Monthly Archives: February 2018

January Club Tournament At Jackson

Sunday, January 7, only five Flint River Bass Club members braved the icy cold to fish our January tournament at Jackson. When we took off at 8:00 AM it was a brisk 24 degrees, the wind was blowing and the water temperature was 45 degrees. At the 3:30 PM weigh-in we had 12 keepers weighing about 23 pounds. There was one limit and one zero. I was surprised there were five largemouth, usually spots are about all that hit in water that cold.

I got lucky and made a good decision or two and landed five weighing 10.97 pounds for first and had a 3.64-pound spot for big fish. Jordan McDonald had three at 5.91 pounds for second, Niles Murray was third with three at 5.18 for third and Doug Acree placed fourth with one at 1.38.

Knowing how cold it was going to be, I decided to set up a “milk run” of rocky points near the ramp. I did not want to ride far in the cold and wind, and rocky points are a good place to fish this time of year. So at blast-off I idled to a point near the ramp and started casting.

On my second cast a keeper spot hit my crankbait and I was thrilled. I knew I would not zero! Then a few minutes later I caught a largemouth on the same crankbait. It weighed almost three pounds so I was really happy. At 8:15 I landed another keeper spot on a jerk bait. That was a really good start, but it got tough after that.

I idled to another point and tried to fish it but the wind was blowing on it and my hands started burning. I missed a bite on a jig head worm. I thought I felt a bite but ice in my rod guides made the line scrape as I reeled it in, and I was not sure.

I dipped my rod into the water to melt the ice and before I could get back in position the fish took off and spit the hook. That was disappointing. A few minutes later I landed a largemouth that was just shorter than the 12-inch line on my keeper board.

After trying to fish some brush on a point in the wind I gave up and went back into a small creek that was somewhat protected from the wind. I would cast out a crankbait, reel it a few feet then have to dip my rod into the water to melt the ice. I just kept working around the creek, casting and dipping, out of the wind.

At 11:00 I got my next bite, the big spot. It hit the crankbait on a shallow rocky point. Four in the livewell with two decent fish. I started hoping I might catch a limit.

At noon I cast a jig and pig to some brush near a dock, got a bite and missed the fish. Knowing sometimes you can get another bite on different bait I picked up my jig head worm and caught another keeper largemouth, filling my limit.

For the next three hours I cast my crankbait and other baits. It was finally warm enough that ice did not form in my guides. At 2:00 I caught a keeper spot on the crankbait that was slightly bigger than the one in the livewell so I culled.

At 3:00 I went back to the point where the big one hit. With ten minutes to weigh-in Niles and Zero rode by headed to the ramp. Then, as Jordan came by, I caught my last fish with five minutes left. It was a keeper spot that hit my crankbait and culled my smallest fish.

I never got my boat faster than idle speed all day. And it worked!

Sub-Zero Bass by Kayak

‘The Perfect Drift’: Sub-Zero Bass by Kayak

photo by Jason Arnold

How one globe-trotting angler taps winter smallmouth in the Gopher State

By Jim Edlund
from The Fishing Wire

The vast majority of northern bass anglers hang up their open-water gear for the winter. With most lakes under inches (if not feet) of ice by January, most fishing involves an eight-inch hole in the ice.

“You have to look hard in the northern states, but there are places to fish bass during the winter in open water,” says Minnesota-based kayak angler Paul Hansen.

Funny thing about Hansen, he has plenty of access to open-water fish during the worst of Minnesota’s winters. As a commercial airline pilot, he’s often free to explore waters during layovers in southern climes – something he’s been doing in one form or another for almost two decades. In fact, he reluctantly admits fishing was the impetus to learn how to fly.

“After working long hours in fishing retail, I knew there had to be a better way. If I could make it through pilot’s training and build up hours and experience, I could eventually create a business to fly adventure anglers into really cool destinations, which selfishly appealed to me,” says Hansen.

Turns out Hansen took to flying as naturally as he did to fly casting, and in the year 2000, he and legendary fly angler/travel partner Trapper Rudd started an exploratory kayak fishing program.

“We put kayaks on an airplane and brought them to Mexico. We had fished all the popular destinations and set out to find untouched snook, tarpon, and bonefish by kayak. We found some epic fisheries that wouldn’t have been accessible without kayaks. This led to years of great adventures, like the stuff I read about in magazines as a kid,” says Hansen.

These days, Hansen flies fewer angling expeditions into remote locations, having opted for the stability of a commercial airline job. “My kids are involved in a lot of school activities and sports, so naturally, I want to be there for them. I don’t necessarily turn down opportunities, but let’s just say my priorities have changed.”

Still, as a competitive kayak angler who frequently competes in both the Kayak Bass Series (KBS) and Kayak Bass Fishing circuit (KBF) tournaments, there are times when Hansen gets antsy during long Minnesota winters. Having qualified for the KBS Nationals on Lake Guntersville, Alabama, this past September, Hansen says he feels the need to stay at the top of his game despite Minnesota’s harsh winter weather.

“There are warm-water effluent areas throughout the frozen north that offer an open-water alternative to ice fishing. And some of the smallmouth bass fishing is pretty phenomenal,” says Hansen.

Just minutes from his Twin Cities, Minnesota home, the warm-water discharge from power plants on the St. Croix River and Mississippi River offer some legendary winter smallmouth bass fishing opportunities.

“I ran drift boat fly fishing trips on the Mississippi River for over 20 years, so I know the water like the back of my hand. But I always felt like the drift boat had to go away at some point—and I reached that point. It was far more convenient for me to drive over, drop in the my kayak, and hit the areas that I really liked. Some spots I can fish from the kayak, other areas I get out and walk and wade.”

