Monthly Archives: May 2019

Hand-Grabbing for Mississippi Catfish

Hand-Grabbing for Mississippi Catfish
By Jerry Brown, Mississippi DWFP
from The Fishing Wire

Grabbing Catfish is fun


Hand grabbing for catfish has been around for centuries. Depending on where it is practiced, hand grabbing is known by an assortment of names, including noodling, hogging, and tickling. Some might refer to it as crazy, but in Mississippi, it is a time-honored tradition. I first learned of this fishing technique as a child listening to stories told by my family. They were usually based on big blue catfish or spotted catfish caught from the Homochitto River by my great-uncles, way before my time. One story that has been passed around our kitchen a time or two was when one of those uncles found a large water moccasin when grabbing in a log. They say he reached in, grabbed the snake, threw it up on the bank, and told his friends to kill it. Then, back under the water, he went for the catfish that was also in that log. I always assumed he caught the fish, but the story was more about the snake.

Hand grabbing for catfish is only legal in some states, primarily in the Southeast. Anglers enter the water and catch catfish with their hands from either natural or artificial structures. Yep, that is right—no hooks, no corks, no bait…just their hands. Because research associated with hand grabbing has been limited, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) initiated a project to learn from anglers who participate in this exciting and often misunderstood method. The project included a two-year survey of hand-grabbing anglers at Ross Barnett Reservoir.

WHEN TO FISH

Hand-grabbing season runs from May 1 through July 15 each year in Mississippi. This period coincides with spawning season when catfish are looking for cavities in which to spawn. Common spawning sites include hollow logs, stumps, or holes in a stream bank; however, artificial structures are also used. As with most other freshwater fish species, the male begins searching for and preparing potential spawning sites. The only parental role that a female will play is laying the eggs, and it is the male who will stay and aggressively guard the nest against predators. This aggressive behavior is what gets the adrenaline flowing for many hand-grabbing anglers.

WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT TO CATCH

Flathead catfish and blue catfish are the two most common species caught by hand grabbers, but channel catfish are also caught. Anglers tend to catch more blues earlier in the season and then start to catch flatheads as the season progresses. The most likely reasons are rising water temperatures and the preference of each species when spawning. The most sought-after catfish is the flathead (also called spotted cat, tabby cat, yellow cat, or opelousas cat). This fish has as many nicknames as the fishing technique itself. Flatheads are preferred by many anglers because they can grow to large sizes and remain great to eat, even when large. Seventy percent of the anglers interviewed during the survey said they preferred to catch flatheads.

More than 200 catfish were harvested during our survey with flathead and blue catfish accounting for 90 percent of the total catch. Hand-grabbing anglers appeared to be harvest oriented, but not size selective about their catch. Essentially, anglers harvested what they caught.

Fishing in other places may produce larger or smaller fish depending on the body of water. The fertile Big Black and Yazoo rivers are known to provide trophy-size catfish that can grow to 80 pounds or more. Fish this size are often caught and released… after a few social media photographs, of course.

This angler is wrestling with a flathead catfish, which, along with the blue catfish, are the two most common species caught by hand grabbers. Anglers tend to find more blue catfish early in the hand-grabbing season, moving on to flatheads as the season progresses. The flathead is the most sought after of the two because they can grow to large sizes and remain great to eat, even when large.

WHAT TO USE

The vast majority (95 percent) of anglers interviewed on Ross Barnett Reservoir used a probe while fishing. Probes include wooden sticks, pieces of cane, broken off fishing rods, and other items used to “poke” at the fish to make it swim toward the opening. Anglers reported that catfish were often located in the back of the box beyond arm’s length.

Some hand grabbers chose to grab barehanded, but most wore gloves. Catfish do not have actual teeth, but they have a tooth pad that is abrasive and feels like coarse sandpaper. Gloves that can provide protection to the skin and still allow the angler to feel with their hands are preferred.

Ropes can also be used when grabbing as long as they do not have an attachment. The use of grappling tongs or any hook is illegal when hand grabbing. Ropes can be used as a stringer to secure the fish before it is brought to the water’s surface.

WHERE TO FISH

Ross Barnett is a popular destination for hand grabbers, but there are many other places across the state where it is practiced with success. Pickwick Lake and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (TTW) are popular choices in northeast Mississippi, as are the “Big 4” flood control reservoirs (Arkabutla, Enid, Sardis, and Grenada) in the north-central part of the state. Delta oxbows along the Mississippi River, along with oxbows of the Pearl and Pascagoula rivers in south Mississippi, can be great choices, depending on water levels. Okatibbee Reservoir near Meridian is another popular spot for hand grabbing.

