Monthly Archives: August 2019

St.Croix PS60MHF Premier Spinning Rod Review

I like this St Croix spinning rod

Like many fishermen my age, my first rod and reel was a closed face Zebco 202 with a matching rod. It was frustrating to use because the line jammed inside it so much.

When I was 16 I got a new-fangled Mitchell 300 spinning reel with a Garcia rod. It was a heavy outfit, and had problems all it own, but it was a big step up. I used it even after I got into a bass club in 1974, it was one of my two rods and reels back then .

Over the years I replaced it with better spinning rods and reels. But I almost stopped using spinning equipment years ago when I got baitcasting outfits that would handle light baits.

For the past couple of years I have been using one of my old spinning outfit to skip weightless Senkos under docks, but the old rods just were not right. I like a short rod for skipping baits and these were less than six feet long, but the action was too light to wrestle bass past dock posts.

A few weeks ago I got a St.Croix PS60MHF Premier six foot medium heavy fast action spinning rod. It is just what I wanted. The fast action tip skips a light bait easily, but the medium heavy weight gives me the control I need to keep bass from hanging me up.

To clarify some terms:

Rod length is pretty obvious. But the other terms can be confusing.

Rod action is how fast a rod bends from the tip. A fast action rod has a light tip that bends easily. A medium action bends less, and a heavy action bends little. Lighter actions are best for lighter baits. For heavier baits, heavier action is needed.

Rod weight is how stiff the rod is. A light weight rod is usually lighter in heaviness, but mainly it bends a lot, often from the tip to the butt, in a parabolic arch. A heavy weight rod will bend little even at the tip. Again, a lighter weight rod is better for lighter baits but the heavier the weight is, the more “backbone” you have to control the fish.

The six foot length is short compared to the seven foot rods many use, but I like shorter rods for skipping. They have a little less leverage, but many of my cast are sidearm with rod tip point toward the water, and the shorter length helps me avoid hitting the boat and the water on my casts.

I have used this rod in several tournaments and caught enough fish on it to know it is just what I wanted. It helped me catch fish at Sinclair and place 4th in the Flint River Bass Club tournament.

The Premier Family of rods come in both spinning and casting, with various lengths, actions and weights to meet most needs, and sell for about $140.00

Disclaimer – I got a discount when I bought this rod. But no discount is big enough to make me say something good about a product I don’t use or like, and I would never reccomend something I do not use with success to anyone else.

Boat Control Tools

Boat Control Tools Keep Anglers in the Bite
By John Geiger
from The Fishing Wire

If you have a boat with multiple modern outboards, you have a lot of options when it comes to joystick control of your vessel for docking or tight maneuvering. Joysticks are particularly great for sidling up to the dock. But what about solving the challenges anglers have setting the right drift to keep lures in the zone, or trolling ultra slowly to keep live baits alive and active? Some marine companies are ramping up boat-control tools that will simply help catch more fish.

Yamaha joystick system


The Yamaha joystick system with SetPoint not only makes docking a no-brainer in multi-outboard rigs, it’s also a powerful fishing tool for holding precise position offshore despite wind, waves and current, and can also control trolling speeds at much lower levels than is possible with conventional controls. (John Geiger Photo)

For more than a decade we’ve had joystick helm controls like Mercury’s BowHook, SeaStar’s Heading Hold and more recently Yamaha’s SetPoint. To see these systems in action is a front-row seat to the future of boating. In fact, it’s astounding to see each motor working independently, changing direction and throttle as if they had minds of their own. Yet the outboards work in unison with each other, tapping GPS technology and advanced system integration to keep the boat in a position or in a certain heading despite wind, waves and currents.

Like the other companies, Yamaha has offered similar tools with its Helm Master and SetPoint trio of boat-control modes — StayPoint, FishPoint and DriftPoint. But recently, Yamaha upped the game and brought another boat-control tool, a function called Pattern Shift, to the SetPoint array. It lets the boater troll below standard in-gear speeds. When set, it automatically bumps the throttle in and out of gear, as a captain would do to create a snail’s-pace drift over productive structure or waters. Under some conditions, the system can troll at 1/2 mph or less. You can actually set it to be in gear 90 percent of the time and out of gear 10 percent, or in gear 10 percent and out of gear 90 percent or any 10 percent increment in between.

It’s frustrating to try to quickly fish a hot spot—say a small reef outcropping– before the boat floats over the top of it and past it. It’s obvious that companies like Yamaha are getting into the minds of captains to find out what they need to position their boats perfectly despite groundswell, tides, winds and current. And the systems are basically intuitive. They’re very simple to operate.

How much does a system like this cost? That’s not easy to answer on a new boat because it’s often standard equipment on more fully equipped models. As an option, however, you might expect to pay nearly as much as you would for an additional outboard.

ON THE WATER

On a recent fishing trip in the Chesapeake Bay with Captain Shannon Pickens, a longtime guide on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, I saw one of the Yamaha systems in action.

Captain Pickens used his Garmin fish finder to locate a school of resident striped bass on an oyster bar in about 30 feet of water.

“I marked them and then moved off to deeper water to drift up to it,” said Pickens, who is based on Tilghman Island.

But the wind was coming from the south against the outgoing tide. If he simply drifted over the structure, the bow probably would have swung to port with the current, and anglers would have been creeping up the port side gunnels toward the bow. Pickens likes to keep his anglers around the stern of the boat, where there is more room to maneuver in the cockpit.

Summer stripers on Chesapeake Bay are not usually huge, but there are plenty of them and they put up a spirited fight on light gear.

“I put the bow into the wind, set Pattern Shift and let them vertical jig over the zone from the stern,” he said. “They might not know it’s the system doing a lot of the work, but they’ll notice more fish on their line.”

Pickens could have chosen to manually bump his binnacle throttle to keep the port Yamaha F300 coming in and out of gear while also keeping clients safe, watching for other vessels and all the things a captain does when there are six people aboard dropping lines. But Pickens chose to use Pattern Shift. It kept the boat in the zone longer by controlling the heading (bow quartered away from the wind) and the speed (about 2 knots north to south) with a 50-50 ratio of forward-thrust-to-neutral bumps to let anglers work the bar slowly and naturally. And that’s one of the best features of Pattern Shift — the bumping and very low rpm, especially when coupled with Yamaha’s innovative Shift Dampening System, created little noise under the hull.

