Last Sunday, March 20, 14 members of the Spalding County Sportsman Club fished our March tournament at Lake Oconee. After fishing from 7:30 AM to 3:30 PM we brought 37 keeper largemouth longer than 14 inches to the scales. There was one five fish limit and two fishermen didn’t weigh in a keeper.
My five at 12.68 pounds won and I had a 5.04 pound largemouth for big fish. Raymond English had four weighing 9.40 pounds for second, Wayne Teal placed third with four at 7.68 pounds, George Roberts had four at 7.22 pounds for fourth and Niles Murray placed fifth with four weighing 7.13 pounds.
Will Mclean fished with me and we started on a grassbed I had a feeling would produce a fish. It did, I caught a keeper and a short fish on a swim jig within a few casts. Then it got tough as the sun got on the water.
At about 10:00 Will cast beside a dock and got a bite but missed it. He got that fish to hit two more times, hooking a good keeper on the third bite.
My next fish hit my shaky head worm near the boat and when I set the hook it came flying out of the water and the hook came out of its mouth in the air. But it fell into the boat! Some fish are just meant to be caught.
At noon we had only those three in the livewell so we decided to change tactics. We went to a small main lake cove from the small but bigger creek where we had been fishing. It had deeper water and was closer to the main river. I hoped this would mean more fish had moved up from their winter homes.
On the point of the cove a deep brush pile produced my third keeper, one that just barely touched the 14-inch line on the keeper board. Then my fourth keeper hit my shaky head out from a small grass bed inside the point.
Will got his second keeper off the next grass bed then we both caught some throwbacks. Going into the cove I noticed a waypoint on my GPS and remembered there were some rock piles out in 12 to 15 feet of water. A few casts to them produced a couple of short fish then a two-pounder hit my shaky head. I had a limit at 1:00! But with the bare keeper I figured I had only about seven pounds.
I cranked up and went across the mouth of the cove to go around it again and saw another bass boat coming. Sure enough, Zane and JR pulled up on the point I had just left and started fishing! Will and I fished around the cove toward them and caught a couple more short fish.
When we met Zane and JR, with then on one dock and us on the next one, I cast my shaky head to the dock and a bass thumped it. When I set the hook I started yelling for the net, a big fish flashed in the water and tried to run under the dock.
A I fought it I flashed back three years to another tournament and a similar day. On another dock I hooked a big fish, pulled it away from the dock post three times and got it within a couple of feet of the net. Then my line went slack, it just came off. That fish was every bit of eight pounds.
As I pulled this fish to the top so Will could get the net under it, my hook popped out and flew over the boat. I felt sick for a second, then Will raised up the net – with the 5.04 pounder in it! Talk about a fish that was just meant to get caught.
Will said that fish was really his, so I gave it to him – right after weigh-in.
We fished the rest of the day and landed several more short fish, and I got two more keepers on a shaky head worm. I culled three times, including the first fish I caught that morning.
The fishing was as bad as expected. Twenty-five members of the club fished for nine hours on Saturday in the ridiculous, dangerous wind and seven more on Sunday, a much better day. But we caught only 29 bass weighing about 81 pounds. There were 13 zeros and only three limits.
As always someone catches them. Sam Smith won with ten weighing 30.65 pounds and had big fish with a 5.36 pound largemouth. His partner Carl Heidle had seven weighing 16.95 pounds for second, Raymond English had four weighing 7.83 pounds for third and David Martin had four at 7.79 pounds for fourth. My four at 6.82 pounds was good for fifth.
When we finally blasted off, I ran around to what I thought would be a protected area behind an island but the wind was so strong I could not fish. That made me go to the small creek hoping the wind would not be too bad in there, and there were a few areas I could fish without losing my cap to the wind.
I was pitching a jig and pig to the edge of grassbeds, letting it fall to the bottom in water a few inches to a few feet deep. At about 10:00 I got a bite but when I set the hook my line broke in the reel – a sure sign I had missed a bad place in it about 20 feet up when I checked then night before. To add “insult to injury,” the keeper fish jumped trying to get rid of my jig stuck in its jaw!
I finally got another bite at about 1:00 but the wind had my line bowed out and I missed the fish. Finally at 2:00 one hit my jig and I landed a 1.64 pounder, and was proud to have something to weigh in the first day.
Sunday as much colder but the wind did not blow. For the first hour or so I had to dip my rod in the water after every cast to melt the ice out of the guides. And it started just as bad, with no bites until about 11:00. Then a fish grabbed my jig and ran toward the boat but spit it out before I could set the hook.