On Ross Barnett Reservoir, hand grabbers typically were found wading in water that was between 3 and 6 feet deep. A small percentage fished in deeper water and used compressed air to breathe when doing so. Anglers often wade around in small groups to locate their submerged containers. Some use physical markers to remember where boxes are located. Others mark their spots using GPS.

Fishing in natural cavities is common in rivers and oxbow lakes where hollow logs or large cypress stumps are available. A big stump can have several exit points, so having a few friends can be handy for blocking holes to keep fish from escaping.

SETTING BOXES

Anglers are allowed to place wooden, hand-grabbing boxes in public waters to imitate spawning habitat. It is unlawful to place structures such as plastic or metal barrels, hot water tanks, concrete pipe, tires, and other non-biodegradable materials in any public waters of the state. Placing artificial structures in the TTW is prohibited, and special permits might be required for other lakes or streams. Anglers must check with authorities before adding any structure to any public waters. It is unlawful to raise any part of a natural or wooden container out of the water to aid in the capture of the fish.

The size and shape of grabbing boxes can vary, but they all have common features that make acceptable sites for catfish to use. Each container requires a main opening that allows fish to enter and this is also where the person reaches in to grab the fish. The opening should allow fish to come and go freely without trapping the fish inside. The size of the catfish using the box can be dependent on the size of the box itself. The largest catfish observed during our survey was 43 inches and weighed approximately 38 pounds.

FUTURE GRABBERS

Hand grabbing for catfish appears to be a growing sport. What was once just something we heard of people doing a long time ago is now being practiced around the state. Young anglers are being taught the art of grabbing, so the tradition lives on. Several children were seen in the Ross Barnett survey learning how to grab and experiencing the excitement of being “bit” by a catfish for the first time. Hand grabbing has received wide exposure recently, including outdoor television shows, magazine articles, and videos.

Mississippi is known for having an abundant catfish population in almost any lake or stream. Anglers across the state target catfish with several different methods from rod and reels to trotlines. It is a great feeling to have a big catfish tug on your fishing line or seeing that red and white cork go under, but if you want something that will get your adrenaline pumping … then go grab you one!

Jerry Brown is the State Lake Coordinator for MDWFP.

Lake Blackshear Fishing

Lake Blackshear is the most beautiful lake in Georgia. Of all the lakes I visit, I find it the most scenic and interesting. For a fisherman, miles of shallow shoreline with grass and lily pad beds with cypress trees everywhere make it look like heaven. Its tannic stained colored water looks like it holds bass everywhere.

For pleasure boaters, skiers and seadoo riders, the lower half of the lake has big open water. The upper lake, above the highway 280 bridge, is full of standing trees and stumps, protecting fishermen from all but the most foolish pleasure boaters and skiers.

Blackshear has something for everyone.

I spent Tuesday morning on Blackshear with Travis Branch, getting information for my July Map of the Month Georgia Outdoor News article. Travis owns Bucks Deer Processing and Taxidermy in Cuthbert and lives in Leesburg, not far from the lake. He loves to bass fish and knows Blackshear well.

As we rode up the lake before the sun came up, the lake was calm and beautiful, reminding me of why I love being on the water.

We started fishing a grass and lily pad bank at daylight above the bridge, running topwater baits like buzzbaits and poppers through the cover. He caught a nice bass and another one, even bigger, blew up on it but missed his buzzbait right at the boat.

As the sun came up, we stayed on shady banks fishing that pattern and caught some small bass. Then, as the sun got higher, we moved out and started pitching Texas rigged worms and wacky rigged Senkos to the base of the scattered cypress trees.

Those trees provide shade and a great ambush point for feeding bass. When the sun is at an angle, morning and afternoon, there is a fairly big shady area. But when the sun is high the fish move right to the base of the tree where the shade is just a small area.

Each tree has a root ball shaped like a donut around it, extending out about as far as the branches on the tree, and the bass find perfect cover and comfort. You have to cast very accurately, and make your bait enter the water quietly, to get them to bite. The water is usually two feet or less deep, so it is easy to spook them.

We caught several more bass fishing the trees but by 11:00 the sun was hot, so we headed to the ramp. On the way Travis showed me another good pattern. Many small creeks and coves are lined with hyacinth beds floating on top of the water.

Those thick mats offer bass a shady porch to sit under and watch for food. Punching them with a plastic bait behind a heavy sinker to get through them works well later in the summer when the water and sun is hotter.

Another good pattern is skipping a bait under the many docks around the lake. They, too, provide a nice shady place for bass to sit and wait on food. They are best when the sun is high.

