Monthly Archives: January 2020

Problems with Double Crested Cormorants

Double Crested Cormorant

Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service Solicits Public Input on Cormorant Management
Tens of thousands of these fish-eating birds are impacting not only fish farms and hatcheries but also wild fish populations in many areas across the eastern U.S.–here’s a chance to make your voice heard.
from The Fishing Wire

WASHINGTON – As part of ongoing efforts to address conflicts between double-crested cormorants and wild and stocked fisheries, the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is announcing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) and soliciting public input on future management options.

“Balancing the protection of native wildlife with economic and human health needs is fundamental to effective management practices,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. “Today’s action starts the process of improving management and further reduces conflicts with double-crested cormorants throughout the United States.

”Future management actions built on a strong biological foundation ensure cormorant populations are managed responsibly and in compliance with federal laws and regulations, while balancing economic development, human health and safety, endangered species management and other priorities.

“We are building long-term solutions for managing conflicts with double-crested cormorants under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act while maintaining healthy populations of this species,” said Aurelia Skipwith, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This effort, in collaboration with our partners, will ensure continued good stewardship of our natural resources.

”In 2017, the Service completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) evaluating options for issuing individual depredation permits to provide relief for aquaculture facilities experiencing direct economic losses from cormorants across 37 central and eastern states and the District of Columbia.

The EA analyzed options for the issuance of depredation permits for cormorants where there is either significant economic damage to aquaculture facilities, significant damage to native vegetation, significant impact on a threatened or endangered species, or significant human safety risks. Upon completion of the EA on November 15, 2017, the Service began issuing permits to aquaculture facility managers and property owners across 37 central and eastern states and the District of Columbia.

This review did not include potential damage to recreational and commercial fishing by cormorants. Since the publication of the EA, the Service engaged stakeholders to assess the biological, social and economic significance of wild fish-cormorant interactions, and to identify a suite of management alternatives.

The Service is also currently working with tribes, state fish and wildlife agencies and other federal partners to assess comprehensive management options for cormorants across the United States.

“With nearly 30,000 water surface acres across Arkansas used for aquaculture production, our fish farmers contributed $71.1 million to our state’s economy in 2017. However, the United States Department of Agriculture estimates double-crested cormorants cause more than $25 million in damage annually within the aquaculture industry. These birds have become the foremost antagonists of fish farmers. We need commonsense solutions that allow aquaculture producers to safeguard their fish from these predators,” said U.S. Sen. John Boozman (AR).

“I applaud the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for responding to the need of aquaculture producers by increasing the amount of maximum allowable take of double-crested cormorants, and I look forward to working with the Department of Interior and USFWS to ensure we can find commonsense solutions to ease the burden for hard working Arkansan aquaculture producers.”“Arkansans are experiencing the harmful impact of double-crested cormorants across the state. As one of the top aquaculture producers in the nation, Arkansas and its fish farmers are suffering millions of dollars in losses as these avian predators consume critical inventory,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (AR).

“I am glad the Department of Interior is taking this problem seriously and hope that further progress will come swiftly.”“Bird predation costs producers millions of dollars every year. I applaud the Department of the Interior for taking this important step to help aquacultures producers address those losses,” said U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS).

“The double-crested cormorant has been detrimental to Mississippi’s catfish farmers,” said U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (MS).

“I am pleased that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking this issue seriously and is considering options to allow aquaculture producers to manage the populations of these predatory birds that are destroying fish populations.”“I am pleased to see the Department is moving forward in the rulemaking process for the depredation of double-crested cormorants. This is a desperately needed next step for Michigan’s First District, where over-population is threatening the health of our free swimming and recreational fisheries,” said U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (MI-01).

“I am grateful the Administration has committed to this process to ensure a long-term and effective management plan for Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.”“I am pleased with the efforts and action by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to increase the allowable take of double-crested cormorants. This is a necessary step to mitigate more than $25 million in annual damages to the catfish and aquaculture industry,” said U.S. Rep. Michael Guest (MS-03).

“I’m supportive of this proposed rule, which will have a positive impact on Mississippi’s catfish industry, and I will continue to work with FWS to promote Mississippi’s aquaculture needs.”“Science has consistently proven that managing cormorants is necessary to protect not just aquaculture but fishing as well. I applaud the administration for listening to input, increasing the take and promoting sound scientific practices,” said U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (AR-04).

“Double-crested cormorants can pose a significant threat to American aquaculture. The American Farm Bureau Federation is pleased to learn that the Department of the Interior is moving forward to help provide farmers the necessary management tools to prevent double-crested cormorants from preying on farm livestock,” said President of the American Farm Bureau Federation Zippy Duvall.