At noon I finally landed one small keeper and about gave up since I was tired, there was three hours left to fish and I did not have much hope. But at 2:00 I went to the grassbed where I caught my keeper on Saturday and caught a decent keeper, then got a second one off a nearby dock on a shaky head worm. Then it was time to go in and face the results of two tough days!
Forestville, WI (February 9, 2022) – What defines a professional angler? Ask someone off the street and they’ll likely describe fancy boats, bright lights and big fish. Ask those who stand atop the leaderboard, however, and they’ll tell a different story – one of hard work, determination, and the efforts of many other industry pros who have helped them succeed.
“You can’t get to the top without others to lift you up,” says, Patrick Neu, president of the 1,400-member non-profit National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA). “Nobody reaches the pinnacle of professionalism in this industry without a lot of help. That’s exactly why the NPAA is inviting fishing industry workers of every type to join our ranks. Our purpose is to grow and protect sportfishing while providing our members the tools and association benefits needed to increase their professionalism and meet individualized goals.”
To be sure, professionalism in the fishing industry is wide ranging, a point not lost on the organization and its members. “Being a fishing industry ‘pro’ is a pretty loose term,” says NPAA member Chad Pipkens, a ten-year full-time veteran of the Bassmaster Elite Series and five-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier from Dewitt, Michigan, who spent several years prior honing his skills on a variety of smaller trails before acquiring the knowledge, money and flexibility of time needed to compete at the highest levels.
“Professional doctors diagnose and treat patients, teachers instruct students, pro golfers receive PGA cards, and electricians need a license to perform electrical work,” Pipkens says. “These are all well-defined fields of specialization. By comparison, the fishing world encompasses many different job opportunities. Sure, tournament anglers, captains and guides are fishing professionals, but so are the highly skilled mechanics that work on your engine as well as the folks who run the marina, design lures, sell fishing tackle, manage anglers and staff the tournament trails.
“To me,” Pipkens continued, “anyone making meaningful money or striving to earn a living in this industry should qualify as a pro. If you don’t want to be on the water day in and day out, but you still want to be in the industry, you can find the contacts amongst our membership to maybe make that happen.”
“Anyone making meaningful money or striving to earn a living in this industry should qualify as a pro.”
According to Pipkens, the NPAA does a great job of teaching aspiring pros how to run a fishing-related business through their seminars, annual conference and approachable members who have already achieved success. “NPAA membership can shorten your learning curve and raise your professionalism at any level,” he points out. “It’s a great organization for learning the ins and outs of running your own business; whether that’s tech stuff, accounting, how to network or get paid by more than one employer, it certainly can help shorten your learning curve.”
As a pro angler, Pipkens says his life is organized chaos; getting the boat ready, crisscrossing the country, and being on the road for five weeks at a time while never losing his family focus. He often practices on the water from sunrise to sunset. Despite the pressure to win, tournaments are actually the fun part of his routine. “Balancing all the rest,” he says, “is what really makes you a professional.”
For tournament pros, guides and charter captains in particular, there is a ton of preparation that takes place behind the scenes, notes John Campbell, an NPAA founding member and full-time guide. A Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame member inducted in 2018, Campbell managed to win both the Pro Walleye Trail Detroit River and FLW Lake Ouachita championships. He also qualified for a major walleye championship every single year from 1989 to 2011 while on the pro tour. That’s 22 consecutive years, if you’re counting.
Like Pickens, Campbell agrees publicly visible aspects of being a tournament angler or guide help solidify your status as a professional, but the business end of things is vitally important. “Sure, you’ve got to pre-fish, choose your lures, maintain your gear, set up the boat and put in plenty of time on the road,” he notes, “but you also have to learn to book charters, carefully plan out your competition schedule, promote your sponsors and tend to family matters. Earning money and winning tournaments is vital, but also important is finding ways to help grow the sport through sharing knowledge and getting more kids involved.”
As a professional guide, Campbell is in the business of educating anglers. “To me, helping others learn the game is the sign of a true pro,” he states, adding that this is exactly the kind of people you’ll network and rub elbows with in the NPAA. “This organization supported over 100 Future Angler clinics in 2021 alone. With support from the Future Angler Foundation, it’s member volunteers also distributed over 4,000 NPAA Future Pro T-shirts and 3,000 rod/reel combos to kids at NPAA Future Angler education events. That, I believe, is professionalism at its finest.”
For information on joining the NPAA and exploring the many benefits membership provides, visit npaa.net.