One particular stretch of river—the Mississippi River between St. Cloud to Elk River, Minnesota—is high on Hansen’s list for winter smallmouth. “Although I had fished this stretch for years out of my drift boat, when I started fishing it from the kayak it was like brand-new water to me. Areas I would normally bypass with the drift boat were now fishable. I could get right up onto a sand bar, into the run-outs of an island or small creek, between boulders, or right next to an island and stake out—or get out and walk and wade. It really opened up an entirely new world to me. The kayak allowed me to re-learn my water.”

Depending on the conditions, Hansen employs the use of two specific fishing kayaks, both designed and manufactured in the USA by Maine’s Old Town Canoes & Kayaks, a company with over 100 years in the watercraft business.

“I like the 12-foot Old Town Predator MX because it’s nice and short with a stable 34-inch beam. At 82 pounds, I can grab it and go—and drag it through just about anything to my access points, including deep snow. Now, if I have access to a good landing, then the Predator PDL is my choice, because I then have more boat control on the river via the PDL Drive, which allows me forward and reverse with my feet and one-handed rudder control. With the MX, I’m drifting—and trying to fish on a float—and control the boat at the same time, which can be challenging on some waters. With the Predator PDL, I can back-pedal, I can slow my drift, and I can really fine tune boat control while fishing hands free.”

Despite the frigid air temperature, Hansen says he actually prefers kayak fishing smallmouth bass during the winter. “The fish tend to pod up and the kayak allows you excellent access to them. Winter is the best time to do this, more so than when they’re scattered the rest of the year.”

But Hansen admits that sometimes finding smallmouth pods can be a challenge. And even when you find them, it all comes down to just the right presentation.

Winter Smallmouth Location

The first thing Hansen looks for are areas that retain heat. As cold-blooded creatures, smallmouth bass will only expend as much energy as the water temperature allows. The biological imperative is to conserve energy; when water temperatures are low, bass will move less. As water temperatures climb, bass activity increases.

“Smallies will congregate in sandy areas, which retain heat. They may pull off and feed, but their metabolism has slowed down and they’re going to spend a lot more time just hanging out, less time actively chasing. So, I’m looking for sand, a log, or a tree that has fallen into the river, all which retain heat. Same with bottom substrate. Anything that’s dark will pick up heat from the sun and attract smallmouth bass—dark rocks and boulders, even mud at times. Same thing for cover that sticks up out of the water.”

Current also plays a big part in locating winter smallmouth bass. Winter smallmouth bass are typically found adjacent to current areas, only moving into fast water to feed when absolutely necessary. More often the case, winter smallmouths relate to slack-water areas just off current seams and eddies. Anywhere that current naturally pushes food is a sure bet. Such areas are visible to the naked eye.

There are areas along the river bottom, too, where current is slower. “You can often find groups of fish in troughs—and sometimes a really small area, stacked up like cordwood. Troughs or channels offer reduced current, warmer water temperature, and provide cover. The areas behind boulders provide something similar. Again, smallmouth avoid exerting too much energy in the winter, reserving it for feeding.”


Left to his druthers, Hansen typically reaches for a fly rod, but has found better odds with unique, hybrid techniques that merge his experience with fly and conventional angling.

“Fly fishing works great for many situations — including winter smallmouth — but you don’t have the success rate because any time you build up slack or drag, you’re creating an unnatural presentation. This fish are going to blow it off and eat something that looks more natural. Thing is, there’s probably more food in the river at any given time during the winter than any other time of year. Very few things are physically hatching and flying away. The bottom is often littered with nymphs, leeches, and baitfish are of a size that pack a lot of calories.”

Conventional spinning tactics like a jig and minnow also introduce drag. Go too heavy in jig weight to reduce drag and you’ve got the hassle of snagging in the crevices of river rock.

“A centerpin outfit gives me the perfect drift. Due to the rod length and the entire system, the drift is longer, slower, and more precise. It allows a very natural presentation. You want split-shot placement that’s appropriate for the current and allows the minnow to float along so it slowly rolls in front of the fish and they can’t resist,” says Hansen.

To that end, Hansen uses a St. Croix Avid 13’ ML power, moderate action center-pin rod with a Raven centerpin reel loaded with 10-pound braid. He attaches an 8 lb. Seaguar fluorocarbon leader to the main line, places small split-shots evenly below a steelhead float, and uses a small circle hook to prevent gut-hooking.

In terms of bait, Hansen’s had the best success with small-to-medium sized suckers or creek chubs. “For winter bass fishing, live bait simply produces more fish. Circle hooks make it low impact, with the hook penetrating the corner of the mouth for an easy release.”

Artificial Ways

There are times when Hansen goes artificial-only—like during the classic January thaw when temperatures can rise well above the 32-degree mark.

“Bass activity will definitely spike when the mercury jumps. That’s when tube jigs fished on a slow bottom crawl will keep up with live bait. It might take a few casts to get the right weight tube jig figured out so you’re not snagging or drifting, but once you do, they’re easy to fish. Wacky worms like Z-Man Zinkerz work in winter, too. Same for Fluke-style baits. Even hardbaits like the LIVETARGET Emerald Shiner Baitball jerkbait, twitched with super-long pauses. Just remember to work any baits slower than you would other times of the year.”

For situations like this, Hansen leaves the centerpin rig in the rod holder, and throws baits on a versatile 7’1” medium-power, fast-action St. Croix Legend Bass Tournament spinning rod and Daiwa spinning reel spooled with 8- to 10-pound Seaguar InvisX fluorocarbon.

