Monthly Archives: May 2017

Fishing Pickwick Lake with Shane Cox

Last Wednesday morning I got up at 2:15 AM and drove to Iuka, Mississippi to meet Shane Cox, owner of Hammer Rods, to “do research” for a June Map of the Month Alabama Outdoor News article on Pickwick Lake. Pickwick is a big Tennessee River lake mostly in Alabama but its dam is in Mississippi and the north shore there is in Tennessee in that area.

It is as far north and west as you can go in Alabama. The six-hour drive is the longest one I do for any articles. I have driven it both ways and fished during the day in the past but I think those days are over! On my longest trip ever, a few years ago I met Karen Elkins at Neely Henry at 6:00 AM after driving for four hours. We fished until 9:00 that night – I was in the boat 15 hours – then had another four-hour drive home. That was my longest day, 23 hours!

Shane lives near Pickwick and is very good there. Week before last he had a five-bass limit weighing 30 pounds to win a local tournament. Pickwick produces a lot of big bass if you know how to catch them.

We ran to a river ledge where the bottom quickly dropped from 13 feet down to 30 feet deep. Shane kept the boat out over the deep water and we cast big crankbaits to the shallow water, cranking them down to bump the bottom. As they came off the bottom on the edge of the ledge, fish would hit it.

I was sitting in the bottom of the boat taking notes when he made his first cast. He said “look at that” and I looked as two three pound largemouth wallowed on top, both hook on his plug. Then he got excited and said there was a four pound smallmouth following the two hooked ones! Since I was sitting down I could not see it. One of the three pounders came off but he landed the other one.

That made me quickly grab my rod and start casting. Shane was using one of his rods made for throwing big crankbaits, a 7 foot, 11 inch model. He could throw a crankbait about half again as far as I could on my 6.5 foot rod. That helped him get his crankbait down deeper than I could get mine to go.

I did catch a three-pound largemouth and a two pound largemouth, but he landed seven or eight, including two close to six pounds each and several more in the four pound range. His best five would have weighed about 25 pounds, one of the best limits I have ever seen caught in person.

The original plan was to run to his tournament hole and catch a couple of bass for pictures then go look at ten similar spots to put on the map. We stayed longer because Shane wanted to catch that smallmouth!

After a few hours of looking at the spots and me taking notes while he fished and caught several more three-pound bass, we finished up on hole ten. As I completed my notes on it Shane caught a hybrid. I got up and started casting but this ledge was deeper and I could not get my crankbait to run deep enough, so Shane let me use his rod. I had thought maybe it was his skill that allowed him to make longer casts, but I found with his rod I could cast just as far.

Shane caught another hybrid and a two-pound largemouth on a swimbait and I did not get a bite. I quickly get worn out cranking a big plug and Shane felt sorry for me and swapped rods. A swimbait is easy to fish, you cast it out and reel it in with little resistance. This pattern was let it hit bottom then start reeling and I managed to hang his bait and lose it.

Rather than lose any more of his baits I dug around in my tackle box and found a three-quarters ounce football head jig. I carry a small box with some tackle in it, mostly stuff I usually don’t use, on these trips. That jig has been in there for years and I have never caught a bass on a football head jig,

The first cast I made I let the jig hit bottom in 18 feet of water and drug it to the drop. As it started falling I felt a thump and set the hook and landed a three-pound largemouth. I did that on the next three cast in a row, then went three cast without a bite but caught my fifth fish in eight cast on the next one. All were three-pound fish so I had a five-fish limit weighing 15 pounds in less than 15 minutes.

I would love to do that in a club tournament!

I left Pickwick at 3:30 PM and headed home, thinking I might be able to drive all the way. But after turning west rather than east onto I-20 in Birmingham, a turn I have made dozens of times coming home, I stopped just east of Birmingham and got a motel room for the night. I knew I was too tired to think straight.

Pickwick is a long way away but the fishing can be incredible!

Frustrating April Club Tournament at Clarks Hill

In April 1974 Jim Berry invited me to fish the Spalding County Sportsman Club April tournament at Clarks Hill, my first ever. Last weekend we fished our April tournament there. We have not missed many tournaments in April on that lake in 43 years.

The lake is different every year. Full last year, this year I watched a barn swallow scoop mud from the edge of the water to build its nest on a nearby bridge. Last year that birds head would have been under 8.3 feet of water. And for whatever reason the bigger bass bit much better last year.