If you like sausage, stopping at Striplings is a must. I always do and buy several pounds to bring home. There are two stores, one on highway 280 near Veterans State Park, and another on highway 300 near the lower lake. Both offer a wide variety of link and patty sausage, hot sausage and ham biscuits and other delectibles.

Blackshear is about two hours south of us between Cordele and Americus on the Flint River. You can go down I-75 or highway 19 to reach it. There are several boat ramps and Veterans Park has rooms, cabins, a marina and boat ramps. It is well worth the drive from here.

Braided Line Basics

Braided Line Basics from the Experts at Florida Fish & Wildlife
from The Fishing Wire

How to tie the Palomar knot


The Palomar knot is easy to tie and works with nearly all braided lines.

Despite its limpness, an advantage of braid in most situations is the fact that it has almost no stretch. Monofilament is quite stretchy, evident to any angler who’s ever had to break a mono line off a submerged stump. Braid, on the other hand, is tight as a wire — great for strike detection and solid hook-sets. With no stretch, however, braid can be less forgiving when fighting a big fish compared to monofilament, though the extra strength of braid helps offset that potential disadvantage.

If you are new to braid, know that none of your old monofilament line knots will work. Make sure you check that little folded paper that falls out of the box when you open your new line to see which knots the manufacturer recommends for its brand — they can vary. Fortunately, one of the easiest knots, the Palomar, works pretty universally among the various brands of braid. It does waste a bit more line compared to the improved clinch knot, though you will probably not need to re-tie nearly as often when using abrasion-resistant braids than you do with mono. Note that when your knot or line shows fraying, it’s time for a re-tie.

Spin fisherman in particular will appreciate the benefits of thin but strong braided lines. For baitcasting gear, some of the features of braided lines such as limpness and small diameter make less of a difference, despite the fact that many of the earlier superbraids were designed (and advertised) with baitcasting in mind. However, most of what’s written here will apply equally to both gear types, and most modern braids work well with both spinning and baitcasting rigs.

Know that these new braids are tough, and you will need to invest a few dollars in a small pair of scissors or clippers designed especially for braided lines to toss in the bottom of your tackle box.

And speaking of cutting, one thing to be cautious of is the fact that these super-slick braids can cut your hands much more readily than softer monofilament. If you snag a submerged stump, don’t try to pull your lure free or break the line off with your hand! Wind some of the line around something like a net handle for heavy pulling. Try to keep this in mind during the excitement of landing a large fish, as well — don’t grab the braid or wrap it around your hand.

One of the few disadvantages of braid is that it is not transparent like monofilament, although most anglers don’t notice a drop in strikes when switching between the two. Those that want to offset this disadvantage of braid usually add a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. The leader is usually at least two to three feet, longer for ultra-clear water or especially wary fish. Mono is cheaper and works, but fluorocarbon is another modern wonder material that’s practically invisible underwater and has outstanding abrasion resistance. The chief disadvantage of fluorocarbon is cost — more than that of most premium braids — but not as hard on the wallet if you’re only buying a small spool for leader material instead of a full spool.

So that’s the “skinny” on braid. Monofilament will probably still have a place on your rod rack, but for heavyweight fishing on gear that still casts and feels light in your hands, braid can’t be beat!

Lake Hartwell Club and Skeeter Tournaments

Lake Hartwell is also a pretty lake but very different. Its deep, clear, open water is filled with islands and humps and there are rocks on most shorelines. Docks line it and many sit over 20 feet or more of water. There are a few cypress trees planted on humps to mark them.

The Potato Creek Bassmasters fished our May tournament there last Friday and Saturday. In 18 hours of casting, 21 member brought 142 bass weighing about 221 pounds to the scales. There were 18 five fish limits and one fisherman didn’t land a keeper.

Edward Folker had nine keepers weighing 18.84 pounds for first, second place was Stan Wick with ten bass weighing 17.74 pounds, third was Drew Naramore with eight keepers at 17.01 pounds and Kwong Yu placed fourth with 10 bass weighing 16.42 pounds. Tom Tanner had big fish with a 4.17 pounder and placed fifth with 15.44 pounds.

Fishing was unusually tough for this time of year at Hartwell. It is a herring lake, and I think, like at Clarks Hill, the bass head to open water to feed on herring as soon as they spawn. They do not hang around shallow cover to feed like they did before herring got in the lake. If you don’t find the right place, you don’t catch much.

There was a Skeeter Challenge Tournament there on Saturday and Sunday. The winning team had 16 pounds on Saturday and 22 pounds on Sunday. There were 164 teams fishing this tournament and it took 18.97 pounds to place 66th!