Winter Bass Safety

Any time you’re fishing in winter—whether on the ice or open water—safety should be your first priority. Navigating rivers in winter can be dangerous. Ice floes are not uncommon, even in areas with warm-water effluent. Shouldn’t impact with an ice floe knock you out of your kayak, a PFD and spare clothes can save you from drowning and hypothermia.

“Because it’s one dump and game over, I always wear a PFD, and keep a dry bag filled with another pair of long underwear, socks, a top, another jacket, hat, gloves, etc. in my Old Town Predator’s bow hatch. I wear Gore-Tex waders, wading boots, a base layer, and fleece pants underneath. The big thing is staying warm and comfortable without too much clothing. You don’t want excessive sweating; neither do you want so much bulk that entering the kayak becomes difficult. I also keep my cell phone in a dry bag, and waterproof matches to start a fire on shore if need be to warm up and change clothing. I’ve yet for something like this to happen. Honestly, part of that is my choice in kayak. You wouldn’t want to fish rivers in winter with a Wal-Mart special. Old Town Predators are incredibly stable kayaks designed to resist tipping and allow anglers to even stand up and fish.”

End Note

Stuck with cabin fever or mid-season ice fishing burnout? In need of an open-water bass adventure? Hansen encourages anglers to investigate local rivers. Find warm-water discharge from a power plant, water treatment facility, or other industry, and you’re in business. Employ a kayak to get beyond the bank, learn to execute a perfect drift, experiment with live and artificial baits, and you might just be amazed by the hot bass bites possible in the dead of winter.

Two Cold Water Fishing Trips

Bass do bite in cold water this time of year, if you are at the right place at the right time, and have a bit of good luck. Two trips last week reinforced this idea to me. Last Sunday the Flint River Bass Club fished our January tournament at Jackson and I went to Lanier on Wednesday to get information for my February Georgia Outdoor News Map of the Month article.

The trip to Lanier accomplished two goals. I got my information for the article, but also got Jim “LJ” Harmon to work on the electronics in my boat. LJ is a Humminbird Electronics guru, using them to find deep bass at Lanier, but he also wires and sets up new units, and goes out on the water with folks to fine tune their units.

Last November LJ went out with me for an hour or so and had my units reading better than I had been able to do in a year of messing with the controls. This problem was with power. The two units on the front of my boat pull a lot of power. They were hooked up through the wiring harness for the boat and went dead sometimes when I cranked the motor.

Even worse, they picked up interference when the trolling motor was on, making it hard to read them. LJ ran new wires for them directly to the battery. He fussed at me, saying “you have more crap in this boat than a Jiffy John!” But he got it done, even in the messy weather.

While LJ worked on my boat I went out with Jim Farmer to fish. Jim hand paints crankbaits and is an expert on catching Lanier spots on them. The weather was messy but much warmer than it had been. And the places we fished are for February, so it is still early for them, but we caught some nice fish.

Ice Fishing How-to from North Dakota DFG

Ice Fishing How-to from North Dakota DFG
by Ty Stockton, North Dakota DFG
from The Fishing Wire

Fishing in North Dakota has never been better. The state boasts 22 species of game fish and 449 bodies of water where anglers can wet a line.

Quite a few of those fishing holes are relatively new. Since the early 1990s, when a long drought ended and a wet cycle began, previously dry lakes filled, and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department stocked many of these new waters with fish.

“At least 50 of those new lakes are producing good walleye,” said Greg Power, Game and Fish Department fisheries division chief.

A strange thing happens when a new lake is formed. Scott Gangl, Department fisheries management section leader, said the technical term for the fertility of a new body of water is “trophic upsurge.”

Walleye grow fat on this food in North Dakota

With a menu of scuds, fathead minnows and other prey, walleyes stocked in North Dakota’s new prairie lakes grow rapidly.

“It’s an explosion of nutrients, insects and resources fish thrive on,” he said. “When you flood vegetation or soil that had been dry, the nutrients are released into the water. Insects feed on these nutrients, and minnows – mostly fathead minnows in North Dakota – eat the insects, and this provides a fantastic food source for predatory fish, like walleyes.”

Because of this trophic upsurge, walleyes stocked in these new prairie lakes grow rapidly. Game and Fish fisheries biologists compile data on walleyes throughout the state, including growth rates. They’ve found that the average walleye in traditional waters, such as Lake Sakakawea, Lake Oahe or Lake Tschida, is 6 inches long at the end of the first growing season; 10 inches after two growing seasons; 14 inches after three seasons; and 16 inches after four seasons.

By contrast, walleyes in the nutrient-rich new prairie lakes, such as Sibley (Kidder County), Lehr WMA (McIntosh County), Kraft (Sargent County) and Twin Lakes (LaMoure County), are 9 inches at the end of the first season; 14 inches after two seasons; 16 inches after three seasons; and 18 inches after four seasons.

With walleyes growing faster in these new prairie waters, anglers have good opportunities to catch good-sized fish within a few years of the lakes being established. “Our strategy is to stock the heck out of those waters,” Gangl said. “If there are enough minnows, sometimes you can’t put enough fish in them to get the fathead populations down enough to let the fish get hungry, so we stock those waters with as many fish as we can.”

This means there are potentially more good-sized walleyes in the lakes than the minnow populations will comfortably feed. This in turn means plenty of fish under the surface are hungry enough to take the bait offered to them by an enterprising angler. In short, it’s a recipe for a good bite.