In the tournament, 12 fishermen landed 88 keeper bass weighing about 160 pounds. And that includes four fishermen that left after one day since the weather guessers guessed at rain for Sunday. It did not rain a drop until after 8:00 that night. There were 15 five-bass limits and no one zeroed.

Raymond Edge landed 10 keepers weighing 21.39 pounds for first, Robert Proctor had ten weighing 18.53 for second, John Miller had ten at 18.04 for third and big fish with a 5.73 pounder, Sam Smith placed fourth with ten at 17.10 and my ten weighing 13.98 was fifth.

I went over on Wednesday afternoon and stayed at my place at Raysville Boat Club. The tournament was out of Mistletoe State Park, a 30-minute drive by land but less than ten minutes by boat if light enough to see. It was both mornings.

Wednesday afternoon I looked at some of my favorite places to fish and caught a couple of keepers, but nothing to be excited about in a tournament. Everyone I talked with said the herring and shad were spawning so then next morning I drove around to Cherokee Landing, about 20 minutes away and ten miles down the lake, and put in just as it got daylight.

It was very foggy but I wanted to idle around and look for herring and shad spawning, so I did. I found a few schools and caught a couple of bass, but again not what I expected. I never got a hit on topwater. And I did not expect to have to idle around until 10:30 when the fog finally lifted. But being able to get on plane did not help. I did not find anything worth fishing.

Friday morning I put in at the boat club and went up the river, a completely different kind of fishing, and had caught seven keepers by noon, but none weighed more than 1.5 pounds. Then, at noon under the blazing sun, I landed three bass over two pounds each on three consecutive points on a topwater plug. Then I caught a three pounder on a lizard on the next one. I thought I was on something.

Of course, in the tournament that did not work. I did catch five weighing 9.38 the first day, all after 10:00. Sunday I again did not have a fish at ten and managed to catch five weighing a whopping 4.6 pounds by noon, dropping from fourth the first day to fifth the second.

April has been a strange month for bass fishing. I hope May is better!

What Are Grass Shrimp?

Grass shrimp: Small bait, Big Results
Today’s feature comes to us from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission.
from The Fishing Wire

If you fish for panfish and haven’t tried grass shrimp yet, then you need to know: You’re missing out! Freshwater grass shrimp are an excellent bait for all species of sunfish, come free and are usually easy to collect.

There are a variety of species of grass shrimp, and as the name implies grass shrimp are usually associated with vegetation. They reach about two inches in size. But all you need to know as an angler is that grass shrimp catch fish! Although used primarily as a panfish bait, few freshwater fish will turn their nose up at a grass shrimp including bass up to several pounds.

So how do you get this great bait? In most lakes, it’s fairly easy. You’ll need a sturdy-framed, long-handled dip net with a mesh size of 1/4″ or so. A larger mesh will let shrimp escape, while a finer mesh will become clogged with vegetation and silt and not drain well. Any kind of reinforcement of the net bag around the frame is a major plus, because this net will really be “beating the bushes.” Bait and tackle shops sell a variety of nets that will work, but if you have trouble finding an ideal net, this certainly won’t prevent you from catching shrimp. As long as the mesh size is about right, almost any dip net should work at least moderately well.

Next, you’ll need a lake or canal with some vegetation in it. Emergent shoreline grass is ideal, but any shoreline vegetation that you can readily run your net through should produce results. “Beat” the net through the vegetation in several consecutive sweeps through the same spot, pushing the vegetation down as you sweep (the vegetation usually pops back up unharmed). Then plop the net on the ground and pick through the vegetation accumulated in the bottom of the net bag for your tiny quarry.

The shrimp go into a standard small bait bucket or “minnow bucket” with latching lid, available at most bait and tackle shops. Two versions of these plastic buckets are available, one just the standard bucket and the other a ventilated bucket that rests inside a larger bucket. The ventilated bucket design makes water changes easy—just pull it out of the main bucket, let the water drain, and then submerge it in the lake to refill it before placing it back in the main bucket. You can also leave such a bucket in the water, but some of the grass shrimp you catch will be small enough to work their way out of the holes—ditto for draining the bucket if the day’s catch of shrimp is running small. Grass shrimp are a hardy bait, and only an occasional water change is needed to keep them healthy as long as they are kept cool and out of the sun.