I usually enjoy the four seasons. Changing weather often makes fishing better and it is less boring. But going through all four seasons and worse last week at Lake Eufaula was a bit much.
I went down to Lake Point State Park last Tuesday and set up my slide in pickup camper. The weather was very warm when I went to bed and I knew storms were possible.
At 5:00 AM someone pounded on my camper and woke me. I thought they said the power was out, but my fan was still running so I turned over to go back to sleep. Then a car horn started blowing, making me look at my phone – there was a Tornado Warning for the campground on it I had not heard!
I joined all the other campers in the cement block bath house for the next hour!
The rest of Wednesday was decent, with some light showers but little wind. I was able to get out on the lake and look around some. I joined the 196 other bass boats on the water, a Fishers of Men National Championship tournament was scheduled for Thursday through Saturday. It was a big deal, first and second places in the tournament would win fully rigged bass boats worth either $80,000 or $60,000, depending on place.
Thursday was a nice spring like day, warm weather and sun. I again looked around, watching the many boats with teams fishing the first day of the tournament. Most were easing around the shoreline, casting various baits to grassbeds.
When I went to my favorite small creek I was happy to see just two boats in it fishing, but while I idled around about six other boats ran in, fished a few minutes, then left. I knew by the start of our tournament Saturday the poor fish would be beat to death, seeing every lure carried by Berry’s Sporting Goods and then some.
Friday the wind was up a little and the misty rain made me sit at my camper and watch the tournament fishermen go round and round in the creek out from the campground. Weather guessers were saying 20+ MPH winds for Saturday. Most lakes are dangerous with those kinds of winds, and Eufuala is one of the worse.
Fishers of Men announced they were canceling the third day of their tournament due to dangerous conditions. And the Bass Fisherman’s League canceled their big tournament on Oconee for the same reason.
Potato Creek did not cancel, but when Tom Tanner and I idled to the ramp for our set 7:00 blast off, we were told the executive committee delayed our start by 30 minutes. So for 30 minutes Tom and I sat in our boats as the cold wind got about five miles per hour stronger and the temperature dropped another two degrees while everybody else sat in their warm trucks in the parking lot.
Many anglers, this one included, can’t wait for ice-out to head for their favorite crappie lake and wet a line in open water for the season’s first time. Those just-after-ice-out trips sometimes produce good fishing, but at other times the fish seem to be non-existent. The fact is that as the water warms and weather stabilizes during spring, the crappie bite gets better. Here are some tips to capitalize on what I call the crappies of “mid-spring.”
Most crappie anglers know that finding the warmest shallow water during spring up until the spawn is key. Warming waters, usually shallow waters, show the first signs of open-water life and draw hungry crappies. Shallow, dark-bottomed bays are classic early season spots, as are boat channels, marinas, and other shallow spots that warm quickly.
Just after ice-out, the crappies invade these areas looking to feed, particularly on warm, sunny days. The appearance of a spring cold front, however, often sends these fish scurrying off to deeper waters where the water temperature is more stable. As spring progresses and water temperatures continue to rise and the weather moderates, crappies spend more and more time feeding in the shallows.
Finding spring crappies involves staying on the move and searching various shallow spots. I often hit several spots during a fishing day, keeping an eye on the temperature gauge on my sonar unit in the boat when going from spot-to-spot. Shore anglers, though more limited in mobility, often do well this time of the year too as shallow areas that hold fish are often accessible from the bank.
Small panfish jigs tipped with crappie minnows and fished below bobbers produce fish, particularly when the fish are finicky. More aggressive fish, on the other hand, are often very susceptible to small jigs and plastics combos. I’ve become a big fan of the Mr. Crappie soft baits in recent years and prefer the Crappie Thunder and 2-inch Tubes during spring. Hungry crappies readily hit soft baits and usually several fish can be caught on the same bait without rebaiting. Regardless of whether tipping a jig with live bait or plastic, fishing the combination a couple feet below a bobber and casting near shallow cover like weeds, brush, and timber usually results in bites if fish are present.
Bobbers and jigs go hand in hand for spring crappies, however, a cast-and-retrieve approach can also yield good catches on some days and can be a good “search” presentation as well. For this method, I rig a Mr. Crappie ShadPole on a small jig, cast it out, and slowly retrieve it back.
Regardless of whether fishing a bobber or cast-and-retrieve fishing, using your tolling motor to quietly approach and work potential fishing spots is important now. Shallow, spring crappies are notorious for being spooky and avoiding excess noise that may easily scatter these wily fish will generally up your catch.