The fish stocked in these lakes don’t grow to catchable-size right away?– and in fact, walleye aren’t stocked immediately after lakes flood. Once a lake is established, fisheries biologists evaluate its viability. Among the considerations are the length of time it will likely hold water, the number of minnows it holds, and whether it can be accessed by the public.

“We can stock a lake if we have good, legal public access,” said Paul Bailey, Department south central fisheries district supervisor. “It might be a section line or a road, but often we get easements from willing landowners.”

Even after all of that, walleye are not usually the first fish stocked.

“We stock perch first,” Bailey said. “Perch deposit their eggs on flooded vegetation, so they do well in those newly flooded lakes.”

The perch serve two purposes, Power said. They provide another game fish for anglers to target, and they become an intermediate food source for growing walleyes when the larger, predatory fish are released into the lakes.

Once the forage base is established, either through minnows that naturally occur in the waters or perch that are trapped and transported from other waters in the state, walleyes are stocked in the lakes. The walleyes come from the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery, and they’re mostly stocked as 1- to 2-inch fingerlings, though a few waters receive nearly microscopic fry (the developmental stage immediately following the fish hatching from their eggs).

From there, managing the fishery is a balancing act. If a lake has too many minnows, they outcompete perch for forage, and perch numbers decline. Also, when minnows provide more than enough food for walleyes to eat, they are not as interested in taking an angler’s lure.

If walleye populations grow too quickly, fathead minnow numbers start to dwindle. That’s where anglers enter the management picture.

“Anglers help with the predator-prey cycle,” Gangl said. “If we don’t have enough anglers fishing a certain water, the walleye populations get too big, and they bring down the minnow populations. We need anglers to take some fish out of the lakes, so the minnow and walleye populations remain balanced.”

Winter is a great time to find some of those hungry walleyes, too. Some of the newer lakes lack boat ramps, so the only way to get out to the middle of those lakes is to get there on the frozen surface.

So check with your local bait store or online ice fishing forum to find where the big ones are biting. You’ll not only have a good chance to put some fryers in the pan, you’ll also help Game and Fish keep the predator-prey balance to ensure these waters continue to provide good fishing opportunities for years to come.

1950 30
1963 150
1971 110
1980 139
1990 186
2000 208
2010 340
2012 365
2017 449

Forage and Other Factors
The Facebook post from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department says there are thousands of walleye in the lake you like to fish, so you grab your tackle and beat feet for the water. But when you get there, you try every lure in your tackle box, cast into 43 different likely spots, but you don’t get so much as a single bump on the end of your line.

What gives? Is this some sort of Candid Camera moment? Are you the butt of some cruel YouTube video, being laughed at as the most gullible angler in North Dakota?

Not at all. The netting surveys and other measures Game and Fish biologists use to monitor fisheries are good indicators of the numbers of fish below the surface. But the fact that there are a lot of fish in a lake doesn’t necessarily mean those fish will take an angler’s lure. There are a lot of factors that affect the bite.

“If the fish are well-fed from natural sources, they might not get into the bite,” said Scott Gangl, Department fisheries management section leader. On the flip side, “if you have a great bite, it indicates a lack of natural forage.” That forage, for the most part, is fathead minnows.

But Gangl said other factors play into the bite, as well.

“Weather patterns play a part,” he said. “When you see fronts rolling in, the fish may bite – or they may stop biting. Weather plays a role, but it’s not necessarily consistent.” He said as weather changes, you may see a change in fish activity.

Another weather-related factor is water temperature. Certain species of fish are adapted for different water temperatures. Trout are cold-water fish, so the colder the water, the more active they become. Walleye are cool-water fish, so as the water temperature drops they may become more active to a certain temperature, then settle down as the temperature continues to drop.

“Early ice is usually popular,” Gangl said. “The water’s still cooling, but it hasn’t gotten as cold as it’s going to get. As the temperature drops, the fish’s metabolism slows, and after the ice has been on for a while, and the water is colder, you might get that midwinter lull in activity.”

Gangl said he’s been fishing and has seen lots of fish on his Vexilar, but none of those fish would take his lure. “Sometimes it just happens like that,” he said. “There are obviously a lot of fish down there, but none of them are interested in the bait. You might get one to bite from time to time, but it’s pretty slow. Then all of a sudden, it all changes, and you get the rest of your limit in an hour.”

Often, that sudden change hits near sunset, or the fish will bite early in the morning, then suddenly stop as the sun gets higher. Gangl said this could be because walleye are better adapted to hunting in the dark than their prey – fathead minnows – are to seeing danger in darker water.

“It’s a factor of efficiency,” he said. “Fish forage on what is optimum. They try to get the best food they can get with the least amount of energy expended.”

Every fish in every fishery is an individual, so there are no scientific standards for what triggers the bite. You can move to new holes if the fish aren’t biting where you are, and maybe you’ll find a few active fish somewhere else. Or you can sit still and keep fishing, waiting for the conditions to cause the fish to get hungry.

After all, it’s called “fishing,” and not “catching,” for a reason. Greg Power, Department fisheries division chief may have said it best: “Mother Nature’s pendulum does swing wildly and rapidly in North Dakota.”

The best bet is to be in the right place at the right time when that pendulum swings your way.

Early Spring At Lanier

Right on time, sandhill cranes showed up a few weeks ago, headed back north on their annual migration. This is a sure sign spring is not far away. Even more significant, daffodils in my yard started blooming last week, offering a small splash of bright yellow against all the browns and grays of lingering winter.

Thursday morning there was a strange bright light in the sky for a few minutes at my house, something not seen in days. Rainy, cloudy days seem the norm in February this year and many more are in the weather guessers forecast. Sometimes, although uncomfortable, it makes fishing and catching better.