“The strong return of double crested cormorants is a significant conservation success. But in the absence of natural predators, cormorants are inflicting substantial depredation on both private and public aquatic resources. This effort by the Fish and Wildlife Service is necessary and appropriate to maintain a healthy ecosystem,” said Former Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dale Hall.

Public scoping for the rulemaking process will begin with the publication of the ANPR in the Federal Register on January 22, 2020, and will continue for 45 days until March 9, 2020. To promulgate a proposed rule and prepare a draft environmental review pursuant to NEPA, the Service will take into consideration all comments and any additional information received on or before that date. You may submit written comments by one of the following methods. Please do not submit comments by both. We do not accept email or faxes.

Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2019-0103.

By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–HQ–MB–2019–0103; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, MS: JAO/1N, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

The Service seeks comments or suggestions from the public, governmental agencies, tribes, the scientific community, industry or any other interested parties. Areas for consideration include but are not limited to: potential reporting and monitoring strategies of cormorants by states and participating tribes; impacts on floodplains, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers or ecologically sensitive areas; impacts to other species of wildlife, including endangered or threatened species; and impacts on prime agricultural lands. Please see the Federal Register notice for more details.

The Fish and Wildlife service will post all comments on, including any personal information you provide. The Service will hold public scoping meetings in the form of multiple webinars in February 2020.More information about the rulemaking process, cormorants and meetings, including how to register, will be posted online at

Learning Fish Behavior from A Garmin Panoptix

I  have learned a lot from my Garmin Panoptix I installed last November.

This system is a sonar that shows a live picture of what is underwater on the screen, much like shining a spotlight at night shows what is in its beam.  And it shows movement as it happens, not as a line on the screen like older units.

One of my first surprises was how many fish are down there. I see schools of crappie and hybrids and clouds of baitfish suspended over deeper water this time of year.  And I can see fish moving along the bottom, probably catfish and carp.

Fish hovering around stumps, rocks and brush, or holding right on a drop off, are probably bass.

And there are lots of them. But seeing them does not mean they will hit my bait.

Time after time I see my bait move through them and they ignore it. Even worse is when I watch my jig fall on the cast or hop it and see a fish come up to it and follow it back down but never hit it. That does make me change colors, size and baits more often.

When I see fish in brush or on other cover, it makes me make more casts to it. The first tournament I used my Panoptix I saw what looked like fish in a brush pile in front of a dock. Normally i would hit a brush pile two or three times with a bait then move on. But seeing fish in that one made me make multiple casts and I caught a keeper on about my tenth cast!

I have always heard bass move tight to cover in muddy water.  In November and December, Jackson was very clear and I could see bass holding just over rocks and other cover, and they would slowly move around it. But after the rain Jackson muddied up and now I see bright dots indication bass right against the rocks or down in the brush.  And they don’t move, they just sit there.

I know a bait cast out and sinking will swing back toward the boat, and to get it to go straight to the bottom I “feed” line to it as it falls.  That is important when trying to get you bait to the bottom under docks and down to brush.Watching my bait swing back toward the boat as it falls amazes me.  A half ounce jig with a twin curly tail trailer cast on 14-pound fluorocarbon line makes an arch back toward me no matter how much line I feed to it.  It moves back toward me about a foot for every five it falls, so if I cast to a brush pile 20 feet deep I have to cast at least four feet past it to get my bait to hit it.

Another confirmation of fish behavior is the reaction of fish as my boat gets near them. Fish holding over rocks and brush will slowly sink down into it as my boat approaches. In clear water it is very noticeable. Bass over cover 20 feet deep started sinking down into it when my boat got within 30 feet of them.

I saw this happen many times when i moved in to try to jig a spoon or use drop shot. N ow, after seeing it happen, I will try to make very long casts in clear water!

I am just exploring lakes with my Panoptix and hope to learn a lot more in the coming months.

Southern Flounder Information

Southern flounder is the most recreationally popular and economically important of the three main flounder species found in South Carolina. (Photo: SCDNR)

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Flounder
Dr. Mike Denson, director of the Marine Resources Research Institute 
from The Fishing Wire

Last month, SCDNR shared important information about the documented decline in southern flounder across our region, including a link to a public survey. Many thanks to the nearly 2,000 of you who have already taken the survey, which will remain open until January 31, 2020. Later this season, we’ll analyze and share the survey results. 

In the meantime, we wanted to let our biologists answer some of the most frequently asked questions on this topic. Pulling from recurring topics at fishing club talks, social media, and public presentations, we posed a series of questions to the SCDNR biologists most knowledgeable about flounder. Find their answers below – and if you’ve been wondering about something that isn’t answered below, please leave your question in the comments.