Pickens said these fish are highly pressured and shut down with prop wash or noise from above. The crew was able to keep rods tight on the resident summer stripers when other boats in the area were watching and waiting.

Non-migrating striped bass, also called rockfish in this part of the world, will take live baits, trolled umbrella rigs or plastics. Pickens had his crew throwing artificials on light tackle: Z-Man scented jerk shad and paddle-tail swimbaits in the 6- to 8-inch range on 1-ounce lead jigs. The 12-pound fluorocarbon leader was tied to 10-pound braid with a Uni-knot. Hot bait colors were purple, white and electric chicken, a combo of chartreuse on top and green on the bottom.

Thanks in part to the impressive SetPoint position-control system from Yamaha, we had brisk action on summer rockfish. We caught none of the giants for which the area is famed—Bloody Point, where we were fishing, produced the 67-pound, 8-ounce state record, and occasionally turns out fish approaching 50 pounds—but we kept busy with stripers around the lower end of the 19-inch slot, and gained new respect for the ways technology can affect our fishing.

St Croix Rod Review – Rod Weight Makes A Difference

My favorite all around rod –
Croix Avid Mediaum Fast seven foot rod – AVC70MF


Image from St. Croix Rods

Fishermen have their favorite rods, it is largely a matter of personal preferences. My favorites are St. Croix Rods. They have a model for any fishing need, and I have several in different models, weights and actions.

I won a St. Croix rod at a tournament in Wisconsin back in the early 1990s and fell in love with it. The Avid model seven-foot, medium weight, fast action AVC70MF is the best all-around rod I use. It works well for topwater baits, crankbaits and spinnerbaits. I also use it successfully for small swim baits and underspins.

The next year I bought two more Avids but didn’t pay careful attention and ordered the medium heavy weigh AVC70MHF, a lucky accident. I used them for throwing the shaky head and jig and they were perfect. I seldom lost a fish on any of my three rods.

I broke the first rod and St. Croix replaced it under warranty for $50. They did not even ask how I broke a two-year old rod, but I am sure I hit it on the side of the boat working a topwater plug based on where it broke, cracking it.

I managed to lose one of the second two I bought, a whole nother story of my stupidity, and ordered two more of the medium action. Since I was mostly fishing shaky heads and small jigs, one of them was dedicated to the small jigs. I kept fishing a shaky head on the medium heavy weight rod.

After losing several fish on the jig, I quit throwing it for a time. I finally realized all the fish I lost were on the medium weight and had not lost fish on the medium heavy rod fishing a shaky head, I ordered another Avid AVC70MHF medium heavy weight fast action rod a few months ago. Since then I have not lost a fish on the jig, including a 4 pounder at Guntersville and many other keeper fish.

Rod weight makes a difference! The slightly heavier weight helps set the hook on the jig and shaky head where the lighter weight is fine for other baits. I fish both shaky head and small jigs on those two rods every tournament now and use the medium weight for most of my other baits.

To clarify some terms:

Rod length is pretty obvious. But the other terms can be confusing.

Rod action is how fast a rod bends from the tip. A fast action rod has a light tip that bends easily. A medium action bends less, and a heavy action bends little. Lighter actions are best for lighter baits. For heavier baits, heavier action is needed.

Rod weight is how stiff the rod is. A light weight rod is usually lighter in heaviness, but mainly it bends a lot, often from the tip to the butt, in a parabolic arch. A heavy weight rod will bend little even at the tip. Again, a lighter weight rod is better for lighter baits but the heavier the weight is, the more ?backbone” you have to control the fish.

I also have a Mojo Crankbait rod and it is perfect for casting big crankbaits, and small ones for that matter. Jamie Koza, owner of The Dugout Tackle shop in Atlanta and well-known tournament fisherman, told me it is the best crankbait rod he has ever used, and I agree. I bought the Mojo Crankbait rod at a Georgia Outdoor Writers association auction, and got it for a very good price.

St Croix rods are not cheap but are all quality rods with a great warranty. But they make a series for most any budget, from their Bass X at about $100 to the very top end Legend Family, made for the deadly serious bass fisherman, at around $420. The Avid Family model I love is about $180 – second only to the Legend, and their Mojo Family is about $130. Their Premier series is about $120.

St Croix makes quality spinning and casting in all the above models and have models for saltwater, salmon and fly and even ice fishing. I have a St Croix Premier spinning rod and five Avid casting rods and the Mojo now, and have ordered a Legend jig rod – just gotta try it out.

Disclaimer – I get a discount from St. Croix but would never use so many of them – at any price – if they did not work for me. I would recommend any fisherman try the St Croix rods in the model and action that they like.

Climbing Trees

Climbing trees in my youth was as natural as it must be for young monkeys. Every tree offered an opportunity, and a challenge. Some, with low limbs were easy. Other required skill in “shinnying” up the trunk with arms and legs wrapped around it to the first branches.

All that climbing was not without danger. I will never forget a naturalist on an Alaskan cruise asking us, as we watched mountain goats on impossibly steep cliffs, if we knew the main cause of death for them. The answer? Gravity.

Gravity offered dangers but fun, too. I got a too close look at the danger one day while climbing a big sweetgum that acted as a corner fence post on our hog pen. I was about 15 feet up when, reaching for a limb, I missed my hold and fell backwards.

Landing on my back, it took me a few seconds to figure out I was not hurt. Then I looked up. I was lying within inches of a vertical 2×6 that helped support the fence. The upper end that my back barely missed was jagged and pointed. A little more to that side and I would have been skewered.

We had fun with gravity, too. Many times, two or three of us would go to the woods with our hatchets, pick a sapling 20 or so feet tall, and one of us would climb near the top. The others would hack away at the base until the tree fell.

Riding the tree down was an early carnival ride for us. We always tried to stay on the upper side so the tree hit the ground first, but that was hard to do since our weight turned it so we fell first. Somehow, we never got hurt doing this. I guess the tree limbs cushioned our impact.