Water in lakes is warming slowly. Sun on the water warms it faster so it has been slow. Longer days have made bass and other fish start moving more shallow, thinking about spawning. But cold nights are keeping them from getting in a hurry.

I went to Lanier a week ago last Thursday and fished one day in wind and bright sun and two days in the rain. It was interesting, and I spent a lot of time looking for bait and bass but was not successful. I was hoping to find a school of bass or a pattern that would help me in the Flint River Bass Club tournament last Sunday but did not.

In our February tournament six of us braved a rainy day to cast for eight hours. We landed only seven keepers longer than the required 14 inches on Lanier, and they weighed about 15 pounds. There were no limits and two fishermen didn’t have a keeper.

Jack “Zero” Ridgeway didn’t live up to his name, winning with three fish weighing 5.40 pounds. My one largemouth, the only one caught, weighing 4.85 pounds was good for second and big fish. Niles Murray was third with two at 3.24 pounds and Alex Gober placed fourth with one weighing 1.48 pounds.

Sometimes little things come together to make a difference. After fishing Friday without a bite I had dinner with Jim Farmer and his wife. He asked if I had tried the very back of coves where muddy water was running in from all the rain.

A few years ago I did an article with Ryan Coleman on Lanier after a lot of rain. He took me to the back of a creek where muddy water was running in and we caught some nice fish on spinnerbaits.

I really did not think much of those two things since I was expecting to catch big spotted bass on main lake rocky points.

Saturday, I again fished and looked at places where I expected spots to be feeding, and think I had one bite. That was a calm day with no wind, and wind usually helps make spots feed. When Sunday morning had wind, I was ready to fish a spinnerbait all day on rocky points.

I started on a rocky point where I won two club tournaments last November but never got a bite in 90 minutes of casting. While fishing another point nearby I kept hearing a noise like running water and spotted a small waterfall in a ditch. All the rain made water flow down the steep rocky bank and gurgle muddily into the lake, staining the whole ditch.

All the memories came back so I went to it and cast my spinnerbait all around it. When I cast right to the base of the small waterfall in about a foot of water a fish thumped my bait hard and I set the hook. I thought I had hooked a keeper bass about 20 feet from the boat, but when I set the hook it almost pulled me out of the boat.

The fish fought hard, especially with the short amount of line out, and I just knew I would lose it, especially after seeing how big it was. But I was able to net the fish and stop shaking after about ten minutes.

For the next three hours I rode around looking for more places where water was running into the lake and fished every one I found, but never got another bite. I had gone back to the place I caught the fish after about an hour to try it again, but the water flow had slowed to a trickle.

For the last three hours of the tournament I again tried deep, rocky points and banks and got one bite but did not hook it. I think it was a crappie or bream based on the way it hit, and I was fishing a jig and pig with the tips of the trailer tail dipped in chartreuse JJs Magic. Every fish in the lake will hit at the wiggling tails of a trailer like that.

The Potato Creek Bassmasters fished our tournament yesterday at West Point. I’m sure I spent hours fishing backs of pockets with muddy water. As I write this I wonder if they will be there!

Florida’s Forage Fish

New Program Shines Spotlight on Florida’s Forage Fish
By Brett Fitzgerald
Snook and Gamefish Foundation
from The Fishing Wire

Pinfish or trout?

If you have ever been grouper fishing, I know this has happened to you: You feel the thump of a bite, reel down and next thing you know the fish has “rocked you up” and before you can react, your line goes slack. Fish – and tackle – gone. More times than not the tackle failure takes place at the connections, such as the knot connecting the leader to swivel.

Like me, I am sure you have also lost a gator trout, a big snook, or a tarpon because of knot failure. Or maybe the knot was OK, but it was chopped off by a misguided kingfish or Spanish mackerel.

Here’s my point: Our tackle is only as strong as its connections. Healthy marine fisheries depend upon strong linkages in the food web too.

Take for example the lowly pinfish. They need healthy seagrass flats to provide them with food and cover. This important species of forage fish give back to seagrasses by cleaning and pruning the plants, which helps keep the meadow growing and healthy. (Small pinfish eat shrimp, as any angler knows, but at about 4 inches and larger they mostly convert to being herbivores.) They are also an essential food resource for a variety of predators that depend upon the pinfish’s ability to turn phytoplankton, algae and seagrass blades into high-octane fatty acids.

Ecologists have a handle on the basic linkages of such “trophic” connections, and I bet most anglers have an intuitive understanding of this too. But even though we grasp the importance of forage fish like pinfish, there is not a thorough enough understanding of how or why their populations change over time. Drawing back the curtain on the life history dynamics of forage fish is key to help us prevent the types of trophic “break-offs” that could have devastating impacts on our fisheries.

The good news is we’re on our way to gathering this kind of information. Last year the Florida Forage Fish Research Program (FFFRP) – a collaboration between the Florida Forage Fish Coalition, Florida Fish & Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), and academic institutions –funded two student-led research fellowships and is currently raising funds for additional fellowships in 2018 and beyond. This work will shed some interesting and important light on forage fish populations and their impacts on predators, with the added benefit of supporting the next generation of fisheries scientists.

Eyeing Pinfish Research

Terry Tomalin, the late Tampa Times outdoors editor, once suggested to a friend that “Gut Content Analysis” would make a great name for a punk band. FWRI’s Fish Biology “Gut Lab” rocks at identifying partially digested forage items found in the stomachs of the predator species we target. For example, a 2006 study conducted by the Florida Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) showed that forage fish account for 40% of a snook’s diet in the Charlotte Harbor Estuary, and pinfish make up half of that (20% overall). I know gator seatrout love ’em – it was a pinfish that landed my biggest to date (see above right).