Why are we hearing about the flounder decline now? This first-ever regional evaluation of the health of southern flounder along the southern Atlantic coast (from NC through the east coast of FL) was completed, peer-reviewed, and published in 2019. Until this study, there was no complete picture of the status of this population upon which to accurately assess condition and consider necessary corrective actions to ensure the long-term health of the stock and sustainability of the fishery.– Mel Bell, director of the Office of Fisheries Management

How will North Carolina’s actions impact South Carolina’s flounder?North Carolina’s planned actions will likely have a positive effect on flounder in South Carolina, but since flounder are all part of the same population regionally, the effectiveness and timeframe of their recovery also depends on other states also taking action to reduce fishing pressure and allow the population to rebuild to sustainable levels.– Chris McDonough, fisheries biologist 

If the flounder population is in such bad shape, why did I have a good day/month fishing for flounder? 
There’s a reason why you may still have success even when the overall population is down. When a population is very healthy and there are lots of available fish, they will be spread out throughout the estuary and on lots of different types of habitat. Some habitats are very attractive to flounder and include features like current eddies, shell beds, a transition between mud and sand bottom, and lots of available baitfish and shrimp. There are other, barer areas that don’t have all of these fish-attracting features.

When the population is large, there will be fish on both the most attractive and the less attractive habitats, because space is at a premium. As the population decreases, fish tend to disappear first from the less attractive habitats, either because they were removed and not replaced or because more room became available on the most attractive habitats and they moved to those locations. The absolute best habitats tend to hold fish, even when the population is small. That means a skilled angler that is fishing or gigging on the most attractive habitats may have some success until the point at which the population crashes. – Matt Perkinson, biologist and saltwater angler outreach coordinator

What impact does the commercial industry have on South Carolina’s flounder population? In recent years, the total commercial landings of flounder (from trawling and gigging) have made up less than 1% of the flounder harvested in South Carolina. Changes in federal and state commercial fishery-related laws since have resulted in commercial flounder landings shrinking to less than 2,000 pounds per year, while recreational landings are in the neighborhood of 350,000 to 400,000 pounds annually. Another important question about commercial fishing that frequently comes up is the impact of the commercial shrimp trawl fishery and the bycatch of flounder. 

While southern flounder are frequently caught as a bycatch species in the shrimp fishery, the impact of that on the population is not likely as significant as some might perceive, for several reasons. First, South Carolina has not allowed commercial trawling in inshore estuarine waters (where > 90% of southern flounder occur) since 1988, and gill nets were banned from estuarine waters in 1990. Second, southern flounder occur primarily in estuarine waters and only move to nearshore and offshore habitats in the winter to spawn and escape colder estuarine waters. The general decline in southern flounder has occurred after commercial trawling was banned from inshore waters. Additionally, southern flounder are one of three flounder species from the same family commonly caught in South Carolina, the other two being gulf flounder and summer flounder.

  Both summer and gulf flounder are more common offshore. SCDNR surveys 0-3 miles offshore, where a majority of shrimp trawling occurs, have found that summer flounder make up the majority of the flounder (78.1%) followed by southern flounder (16.3%) and gulf flounder (5.6%). So, while there certainly is some southern flounder by-catch in the shrimp trawl fishery, the overall impact it has on the population has likely been a minor component of the overall decline in southern flounder.– Mel Bell, director of the Office of Fisheries Management, and Chris McDonough, fisheries biologist

What impact does gigging have on South Carolina’s flounder population? From past estimates, we believe that somewhere in the neighborhood of 15% of licensed saltwater fishermen may participate in flounder gigging in a given year. Surveys of flounder giggers have shown typically larger landings per person than are estimated for the average recreational hook and line flounder fishing trip. However, given the limited number of available days with the proper conditions for tide, moonlight, water clarity, current, etc. it is most likely that total recreational flounder gig landings are much less than total estimated recreational hook and line flounder landings. – Mel Bell, director of the Office of Fisheries Management

Can flounder be stocked to help the population?The SCDNR has grown flounder in captivity for a number of years to look at the potential of producing them for stock enhancement. Flounder have a very complex life history, making them very difficult to produce in large numbers. Flounder begin life like all other fish, with eyes on each side of their head. They then go through a physical change, called metamorphosis, where one eye migrates to the other side of the body and they begin to flatten out and drop out of the water column to live their lives on the bottom. During that time, they are very sensitive to changes in water temperature. 

If it’s not just the right water temperature, all the flounder become males, which means they don’t grow to a large size like the females and will not even make it to the minimum harvest size of 15 inches.In addition, flounder grown in captivity are very sensitive to having the right nutrients in their diets. If it’s not “just right,” not many will survive and a high percentage of those that do will be partially albinos that are easily picked off when released into the wild.  

