Category Archives: Fishing With Family and Friends

I Love Water – and Clarks Hill Is My Heaven

I have always loved water. From Dearing Branch, where I could jump across most sections, to 72,000-acre Clarks Hill, everything from branches, ponds, rivers and lakes have drawn me. 

    Clarks Hill was my “heaven on earth,” from the earliest camping trip there with the RA church group to my many fishing trips there as an adult. I fished my first tournament there in April, 1974 and the Sportsman Club has been back every year since then, including this year.  When I found out the dam was started in 1950, my birthyear, I just knew it was built just for me!

    The RAs camped a couple of times a year at “The Cliffs,” a ditch that ran back a couple hundred feet from the lake.  The edges were ten feet above the water, and we could never touch bottom when swimming in it. After I got a depthfinder I found out it was about 18 feet deep.

    We would pitch our tents on the bank along the ditch, build fires and cook our meals. After dark we would put out our lines for catfish.  I will never forget the time I took a quart jar of chicken livers and gizzards and left it out in the sun.  I was sure the smell that almost made me sick would attract catfish, but apparently, they though it was as awful as I did.

    We boys would stay up as late as we could, but invariably we would go to sleep, only to awake to the adults still talking quietly by the fire, watching their rods.  And after waking it was time to fry bacon, scramble eggs and toast bread on the open fire.

    Daddy joined Raysville Boat Club when I was 16.  Five years earlier, Mr. Hugh took me water skiing for the first time and I fell in love with it.  About three years later Harold’s family bought a ski boat and I got to drive it. I will never forget the feeling freedom that went over me that day.

    When daddy joined the boat club, he also bought a 17-foot Larson with a 120 HP Mercruiser outdrive motor.  It was a great ski boat and I spend untold hours both driving it pulling skiers and behind it skiing. I got pretty good slaloming and even skiing on trick skis and foot skis. But as hard as I tried, I never could ski barefoot.

    We also fished from that boat for bass, crappie, catfish and bream.  Daddy and I ran baskets for a few years and kept our freezer full of fish. Then we discovered spring crappie fishing and I spent hundreds of hours in that boat with mama and daddy, pulling in fish after fish and filling out limits.

    Linda and I met on a blind date at a fraternity party and, although we didn’t really hit it off, I invited her to go to the lake with me and go skiing. She turned me down. But a few weeks later we happened to have dinner together and really clicked. I again asked her to go skiing and she accepted.

    We did ski that weekend, but we also fished some.  I think that is what convinced me she was the right one. It has worked out pretty good, our 49 anniversary is this month!

    At the end of our first year of marriage we spent the month of August at the trailer at the boat club.  I would get up early and go out in the Larson, trying to cast for bass but mostly trolling. I would come in for lunch, stay in the cool trailer until late afternoon then Linda would go out with me in the more comfortable afternoon.

    One day at lunch when my parents joined us, I said I wanted to catch a 12-pound bass to have mounted. Daddy kinda laughed and said if I did he would have it mounted for me.  Linda said how about her, and daddy said if you catch an eight pounder I will have it mounted.

I found a long, shallow point where I caught a three-pound bass on a Hellbender one morning, one of the only deep diving “plugs” back then.  We had no depthfinder but I could tell how the point came up shallow and then dropped off by the action of the plug bumping bottom.

That afternoon Linda went out with me. I was trolling a chrome Hellbender and Linda a blue one.  We went over the point and Linda’s rod bowed up. At first I thought she was hung, then a huge bass jumped.  It jumped three more times before she landed it.

On my hand-held scales it weighed eight pounds, ten ounces and we confirmed that at the marina!  When daddy saw it I am not sure who beamed more, Linda, him or me.  And daddy had it mounted, I am looking at it right now, hanging on the wall with that blue Hellbender in its mouth.

I still have not caught that 12 pounder!

I have so many more memories from Clarks Hill they almost overwhelm me when reminiscing.   

July 4th At Clarks Hill

 July 4th always revolved around Clarks Hill, skiing, fishing and eating with family and friends.  Daddy joined Raysville Boat Club in 1966 when I was 16, so most things started and ended there much of my young life.   

One year in the 1990s Linda and I went over to spend a few days there with mama and daddy, and of course, I want to fish. But the lake was a madhouse during the day.  Clarks Hill is huge, 72,000 acres of water, so there should be room for everyone, but everywhere I went the water was churned by wake boats, skiers, and skidoos.   

We went down to Rousseau Creek all the way to the back of it. It got narrower but was still about 100 yards wide, but the water was only two to three feet deep.  Not a good place to ski! After getting far enough back to be in water four feet deep or less, one skidoo came whining in, turned and went back out. 

After that we did not see another boat from 11:00 AM until 3:00 PM when we headed back to the boat club.  It was so secluded we could do anything we wanted! But that’s another story!

I cast a four-inch curly tail worm on a one-sixteenths ounce Slider Head on a spinning outfit and six-pound line and caught nine keeper bass and several shorter than 12 inches.  I would cast past a stump, glide it just over the top of it, and watch the bass rush out and grab it. The water was so clear I could see every move the bass made from the strike to the boat.

When we went in, after getting back to deeper water, we had to slam through waves the whole six miles back to the boat club. A usual five-minute trip took 40!

Another trip was a bit scary.   Harold was my best friend and his family always had a big reunion at Winfield Picnic area in the mouth of Rousseau Creek. I often went to join them, taking our 17-foot Larson ski boat with a 120 HP MerCruiser motor.  It was a big, heavy boat that would run about 30 MPH on a good day, but was an amazing ski boat, the best on the water back then. 

More than once I pulled six people on skis at one time behind.  It had a lot of torque and the power to do that. I spend many happy hours behind it on a ski and got pretty good. The boat club was 15 minutes from Thomson High School and the boat stayed in the water under a boat shed, ready to get in and go skiing any time.