But when it comes to where these critically important pinfish spawn and spend their lives, we have a lot to learn. We’re left to wonder whether pinfish offshore spawning that supplies the Eastern Gulf’s estuaries occurs in a few critical locations or whether spawning activities are spread out. We also don’t know whether pinfish from all of the Gulf estuaries move offshore to spawn at once, or whether they take turns. Fortunately, scientists from the University of South Florida (USF) plan to change that.

USF researchers awarded the first of two FFFRP fellowships in 2017 will use a new technique to discover the secret lives of pinfish. Such insight is gained not by following these fish around and watching what they eat, but rather by examining chemical markers stored in the fish’s tissues. By analyzing carbon and nitrogen isotopes stored in the core of pinfish eye lenses, USF scientists will gain insights about where they were spawned and spent the planktonic phase of their lives before settling into our coastal estuaries.

Foraging Arena Theory

We all know that habitat loss and fragmentation can reduce recruitment of juveniles into gamefish populations. But couldn’t limitations on prey availability also reduce recruitment of wildly popular species such as redfish?

For many years, FWRI collected data on forage abundance in Gulf estuaries. Now, the FFFRP fellowship program is funding a University of Florida researcher to evaluate trends for what they think are the ten most important forage sources for redfish and gag grouper. They will specifically try to identify any significant population changes in these key forage species, and determine what effect, if any, these fluctuations might have had on redfish and gag grouper populations. After all, we can’t adequately protect healthy populations of iconic species such as redfish and gag grouper, unless we understand such basic predator-prey relationships.

These promising fellowships will publish their results this year. In the meantime, the Florida Forage Fish Coalition is hopeful that the FFFRP can secure funding for many more fellowship projects in the future. This work will provide valuable scientific insight to the FWC as they work to maintain healthy forage, predator populations, and fisheries as outlined in the Florida Forage Fish Resolution passed in June 2015.

Visit to take the Florida Forage Fish Coalition pledge. You can donate to the Florida Forage Fish Research Program at

Editor’s Note: The Florida Forage Fish Coalition is a small yet diverse coalition of organizations who understand the critical importance of the baitfish that swim in Florida waters. Some coalition members contributed to information in this story. Please do take the time to visit the web page and take the pledge!

Image credits: Pinfsih in Hand image courtesy of Live Advantage Bait.

Bass Boats Have Come A Long Way In 44 Years

My first bass boat was a 1974 17-foot Arrowglass with a 70 horsepower two stroke Evinrude motor, foot controlled 12 volt trolling motor with about 40 pounds of thrust and a Lowrance flasher depthfinder on the console. It would run about 35 miles per hour top speed. It had an Anchormate on both ends, a winch that raised and lowered a ten-pound mushroom shaped anchor. There was on car battery that cranked the boat and ran everything on it.

The trailer was a single axle one with 12-inch tires. I carried a paper lake map with me that showed the basic outline of the lake. I did order a contour map of Clarks Hill, a 52-page book with pages two feet square, that showed depth contours in five-foot intervals. I put sections of it on the wall in my lake trailer.

The Arrowglass had a live well of sorts, that would fill about four inches deep with water to keep fish alive, but it did not work very well. The boat was top of the line at the time, and cost just under half my annual teacher’s salary when bought new.

When I joined the Sportsman Club that April I had the second biggest motor in the club, there was one 100 horsepower, and the second longest boat. Most boats were 14-foot Sing Fishers with 40 horsepower motors and stick steering.

Now I have a top of the line 2016 20-foot Skeeter with a 250 horsepower four stroke motor that will fly down the lake at over 75 miles per hour if I get in a hurry. The trolling motor is a foot controlled 36-volt 112 pound thrust one that will zip the boat along on high and hold it in any wind as long as the waves are not so high they lift the front of the boat get the motor out of the water. It requires four big deep cycle batteries to run everything.

There are two live wells that hold about 20 gallons of water. Pumps pull water from the lake to fill them and constantly put in fresh water. Other pumps recirculate the water, keeping it oxygenated, and with the pull of a valve will pump the water out of them to drain then faster than just opening the plug, which can be done remotely.

On the back are two Power Pole shallow water anchors. With a push of a button I can extend or retract poles that go down eight feet deep to hold the boat in one place. There are two Humminbird Helix 10 depthfinders on the front and two more on the console, each with 10-inch screens. The trailer is a dual axle with 14-inch tires. It cost almost 20 times as much as my first boat, even though I bought it used. Although my salary had gone up a bit before I retired, the used boat cost almost a full year’s pay.

The change in deptfinders is unreal. My old Lowrance had a light that spun around a dial marked in depth numbers and flashed when its sonar pulse hit something. Thats why they were called “flashers.” The bottom showed as a constant bright line and anything above the bottom, like a fish or brush, flashed at its depth.

My Helix 10s are like TV screens. Just the electronics on my new boat sell for more than three times the total cost of my first boat. They are networked together and can be divided into windows and all four will show everything that shows up on any of them. A GPS map shows bottom contours of the lake with great detail and I can highlight a depth.

If I want to fish from 5 to 10 feet deep I can highlight it in red and keep my boat just outside it to fish that depth consistently. I can also see shallow spots to avoid as I run down the lake and put in waypoints to exactly mark a brush pile or anything else I want to go back to.