We have conducted many experiments over the years but have not been able to produce enough fish that were exactly like wild fish – with the same coloration and the same ratio of males and females – to feel like we could make a contribution to the wild population.  Southern flounder (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)What’s more, as we have learned about flounder life history through tag-recapture, most flounder that grow up in South Carolina leave to spawn before they reach legal size and are mostly recaptured in Georgia waters, making a flounder stocking program less a benefit for anglers in South Carolina.

Final 2019 Standings for the Three Griffin Bass Clubs

Final 2019 standings for the three Griffin bass
clubs are out.  During the year points are awarded at each tournament based on where you place. 

In Flint River and Potato Creek first place gets 100 points, second 90 on down to 10 for tenth. Anyone catching a keeper but finishing below 10th gets five points.  In Spalding County, first gets 25 points, second 24 on down to 1 for 25th.  We also keep up with numbers of fish weighed in and total weight for the year.   

Last year in Flint River, I won with 1340 points and 47 bass weighing 78.21 pounds.  Niles Murry placed second with 900 points, 40 bass and 67.42 pounds and Chuck Croft came in third with 880 points, 36 bass and 65.2 pounds.    Fourth place was won by Don Gober with 790 points, 34 bass weighing 45.79 pounds and his grandson Alex Gober placed fifth with 660 points and 22 keepers weighing 28.41 pounds. Doug Acree rounded out the top six with 410 points, 12 Bass and 16.12 pounds.   

In the Potato Creek club, I won with 890 points catching 73 bass weighing 130.39 pounds.  Trent Grainger placed second with 840 points, 61 bass weighing 106.03 pounds and Doug Acree came in third with 825 points and 70 bass weighing 111.79 pounds.     Mitchell Cardell placed fourth with 790 points, 56 bass weighing 95.03 pounds and fifth went to Kwong Yu with 700 points, 57 bass and 97.77 pounds.  Raymond English came in sixth with 670 points, 60 bass weighing 100.19 pounds.   

For the Sportsman Club, I won with 316 points and 65 bass weighing 129.94 pounds.  Kwong Yu placed second with 270 points, 51 bass and 82.11 pounds, Raymond English came in third with 266 points and 65 bass weighing 124.44 pounds.     In this club fourth went to Jay Gerson with 250 points, 55 bass and 84 pounds, Wayne Teal was fifth with 247 points, 44 bass and 68.24 pounds.  Billy Roberts rounded out the top six with 241 points, 37 keepers and 57.22 pounds.   

Since joining the Potato Creek club four years ago, my goal has been to win all three clubs one year. I was very happy to do it this past year while fighting health problems.  I guess I can retire from fishing now – not.

Economic Impact of Recreational Fishing

New Report Reveals Economic Impact of Recreational Fishing for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fisheries
from The Fishing Wire 

Tuna, shark, billfish, and swordfish anglers contribute an estimated $510 million to the U.S. economy each year.

In November, NOAA Fisheries released the findings of two studies on the economic impact of recreational fisheries targeting Atlantic highly migratory species. When combined with other NOAA Fisheries research, these reveal that HMS recreational fishing contributes an estimated $510 million to the U.S. economy each year. 

Atlantic tunas, sharks, billfish, and swordfish—together known as HMS—are popular targets for anglers. In 2018, we issued more than 20,000 HMS angling permits to fishermen living across the country. There were also more than 200 tournaments targeting Atlantic HMS that year. 

To understand how this robust industry impacts our national economy, we asked 1,806 anglers to break down their fishing trip expenses. We also collected cost and earnings information from 73 tournament operators and spoke with 104 tournament fishing teams. Both surveys were conducted in 2016. 

Anglers reported spending an average of $682 for a day of fishing for Atlantic HMS outside a tournament. Daily expenses were highest in the Gulf of Mexico. We estimate they spent $300 more on average there than in New England. Regardless of where they fished, though, anglers say boat fuel was their largest expense. Bait costs came in as a distant second, followed closely by groceries.

 Based on these answers, we estimate that anglers spend $46.7 million each year on private fishing trips.

Tournament fishing teams also reported that boat fuel was their largest expense, outside of tournament fees. Lodging fees came next, with teams spending an estimated average of $998 per event. For their part, tournament operators spent a total estimated average of $38.8 million across 219 sampled tournaments.

Beyond prize money, their three largest expenses were merchandising, labor costs, and catering. They also gave $6.4 million in charitable donations. Taken together, the two surveys reveal that private and tournament HMS anglers generated an estimated $232 million in total sales in 2016.

Those sales supported about 1,400 jobs across the country. We also estimate from this information that recreational HMS fishing contributed $127 million to the nation’s gross domestic product that year. And when we combine these results with other NOAA Fisheries research, we get a nearly complete picture of the economic contribution of HMS recreational fishing.