In the Potato Creek tournament, I had eight keepers weighing 11.79 pounds for tenth place. If I had been fishing the Skeeter tournament, that weight would have put me in 131st place! That is why I do not fish big tournaments; I don’t think I can compete in them. I love club fishing and that is about my skill level.

Why Don’t They Stock Bass in Big Lakes?

Why don’t they stock bass in this lake so we can catch more? I am often asked that question by fellow fishermen, and I have an answer, based on what Georgia state fisheries biologists have told me and what I have read in magazines and books.

note – I wrote this several years ago. There is now some evidence stocking Florida or hybrid strain largemouth, in suitable habitat lakes, can improve the size of bass in the population but not necessarily the numbers. But without suitable habitat, it will not work, no matter what is stocked.

When you build a new pond you normally stock it with bream, then wait until after they spawn and stock bass and maybe catfish. The bream spawn every month in the spring and summer and quickly fill the pond with small bream. They will increase in numbers until they are using all the food available. Without predators like bass, they will never grow very big because there just is not enough food to match their prolific population increases.

Bass eat bream, so they will keep the population in check. But the bass will also produce so many offspring that they will eat too many bream, causing them to run out of food and be stunted, too. That is why you should remove bass from your pond on a regular basis.

Fish will expand to fill the available space and food resources. In big lakes some species overpopulate and cause problems. Good examples are gizzard shad and blueback herring. They don’t have a lot of natural predators in our local lakes since they are and open water fish and get too big for most bass to eat. They can get so thick in lakes that they cause disease outbreaks and use up food resources.

When that happens, fisheries biologists look at stocking fish that will eat the shad and herring. Stripers and hybrids are stocked for this reason, and also to give fishermen something fun to catch. The stripers and hybrids are good choices because hybrids are not fertile and can not reproduce, and stripers can’t reproduce in most of our lakes due to limited miles of flowing water. So their numbers can be controlled.

Stocking of stripers and hybrids can be overdone, too. No matter how many you put in, the total numbers that survive are limited by food available. In an 11 year study on Smith Mountain Reservoir in Virginia it was found that stocking 200,000 stripers each year resulted in the same numbers surveying after one year as stocking 620,000 each year. There simply was not enough food to support more, so the extra fish died.

In a big lake largemouth bass usually fill all their niche naturally, reproducing to produce numbers that take advantage of space and food resources. Adding small bass will do nothing to add to the numbers of bass since they are already using up all the available food and space. The maximum numbers are already there.

There are some exceptions, of course. In the Flint River below Lake Blackshear dam the water changes levels several feet every day due to power generation. Shoal bass living from the dam to Albany can’t be very successful spawning since their beds are either too deep for the eggs to hatch or shallow enough for the eggs to hatch but left high and dry when the water drops.

The state is stocking fingerling shoal bass in this area since natural reproduction can not keep up. It can’t keep up because man has altered the habitat.

In north Georgia at Lake Nottely, fishermen that thought they knew more than the fisheries biologists stocked blueback herring. Blueback herring are a great baitfish for bass – for a time. But the little herring eat the same things as largemouth fry, and big herring will even eat little bass fry.

There is not much cover on Nottely to allow the little bass to hide, so a lot of them are eaten. Due to the huge numbers of blueback herring that have resulted, largemouth bass populations have crashed.

Nottely is the only lake in Georgia where largemouth bass are being stocked, and it is a very special situation. Fisheries biologists study each lake and determine what is best for it. If appropriate, bass will be stocked, but stocking bass in most lakes just uses up money and resources that are needed in other areas, and does nothing to increase cacheable bass numbers.

I am glad we have professional fisheries biologists to take action based on science to improve our lakes.

Tidal Waters Bassing Tips

Tidal Waters Bassing Tips with Pro Angler Bill Lowen
from The Fishing Wire

Bill Lowen fishing tidal waters


Bill Lowen had never made a 100-mile run one-way just to find the right fishing conditions, but he did it three successive days during the recent Bassmaster® Elite tournament at South Carolina’s Winyah Bay, and it nearly paid off with a victory. In three days of competition, the Yamaha Pro put more than 600 miles on his boat, the equivalent of driving a car from Atlanta to Miami.

“It was the longest run I’ve made in my career, and I was a little hesitant, but sometimes in today’s professional tournaments, especially when you’re fishing tidal water like we were, long runs are necessary,” explains Lowen. “I never had a bit of trouble with my boat or my outboard the entire week.”