The depthfinder part is an LCD that shows a moving picture of whatever is below the boat, in color. It will show in detail brush, stumps and fish. The down and side scan paint a picture that looks like a photo, with brush, stumps and rocks looking just like they would look if you were able to see them. Fish show up as small white dots.

Even more amazing on the front is a 360 Scan transducer. The image it produces looks like a radar screen with a line going around a circle picture. It scans all around the boat, showing rocks, brush and fish ahead, to the sides and even behind the boat. I have mine set on 60 feet, so I see everything within that distance of the boat.

My first boat was a tri hull that was stable while fishing but pounded through waves and jarred you if the water was rough. My new boat is stable while fishing but will cut through two to three-foot waves with little bouncing. It is three feet longer and much heavier, which helps a lot.

Do I need all the stuff I now have? No. Do I like having it? Yes. Do all the advancements help me catch more fish? Maybe. After all the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.

Ice Fishing Underwater Angling Lessons

Underwater Angling Lessons

Top Ice Fishing Tips Via the Camera Lens

By Ted Pilgrim
from The Fishing Wire

Use a camera for ice fishing

A singular theme runs through the game of sight-fishing. It’s the visual see-stalk-cast and hang-on-to-your-rod sequence that anglers can’t get enough of; why fly fishers cherish above all else drifting dry flies for trout; why inshore anglers can’t sleep the night before an adventure on the shallow bonefish flats; why muskie hunters happily take a beating for twelve hours straight for the mere chance at one big fish . . .

Pure, adrenaline-laced, heart-pounding fun!

Believe it or not, the same motivation fuels the pursuit of crappies, walleyes or other species through a hole in a frozen lake — especially when one views the action via underwater camera lens. The rush of tension that occurs each time you watch a fish stalk your bait can turn excitement into addiction. Big bonuses result, too. Like learning new and fascinating fish behaviors, or discovering what your lure, line and retrieve really look like underwater, having witnessed the aquatic drama with your own two eyes.

“Panfish” Phil Laube is a Minnesota based angling adventurer who rarely ventures forth without his underwater camera. Laube’s especially enthusiastic about employing an Aqua-Vu to study his presentation and how fish react to it. If sight-fishing via camera lens happens to be super exciting, he doesn’t exactly mind that either.

“For a lot of anglers, fishing with a camera has become the main reason they don’t mind braving the winter elements,” Laube admits. “It’s like, if you remove the visual element of stalking big tarpon or redfish on the shallow flats, it’s still technically fishing, just not nearly as much fun.”

Intrepid ice angler “Panfish” Phil Laube says underwater spy-work skyrockets his fishing confidence.

Laube says that while he always totes his sonar unit for missions on ice, he also brings the camera, and deploys the optics whenever he can. “There are things you simply can’t experience or learn about what’s happening without seeing the real-world underwater landscape.”

In terms of essential and interesting discoveries, Laube offers the following aquatic observations:

(1) Confidence – “The camera has really improved my ability as a fisherman, especially in terms of coaxing fish to bite. It’s all about visualization and confidence. After seeing fish repeatedly respond favorably or negatively toward different lures and actions, you become much more certain of what’s happening below — even when you’re not using a camera. You can accurately picture what everything looks like, which allows me to predict fish response in some cases. Visualization yields confidence.”

(2) Interpreting Sonar – “There’s no better way to learn what your sonar unit is showing you than to put a camera down there at the same time. I promise you’ll discover you’ve been wrong about certain signals and about the way fish truly approach your lure. A lot of anglers think, for example, fish always ‘rise up’ to bite because of the way signals are shown on sonar, relative to the transducer. This isn’t often the case. Fish on sharp drop-offs is another one. If you’re set up on a sharp break — particularly with big rocks there to obstruct the transducer signal — your sonar may not show fish close to the bottom at all.

“The other big thing is species ID. Based on watching fish on the camera, you can learn what a crappie looks like on sonar versus a sunfish, or walleye versus pike. For example, sunfish often approach a lure slowly, deliberately, while crappies often chase and move more rapidly.”

High definition underwater cameras reveal amazing underwater details that immediately translate to more fish on the ice.

(1) Line Truths – “Fish reject spinning jigs and lures, every time. I use Frabill Straightline reels to reduce spin, but they don’t completely eliminate it. You need to keep the bait moving and vibrating with rapid, wrist-shaking movements, almost non-stop. I run 3- or 4-pound test for panfish most of the time. Fish generally aren’t line-shy. But it’s important to match line to lure weight. Too heavy of line makes lures spin more. In deep water, bites can be undetectable. So, you want a heavier lure hanging below a coil-free line. Coils reduce sensitivity. The new co-polymer and fluorocarbon ice lines are awesome — slick, straight, and largely memory-free. By the way, fluorocarbon isn’t as invisible as you think.

(2) Ace-in-the Hole Spots – “Time and again, the Aqua-Vu has shown me the great attracting power of tall, standing vegetation — or other vertical cover — for attracting crappies, sunfish and largemouth bass. Pike, too. Clumps or small clusters of beanstalk-like cabbage are particularly appealing. If you find these, you’ll find fish nearby the majority of the time. Same deal with sunken trees, brushpiles and cribs. The camera is often the only way to spot fish in the dense cover, plus reveal how they’re relating to it.”

(3) Lure Selection – “Used to be the first thing I did when a fish rejected my lure was to switch color. I’ve learned through the lens that the first adjustment is to downsize or up-size to the next smaller or larger version of the lure you’re using. Adjust your jigging cadence, too. Slow down. Color can be important, though it’s not usually nearly so critical as other factors.