Because of both the small size of a sunfish’s mouth and the diminutive size of the grass shrimp, use a #8 or #10 Aberdeen hook when fishing shrimp for sunfish. Hook the bait through the bend in the tail. Keep your bobber equally small; it takes almost no flotation at all to suspend a grass shrimp. One-inch, cylindrical foam bobbers work well. These also put up little resistance when a wary sunfish takes the bait; it will be more likely to hang onto the shrimp rather than dropping it. Position the bobber about three feet above the hook for starters, but adjust for a deeper presentation if you don’t get any bites pretty quickly. Use a tiny split shot to sink the shrimp to the desired depth.

Of course, grass shrimp can also be fished on the bottom—where the bigger bluegill and redear sunfish often congregate. (A general rule when going after bream is to fish deeper if all you are catching are small ones.) Use only enough weight to cast your bait where you want to place it, and keep it there—that’s usually just a couple of split shot or at most a 1/8 ounce egg sinker set a foot or so ahead of the bait. Set the hook as soon as you feel a bite—fish will swallow grass shrimp without hesitation, so there’s no need to delay when the strike comes.

So there you have it. Grass shrimp may not always work better than live worms or crickets, but they do nearly always work at least as well. And they’re as fun to catch as they are to fish—give them a try!

Guns On Campus Logic

I try to think logically. If problem “A” is caused by “B”, and action “C” will produce the desired solution “D” then I do it. Rusty hooks are a problem caused by rain wetting my hooks in the boat locker. Keeping my hooks in waterproof Ziploc bags is the action that prevents rust. It would not be logical to put them in a paper bag.

Getting thrown out of a boat and run over by it, or even left treading water as it idles away, is a problem. Wearing a life jacket with a kill switch is the solution since it stops the engine if you are thrown from the seat. I do not need a law or tournament rule to make me do it. Even though our club tournaments have that life-saving rule, some ignore it.

I tried to find some kind of logic in the Dalton Daily Citizen editorial on the Campus Carry Bill reprinted in the April 12, 2017 Griffin Daily News. They are against allowing 21-year-old law abiding citizens, that have gone through a finger print back ground check, to legally carry guns on college campuses. They say the problem is young people with “raging” hormones that drink and use drugs illegally might cause problems if they have guns.

Those raging hormones or whatever already make them break drug and alcohol laws, and gun laws too. If you are younger than 18, current law says you are not allowed to even own a pistol or have any concealed weapon so the problem is underage students having guns illegally.

Chances are if you can pass a finger print background check you pretty much have you “raging’ hormones under control. So how is not allowing those that are not a problem to carry a legal gun going to affect those that already break laws.

I found it funny that the editorial quoted Governor Deal saying, “From the early days of our nation colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed.” As an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Georgia in 1968, a long time ago but well after the early days of our nation, I kept my 30-30 lever action Marlin and my Remington .22 semiautomatic rifle in my dorm room locker for a year. And both lived by my bed in my fraternity house for a year.

I assure you I had “raging” hormones back then, but even at 18 I never caused a problem with my guns. And even in those latter days of our nation, there were no laws against it. New laws do not keep law-breakers from breaking them. Laws affecting only law-abiding citizens have absolutely no effect on law-breakers.

I found it significant the editorial admitted Georgia is one of only 17 states with a law against guns on campuses. Apparently the other 33 do not have problems, so why are we different? Do Georgia students have more “raging” hormones?

I can find no logic in the Dalton editorial.

Step Up For Sailfish Tactics with Raymarine

Step Up For Sailfish Tactics
By David A. Brown
from The Fishing Wire

The speed of a sprinter, the grace of a ballerina and amazing aerial pageantry befitting a Cirque du Soleil performance — that’s Istiophorus platypterus. They go by “sailfish,” in Florida’s southeastern waters, where massive fall-winter migrations deliver banner day potential.

Ranging from the Gulf of Maine to Brazil, sails migrate northward during the spring-summer months and return southward along the warm Gulfstream when autumn’s cooling hints of winter’s approach. Unlike marlin and swordfish, which favor deep water, sails are commonly caught within eyesight of the coast.

Raymarine pro Capt. Quinton Dieterle, who runs the 45-foot Hatteras “Cutting Edge” out of Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park Marina, said fluctuating conditions typically chops the southern run into incremental pushes. Sails like that 75- to 80-degree water temperature with light current and moving bait schools, but the sea remains a dynamic canvas.