One study focused on the HMS charter/headboat fleet, while another collected data on boat, tackle, and other durable good expenditures. All together, our research shows that HMS recreational fishing generates $510 million in total sales each year and supports about 4,500 jobs. 

Learn more about economic impacts of charter fishing

Cold Muddy Sinclair Tournament

Last Saturday, 19 members of the Potato Creek Bassmasters fished our January tournament at Sinclair.  After eight hours, we brought 71 keeper largemouth weighing about 126 pounds to the scales.  There were 10 five-fish limits and two members didn’t weigh a bass.   

I won with five weighing 13.0 pounds and had a 6.71 pound largemouth for big fish.  Kwong Yu placed second with five at 12.85 pounds anchored by a 3.91 pounder.  Third was Tom Tanner with five weighing 12.58 pounds and had a 4.09 pounder. Dan Dupree came in fourth with five weighing 12.44 pounds and second biggest fish of the day with a 5.61 pounder.   

Add in the 4.43 pounder Raymond English had and the three pounder my partner Mike Scoggins weighed in and you can see it was close and there were a lot of quality fish caught on the cold, rainy day.   

Fish were caught on a wide variety of baits.  My big one hit a crankbait, I also had a three pounder on a spinnerbait, another keeper on the crankbait, three on a shaky head and one on jig and pig. The only consistent thing for me and others seemed to be fishing shallow in the 53-degree muddy water

Ned Kehde, Originator of the “Ned Rig”

Legendary angler, outdoor writer and guide, Ned Kehde

A Conversation with Ned Kehde, Originator of the “Ned Rig”
from The Fishing Wire

Ladson, SC – Classy, kind-hearted and self-effacing to a fault, Ned Kehde likes to tell you the world has passed him by. That he’s not the angler he used to be. That he uses simple baits because he’s a simple man. The truth is, Kehde has a wise reason for everything he does; knows precisely how to make bass bite; and for goodness sake, knows more about the history of bass fishing—including exact months and years various events occurred— than almost anyone alive.

A retired archivist for the University of Kansas and legendary writer of fishing stories, Kehde recalls that April day in 2006 when the modern Midwest Finesse technique clicked into place.

“I was in Japanese angler Shinichi Fukae’s boat at Beaver Lake,” Kehde recalls. “What immediately struck me were Fukae’s methods, which mirrored the finesse tactics my friends and I had adopted back in Kansas. Using a 3/32-ounce jig and shad-style worm, Fukae retrieved the lure a few inches off bottom, reeling and shaking as it went along.

”That same year, Kevin VanDam showed Kehde an early ElaZtech bait. The bait, a Strike King Zero, was the first ultra-durable soft stickbait manufactured by the parent company of what would eventually become Z-Man Fishing. Not long after, the Ned Rig was born. But we’ll let Ned take it from there . . .

Tell us about the history of what’s known today as Midwest Finesse fishing.

Kehde: A lot of folks think finesse bass fishing started in California, on those deep clear reservoirs, back in the 1970s and 80s. Actually, in the 1950s, a Kansas City angler named Chuck Woods was already fishing a soft lure called the Beetle on a spinning rod. Woods designed the Beetle, Beetle Spin and Puddle Jumper—three classic finesse lures—and also created the first Texas-rigged jigworm.

I first met Woods at a Kansas City tackle shop in 1970. He was a taciturn old cuss, but I believe he probably caught more Kansas largemouth bass than any man in history.Guido (Little Gete) Hibdon was another legendary Ozarks angler who regularly wielded a spinning rod rigged with a light jighead and soft plastic bait long before Western anglers. The first time Midwest finesse met Western waters was when Drew Reese fished the first ever (1971) Bassmaster Classic at Lake Mead. Reese finished in 7th place, fishing a jigworm and Beetle Spin. Finally, during a 1980s trip to Mille Lacs, Minnesota, Ron Lindner put a Gopher Mushroom jighead in my hands. I was amazed by how you could drag this jig over rocky terrain and rarely get hung up.

Kehde says the TRD MinnowZ is one of the most underrated, durable and productive finesse baits ever created.

Beyond the history, what’s one thing most folks today should know about Midwest finesse tactics?

Probably the most misunderstood and yet most important thing about the way we fish is what we call a no-feel retrieve. Most anglers prefer to fish a jig so they’re in constant contact with it, mostly hopping it along bottom. But the way we prefer to fish, if you’ve got constant contact it means you’re using too heavy of a rig.I’m primarily fishing from 3 to no more than 12 or 15 feet deep, mostly with 1/32- and 1/16-ounce jigheads.