We climbed to make tree houses, attaching ropes to pull up boards, hammers and nails. On a good tree we used limbs to reach the tree house after it was built, on others we nailed short boards to the trunk to use as steps. Ladders were just too easy, and they were hard to come by.

When I started deer hunting I bought a small metal platform with a chain that went around the tree trunk and an arm that went down to brace it against the trunk. I spent many hours standing or sitting on that 16-inch square of metal many feet off the ground.

Just like for tree houses, some trees gave me limbs to climb to where I wanted to attach my stand. On some, like straight trunk pines, I nailed boards for steps. Its a miracle I never fell from it since I used no safety rope.

When I was 16, our youth leader at church, Mr. Ed
Henderson, who also managed the McDuffie Public Fishing Area and loved to hunt, saw a new-fangled deer stand in a magazine and copied it. He made them for many of us and I still have mine.

It was a board with iron bars that supported the bottom and went up at the back. Angled arms attached to the front of the bottom bar and went past the back, where angled flat iron made a “V”. The back of the board had metal strips across it in an inverted, matching “V”.

You could take a bolt out of one side of the arm, put it around a tree and reattach the bolt. The downward pressure on the board while standing or sitting on it clamped it against the tree. You slipped your boots into straps on the platform, reached up and hugged the tree trunk, bent your knees up to pull up the stand, then repeated.

It was easy to climb a pine or other straight trunk tree, in my youth. This was the beginning of modern climbing stands that work on the same principal but have two parts, one to raise up then move the bottom part with your feet. You can even do a sit down, stand up, sit down, over and over to climb in some of them.

They are much easier to use, a good thing since I no longer have the arm or leg strength of my youth and cannot hug the tree or raise the bottom of the old, heavy stand with my legs.

The older guys I worked in construction with the summer between high school and college, did not believe my tales about the stand. So, I took it to work with me one day to show them. Unfortunately, the only thing to climb in the lumber yard was a telephone pole. I easily went up it about 15 feet, amazing them and proving my tales.

Unfortunately, the telephone pole was hard, without the soft bark of a tree for the stand to bite into. When at the top of my climb, the stand suddenly lost its bite and I slid to the ground, skinning my arms and legs and ripping my shirt.

But that same day, they all started making their own copies of the stand!

The first deer I killed when I was 18 in the fall of 1968 was from that stand. I got so excited after shooting the small eight-point buck that I got in a hurry. I vaguely remember jumping the last few feet to the ground to go check the deer.

When I confirmed the deer was dead and went back to get my stand, I could barely reach the bottom of it with the tip of my gun barrel to make it slide the rest of the way down to the ground. I had jumped from at least 10 feet high!

I doubt many youth still climb trees, its too dangerous for most parents to allow it. But they are missing fun, too.

What Is A Fishing Hideaway on Tampa Bay?

A Fishing Hideaway on Tampa Bay
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

Fishing Tampa Bay


The vast estuaries and tidal creeks near Little Harbor and the Little Manatee River, in Tampa Bay’s South Shore area, provide endless spots where kayakers and flats boat anglers can easily find sea trout, redfish and snook. (Photo Credit Power-Pole)

It’s no secret that Florida is being overwhelmed by new residents—the population now approaches 22 million—as well as by the 124 million who visit there annually. Roads are jammed, housing developments are gobbling up thousands of acres of natural habitat each year and finding locations where you can “get away from it all” is growing way more difficult.

As the song goes, we have paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

But there are still a few hideaways left that reflect a time when this state truly was a natural paradise and the weather, let’s face it, is unbeatable, especially when the snow flies up north. I was reminded of that by a visit back to Tampa Bay’s South Shore region not too long ago.

The South Shore, stretching down the southeast side of Tampa Bay roughly from the town of Apollo Beach to Terra Ceia, has no white sand beaches and no emerald green sea, and that is essentially what has saved it so far.

It’s a land of coastal creeks and estuaries, mangrove and saltmarsh shores, and through the heart of it runs the appropriately-named Little Manatee River, a designated “Outstanding Florida Water” that is home not only to lots of manatees, but also plenty of snook, redfish, tarpon, largemouth bass, alligators, otters, bald eagles and a bit of everything else that used to make Florida, Florida. There are three state aquatic preserves here—the wild lands and estuaries will remain that way, permanently.

As with most areas where there’s good habitat, the fish and wildlife thrive here; the South Shore is one of the premiere fishing areas on all of Florida’s west coast. It’s home to the “big four” of Florida inshore fishing, snook, tarpon, trout and redfish, sometimes in amazing numbers. And it’s far enough inland that it was minimally affected by the long-lasting red tide that devastated many coastal areas last year.

Because it’s Florida, there’s good fishing every month of the year, though the mix of species and their locations change with the seasons. Tarpon and snook are primarily tropical fish and action for them is best April through October, while trout and redfish like cooler water—best times are typically October to March, though spawning reds sometimes make a push in late August and September.

This is all inshore action, which means you can get at the fish in a skiff, a bassboat, even a kayak if you keep an eye on the weather. And if you don’t have your own boat, there are rentals available.

At Little Harbor Watersports in Ruskin, for example, you can rent a center console for $225 for a half day, $325 for a full day, and head out on the bay with a very good shot at catching plenty of spotted sea trout, simply by drifting over grass flats at depths of 4 to 10 feet and bouncing a quarter-ounce shrimp-tail jig on bottom or drifting along with a DOA Shrimp (or a live shrimp) suspended 3 feet under a popping cork that you give an occasional “chug” to stir up interest. You’ll catch plenty of ladyfish, black sea bass and assorted other critters to keep up your interest, as well.

Another alternative is to rent a kayak at Little Harbor and explore the canals that lead back into the development. In winter, these canals are sometimes loaded with redfish, trout and the occasional snook, while in summer they are home to baby tarpon anywhere from 1 to 3 feet long. (It can be buggy back here on a calm summer morning, though—load up with high-DEET repellent.)