“The funny thing about sailfish is you can sit out there one day and not catch a single thing; but you can go the next day and catch 18, 19 fish,” Dierterle said. “It’s not that the fish disappear; they go into a lock-down mode.

“They only move when conditions are right for them to move. Otherwise, they burn up too much energy. Instinct tells them they have to get south by a certain time, so when the current is light, they’ll move. Otherwise, they’ll lock down and stay.”

Based out of Hillsboro Inlet, Capt. Art Sapp runs the “Liquid”, a 39-foot Sea Vee with quad Mercury 350 Verados. For him, water clarity factors greatly in sailfish pursuits.

“We like to see good clean water — preferably blue water — a northbound current and a show of ballyhoo, bonitos or whatever bait they’re feeding on,” Sapp said. “I think the clean water gets them excited. Generally, if you’re catching fish in dirty water it’s a very lethargic bite; they’re not really in a feeding pattern, but it’s just an opportunity.

“But when they’re feeding in the clean water, it’s generally an aggressive bite. You see them coming from a long ways off, because they can see the bait that much better. And our visibility is better too and that allows me to hunt them better in that cleaner water.”

As Dieterle notes, the sails’ southern migration takes them to warm tropical spawning waters. So, while biology plots the course, daily sea conditions set the pace.

Traditionally, fall-winter cold fronts delight sailfish anglers, as winds opposing the Gulfstream’s northward flow offers sails strategic benefit. It’s called “tailing” — riding wave tops like they’re surfing.

“As a cold front comes through and that wind goes around to the north, the wind goes against the current and creates a big swell,” Dieterle said. “Any of the fish that were hanging deep to get out of the current realize that they can flip to the surface and get on top of the waves.

“They look like they’re swimming, but they’re really just treading water. On top of the swell there’s less current than there is down in the water column.”

For anglers, this creates a target-rich opportunity. Spot a group of sails tailing on the swells and you can pick off several with well-placed presentations.


For his day-to-day searching, Sapp relies primarily on his Raymarine gS Series unit, but he runs a compact eS Series HybridTouch in the tower. With either unit, Sapp said superior clarity and adjustability proves invaluable in locating sailfish.

“The reason I go with Raymarine 100 percent and always have is the maximum control over the bottom machine’s power output,” he said. “You can change the gain on any unit, but you can back that thing down and you won’t hear the transducer clicking or chirping if you actually get in the water and swim underneath the boat. With the majority of units, if you can’t back them down at all, they’re just thumping away.

“We’re fishing in less than 200 feet of water 90 percent of the time and I don’t want it banging hard as if we were in 1,000 feet of water trying to mark bottom. I want a very gentle, quiet ping and Raymarine gives that to you with very few button pushes so you don’t have to go back deep in the menus.”

For him, eyeballing fish is always preferred, but a good show of bait on his Raymarine units or at the surface also sparks hope.

“It’s frequently physically seeing fish, but it can also be a good push of bait — anything that says the sailfish might be there,” Sapp said. “I don’t believe they feed on flying fish very frequently, but the flyers certainly get out of their way when the sailfish are coming.

“So, if I see a push of bait, or little needlefish or ballyhoo skipping, I’ll try to get in line with that because it often turns into sailfish bites.”

Dieterle uses a Raymarine eS125 for his chart plotter and the CP570 for his sonar. The latter proves particularly helpful in dialing in sailfish location. His experience marking marlin on fish attracting devices (FADs) in the Dominican Republic helped him learn to identify fish on his recorder — a skill he now leverages off the Florida coast.

“Now, when I’m looking for sailfish off the Juno Ledge — a drop from 100 to 130 feet of water — I’ll go up and down that edge and look for the bait,” Dieterle said. “Occasionally, we’ll see what looks like sailfish and when we set up there we’ll get bites.

“It’s crucial when you’re fishing with 30-50 boats in a tournament and you’re going up and down the edge with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line; some guys are just plopping out baits anywhere, but we’re going up and down the line looking for these pods of bait that sailfish have balled up, or any sailfish that are in the area.”

Complementing his sonar views, Dieterle keeps himself in the right neighborhood with ultra high-resolution chartplotter views of the contour lines. Spotting the drops, the pinnacles and any other fish-friendly variances prevents burning time in dead water.