One favorite retrieve among Midwest Finesse anglers is something we call swim-glide-shake. We’re retrieving the lure 6 to 12 inches above the bottom, which is difficult to do with a heavier ¼- or 3/16-ounce jig. We like to err on the side of lightness. I guess you could say we try to use our intuition to figure out what the bait is doing — sort of let the soft ElaZtech material naturally shake, shimmy and do its thing without getting in its way too much. It sounds more complex than it really is because when coupled with the right line (Kehde prefers 15-pound braid), you immediately detect any resistance the lure encounters. That includes sensing the difference between the lure contacting filamentous algae, a twig or a lightly biting bass.

Why do you prefer a 1/16-ounce jig with a #4 hook for most of your fishing?

A 1/16-ounce #4 mushroom is the most unbeatable jig in the history of the world. We already talked about how this shape performs so beautifully around cover. But it really allows an ElaZtech bait to do its thing — shake and shimmy — without getting in its way. I know a lot of anglers think a #4 hook is too small, but to me, a bigger hook doesn’t slide through brush or vegetation nearly so well as a #4, which is almost snag-free

.I also feel like I do way less damage to the fish with a smaller hook. But beyond that, a bigger hook just gets in the way of the bait’s gyrations, sort of neutralizes some of the magic of super-soft, buoyant ElaZtech baits.

What’s the deal with your favorite red jighead?

I was already a fan of red jigheads when I fished with Shin Fukae that day on Beaver Lake, back in 2006. He was using red and doing a number on the fish, which really reinforced my beliefs and confidence in the color. Fukae also used red nail polish to paint polka dots on his crankbaits and topwaters.Years before that, Gopher Tackle owner Conrad Peterson would constantly urge me to fish “red, red, red,” regardless of water clarity. But when red isn’t going, I like blue and chartreuse, too. A blue jig is especially effective during the bluegill spawn. A flash of blue really mimics that super vivid hue present on a bluegill’s pre-dorsal area. Another hot pattern lately has been a Junebug colored Finesse TRD with a chartreuse jighead.Kehde’s favorite red mushroom jighead, this one rigged with a Finesse TRD and TRD SpinZ for extra flash and vibration.

What’s your record for the most bass caught on a single ElaZtech bait?

I believe the all-time record was 232 fish on a single 4-inch Z-Man Finesse WormZ. Few years ago, while testing a prototype of the TRD HogZ, we caught 55 bass in 69 minutes. When I mailed the bait to Z-Man, it had already produced 112 fish, and was still in really good shape.

Although the Finesse TRD and ZinkerZ receive most of the press, what are a few of your other favorite finesse baits?

One bait that for sure deserves more attention from finesse anglers is the TRD MinnowZ. The MinnowZ moves totally different in the water than the Finesse TRD. It totally lacks salt, making it exceedingly durable, buoyant and lively underwater. My fellow finesse anglers have caught untold numbers of bass on this bait, rigged on a mushroom jighead or a dropshot, including some 8-pound lunkers.From my experiences, the TRD MinnowZ possesses some of the attributes of a reaper, stick-style bait, and worm, all in one. I prefer to rig it with 1/32-ounce jig so the bait lays flat on its side, aligning the tail horizontally. It offends the eyes of some anglers, but the bait fishes beautifully this way. The ultralight 1/32-ounce jig produces a wonderful glide effect.

Jerk the bait once and let it glide. With this combo, 10 to 25 fish an hour is a realistic goal.The Finesse ShadZ is another serious fish catcher. It’s got an incredibly appealing shad-shaped profile that bass respond to. Because it lacks salt, the extra-buoyant, super-soft bait fishes light and with tremendous, subtle undulations. These manifold virtues enhance the ShadZ’s ability to render an unparalleled no-feel retrieve.A weedless Ned Rig alternative, the Finesse BulletZ weedless jighead dressed with a TRD MinnowZ.

What factors do you think account for the popularity of the Midwest Finesse (Ned Rig) style of fishing?

Well, I look at tournaments after all these years of observing the best anglers and am still amazed by how few fish they catch in competition. Fishing for five big fish is not a good way for us or the everyday angler to propagate the sport.I think tournaments have exaggerated the price of what it truly costs to go fishing. It’s important for recreational anglers to understand that fishing really can be much simpler, and much less expensive than it’s too often purported to be. Midwest finesse style fishing pares everything down to its bare minimum—just you, a simple jig and lively bait and the bass. Every angler can relate to that.

At the end of the day, most of us just want to catch a bunch of fish. Ned Kehde, Lawrence, Kansas, is a retired university archivist, fishing guide and longtime outdoor writer who has helped fine-tune a phenomenal fish-catching system known today as the Ned Rig. Connecting hundreds of anglers across the continent, Kehde’s online Finesse News Network features some of the most detailed fishing reports ever written. At the heart of the Ned Rig system, always, are a mushroom shaped jighead and an ElaZtech finesse-style bait. In recent years, the popularity of the Ned Rig has proliferated well beyond its Midwestern roots, becoming a staple presentation among recreational and tournament anglers across North America.