Snook can be a challenge to locate and catch, but there are lots of them in the South Shore area and those who fish live sardines regularly connect with big ones.

If you’re more serious about fishing, you can hire a guide—rates around $500 for two–who will put you on the area’s premier gamefish, the snook. These fish have been described as “largemouth bass on steroids” (by me, among others) and they really put on a show in the mangrove creeks and oystery potholes where they’re often found. Size ranges from 3 pounds upward . . . way upward. It’s not uncommon to hook up with a fish weighing 10 to 15 pounds while fishing with a guide who uses live sardines to fool the lunkers, and trying to control one of these beasts in the confines of a narrow creek overhung with mangrove trees and surrounded by sharp oyster shells is the angling experience of a lifetime.

Or, if you’re into big game fishing, you can also enjoy that experience without ever leaving sight of shore here—from late April through October, South Shore waters are loaded with tarpon ranging in weight from 50 to 150 pounds. You might get lucky and connect with one on your own by fishing deep bends in the river or in the canals around Little Harbor (fish where you see them rolling with live pinfish or sardines) but best bet is to hire a guide, who will know where the schools are hanging out, usually south of the river.

Jumbo tarpon are abundant in Tampa Bay from April through October, including lots of fish weighing 100 pounds and up. Best way to connect is to hire a guide, who has the right gear and knows where to find them. (Frank Sargeant Photo)
You can catch the juvenile tarpon on heavy bass tackle in the rivers, but for the adults, heavy spinning gear and 50-pound-test braid is the minimum—your guide will have the appropriate gear, and will also take the worry out of handling one of these silver giants at boatside. (Tarpon are a catch-and-release species, but you’ll have a chance for plenty of photos with your trophy before she swims away free to fight again.) One of my favorite guides for this pursuit is Captain Chet Jennings, who has been at it for decades. His website also has some interesting video showing the backcountry here; www.fishintampa.com.

About Little Harbor

Accommodations on the river are understandably scarce—the terrain and environmental regulations limit development beyond basic residential properties—but one first-class location is Harborside Suites, at Little Harbor just north of where the Little Manatee runs into Tampa Bay.

Little Harbor is a good home base for a South Shore visit not only because it’s in the heart of some of Tampa Bay’s best fishing, but also because it’s got all the amenities to keep the rest of the family happy while you fish. Tennis courts, swimming pools, fitness centers, several waterfront restaurants, hiking areas, SUP, kayak and jet ski rentals plus a half-mile of sand beach should keep the crew well entertained.

The live music at the Tiki Bar overlooking the bay is a big draw at sundown every evening, and if you’re so inclined they even have karaoke nights on occasion. There’s also a waterfront firepit for after-sundown partying. And the waterfront rooms all have full kitchenettes, equipped right down to that all important coffee maker.

Sundowns at Little Harbor are not only beautiful, but they mark a good time to slip out on the water for a few casts — there’s always a bite at sunrise and sunset. (Frank Sargeant Photo)
It’s not uncommon for manatees to swim right into the harbor in front of the resort and nibble at moss on the boat fenders, and on my last visit a mother bottle-nosed dolphin was training her offspring to catch mullet among the docked yachts, as well. If you’re into bird watching, there’s a large preserve less than a mile down the shore where you’ll see just about every shorebird Florida has to offer, including the strikingly pink roseate spoonbills, sometimes by the dozens, plus lots of ospreys, egrets, great blue herons and in winter the occasional bald eagle.

For details, visit www.staylittleharbor.com or call 800-327-2773.

Trying To Catch Bass at Clarks Hill

August 10 and 11th, nine members and guests of the Flint River Bass Club fish a miserably hot two-day tournament at Clarks Hill. At least the fishing was tough. In 18 hours of casting we landed 41 12-inch keeper bass weighing about 65 pounds.

There were three limits and one fisherman didn’t catch a keeper in two days. But there were some good fish, five weighed more than three pounds each.

Raymond English, fishing as Niles Murray’ guest, won with ten weighing 17.11 pounds. Niles placed second with nine keepers weighing 14.51 pounds, Travis Weatherly was third with seven at 10.24 pounds and Chuck Croft came in fourth with six weighing 6.66 pounds. Jerry Ragen had big fish with a 4.39 pound largemouth.

I thought I had found some fish on deep rock piles and caught two Saturday, including one close to three pounds, and lost another one that felt as big as the three pounder. But that was it, two fish all day. And Sunday I missed one bite and had another good fish pull off the dropshot worm. No fish for me after eight hot hours of trying Sunday.

Lake Chautauqua

Take a Fall Chautauqua to Lake Chautauqua
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from the Fishing Wire

Catch muskie like this


For a relatively small lake, Chautauqua has an amazing number of huge muskies like this one, caught by anglers fishing with Muddy Creek Fishing Guides. (Photo Credit Muddy Creek Fishing Guides)

Upstate New York is an overlooked jewel when it comes to opportunities for fishing, hunting, hiking, camping and outdoors enjoyment, as I was reminded in a visit to Chautauqua Lake not long ago.

If “Chautauqua” sounds familiar, it’s because the idea of a summer getaway camp pretty much got its start here on the banks of the 20-mile long lake before spreading nationwide. The original was a sort of tent camp, church-linked but full of all sorts of diversions and entertainments that made it a huge draw for folks who couldn’t stand the noise and the heat of northeastern cities in summer.

These days, the original Chautauqua has grown into an upscale summer resort complex, still church-linked, but for outdoorsmen the lure of the lake and the creek, both also called Chautauqua, may be stronger than that of the camp.

Fall Steelhead

Chautauqua Creek connects to Lake Erie, and is a route for the steelhead that are stocked every year in “steelhead alley” by Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. In late fall, steelies by the hundreds come up the creek. The typical fish averages 4 to 10 pounds and is 20 to 30 inches long—these are a long way from being small-stream brook trout. Some fish over 15 pounds also make the journey. In the narrow confines of the fast-flowing creek—it averages maybe 30 feet wide—they put up an amazing battle. (The original word “Chautauqua” meant “jumping fish” in Iroquois, now more appropriate for the creek than ever.)