Lowen led after the second day of the tournament but fell to 12th after the third day when a weather change altered his fishing location. He and several other competitors were fishing far up the Cooper River rather than staying in Winyah Bay near the city of Georgetown. Including stops to re-fuel, the 100+ mile runs took a little over two hours each way.

“Whenever I’m fishing tidal water, I try to find an area that still has deep water even at low tide, not just at high tide, and that’s what I had on the Cooper River,” continues Lowen. “The river has a completely different ecosystem than Winyah Bay, even though it’s still affected by the tide. It’s a rich environment with abundant reeds, lily pads, hydrilla, and milfoil, and historically it has produced some of the best catches in that area.

“During the first two days of the tournament, high winds kept water from receding normally during the low tide, so all the cover and vegetation where I was fishing remained underwater. The bass did not have far to move at all, but when the wind died the third day, the places I was fishing became almost dry because the outgoing tide pulled the water back out.

“Even in my best deep water areas, the water became extremely shallow because we were competing during a full moon and the tides were stronger than usual. I still managed eight or nine bites, but I lost a three pounder, which would have made a big difference for me in the final standings.”

The basic rule of tidal fishing is that when the tide comes in, fish come in with it, and when the tide goes out, fish move out with it, explains the Yamaha Pro. Many fishermen choose to follow an incoming or outgoing tide, often described as “chasing the tide,” but locating a deep water sanctuary where cover remains under water during the outgoing tide eliminates having to do this.

“On the Cooper River, my deep water areas were cuts and creek mouths near bends in the main river,” adds Lowen, “but any type of depression or depth change can be effective if it includes cover.”

Because of the wind, Lowen fished a spinnerbait during the tournament, even though he had located the bass in practice using a soft jerkbait. When the weather changed on the third day, the mood of the bass also changed. They did not hit either lure well, which is why he lost that three-pounder. He only weighed in four bass that day and missed the cut to compete the final day.

“Tidal fishing is definitely a different type of bass fishing,” smiles the Yamaha Pro. “It’s not just about moving water but also about fish that are moving, too. That’s why I look for places where the fish don’t have to move as far.

“Sometimes you have to run a long distance just to find those types of places, too, and now that I’ve made my first 100-mile runs without any problems, I won’t hesitate to do it again.”

Do You Have A Bucket List for Fishing?

Do you have a “bucket list,” a list of things you hope to do in your life? I have never had a formal one and, unlike the movie, I think I am too old to start one now. But there are many things I have done in my life I always dreamed of doing.

Catching salmon in Alaska like I read about in outdoor magazine was a dream, and I have been there two times. Both times I carried a collapsible Spiderman Rod I got at Berrys Sporting Goods with a Shimano spinning reel on it.

That outfit, along with a small box of jigs and spinners, fit in my backpack. Every time we went ashore from the cruise ship I caught salmon in any nearby stream. And, although that little rod bent double many times, it lasted until the last day of the last trip.

On the second trip, not only was I standing in a stream catching salmon on a fly rod on my 60th birthday, I fulfilled another dream, catching halibut in the bays there. Although the ones I caught were small, only 20 to 30 pounds, they were fun to catch. I’m not sure I could have reeled in a big one weighing over 100 pounds like in the pictures though.

Catching a barramundi in Australia was another dream, but it will never happen. I have always hated flying, and its kinda hard to get to Australia any other way. The last time I was on an airplane ruined any chance of flying anywhere in the future, so I will never catch a barramundi.

In 2010 we were flying out of Sitka, headed home. As the heavily loaded 737 rolled down the short, wet runway I did my usual, pulling up on the arm rests and thinking “get off the ground.” Just as the plane started getting “light” as it gained speed, there was a huge boom and the plane shook.

The pilot slammed everything in reverse and stopped about 100 yards from the end of the runway where it dropped into the bay. I found out later we were moving at 110 miles per hour and lift off speed was 115. We sucked an eagle into the port engine and destroyed it. If the pilot has hesitated even a second or two, we would have crashed into the bay.

No more flying for me.

Many of my dreams have been in driving distance. On a two-week driving trip out west, I caught cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Park. Linda and I hiked 5.5 miles to the Yellowstone River and I caught 22 of them in less than two hours. And got bites I missed or lost fish on almost every cast.

The hike back almost did me in. The first mile was almost straight up for 1400 feet then 4.5 more miles back to the car. We had not carried enough water and by the time I got back to the car I was so dehydrated I was having chills.

Linda’s job as a cruise travel writer enable me to go to Alaska twice, and other trips took this country
Georgia boy to places I dreamed of, and some I never even imagined visiting.

