rising and air temperature is approximately 15 degrees Fahrenheit higher than water temperature, a more active response to a solunar prediction can be anticipated.

Temperature is also associated with spawning times and can be a key factor in the seasonal patterns with which freshwater fish are sought. Black crappie, for instance tend to spawn when water temperatures are between 62 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and are the earliest sunfishes to spawn. Redbreast sunfish come in around 60 to 82 degrees, so although they start early, they have a longer spawning season than many. Most bass will bed when the water is between 62 and 75 degrees, and they can spawn multiple times per season. Redear like 70- to 80-degree water, and bluegill follow along between 75 and 85 degrees. Of course, none of these temperatures, moon phases or weather patterns can totally predict either spawning or feeding behaviors, but together they are good indicators that point to spring being a great time to be out fishing on Florida’s fresh waters.

By going to anglers can register, submit bass over 8 pounds that they catch and release, along with a photo of the entire fish on the scale to earn great rewards, starting with $100 in Bass Pro Shops gift cards. Anglers can also examine trophy catches from around the state. Once registered, people can also submit any of 32 other species of freshwater fishes to the Big Catch program, by just exceeding the qualifying weight or length and earn a certificate.

The FWC encourages you to get outdoors and enjoy freshwater fishing this spring. Remember that if you are between 16 and 65 you most likely need a fishing license (to purchase one visit, and even if you aren’t required you can join the many anglers who say “I DO” support fish and wildlife conservation by purchasing a license. All fishing license revenues go to the FWC to conserve the resource and enhance your fishing and boating opportunities. Moreover, every new license purchase helps recover more money from the federal government for Sport Fish Restoration projects in Florida (see

Instant licenses are available at or by calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Report violators by calling 888-404-3922, *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone, or texting to Visit and select “News,” then “Monthly Columns,” or for more Fish Busters’ Bulletins. To subscribe to FWC columns or to receive news releases, visit