While most Chautauqua Creek steelhead are in the 5 to 10 pound range, a few real slammers make the journey up the creek each year, as well. (Photo Credit Trout Unlimited)
The creek winds its way for about 15 miles, sometimes through a deep gorge, before emptying into Lake Erie, providing plenty of spots for walk-in fishing. It’s well worth the walk; the New York DEC reports the creek has one of the highest catch rates in the state for fall steelies. Catches of four or five fish per day per angler are not uncommon when the run is on. Here’s a state map showing open areas: https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/fish_marine_pdf/chautauquacreek.pdf

Most anglers use medium-light spinning gear with 6- to 10-pound test mono, and fish salmon eggs in small nylon sacks, four or five eggs to a sack, suspended a couple feet under a small float. Some say the fish have color preferences on certain days—white, yellow and pink are among the favored colors. The fish can also be caught on flyrod streamers and nymphs—local shops have plenty of successful patterns.

One of the Nation’s Top Musky Lakes

Chautauqua Lake is noted as one of the nation’s top musky lakes. It’s about 8 miles south of the shore of Lake Erie and due east of the city of Erie, Pennsylvania. It’s a narrow lake about 20 miles long, with two distinct sections separated by a highway bridge.

The south end is relatively shallow, with an average depth of 10 to 15 feet; the north end above Bemus Point has plenty of water over 30 feet deep and holes to more than 70 feet. The lake is mostly fed by springs and rain so the water is clean, but there’s enough fertility to produce heavy weed growth—great fish habitat–along the shallows. In fact, many areas are too thick to fish near shore in late summer, but get out to the edge where the weeds fall away—a kayak, canoe or rental skiff will easily get you there–and you’ll find the fish waiting.

The lake is famed for big muskies, unusual in a fairly small lake, but the combination of abundant panfish and other forage and plenty of weed cover has continued to turn out big fish for many years. The lake is known not only for size—the lake record is a 54” fish that went 46 pounds—but also for numbers.

Anglers who know the water and the tactics regularly catch three or four muskies of 40 inches in a day, an unheard of score in most musky waters where one fish per week per boat is considered “hot” fishing. NY DEC keeps the action going by stocking some 13,000 muskies 8 to 10 inches long each year, and there’s also a one fish limit, with minimum size 40 inches. (Most musky anglers release their catch in any case—a musky is too valuable to catch only once, as they say.)

Most anglers troll or cast large wobbling plugs to connect with the giant muskies of Chautauqua Lake, though some also drift live baits. (Frank Sargeant Photo)
Trolling large wobblers is the favored tactic, but drifting big live baits also gets them, as does casting the weedbeds with large plugs. Needless to say, heavy gear is a must—most use stout baitcasters with 65-pound-test or heavier braid and a braided stainless steel leader to prevent cutoffs. The season is from the last Saturday in May to November 30.

Mike Sperry at Chautauqua Reel Outdoors in Lakewood, on the lake’s southwest shore, is an expert on catching the lake’s big muskies, and has one of the best selections of big musky lures you’ll ever find in a local tackle shop; www.chautauquareeloutdoors.com. Muddy Creek Fishing Guides is also among the well-known guide operations on the lake; www.mcfishinguides.com.

Bass and Walleyes

Chautauqua Lake also ranks among the top bass lakes in New York State according to NYDEC. It’s particularly loaded with largemouths due to the abundant weed cover.

All the usual bass tactics work, including fishing the weedlines and docks at dawn and dusk with topwaters. During the brighter hours, swimbaits, plastic worms and jigs on deeper scattered grass do the job.

The lake also has a good population of large smallmouth bass, particularly in the south basin—best bet for smallies is to fish live crawfish or minnows just off bottom on rocky points and other hard structure, though the fish move into the shallows and readily attack topwaters during the post-spawn. New York, like many northern states, has a closed season for bass. The open period is from the third Saturday in June through Nov. 30.

There’s a good fall bite of large walleyes, with most caught drifting with jigs or worm harnesses tipped with chubs or other minnows at depths of 25 to 40 feet. Walleyes are maybe the best eating fish in fresh water—the limit is five daily over 15 inches and the season stays open all summer, fall and winter, closing briefly in the spring spawn.

Where to Stay

Chautauqua Lake and Chautauqua Creek are small-town and agricultural country and there are not a lot of quality places to stay close by, but one that stands out is the year-old Chautauqua Harbor Hotel in Celoron.

Built in cooperation with the state’s Regional Economic Development Council and Chautauqua County on prime waterfront that had been vacant for some 40 years due to economic malaise in the area, part of the hotel’s mission is to bring jobs and prosperity to this less-developed area of the state.

The resort covers some 9 acres on the southeast end of the lake at Celoron. It’s got 1100 feet of shoreline, most fishable from shore, as well as a boat harbor, docks, open-air bar and a very nice restaurant.

The docks at Chautauqua Harbor, stretching some 1100 feet, provide lots of places to wet a line at dawn as well as to pull up a boat for lunch or dinner. (Photo Credit Chautauqua Harbor Hotel.)
They provide free coffee starting at 5 a.m., a big plus for anglers. Guide packages, including breakfast, are available through the hotel. They have indoor and outdoor pools for mom and the kids, a great fitness center and lots more; www.thechautauquaharborhotel.com.

A side trip to the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, N.Y.—childhood home of Lucille Ball—is just minutes away, and well worthwhile. Check out the tourism bureau for more; https://www.tourchautauqua.com. (Dave Barus is the resident fishing expert at the bureau and will be glad to steer you towards the hot bite.)

Building Huts, Tree Houses and Forts

Building huts, tree houses and forts were always a big part of summer. By mid-August, we had built more than we could use but still continued to build them.
Building them was the biggest part of the fun.

I always wanted to build a log cabin, as did my friends Harold and Hal, but our hatchets were never up to cutting down trees and notching them. So, we made do with what we could handle.

We found four small trees growing in some-what of a square on a hillside overlooking Dearing Branch. They would be the corner post of our cabin. We cut sweetgum saplings the right length for the walls. Since we couldn’t notch them and stack them like a real log cabin, we tried lashing them to the corner post but quickly gave up and used nails.