Spring and crappies go hand in hand, especially as the season progresses and the weather stabilizes. Following some of the tips just provided can, in fact, probably help you capitalize on the hot mid-spring crappie bite this season!
As always, good luck on the water and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoor adventure!
Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series. Visit www.fishingthemidwest to see more fishing tips and view recent TV episodes as well!
Last Sunday, March 6, nine members of the Flint River Bass Club fished our March tournament at Lake Sinclair. The weather was beautiful for our casting from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM but the bass didn’t seem to care. We weighed in 29 keeper bass weighing about 47 pounds and had three five-bass limits. No one zeroed.
My four at 10.63 won and I had as 4.19 pound largemouth for big fish. Chuck Croft placed second with five at 9.15 pounds, Don Gober had five at 9.02 pounds for third and Alex Gober, his grandson fishing with him, had five at 4.86 pounds for fourth.
Will Mclean fished with me and we headed to some grass beds near the dam where Ricky Layton, showing me around the same time of year two years ago for a GON article, caught five weighing 28 pounds. But after three hours and several different places, we both had two bites.
A good keeper bass hit my crankbait on a seawall and jumped and threw it. Then Will hooked and lost what looked like a keeper on a Texas rigged Senko. A little later Will caught a bass that just barely touched the 12-inch line, then I caught a similar one.
Club rules say a bass must be 12 inches long with its mouth closed on a keeper board to be weighed. I could make mine touch the 12-inch line, barely, but worried about it. Sometimes in the excitement of catching one I do not measure it correctly.
Around 10:30 I cast my bladed jig to a grassbed on a point and hooked a keeper out in front of it. At 11:30 Will cast to the middle of a shallow cove, said “I got one” and a huge fish swirled on top. He got it to the boat and I netted it, but it was a big blue catfish. Will’s new scales said it weighed ten pounds but it looked much bigger.
At 2:00, with about 45 minutes left to fish I was pretty disgusted. We went into one of my favorite small creeks. As we fished down a bank with a big grassbed on it, I told Will I had never caught a fish past the last small dock on it, it was very shallow. But Niles Murray caught a keeper back in it when we fished together a few years ago.
I cast my bladed jig back in it and my line started going sideways. When I set the hook the 4.19 pounder jumped, it was only a foot deep and it had nowhere to go but up! When I got it to the boat I let it go around the trolling motor but managed to pull the motor and bass up and Will got it in the net by lying down on the deck and reaching forward. That fish was just meant to get caught.
I caught another keeper on a shaky head on the next dock, then started around the other arm of the cove. Again I told Will I had never caught a bass way back in it, and he reminded me of what had just happened.
As luck would have it, way back in it I pitched my shaky head to a seawall about a foot of water and felt a tap and my line started moving out. When I set the hook a 4.13 pound largemouth fought hard but I managed to keep it away from the trolling motor and Will netted it.
We went back to the dock where I caught my keeper and Will got a 3.16 pounder off the seawall beside it, again about a foot deep. That was it, we had to go in.
I don’t know if it was time of day, location or what but I wish it had started earlier, or we had more time to fish before the time ended. This time of year fishing is often better late in the day after the sun warms the water some. It was 62 degrees in that creek at 2:00 and I am sure those fish were thinking about bedding.
While waiting for Will to back the trailer in, I checked my smallest fish and decide it had shrunk, so I just weighed in four.
The song “I’m A Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions hit the charts in 1968, the year I graduated from high school. It may have been appropriate way back then but I am sure it is politically incorrect now. But it really doesn’t matter. All my life I have been a bird watcher, too, and now that is even more appropriate.
I have always had bird feeders in my yard and have several books on bird identification. Pictures by John James Audubon draw my attention as does his information about different species. I think one reason I really like him is I found out he shot the birds he painted so he could get a better look at them!
One of my most unusual sightings was a Swallow-tailed Kite. Linda and I were driving back roads home from Jekyll Island a few years ago and I saw it soaring above a clear cut. Luckily there was no traffic because I slammed on brakes and got off the road to look at it!
A couple weeks ago, on February 18 – 21, the Great Backyard Bird Count was held. This year folks all over the world set records for the numbers of birds seen and submitted on a database. This information helps learn about bird populations and how they change over time.
Angling angst is peaking across the US. Open-water fishing throughout the north and much of the country’s mid-section has been stymied by Mother Nature for weeks or months. Depending on their location, many coastal anglers, too, are pining for the warmer water temperatures that bring increased angling opportunities. For most, this is the time of year when the angling itch is most persistent. The gear is prepped and there’s so much to look forward to. But will winter ever end?