I have pictures of me squatting on the ice in Antarctica with penguins waddling by within arm’s reach. Visiting many European countries was interesting, especially Russia. Trips to South America, the Caribbean and Virgin Islands, Tahiti and other South Pacific islands was fun, and many of the more backward places really made me appreciate the USA!

On a trip 700 miles up the Amazon River I almost got to fulfill another dream. I have always wanted to catch peacock bass, and I wanted to set up a trip for them at the end of the cruise in Manaus, Brazil, a central place for fishing for them.

The cruise line had a charter jet to take us back to Miami, a five-hour flight, and we had only a few hours after getting off the ship until the flight home. When we looked at staying a few days so I could fish and flying home on our own, it was going to take us 17 hours of travel, with many stops in small airports, for the trip, so I missed that chance.

Peacock bass are now in Florida so maybe one day I will be able to drive there and catch some.

I have snorkeled in beautiful waters from Mexico to Hawaii and enjoyed those trips. Catching Yellowtail in the Sea of Cortes was a great trip, and on it I got to pet a wild gray whale, snorkel with sea lions, get so close to an orca that water from its blow by the boat wet me, and watch a pod of hundreds of dolphins.

Shooting 1000 doves a day in Argentina is another dream that won’t come true due to fear of flying. But I did get to see how much folks in that country love their beef on a trip through Buenos Aries on the way to Antarctica. In the restaurant Linda and I ordered the smallest steak on the menu and it was too much for the two of us.

Closer to home, my dream of being writer got its start thanks to Jim Berry. I have the enviable job of fishing with great bass fishermen, from the top pros to high school team fishermen, and it is wonderful. I go to a lake in Georgia and another in Alabama every month. And I really enjoy writing this column each week.

Not much beats fishing lakes closer to home in club tournaments. Fishing three a month keeps me on the water and having fun when not doing articles.

I will never complain about my life and the dreams come true for me.

I hope everyone gets to fulfill their bucket list and make their dreams come true.

Water Safety With Kids

Water Safety With Kids Takes 2nd Place to Memorial Day Remembrance
Press Release

Kids should wear life jackets


Proper life jacket fit is paramount to water safety for children, and it’s the law in all 50 states. With few exceptions, all children under 13 must wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices while aboard a moving boat. In states that have their own child PFD-wear requirements, the state’s requirement applies. (Click to enlarge/download)

SAUK RAPIDS, Minn. (May 22, 2019) – More than 37 million Americans are expected to travel by vehicle over the weekend extended by the Memorial Day holiday (source: AAA), with many of them having boating and fishing in mind.

For most, it will be the kick-off outing for what hopefully will be several more to come during a summer of fun on the water. As the first trip of the year though, proper preparation and some reminders about safety can help ensure the season gets off to a good start.

“First thoughts should be of the men and women who died while serving in our Armed Forces so we can enjoy things like being outdoors this weekend,” said Mary Snyder, Absolute Outdoor vice president of marketing. “Then it’s important to ‘think safety’ if you’re headed to the water.

“At the top of the list is to make sure all life jackets are in good condition and still fit properly, especially in the case of youth. Young bodies change quickly and a good-fitting life jacket is not only essential for safety – it’s also the law.”

Life jackets must meet United States Coast Guard (USCG) compliance for each wearer. With few exceptions, all children under 13 must wear a USCG-approved personal flotation device (PFD) all the time while aboard a boat. In states that have their own child PFD-wear requirements, each state’s requirement is to be followed.

Child life jacket requirements for all 50 states can be found on the Life Jacket Advisor website: LifeJacketAdvisor.com.

How to fit a life jacket on a kid


Life jacket size information can be found on its label, but most important is that the jacket fits properly. (Courtesy BoatU.S. Foundation)

Children’s life jackets are sized according to a child’s weight (not by chest size as they are for adults). As a general rule for PFD designations, “Infant” is for 8 to 30 pounds; “Child” is for 30 to 50 pounds; and “Youth” is for 50 to 90 pounds. However, “fit” is the ultimate criteria.

Lake patrol officials say a life jacket must fit for it to do its job right, so just having a life jacket on doesn’t necessarily mean someone is in compliance with the law.

They also remind it has to be snug, with all straps and closures fastened, and that’s one of the things they check on boaters.

PFDs for infants and small children should have a padded head support to help keep the head above water, a leg strap to help keep the flotation device from riding up, and a grab handle to assist in retrieving a wearer out of the water.

Look for a life jacket’s size designation on label information located on the inside area of its back.