“If you’re not sure where they are, at least pinpoint a spot that looks good, instead of just blind fishing,” Dieterle said.


New Raymarine Axiom family.
Ever eager to advance his game, Dieterle said he has great expectations for Raymarine’s new Axiom touch-screen multifunction navigation units. For him, the quad-core performance will be game-changing.

“It’s a major breakthrough when you can have everything launching from one transducer, as far as all your sonar stuff, the new Lighthouse 3 operating system, the availability of Navionics, super-fast quad-core processor… it’s amazing technology,” Dieterle said.

“That’s huge because if I get a bite, I want to turn around, mark the spot and keep fishing. I don’t want to sit there and wait for the unit to take forever to acknowledge everything. With the Axiom unit, you hit it, you save it, you go. The speed of this unit is one thing that will be a major help.”
Complementing the tactical advantages, Dieterle also sees Axiom units also enhancing comfort and security.

“When you’re out there and it’s rough and rainy, you’re opening up the console to plug in numbers and when a unit takes forever to load, you’re sitting there soaking things,” he said. “Also it’s a safety thing. When you’re reaching into the box to set up your course, you’re not in stance; it’s kind of awkward. So, when it all goes quickly, that’s great.”


Sailfish fall for a diversity of tactics from trolled plugs and rigged ballyhoo, to bait-and-switch fly fishing techniques. For most, it’s hard to beat a spread of kite baits.

Summarily, a sturdy kite rod deploys a kite clipped to braided line. Snapping a release clip around the fishing line, anglers feed out line from the kite reel and fishing reel simultaneously until the kite’s height suspends a live bait barely below the surface. The bait’s frantic effort to dive deeper creates a constant commotion that sails recognize as vulnerable prey. When a fish grabs a bait, the line pops free from the clip and you’re clear to fight the fish right off the fishing rod.

Experienced crews often run two kites, each with three lines spaced at set distances by stoppers on the kite line. Sapp likes hardy goggle eyes (bigeye scad) on his longest kite lines, with threadfin herring or scaled sardines on the middle and short lines. If the sails show preference for the big baits, he’ll switch them into all positions.

Sapp’s rigging tip: “If the fish are up tailing or free jumping, we’ll switch from bridling them in the back to bridling them through the nose so we can pull them through the water quickly and get in front of sighted fish. You’re less likely to pull them out of the clips when they’re bridled through the nose.”

Complementing his kite baits, Sapp keeps a live herring or sardine rigged on a heavy spinning outfit for casting off the stern. Sight casting or simply throwing to a likely scenario (i.e. bait pushes) often yields the bonus bite.

Dieterle also keeps a live bait on a flat line, but his is more of a steady deployment. He may add a rubber core sinker to probe the water column for deeper sails.

“On full moon, the fish feed will feed more at night and in the daytime, they may not be in their feeding mode up on the surface,” he said. “They’ll sink down, so we’ll keep a bait in the lower two thirds.

“We’ll have one guy that fishes that one line by letting it out or bringing it up. We’ll use a smaller bait; something that can be reeled in a cast quickly if we need to,” Dieterle said.

Tip: Dieterle uses a system of permanent marker dashes on his line to quickly identify the bait’s depth and identify where bites occur. Replicating successful presentations often yields additional bites.

A hooked sailfish will unleash an unforgettable fury of fanciful feats. Hold on tight, Sapp says, and let the fish run its tank dry.

“Don’t horse them, take your time and be gentle, he said. “If you’re using circle hooks, which you should be, they won’t come unhooked.

“Back way off, let them do their thing and when they settle down, reengage.”

Now, sailfishing can be a rapid-fire adrenaline rush with the liquid playing field rapidly shifting moment by moment. That’s why legendary South Florida sailfish captain, Ray Rosher lauds the Raymarine screen clarity – and essential element for timely decisions like those that led him and his Miss Britt / Contender Boats victory in the Bluewater Movements, Inc. 2017 Sailfish Challenge with a total of 16 releases.

“When I’m in the tuna tower in full sun, at a glance, I can determine the depth that I’m fishing or see marks of baitfish or target species on the screen,” he said. “I can gain that information quickly.

“Also, my Raymarine units have a pretty simple operation, so I’m able to (effortlessly) change screens or get the data I need.”