Resourceful anglers know there’s always a way to scratch the itch, even during the waning weeks of winter. Steering for the nearest coast is a good bet. The fish are always biting somewhere, and our St. Croix pros in Florida, Texas and California are anxious to share three distinct inshore options for your angling consideration.
The Florida Keys
Laying claim to the southernmost geography in the continental USA, the Florida Keys are always open for the business of rewarding angling. “Key West will have the best permit fishing of the year in late February and early March,” says St. Croix stick, co-host of the popular Saltwater Experience TV show, and host of the uber-entertaining and informative Tom Rowland Podcast, Captain Tom Rowland. “Fish are active, aggressive and willing to play ball for the fly fisherman or the spin fisherman.”
Rowland says rising water temperatures bring fish that have been wintering offshore and in deeper channels back to the flats. “Cold fronts can negatively affect the fishing this time of year, so you are really looking for times in between fronts when the temperatures rise into the high 70’s and the permit and bonefish will respond favorably. Early-season tarpon will also flood in on nice weather.”
Rowland gets the best results free-lining live crabs to the permit, casting jerk baits for tarpon, and tossing small jigs or live shrimp to bonefish, adding that all of these species will also respond well this time of year to a properly selected and well-presented fly. His gear most often consists of a 7’ St. Croix Legend Tournament Inshore spinning rod – the medium power model (LTIS70MF) for permit, and medium-light (LTIS70MLF) model for bonefish – as well as a 7’ heavy power St. Croix Triumph Inshore spinning rod for tarpon. When casting flies, he selects a St. Croix Imperial Salt fly rod, typically an 8-weight for bonefish, a 10-weight for permit, and an 11- or 12-weight for tarpon.
When spin fishing, Rowland advises against the use of monofilament line. “Matching all the spinning rods up with a high-quality braided line is a must in my opinion,” he says, “because it allows for at least 40% farther casting and will result in more fish. I like 15-pound braid for bonefish, 20-pound for permit and 20-30-pound for tarpon.”
Rowland says sight casting from the bow of a skiff can be intimidating and often frustrating, especially when flyfishing. “Soft, accurate casts are often a must, and when the wind starts blowing it can be daunting even for experienced casters. Anglers without a lot of experience in this type of fishing should practice their fly casting before they go. Get instruction from someone in your area who knows about saltwater flyfishing and flyfishing from a skiff. Some good instruction goes a long way!”
Saltwater Experience co-host and St. Croix pro, Captain Rich Tudor, says anglers visiting the Keys during cold weather snaps can still find good fishing. “The water levels are really low and we have some of the lowest tides of the year right now. Combine that with cooler water temperatures and it really concentrates fish in the deeper holes and channel edges.” Tudor says those deeper holes can be anywhere from two to ten feet. “Those conditions can condense 100 acres of water into one acre,” continues Tudor, who often targets concentrations of redfish and snook at low tide. “Then, if the water warms up those fish will spread out onto the flats once the tide comes up,” he adds.
“In addition to numbers of fish, anglers can expect a lot of variability in size, both for the redfish and the snook,” says Tudor, who keeps rigging simple and universally appealing, typically casting light bucktail jigs tipped with shrimp on a 7’ medium-light power St. Croix Mojo Inshore or Triumph Inshore spinning rod with 15-pound braid and a 30-pound fluorocarbon leader.
“Here in Texas, the hardcore anglers know this time of year is the time to catch big – and I mean really big – speckled trout,” says St. Croix pro, tournament angler, and Texas native, Joseph Sanderson. “Grab your waders, head for waist- or chest-deep water where you find any bait whatsoever, and you have a really good chance at a fish of a lifetime.”
Generally speaking, Sanderson advises wading anglers to look for a slightly muddier bottom because it may be a few degrees warmer than surrounding waters. “If you can find some grass mixed in, that doesn’t hurt anything either,” says Sanderson, who also urges anglers to be on the lookout for bait. “Bait becomes scarce this time of year, so if you see a mullet jump or a school of other baitfish scatter, that can be a really good starting point.”
Sanderson says Matagorda Bay and Baffin Bay are two legendary Texas spots where anglers can chase the “gator” trout bite at this time of year. “February through April is prime time, and the prize you’re after is a fish upwards of 28 inches. My personal best this time of year is 31.5″ and pushing ten pounds,” Sanderson adds.