“A good fitting life jacket is also more comfortable to wear. Complement the right fit with a stylish design and/or one that looks similar to mom and dad’s, and most kids are good for spending the entire day in them.

“PFD designs and materials have come a long way in form and function, but they still only work when worn. Adults serve as the best example to youngsters by always wearing theirs, too,” Snyder added.

Design engineers at Absolute Outdoor, makers of Onyx and Full Throttle life jackets, say it only takes a few minutes to inspect life jackets, so first check for rips, tears, and holes, and then make sure seams, fabric straps, and hardware are in good condition. Waterlogging, mildew odor, or shrinkage of the flotation foam are signs of performance concerns.

Lastly, try the life jacket on. If it no longer fits, replace it.

A quality life jacket can provide several seasons of service with proper care. To extend a PFD’s life, let it drip dry thoroughly before putting it away in a dry, cool, dark and well-ventilated place for storage.

For more information on life jacket selection, care and other FAQs, visit Onyxoutdoor.com and Fullthrottlewatersports.com.

Boating Safety and Rules

With Memorial Day Weekend coming up, a lot of folks will be out on area lakes driving boats. Many of them should not be. Way too many folks behind the wheel of a boat have no idea what they are doing and often cause accidents.

“Keep right” is the most important rule for any boat operator. You are supposed to stay to the right side of the channel and you should stay to the right when meeting a boat head-on. This is a simple rule, and it is the same as when driving a car, but many people get confused.

The steering wheel of most boats is on the right side, opposite of car steering wheels. I think this is what confuses people, they try to meet oncoming traffic on the side they are sitting on, not keeping right as required.

Skidoos or Personal Water Craft (PWC) are a whole nother problem. These small, fast boats are often driven by young kids that have no idea they are endangering themselves and others by the way they are driving. Jumping wakes may be fun, but the fun ends when you jump into the path of another boat.

Last year there were 329,569 boats in Georgia and 165 accidents were recorded. Out of that number, there were 37,649 PWCs and they accounted for 47 of the accidents. That means PWCs are 11 percent of the boats but they are involved in 29 percent of the accidents.

Drivers of bass boats are often just as bad. Many bass boats will run faster then 70 mph and the drivers often take short cuts by running the left side of bends and turns. This means they may meet a boat driver doing the right thing, keeping right, head on. If it is another bass boat and both are running 70 mph plus, there is not much time to avoid an accident.
Drinking while driving a boat can get you in trouble in a hurry. Last year there were 339 arrest for Boating Under the Influence (BUI) and many of them paid a hefty fine. Beer and boating seem to go together, but it can get real expensive if you are driving the boat.

As might be expected due to heavy boat traffic, Lanier lead the lakes with 51 accidents, more than twice as many as Allatoona in second place. Jackson had 5 accidents, down the list a good ways. Its small size concentrates boats, though. That can make accidents more likely.

The most important thing to do when driving a boat is to think. Realize what you are doing and plan ahead. Know the rules and obey them. Watch out for other people and be careful, and have a safe holiday weekend.

Stable Snapper Season

Amendment 50 Gives Gulf States Stable Snapper Season

By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire


Big Red Snapper


After a three-year struggle, saltwater anglers are on the cusp of a stable red snapper season with the approval of Amendment 50 by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

Amendment 50, which goes into effect in 2020 with the approval of the Secretary of Commerce, gives the five Gulf states control over each state’s snapper season, and it allows leeway in size and bag limits within certain federal guidelines.

“All of the Gulf states are excited to finally have this solidified and move forward with the management plans for the individual states,” said Scott Bannon, Alabama’s Marine Resources Director. “It’s a win for the red snapper stock and a win for the states.”

Bannon said state control of the snapper fishery was brought before the Council in 2016 to manage the recreational sector, which would have included the private recreational sector and the federal for-hire (charter) sector.

The 2016 and 2017 snapper seasons were painfully short under federal control. As a way to alleviate the impact on anglers and the Gulf Coast economies, the Gulf states were issued an exempted fishing permit (EFP) for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and states were able to set their seasons under a total allowable catch for each state.

Alabama originally set its 2018 season at 47 days, but near-perfect weather and an increased enthusiasm for catching the state’s signature saltwater species forced Marine Resources to reduce the season to 28 days, which ended in an almost perfect catch-to-allocation result.

The way Alabama was able to ensure there was no significant overrun on the quota was through the Red Snapper Reporting System, more commonly known as Snapper Check. The mandatory reporting system allowed Marine Resources to monitor the catch and close the season in response to the larger-than-expected harvest numbers.

The success of the Snapper Check monitoring paved the way for the Council to approve Amendment 50.