About Z-Man Fishing Products: 

A dynamic Charleston, South Carolina based company, Z-Man Fishing Products has melded leading edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been among the industry’s largest suppliers of silicone skirt material used in jigs, spinnerbaits and other lures. Creator of the Original ChatterBait®, Z-Man is also the renowned innovators of 10X Tough ElaZtech softbaits, fast becoming the most coveted baits in fresh- and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest-growing lure brands worldwide. 

About ElaZtech®: 

Z-Man’s proprietary ElaZtech material is remarkably soft, pliable, and 10X tougher than traditional soft plastics. ElaZtech resists nicks, cuts, and tears better than other softbaits and boasts one of the highest fish-per-bait ratings in the industry, resulting in anglers not having to waste time searching for a new bait when the fish are biting. This unique material is naturally buoyant, creating a more visible, lifelike, and attractive target to gamefish. Unlike most other soft plastic baits, ElaZtech contains no PVC, plastisol or phthalates, and is non-toxic.

Cleaning Reels and Guns

 know it makes me a bad person, but as much as I love to fish and hunt, I hate cleaning reels and guns.  And now, my shaky hands make it very hard to do and gives me a good excuse. 

Fortunately, I have good options. I take my reels to Big Ernie’s Tackle in Bonanza and in a few days get my reels back cleaned and any repairs made.

For years, before getting a magnetic holder that keeps my pistol handy under the dash or my truck, I kept my semiautomatic Glock in a bag at my feet.  It got very dirty and started jamming.  A gun that jams is nothing but a chunk of steel when you need protection.

I took my Glock to Neil Blalock at Mid-Georgia Gunsmithing and a couple days later had it back, clean and with an action smooth as warm butter.  I was very happy with his price and fast service.  If you have guns that need cleaning or repair, call him at 770-584-5892 or visit his web site at

Beaching It Fishing at Pensacola

Fishing from the Beach

Beaching It Fishing at Pensacola
By Frank Sargeant
from The Fishing Wire

It sometimes seems that half of the population from North Alabama all the way to the Canadian border heads for the Gulf beaches on winter holidays. There’s good reason. Not only is the climate significantly more pleasant, but the emerald green waters and white sand beaches extend for endless miles. Beaches here are regularly adjudged to be among the best not only in the U.S. but worldwide.

And for anglers, the change from a steady regimen of catch-and-release bass—or of punching holes through ice for walleyes and perch– gets “salted” with seatrout, redfish, flounder, sheepshead and many other species—all of them as tasty on the table as they are exciting on the line. While Panama City Beach, Miramar and Destin are well-known favorites for many families, there are other attractive locations where the beach is just as good or better, and where the crowds are far sparser for much of the season.

One of my personal favorites is the shore between Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach plus the Gulf Islands National Seashore (GINS)beyond, extending all the way to Pensacola Pass.

Much of this area is completely undeveloped, not only on the beach but also on the backwater lagoons, thanks to the vast sprawl of Gulf Islands National Seashore, which begins here on Santa Rosa Island and leapfrogs all the way to the waters of Ship Island, Mississippi—some 135,000 acres total, stretching over 160 miles along the northern edge of the Gulf. There are small communities on Santa Rosa, both on the Navarre Beach and the Pensacola Beach end with hotels, restaurants and shops, but for the most part much of the land and water here is almost the way the Spaniards found it in the 1500’s.

 That’s a particular advantage in access to Santa Rosa Sound, because otherwise it’s lined with high-dollar houses and docks where public access is verboten. The extensive park lands open up lots of backwater wade-fishing for those without boats, or those who merely need a spot to launch a kayak or canoe. There are vast productive grass flats within a few hundred yards of parking areas in much of the parkland.

On my most recent visit, I parked at the GINS parking area in Gulf Breeze and walked less than 50 yards to the lagoon. There was a half-mile-long school of mullet jumping on the outside of the grass where depth dropped from about 2 feet to 4 feet, and both redfish and trout were running the edge with the mullet.  The trout were quick to jump on a 3/16 ounce plastic-tailed jig hopped through the grass, while the reds held out for a LiveTarget Scaled Sardine fished with frequent pauses between twitches. Fish were most abundant where the grass flat extended farther from the shore, as well as in bare sand potholes surrounded by grass. 

As in most inshore fishing, the best stick for this action is a 7-foot medium light spinning rod and 2500 to 3000 size reel and 10-pound-test braid. A couple feet of 20-pound-test mono leader stiffens the presentation and prevents treble-hook lures from circling back on themselves to snag the line.