A Corky is the bait of choice this time of year for Texas trout. It’s a soft plastic suspending bait that Sanderson says anglers should plan on working painfully slow. “The fish are lethargic this time of year and are looking for an easy meal, so the suspending characteristics of a Corky really shine,” he says. “It is a big, heavy bait, so this is the one time of the year that I put the medium-light power Mojo Inshore spinning rod down and pick up the casting rod. I like a 7′ medium power, fast action Mojo Inshore or Triumph Inshore for this bite. It helps having a little beefier casting rod for the bigger baits and also aids in landing some of the more powerful slot redfish you might also hook up with. In the summer, I like a medium-light power rod, but not this time of year. The bite can be really subtle – even from a big fish – so I like rigging with 30-pound braid for sensitivity along with a 17-pound fluorocarbon leader.”
Sanderson says late-winter trout fishing is anything but a numbers game. “You need to have patience to chase this bite,” he says. “It would be comparable to swimbait fishing for largemouth bass in freshwater. You go out chasing two or three bites per day knowing the potential rewards. A 30-inch speckled trout compares to a 10-pound bass in my opinion, both of which are considered the pinnacle of the respective pursuits. Don’t get discouraged if you have a few fishless days on the water, either. Those who are persistent will be rewarded.”
Sanderson’s final tip to late-winter speckled trout anglers is to stay mobile. “As the day warms, you might consider moving a little shallower,” he says. “It isn’t uncommon to catch these big fish in knee-deep water in the dead of winter. The shallow water warms quickly, and deeper fish will move up just as fast as the temperature rises. Keep your eyes peeled for any sign of bait or surface wakes. If there is surface activity, you are likely in a good spot.”
Anglers who may not know his name or job title will likely recognize Morgan Promnitz’s smiling face, which is most-often seen peering from behind some massive saltwater fish he’s gripping aboard his Hobie kayak. The Director of Fishing Development for Hobie, Promnitz makes his home in San Diego and is also a world-class and well-traveled angler who serves as a St. Croix pro and advisor.
“Southern California has some really consistent fishing in the surf and bays in late February and March,” says Promnitz, who also regularly ventures offshore in his Hobie in search of the yellowtails that often remain off the coast of Southern California through winter and early spring.
“The barred surf perch and halibut bites can be great right off the beaches, and surf anglers can expect plenty of croakers and corvina to keep things fun, too. Flyfishing is also a good option,” says Promnitz, who adds area bays always have spotted bay bass, halibut and other species like corvina, croakers, and even bonefish, to name a few. “The halibut come into holes in the surf or patchy cuts in the reef to ambush baitfish that are in the shallow surf,” he says. “Check the schedule on the grunion runs, as this is when the halibut like to move in close and gorge on the stragglers. Try a medium-light to medium power Mojo Inshore spinning or casting rod in that 7’-to-7’6” range with 10-20-pound braided line and a 12-20-pound fluoro leader,” Promnitz advises. “That’ll give you a really versatile outfit that pairs nicely with the wide variety of fish you might encounter along the beach. A 3” soft-plastic swimbait paired with a ¼-ounce lead head jig will draw bites from almost anything around here. A Lucky Craft SW 110 jerkbait does a good job at imitating grunion and is a deadly choice for halibut in the surf.”
For perch, try fishing a 1.5-inch motor oil/red flake colored grub tail or brown/green gulp sandworm, Carolina rigged with a ¼-ounce egg sinker on an 18”, four-pound fluorocarbon leader,” Promnitz says. “Weight size and line size can go up depending on the conditions.”
Promnitz says the bays stay warmer in the colder months and the fishery remains steady and is more consistent in winter when it’s not too warm. “The bigger halibut come into the bays to spawn in the early spring, and larger barred sand bass hold on deeper structure in the mouth of San Diego Bay throughout the winter and can also provide some great action,” he says. “For the bigger halibut and sand bass, step up to medium or medium-heavy power Mojo Inshore or Triumph Inshore rods and use lures in the ½-ounce-to-1-ounce range, especially in deeper water.”
Promnitz says a 40+ pound fish in the bay is always a possibility. “There is plenty of bait in the bays during the early spring and water temps are ideal. They also provide shelter from winter storms and turbulent waters,” he says. “Bay fishing is fun and exploratory fishing. You can fish shallow or deep, over open water over rock, sand, or grass, or in tighter spaces like docks, harbors and marinas. Everything from livebait fishing or casting and retrieving artificials to trolling, jigging and flipping comes into play here. It all depends on the species you are targeting and the technique you have the most fun with or confidence in.”