“I think the fishery benefits from Amendment 50 because we have the ability, as individual states, of not exceeding our allocation of the quota,” Bannon said. “If you look at it from a stock perspective for the Gulf of Mexico and you were managing it as a whole and you had a perfect season, like last year, you had no way to put the season in check. Alabama alone would have consumed nearly half of the entire Gulf allocation if we had fished the whole 47 days. We would have fished it really, really hard, and the amount of fish we would have caught would have been tremendous. As it was, we closed it when we met the number of pounds and showed that we were responsible. I think this is much better for the anglers and the snapper stock. I think the EFP showed the states could come to some decisions about allocations, and that the states could manage seasons within pretty close tolerances.”

Bannon said the Gulf Council faced two challenges with state management of red snapper. First, where do the federal for-hire boats fit into the program? The Council decided to not include the federal for-hire in Amendment 50 and consider other options in the future if conditions change for the federal for-hire boats. Second, what allocations could the five Gulf states live with?

“These allocations were based on different factors like biomass and historical landings,” Bannon said. “So, the state directors used the EFP allocations as a starting point for Amendment 50.

“The EFP only allowed us to set the season within our allocation. Under Amendment 50, we received an increase in allocation from 25% to 26.298%, and that increase will be permanent. We also have in Amendment 50 the ability to set size and bag limits within certain parameters. Those are management tools to maximize the benefit for Alabama.”

When the initial EFP allocations were proposed, the totals did not equal 100% of the total allowable catch. Bannon said Florida was given the extra 3.78% because they were the final state to apply.

“They amended their EFP to get that extra allocation,” Bannon said. “We felt like that extra allocation should be negotiated. In the end, Alabama and Florida split that 3.78% under Amendment 50 because we’re the two largest consumers of red snapper. The other states were comfortable with that. It seems to be fair and equitable.”

Under the new amendment, each state creates their own plan. Alabama’s plan includes a 10% buffer as opposed to the 20% buffer under the federal system. The federal for-hire sector has not exceeded its quota for several years, and its buffer was reduced to 9%.

Alabama’s allocation of red snapper for the 2019 private recreational season under the EFP is 1,079,765 pounds. Alabama’s allocation for the 2020 season increases to 1,122,661 pounds if the private recreational sector doesn’t exceed its quota this year.

Bannon said most red snapper anglers are happy with the upcoming season, and he anticipates there could be some season adjustments when Amendment 50 goes into effect.

“Most of the responses I’ve received for the 2019 season is they were happy to get the June and July seasons and that the season was spread out enough that if the weather was bad they could go another weekend,” he said. “We know we still have concerns from the public that they would like more fishing time during the week. As we move forward in state management, that is always a possibility because we now have the flexibility to set the seasons.”

The 2019 season length is tentatively set for 27 days, starting June 1 with three-day weekends (Friday-Sunday) except opening weekend (two days) and July 4 week, which will be four days (Thursday-Sunday). The size limit and bag limit remain the same at two fish per person with a minimum size of 16 inches total length.

Bannon is planning to ask snapper anglers for assistance to keep Alabama’s unparalleled artificial reef program at the top. The loss of funding for research in those reef zones will prompt him to ask the Conservation Advisory Board to implement a reef fish endorsement beginning in 2020.

“The reef fish endorsement is set up to help fund some of the research conducted in the reef zones, because we’re losing some of the funding used for that research,” he said. “The research needs to continue, and we also need funds to support programs like Snapper Check, which we hope to expand into a better program.

“It’s designed as a user-based system that applies to the people who are participating in that fishery, including private recreational, charter for-hire and commercial fishermen. Another aspect of it is it defines the user group. It gives us a better idea, especially among private anglers, of how many people are fishing for reef fish off Alabama. That way we can have better directed surveys, which are targeted at people who participate in the fishery instead of just people who have saltwater fishing licenses.”

The endorsement fees would be $10 for private recreational anglers and $250 for commercial fishermen. The charter for-hire fees would depend on the size of the boat and number of passengers the vessel can carry.

Amendment 50 gives the five Gulf states much more control of their red snapper seasons. Photo by David Rainer
As for Amendment 50, Bannon said Alabama has already shown state management will work. The public is supportive, and he thinks that Secretary Wilbur Ross will quickly approve.

“As I said on the radio the other day, Alabama has 3% of the Gulf coastline and will receive 26.298% of the total allowable catch for the 2020 season and beyond,” Bannon said. “I think Amendment 50 is a success for the fishery, and I think it’s a success for the states because the states can now manage the seasons, size limits and bag limits that best suit their anglers.