I caught reds to 8 pounds on this rig over three days, trout to around 20 inches.  My trip was just before the first big cold front of the year and water temperature on the flats was 70 degrees—it’s now in the lower 60’s. It’s likely fish that were in the shallows have now moved to nearby channels, cuts and holes as well as into backcountry creeks, but they won’t go farther than they have to for warmer water.

I didn’t fish the beach, but a couple from Birmingham I ran into at a turnout about halfway between Pensacola Beach and Navarre told me they were catching whiting, and they also hooked up with a four-foot shark, their second of the afternoon, while I was photographing them. The fish eventually nipped the leader and escaped.  There’s also easy-access fishing from the Pensacola Beach Pier here, and the tackle shop rents or sells everything needed for vacationing anglers to catch winter drum, blues, sheepshead and whiting—the sheepshead can be particularly abundant around the pilings in winter—feed them small chunks of fresh-cut shrimp or whole sand fleas on a size 1/0 hook right against the concrete.

The pier is some 1400 feet long, and in the warmer months produces everything from Spanish mackerel and kings, to cobia, lunker reds and lots more, including even the occasional stray sailfish. Dad can fish here while mom and kids swim or surf, or go across the street to the numerous gift shops and restaurants. 

Other things to do here include Fort Pickens National Monument just to the west, where you can take a self-guided tour of this fort built prior to the Civil War and later used as a jail to hold the American Indian chief Geronimo—kids love the dark, winding tunnels within as well as the massive historic canons. It’s possible to spend the whole day in this end of the park because there are swimming beaches, wade-fishing opportunities on the flats and a fishing pier where giant redfish are caught with some frequency; 

The National Naval Aviation Museum is also well worth a visit if anyone in your family is interested in the history of flying or military aircraft—the 350,000-square-foot facility is loaded with every sort of historic airplane, and also has a good selection of entertainments to keep the kids busy while the adults explore the displays;

See details on Gulf Islands National Seashore at 

For more on visiting the Pensacola area, go to

Joining A Bass Club and Fishing A January Club Tournament

This is a great time to join a bass club. 

The Flint River Bass Club meets the first Tuesday of the month and fishes our tournament the following Sunday.  Potato Creek Bassmasters meets the Monday following the first Tuesday and fishes that Saturday.  Spalding County Sportsman Club meets the third Tuesday each month and fishes the following Sunday.  All three clubs have some two-day tournaments, too.

Annual dues are $25 in Flint River and $50 in the other two. Monthly tournament entry fees are $25 to $30 with a variety of pots, like daily big fish at $5, that are voluntary.

We have a lot of fun at the meetings discussing fishing and telling some true stories about it. Tournaments are fun competition, mostly for bragging rights since entry fees are low and there is not enough money involved to really get serious about it.

There are many of us in each of the three clubs that often fish alone, so there is always room for new members without a boat.  If interested in joining one of the clubs call me at 770-789-6168 or email

Last Sunday ten members of the Flint River Bass Club fished our first tournament of the year at Jackson.  The weather was great for this time of year, but the muddy 52-degree water seemed to turn off the bass.

In eight hours of casting, we brought 15 12-inch keeper bass weighing about 22 pounds to the scales. Ten of them were spots.  There was one limit and five members zeroed.

Doug Acree won with five weighing 8.09 pounds and said he caught a bunch of bass, culling in the first hour of the tournament, while the rest of us struggled to catch a keeper.  Don Gober had three at 4.12 pounds for second, Niles Murray placed third with two at 4.04 pounds and his 3.21 pound largemouth was big fish. My three weighing 3.72 pounds was good for fourth and Alex Gober had two at 2.19 for fifth.

Niles fished with me since his new boat has not arrived. We tried a little bit of everything that morning. Niles hooked a nice two-pound bass on a spinnerbait that came off right at the net first thing.

I missed a fish that hit a jig head worm because of my stupidity.  I had switched reels around and forget to check the drag. When I tried to set the hook, the spool just spun around, and I did not hook the fish.  I did land a keeper spot on a crankbait off a boat ramp and another one on a spinnerbait in a blowdown.  Then about 11:00 I slowed down and caught my third keeper on a shaky head worm on a rocky point.

I made the mistake of picking at Niles a little since he didn’t have a fish in the livewell and I had three. Then he caught the three pounder on a jig on a rocky point and caught up with me with one fish.  He added his second keeper with about an hour left to fish. It hit the jig on a point.

We both missed a lot of bites.  I caught two 11-inch spots and a couple of times, when I set the hook on the shaky head, I brought in half a worm, a good sign it was a little fish.

It was a fun day overall.  I am looking forward to the rest of the club tournaments this year.