Promnitz urges bay anglers hoping to target halibut, spotted bay bass or other larger species to remember that these fish are ambush predators. “Look at shapes of the fishery, the drop-offs, contours, grass beds and other structures, then consider tidal flow to try and locate where the predators will stage. A stop at a local tackle store or two will also pay dividends. Spend a little money in the store and you’ll usually get some great intel to go along with your fishing goodies or snacks,” he says. “You can also learn the better access spots. You can fish the beaches or bays on foot, but the bay can be more productive in kayak or boat.”
Springtime will be here soon, but for millions of anglers locked in by ice and snow, that knowledge doesn’t make the coming weeks any easier. What likely will make a difference is a trip to the coast – whether that’s Florida, Texas, California or somewhere else. So, take steps to improve your angling outlook. Gear up, then follow our pros’ advice on the whats, wheres, and hows.
I have lots of great hunting memories, some fun, some scary and many just happy.
Sometimes I shot odd things while hunting. One year Harold and I were easing along Dearing Branch headed to some oaks to set up for squirrels. Something ahead of us on a low limb caught our attention. It was big and brown and since both of us had .410s, so we planned to shoot it together.
Somehow I misunderstood Harold when he said shoot, and I did, alone. But the great horned owl fell. I have no idea why it was active during the day; it should have been roosted high in a big tree and hidden from us. It was huge, much bigger than I ever imagined. It is the only owl I ever shot and somewhat regret killing it, but that was 60 years ago!
The first year Linda and I were married she taught school while I finished my senior year at UGA. Money was tight and we ate anything I could kill, just like my family did growing up. Squirrels and rabbits were the main meat de jour.
One afternoon I saw a ball of fur up in a bare oak tree. If the leaves had been on the trees I would never have seen it. But with my scope I could tell it was a big raccoon.
I shot it, the first one I ever killed, and took it back to our trailer in town and cleaned it. I contacted the cook at my fraternity house and he told me to boil it for three hours then cover it with BBQ sauce and bake it.
I thought it was good but Linda not so much. Tasted like BBQ chicken thighs to me!
Years later I shot a beaver on my pond and just had to cook it. A Google search turned up a recipe for Mississippi Baked Beaver, a legitimate recipe. It involved boiling, sautéing and then braising it. It was the reddest meat I have ever seen, and the beaver was almost impossible to skin. I had to cut every inch of hide between meat and skin, there was no stripping it off.
Again, I thought it tasted pretty good but Linda did not like it. It was not delicious enough for me to clean another one, though.
A few years ago on-line I told the tale of shooting a killdeer (we always called them killdees) because ai wanted to see exactly what it looked like. They were common in our field but very spooky and I could never get near them. A few times shooting doves one would fly near my blind, but I definitely did not want to explain to the others on the field that I knew it was a kildeer not a dove if I took a shot.
I did sneak up on one and hit it with my .22, finally getting a good look at its brown and white feathers with golden highlights. It was very pretty and I never wanted to shoot another one.
When I told this on-line, a troll in the group threatened to sent the federal wildlife folks to arrest me since killdeers are federally protected birds. I jerked the jerk around a little on-line – everyone in the group made fun of him he was so out of it – and he got madder and madder, making all kinds of threats.
When I pointed out I had said up-front I had shot the bird when I was 12 years old and that was in 1962, long before the law protecting them went into effect in 1976, he shut up and disappeared from the group for as few days.
I did not cook the killdeer but I did cook many other birds I shot as a kid. They all tasted just like the doves we shot. Robins, bluejays, sparrows and blackbirds all tasted about the same roasted over an open fire in the woods or in my rock fort. And all were very tough, from my method of cooking or their age.
The only two birds I would not shoot were cardinals and bluebirds. They were off-limits, just too pretty to shoot. But stalking all others and getting close enough to kill them with my BB gun or .22 helped me learn a lot about hunting and shooting that was useful later in life.
Part of what makes the redfish so popular is their affinity to bite. They’re generally a willing predator, making them a favorite target for inshore anglers no matter where they live. From the Gulf Coast and north to the Atlantic, redfish have the hearts of many anglers due to their hard fighting ways. Texas Capt. Brett Sweeny of Matagorda and Ken Craig of Florida’s Nature Coast make their living because of the species and catch redfish with a plethora of different artificial lures, but each has one that they never leave at the dock.