“Finally, watch how fish are biting your lure. If you’re missing fish, could be they’re biting the jighead and missing the hook. Or, they’re simply nipping the tail of the plastic. Downsizing both jig and plastic can be the ticket. I’ve got one super-secret panfish jig that’s armed with hooks on both sides of the jighead. Stings every fish that bites.”

Laube laughs, though he’s actually serious when he says, “Remember, the camera never lies.”

Blooming Idiots Go Fishing

It never fails. Every year as soon as we have a couple of warm days in late winter, the idiots of spring bloom. People who have not thought about fishing since las spring suddenly decide to go catch fish, and do things that are either inconsiderate or stupid, or both.

Trying to put a boat in at a popular ramp is a joke. In our club tournaments we can launch ten boats in a few minutes and get out of the way. We know better than to back down to the ramp, block others from it and spend 20 minutes unloading stuff from the truck taking straps and hooks off the boat and trying to get everything ready. That is done in the parking lot well away from the ramp.

And most of us can back a trailer into the water efficiently, not having to pull up and back up a dozen times to finally get it in. A double ramp is just that, room for two boats to launch at the same time. The line down the middle is there to divide the ramp, not to aim at and straddle!

At the Sportsman Club tournament two weeks ago, I pulled up at Dennis Station ramp on Lake Sinclair at 7:00 AM just as it got light. Two club members were already there, trying to maneuver their trailers around a truck that was sitting right in the middle of the area used to back up to the ramp, with lights on, motor running and boat on trailer not many feet from the water.

They got their boats launched and parked their trucks and came over to pay their entry fees. One said there was a guy sitting in the running truck. We did not know whether he was asleep, passed out or dead.

I was nervous about knocking on his window to see but one brave club member did so. The guy woke, pulled up into the parking lot out of the way, sat there a few more minutes then drove off without getting out of his truck. I still have no idea what he was doing, but he was sitting there for at least 30 minutes while I was there. Maybe he fished all night while enjoying adult beverages and could not make it any further!

If you head to the lake this year be considerate. Get your boat loaded and stuff ready to go out while in the parking lot. Try to back into the water, launch your boat and get out of the way. Don’t be a blooming idiot this year!

Independent Study of Gulf Red Snapper

Independent Study of Gulf Red Snapper Population Announced
from The Fishing Wire

Studying red snapper

A team of university and government scientists, selected by an expert review panel convened by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, will conduct an independent study to estimate the number of red snapper in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

“American communities across the Gulf of Mexico depend on their access to, as well as the long term sustainability of, red snapper,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “I look forward to the insights this project will provide as we study and manage this valuable resource.”

The research team, made up of 21 scientists from 12 institutions of higher learning, a state agency and a federal agency, was awarded $9.5 million in federal funds for the project through a competitive research grant process. With matching funds from the universities, the project will total $12 million.

“We’ve assembled some of the best red snapper scientists for this study,” said Greg Stunz, the project leader and a professor at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. “The team members assembled through this process are ready to address this challenging research question. There are lots of constituents who want an independent abundance estimate that will be anxiously awaiting our findings.”

Recreational anglers and commercial fishermen will be invited to play a key role in collecting data by tagging fish, reporting tags and working directly with scientists onboard their vessels.

“The local knowledge fishermen bring to this process is very valuable and meaningfully informs our study,” Stunz said.

Some stakeholder groups have expressed concerns that there are more red snapper in the Gulf than currently accounted for in the stock assessment. The team of scientists on this project will spend two years studying the issue.

In 2016, Congress directed the National Sea Grant College Program and NOAA Fisheries to fund independent red snapper data collections, surveys and assessments, including the use of tagging and advanced sampling technologies. Sea Grant and NOAA Fisheries worked collaboratively to transfer federal funds to Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant offsite linkto administer the competitive research grant process and manage this independent abundance estimate.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news for all red snapper anglers in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama. “As Chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, I was proud to author and secure federal funding to address the need for better data, which is a fundamental issue plaguing the fishery. The management of red snapper must be grounded in sound science if we want to provide fair access and more days on the water for our anglers. It is my hope that these independent scientists will be able to accurately determine the abundance of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico once and for all.”

“This research will be driven largely by university-based scientists with partners from state and federal agencies.” Stunz said. “This funding will allow us to do an abundance estimate using multiple sampling methods with a focus on advanced technologies and tagging for various habitat types.”

“I’m pleased to see that the independent estimate is moving forward and including the expertise of recreational fishermen,” said Rep. John Culberson of Texas. “I will continue to work with Texas fishermen and NOAA to address the inadequate access to red snapper.”

The project team will determine abundance and distribution of red snapper on artificial, natural and unknown bottom habitat across the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists on the team include:

Greg Stunz, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi

Will Patterson, University of Florida

Sean P. Powers, University of South Alabama, Dauphin Island Sea Lab

James Cowan, Louisiana State University

Jay R. Rooker, Texas A&M University at Galveston

Robert Ahrens, University of Florida, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

Kevin Boswell, Florida International University

Matthew Campbell, NOAA Fisheries (non-compensated collaborator)

Matthew Catalano, Auburn University

Marcus Drymon, Mississippi State University

Brett Falterman, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

John Hoenig, College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Matthew Lauretta, NOAA Fisheries (non-compensated collaborator)

Robert Leaf, University of Southern Mississippi

Vincent Lecours, University of Florida

Steven Murawski, University of South Florida

David Portnoy, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Eric Saillant, University of Southern Mississippi

Lynne S. Stokes, Southern Methodist University

John Walter, NOAA Fisheries (non-compensated collaborator)

David Wells, Texas A&M University at Galveston