When the walls were about three feet high, about half done, we realized we had not made plans for a door. So, we made another post five feet high, cut the wall poles shorter in one corner and made our door there. Harold ended up graduating from UGA with a degree in architecture so maybe that influenced him.

When it came time for the roof, we thought we could make a thatched roof with the branches from the sweetgums we cut. Wrong. The leaves are nothing like the palm fronds used for real thatched roofs we read about and they quickly dried out, making the rain come through like nothing was there. Even when green it slowed the water down very little.

We found an old army surpluse tarp that didn’t leak much and used it for our roof. But we didn’t spend much time in it, the gaps in the wall “logs” let mosquitoes in. But it was fun building it.

A better hut was one we built of lumber. Harold’s family owned a sawmill and lumber yard, so he had access to lots of wood. We made prefab walls and a roof from 2x4s and 1x6s and laboriously lugged them to the woods under our biggest tree house in a big pine tree. We dug holes for the 2×4 post and nailed the three walls and roof together. It was to serve as our supply hut for the tree house.

We were afraid to sleep in that tree house. Although we put side boards around the platform, it was just too high. So we camped under the tree in our army surplus pup tent and sleeping bags and kept our stores in the hut.

Putting out a sleeping was always fun. No matter how hard we tried, we could never get all the sticks and rocks cleaned up that would dig into us and make us miserable all night.

The old tent leaked a little. I will never forget one morning after it rained most of the night. We managed to get a fire started at the mouth of the hut with wood we kept dry in it and cooked breakfast. Taking our tin mess kit plates back into the tent to eat our perfectly burned eggs, bacon and toast there,
I set my plate down on the floor. It floated in a puddle of water. I could spin it and it would spin several times before stopping.
But breakfast was good!

We built tree house all over the place, but my favorite was in my front yard. A pecan tree just a few feet from Iron Hill Road had two somewhat parallel, somewhat level, limbs coming off the trunk. I built a simple platform about five feet square on those limbs.

During the summer, I spent many hours sitting or lying on that platform, watching the occasional car go by. I watched as that road it changed from dirt to tar and gravel and finally asphalt over a ten-year period.

I loved reading and often took a library book up in the tree with me, getting lost in adventures all over the real and imagined world. And many of them were science fiction, taking me off our planet completely.

Outdoor magazines were read there, too. I had a subscription to Outdoor Life, Sports Afield and Field and Stream as far back as I can remember. I read and dreamed about hunting, fishing and survival adventures like the folks in them.

Although I knew I would never be able to build one in middle Georgia, I wanted to try my hand at igloos and snow caves. I wondered if I could survive the cold and attacks by polar bears while eating bear, seal and caribou meat.

Tree houses and huts were good places to dream and scheme. Some of those dreams, like salmon fishing in Alaska, came true for me. Many did not. But just the dreams were invaluable.

How Good Is Summer Smallmouth Bass Fishing in Virginia?

Summer Smallmouth Bass Fishing in Virginia
By Alex McCrickard, Virginia DGIF Aquatic Education Coordinator
from The Fishing Wire

Summer Smallmouth


During the dog days of summer, many anglers put their rods and reels down and are content to wait until later in the fall for cooler weather. Unfortunately, these anglers end up missing some of the most exciting warm water fishing conditions of the year. During this time frame, I tend to focus my efforts on one species of fish in Virginia, smallmouth bass. Pound for pound and inch for inch, these fish fight harder than most other freshwater fish in the state.

Smallmouth Bass in Virginia

Smallmouth bass, frequently referred to as smallies or bronzebacks, are a freshwater member of the sunfish family: Centrarchidae. Their green and brown sides are often marked with vertical black bars. Some of these fish have war paint like markings extending horizontally and diagonally behind their eyes and across their gill plates. Smallmouth bass are native to the Great Lakes system and the Mississippi River Basin including the Tennessee and Big Sandy River Drainages of Southwest Virginia. However, these game fish have been introduced all across the Piedmont of Virginia and are truly a worthy opponent on rod and reel. Because of the smallmouth’s widespread range in Virginia, they are readily available to anglers fishing west of the coastal plains above the fall lines of our major river systems. This allows anglers who reside in cities and large metropolitan areas to fish local as smallmouth opportunities are plentiful. The James River in Lynchburg and Richmond, Rappahannock Riverin Fredericksburg, Rivanna River in Charlottesville, Maury River near Lexington, and the New River in Blacksburg are fine examples of local opportunities.

The mainstem and larger tributaries of these rivers are full of smallmouth. Anglers in Northern Virginia can focus efforts on the Upper Potomac River as well as the Shenandoah mainstem, North Fork, and South Fork. The North Fork of the Holston River and the Clinch River provide excellent smallmouth opportunities in Southwest Virginia. Floating these larger rivers in a canoe or raft can be a great way to cover water, just remember to wear your life jacket. You can also wade fish these rivers and their tributaries, especially in the lower flows of late summer.

Summer Conditions

My favorite conditions to fish for smallmouth are from mid-summer into early fall. During this time of the year our rivers and streams are typically at lower flows with fantastic water clarity. These conditions provide for some incredible sight fishing opportunities for smallmouth bass. Look for fish to be holding against steep banks with overhanging trees and vegetation. During the middle of hot summer days it can pay off huge when you find a shady bank with depth and current. It can also be productive to target riffles and pocket water during this time of the year. Smallmouth will often be in the faster and more oxygenated water when river temperatures get hot.

It’s important to think about structure when locating summer smallmouth. These fish will often be found along a rock ledge or drop off. Log jams, underwater grass beds, and emergent water willow also provide structure that these fish can use for cover. Smallmouth can be found along current seams where fast water meets slow water. Fishing a quiet pocket behind a mid-river boulder or targeting the tailout of an island where two current seams come together is a good idea.

During hot, bright, summer days the fishing can be most productive early in the morning and again in the evening. I try to fish during these times as smallmouth will often be active during low light conditions and can get sluggish during the middle of a hot bright afternoon. That being said, these fish can be caught in the middle of bright sunny days as well. Also, afternoon cloud cover and a light shower can turn the fishing on in a matter of moments.