Captain Brett Sweeny of Matagorda, Texas, guides over 200 days each year, focusing on wade fishing for trophy trout and inshore redfish. Redfish are a popular target and he says there is one lure that produces fish for him when fishing redfish tournaments up and down the Texas coast and also for his clients throughout the year: a paddle tail swimbait.
“It’s foolproof and always works for redfish around here,” he says. “No matter what the skill level of my client is, it works because it’s so simple to fish and catches fish year round. There’s no wrong way to fish it; throw it out and reel it back in.”
Most of the time, Sweeny will have three rods rigged up at all times and two of them will be swimbaits because of how well they work. He’s a fan of the 3 ¾” MirrOlure Marsh Minnow swimbait on a ¼-ounce jighead.
“That combination gives you long and accurate casts when you see fish, but it also works blind casting to areas the fish are using,” says Sweeny. “During low tide, redfish like to get in the ditches and the swimbait is perfect for fishing these areas. I’m always searching for the ditches and pinch points and places the fish can pull up on flats to feed.”
For colors, he also keeps it simple with some tried and true hues that perform day in and day out. The sun is the most significant factor for deciding which color to tie on.
“The brighter the skies, the brighter the bait,” he shares. “I like pearl white when the sun is out and go with something with a darker back when fishing on overcast days or during lowlight conditions. The water isn’t very clear here in most places, so it needs to be something that will stand out a little bit.”
Sweeny prefers 6’9″ medium heavy Waterloo Power Mag rods paired with a 7.3:1 13 Fishing Concept C2 baitcast reel spooled with 30 to 40 lb. Seaguar TactX braided line without a fluorocarbon leader.
The 30 lb. casts a little better, but sometimes you have to go to 40 lb. when fishing around those gnarly shell beds,” he says. “TactX casts great, holds up very well and has great abrasion resistance. The camouflage color is another big plus and blends right in with the brackish, stained water we fish around here. We don’t even need to add a fluorocarbon leader and they still bite it just fine.”
The Classic Weedless Spoon
Fishing lures for all species come and go in waves and trends, but some remain for decades. One timeless lure is the weedless gold spoon. It was once a very popular freshwater bass lure for fishing aquatic vegetation but it has remained a top lure for the inshore saltwater anglers. Captain Ken Craig of Ken’s Custom Charters in Homosassa Springs, Florida, believes the spoon is an underrated lure.
“It’s year round and versatile,” he said. “You can use the cheapest version you find at Wal-Mart or go and get the best quality spoon money can buy with 24kt gold plating and they all work great. There’s something about that flash and action that gets a reaction from big redfish.” Fishing the spoon is simple and Craig slowly retrieves it so it gently rocks, walking and flashing near the surface to entice redfish.
“Keep your rod tip high and just make sure it doesn’t start to spin,” he shares. “It will walk right under the surface and cause a reaction strike. During the colder months, the fish will stay right on the bottom to stay warm and you can also bounce it off oyster beds and hard bottoms to make some noise to get their attention.”
Capt. Craig prefers spinning tackle for fishing the spoon; a 7’6″ medium Bull Bay Rod paired with a 2500-sized Shimano spinning reel. Braided line is a must and he prefers a 10 lb. braided line with a leader of 25 lb. Gold Label leader material.
“The light braid is crucial for making long casts to spooky fish,” he shares. “Our water here is so clear that my clients often say it feels like we are floating in an aquarium. So getting the bait away from the boat is very important because the fish know when you are getting too close.” The gin clear water near Homosassa Springs and Crystal River is unique and produces big redfish, with many over 30 inches long and trophy fish up to 37 inches. In the past, using a heavy 30 or 40 lb. monofilament line was common due to the size of the redfish and snook living here.
“Gold Label is so thin and makes small, tight knots, and you get more bites,” he says. “We all used to use monofilament for abrasion reasons from these bigger fish, but Gold Label has outperformed it in every way because it’s thinner and stronger. Almost every Captain in my circle has switched over to it because of how well it performs in our waters.”
Redfish are a top species for the coastal crowd from Texas to Florida. They grow big and fight hard and keep anglers coming back for more. According to two popular inshore guides, they will bite many lures, but a paddle tail swimbait and weedless spoon are must-haves for any redfish angler.
Seaguar TactX Camo Braid is available in 10 to 80 lb. test on 150 and 300 yard spools.
Seaguar Gold Label fluorocarbon leader is available in 25-yard spools in 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 & 12 lb. test for fresh water use, complementing the 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 80 lb. test leaders available for saltwater.