Summer Feeding Habits

Smallmouth bass are piscivores, they feed primarily on other fish. Various species of shiners, darters, dace, and sunfish are bass favorites. These fish also prefer large aquatic insects like hellgrammite nymphs and crayfish. However, the abundance of other aquatic and terrestrial insects allow smallmouth to diversify their menu in the summertime. It is not uncommon for these fish to target damselflies and dragonflies during summer hatches. I’ve seen summer smallmouth feeding on the surface with reckless abandon as damselflies hovered along a water willow island on the James River. These fish are happy to eat large cicadas, grasshoppers, or crickets that find their way into the water. These seasonal food sources allow for exciting topwater action.

One time during a mid-August float on the James River I found a long bank with overhanging sycamore trees providing shade along the edge of the river. I had been fishing a subsurface Clouser Minnow without a strike for nearly an hour. Because it was a windy afternoon I figured I would try my luck with a small green Boogle Bug popper on my 6 wt fly rod. A few casts later I had a fine smallmouth explode on the popper underneath the overhanging tree limbs. I landed the fish and held it up for a photo just in time to see it regurgitate a half dozen large Japanese beetles. The fish had been utilizing the windy conditions to snack on beetles as they got blown into the water. It can really pay off to change patterns based on water and weather conditions.

Medium to medium light spinning and baitcasting rods in the 7 foot range are great for late summer smallmouth. It can pay off to scale down in low clear water. You may want to consider fishing 6-8 lb test instead of 10-12 lb. Soft plastics work well for smallmouth and favorites include swim baits and tubes. Various spinnerbaits can be a great way to cover water in the larger rivers during this time of the year. Sometimes you can be surprised at how well a simple Mepps spinner or Rooster tail will produce. Topwater baits are a late summer “go to” with low and clear water. Try fishing buzzbaits, the smaller Whopper Plopper 90, Zara Spooks, and Heddon Tiny Torpedos. Buzzbaits and Whopper Ploppers can be retrieved quickly across the surface enticing explosive takes. The rotating tail of the Whopper Plopper acts like a propeller and creates lots of noise and attention.

For fly fishing, 9 to 10 foot rods in the 6 to 8 wt range are best. A 9ft 5wt may work well on the smaller rivers across Virginia but you will want a heavier rod on our larger rivers. Heavier rods in the 7 to 8 wt range will also turn over some of the bigger bugs we tend to throw this time of year on floating fly lines. A 9ft tapered leader in the 0x to 3x range will work well depending on water clarity and flows. Fishing large poppers like Boogle Bugs or Walt Cary’s “Walt’s Bass Popper” will get the smallmouth going. The Surface Seducer Double Barrel popper by Martin Bawden pushes lots of water. Large foam cicada patterns, Japanese beetle patterns, and western style Chernoyble Ants are fun when fished tight to the bank. Don’t forget to include a few damselfly and dragonfly patterns in your summer smallmouth fly box.

Don’t let the dog days of summer keep you from missing some of the most exciting warm water fishing conditions of the year!
When fishing these surface flies and lures, the takes can be very visual. Sometimes during a strip and pause retrieve, the smallmouth will slowly approach the fly from 5 feet away to gently sip it like a trout. Other times a fast strip retrieve will generate explosive takes. These visual late summer takes are hard to beat!

If the fish aren’t looking up you can do well stripping streamers. Bob Clouser’s Clouser Minnow was developed for smallmouth bass and a variety of colors can be productive this time of the year. My favorite color combinations for this fly are chartreuse and white, olive and white, as well as a more natural brown and white. The dumbbell eyes on this fly make it swim up and down through the water column as you retrieve. Lefty Kreh’s Deceiver is another fine smallmouth fly along with the famous Half & Half which is a combination of the Clouser Minnow and Deceiver. Chuck Kraft’s Kreelex has become a favorite amongst fly anglers in Virginia and the smallmouth can’t seem to ignore it. The flashy profile of this fly attracts fish in clear and stained water. Another popular smallmouth streamer is the Gamechanger developed by Blane Chocklett. The Gamechanger is multi-sectioned allowing it to swim naturally through the water column. Most other articulated streamers developed for trout fishing will also be productive on smallmouth bass as well. All of these streamers come in a variety of sizes. When choosing fly size, it’s essential to match the size of the forage fish the smallmouth are keying in on. This can vary from larger rivers to smaller tributaries but typically sizes 2-6 will work well with larger patterns being in the 1, 1/0, and 2/0 sizes.

Crayfish and Hellgrammite patterns can be productive during the heat of the day in late summer. Harry Murray’s Hellgrammite and Strymph can be fished with success lower in the water column closer to the bottom of the river. Chuck Kraft’s Clawdad and Crittermite are two other go to patterns. Its best to try numerous different approaches and techniques until you can find out what the fish are keyed in on each day.

In all, late summer smallmouth should be on your angling to do list. The conditions during this time of the year are excellent for sight fishing and cater to a topwater approach. From the smaller tributaries to the larger rivers, smallmouth opportunities are diverse across the state. Make time to get out this summer and fish local in Virginia.

St. Croix Redesigns Legend® Surf Rod

SURF’S UP, PRICES DOWN
from Traditions Media

St Croix Rods for surf fishing

St. Croix redesigns Legend® Surf rod series to deliver heightened performance and value

Park Falls, WI (August 14, 2019) – St. Croix’s pinnacle surf rod series, Legend® Surf, has been refined for 2020 to offer anglers increased performance at a reduced price. Updates include an all-new Fuji® guide train designed to provide optimal surf fishing performance with improved durability. In the sand or from the jetties, Legend Surf continues its legacy of leading the way in high-performance surf fishing.

The world’s most demanding surf anglers have good reasons to celebrate… twelve of them, actually. That’s the number of premium-performance rod models in St. Croix’s Legend Surf series, and all of them have been newly redesigned with state-of-the-art componentry. Less-demanding surfcasters should be celebrating, too, because new, lower pricing means these legendary, top-tier surf rods are now accessible to more passionate anglers than ever before.

“For years the Legend Surf rod family has been recognized as the pinnacle of factory-built surfcasting rods,” says St. Croix Regional Account Manager Alex Smay. “They’re just a joy to fish. They’re incredibly light and offer performance that is second-to-none.”

Building on Legend Surf’s exceptional performance characteristics and capabilities, St. Croix engineers relied heavily on the expertise of St. Croix pro team anglers to further improve and expand the series for the serious techniques that surf anglers regularly use. “There are a lot of good rods out there if you’re going to throw some bait out in the surf and let it sit,” says Smay.

“But we’ve never been satisfied with that. We really dialed the new Legend Surf series in for plug fishing, working pencil poppers and swimmers, all the wooden lures that surf anglers in the Northeast use, and the poppers employed down in Florida. Anglers who are after seriously big fish in rough and often nocturnal conditions… those are the folks who have really come to appreciate what this rod family has to offer when it comes to casting distances, working the baits in a certain way and fighting big, powerful fish… whether 50-pound stripers or 50-inch snook.”

Smay comments on the key Legend Surf design change: “We had really great componentry on these rods, but in listening to angler feedback, diehard surf anglers told us they actually preferred a different guide train. It’s another example of how we at St. Croix work with anglers to design the rods they want. In this case, changing the guides not only improved the performance and the durability of the rods, but it also allowed us to lower Legend Surf rod prices across the board, making these premium tools available to an increased number of anglers. So, it’s a win-win.”

Renowned surf junkie and St. Croix pro-staffer, Alberto Knie, or “Crazy Alberto” as he’s called, lives up to his name. The Florida surf-caster has spent years warring the surf all along the Atlantic coast. He’s one of the experienced anglers who provided St. Croix with feedback leading to Legend Surf’s design changes.

“As an avid angler and one who likes to target trophy fish, from the initial Legend Surf to the new and improved, the difference is remarkable,” says Knie. “These rods excel in the most extreme and demanding situations.”

Knie has used the new rods for big stripers, tarpon to 150 pounds, 50-pound bull reds, and monster 50-inch-plus snookzilla during his travels up and down the East Coast – all on artificial baits.

“The new titanium Fuji® K-Series KW guides are lightweight and durable, and St. Croix also upped the size of the main guide ring up to 50 mm, which further improves casting performance,” he says. “If you’re looking for specialized, custom-level high-performance rods with extreme castability, the new Legend Surf is it. It’s been fine-tuned over the years to meet the needs of the most extreme trophy-hunting surf anglers in the game. From the subtleties of its finish – which is tremendous – to the unparalleled customer service you get with the 15-year transferable warranty, you cannot go wrong with the components, performance, durability, and all the other benefits that come with owning a Legend Surf rod. They are literally the Best Rods on Earth.”

Designed and handcrafted at the St. Croix Rod factory in Park Falls, U.S.A., Legend Surf series rods are available in ten spinning and two casting models to perform flawlessly in any surf fishing duty. Spinning rods range in length from 7’ to 12’, while casting choices run 10’6” to 11’. Each rod carries a 15-year transferable warranty backed by St. Croix Superstar Service.

ST. CROIX LEGEND SURF SPINNING MODELS

7’ one-piece, medium power, moderate-fast action spinning (GSS70MMF)
8’ one-piece, medium power, moderate-fast action spinning (GSS80MMF)
9’ two-piece, medium power, moderate-fast action spinning (GSS90MMF2)
9’ two-piece, medium power, moderate action spinning (GSS90MM2)
10’ two-piece, medium power, moderate-fast action spinning (GSS100MMF2)
10’6” two-piece, medium power, moderate action spinning (GSS106MM2)
10’6” two-piece, medium-heavy power, moderate-fast action spinning (GSS106MHMF2)
11’ two-piece, medium-heavy power, moderate-fast action spinning (GSS110MHMF2)
12’ two-piece, medium-heavy power, moderate-fast action spinning (GSS120MHMF2)
12’ two-piece, heavy power, moderate-fast action spinning (GSS120HMF2)

ST. CROIX LEGEND SURF CASTING MODELS

10’6” two-piece, medium-heavy power, moderate-fast action casting (GSC106MHMF2)
11’ two-piece, medium-heavy power, moderate-fast action casting (GSC110MHMF2)

From striped bass and blues in the Northeast to big drum in the Mid-Atlantic and the outright bruisers of the southern coast, St. Croix’s improved Legend Surf rods offer hard-fishing surf rats the opportunity to seriously step up their game for a new, lower price that comes without compromise. MSRP runs from $470 to $670.

LEGEND SURF FEATURES

Integrated Poly Curve® (IPC®) mandrel technology
Advanced Reinforcing Technology™ (ART™)
High-modulus/high-strain SCIV carbon with FRS for unparalleled strength and durability
Offset, slim-profile ferrules on two-piece models provide one-piece performance
Fuji® K-Series KW tangle-free guides with SLIM SiC rings and titanium frames for unrivalled, 100% corrosion-proof performance
Fuji® DPS Deluxe reel seat with Back Stop™ lock nut and PVD-plated hoods
Custom neoprene handle provides comfort and durability. Positive grip improves when wet
Two coats of Flex-Coat slow cure finish
Ten spinning and two casting models with rod lengths ranging from 7’ to 12’ cover nearlyall sur f fishing possibilities
Engineered and built for extreme surf fishing performance
15-year transferable warranty backed by St. Croix Superstar Service
Designed and handcrafted in Park Falls, U.S.A.

About St. Croix Rod

Headquartered in Park Falls, Wisconsin, St. Croix has been proudly producing the “Best Rods on Earth” for over 70 years. Combining state-of-the-art manufacturing processes with skilled craftsmanship, St. Croix is the only major producer to still build rods entirely from design through manufacturing. The company remains family-owned and operates duplicate manufacturing facilities in Park Falls and Fresnillo, Mexico. With popular trademarked series such as Legend®, Legend Xtreme®, Avid®, Premier®, Tidemaster®, Imperial®, Triumph® and Mojo, St. Croix is revered by all types of anglers from around the world.