A group of us would often plan to head to the lake to ski after school during warm weather.  I think I taught about half my class to ski. In my annual, my senior predictions said I would grow up to be the Presidential Ski Advisor! 

Part of that was teaching so many to ski, the other part was most of my classmates figured I was too lazy to make much of myself!

One July 4th I rode down to Winfield and met Harold and his family about 9:00 AM.  There were probably 40 people there, about a dozen teenagers like me.  For three hours we would put six folks in the boat and go ski.

After a huge lunch we went back out just in time for a big thunderstorm with pouring rain to hit. We quickly put up the top and rode out the storm.  The boat had a top that came back over the cockpit and side and back flaps that enclosed the whole boat. Not a drop of rain got in, but it was hot in there. I think that was about the only time we put it up the whole time we had that boat.

After the storm, we skied until about 5:00 PM then I headed back to the boat club by myself.  Back then a trip to Winfield was an experience, taking about 30 minutes at full speed in the Larson, in mostly unknown waters.

When I came out of Rousseau Creek and hit the main lake, another thunderstorm hit.  I kept the boat at an idle, the waves were so big I would go down in a trough and lose sight of land. 

More scary, I would see stumps in those troughs, the lake is full of them, especially on the old river channel in the deepest water. They had been topped out about five feet below full pool, so the waves exposed them.

It took me more than three hours to get back and it was almost dark.  Now I can make that run in my bass boat in five minutes but would not want to try with waves like those that day.

Have a wonderful July 4th, eat good food, spend time with family, make good memories, but never forget why we celebrate starting out great nation, the best one on earth. 

Growing Up On A Farm In Rural Georgia

  I loved growing up on a farm in rural Georgia in the 1950s and 60s.  Most of my memories are of fun times exploring my world, the close-knit life of loving family and friends, and a happy life.  Others are of hard work and strict discipline that taught me to be a productive member of society.   

Hot weather always reminds me of our house without air conditioning. We had fans and open windows, and at night I often moved my fan to the foot of the bed, hung the sheet so the wind would blow under it and cool me off.    Rain showers at night bring back memories of the sound of rain hitting our tin roof, lulling me to sleep. And the cooler air was welcome, even though it was muggy. 

Daytime showers meant mud puddles to play in, from splashing through them on foot or bicycle, to floating any piece of wood that instantly became a sailboat.  

There was nothing quite as refreshing as a cold watermelon, deliciously red, sweet and juicy.  And we kept the rinds for watermelon rind preserves, placed on hot buttered toast or biscuits and gobbled down for breakfast or a snack during the day.   

We had a big butcher knife we used to cut open the watermelon and slice it into half moon pieces just right for holding and eating, with juice running down my chin.  The adults were more careful, cutting off bite size pieces with the same butcher knife or another kitchen knife.   

I was finally allowed to use the butcher knife to cut and slice the watermelon, with careful instructions, when I was about eight.  The knife was very sharp, and the wooden handle had no hand guard.   

One day, after eating my slice of watermelon down to the white rind, for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to stab it. It sat on the wooden platform in the front yard under the shade of a huge pecan tree, our usual place to enjoy them.    

When I held the knife in my right hand and stabbed straight down, the blade stopped but my hand did not.  My palm slid all the way down it. I will never forget the pain, then looking at my open palm and seeing the cut meat standing open before the flood of blood.   

Mama wrapped my hand in a towel and daddy rushed us to the emergency room.  Lying on the table, with my right hand extended and mama on my left side, I felt the sting of the needle as the doctor numbed it. Then I felt nothing.   

I kept trying to turn my head to watch as the doctor put eight stitches in, closing the cut, but mama kept my head turned toward hear, softly talking to me.  Then she stopped talking and asked why I was staring into her eyes.  It suddenly dawned on her I was watching the doctor work in the reflection in her glasses!  

 I can still see the light scar line across my palm and the tiny cross lines where the stitches closed it up over 60 years later.   

Most summer experiences were a lot more fun.  Damming Dearing Branch, building tree houses and huts in the woods, making rock forts, fishing in every bit of water from the branch on our property to nearby farm ponds to Clarks Hill on wonderful camping trips.    

All those override the memories of gathering eggs from our 11,000 laying hens and the smell of the droppings on a hot summer day, standing for hours candling and grading them and then loading cases of them into the cooler or onto the truck for delivery.

My most hated job, washing down the pen where we fattened pigs for slaughter or sale, was one of my daily chores for years. The pen was a 40 by 80 foot shed, dived into two sides by a wood fence, with a sloping concrete floor.  There were about 40 pigs on either side.

Each day I had to hook up the hose and wash all the raw pig manure down to the trough at the end of the floor where it drained into an open pond.  The stench was almost unbearable, and I felt like I stunk all night from doing it, no matter how much I scrubbed in the shower.

I would not give up those memories, good and bad, for anything!

Farewell to an Outdoors Pal

.Robert Lee Rivenbark
By David Rainer, Alabama DCNR
from The Fishing Wire

While I and my family have been blessed during the COVID-19 pandemic with basically no ill effects, the virus robbed me of the chance to say farewell to one of the people most influential in my career covering the outdoors in Alabama.

Robert Lee Rivenbark of Fairhope did not succumb to the coronavirus. He lost his battle with prostate cancer recently after a long struggle. He was 76.Because of the virus restrictions, I was only able to visit over the telephone before he passed away.

Rivenbark fits in what I call my curmudgeon category. He could be short and to the point, and our last phone call started in typical fashion. When his wife, Charlotte, handed him the phone and told him it was me, no “How are you doing” or any such formalities ensued. The first sentence out of his mouth was, “Whadda you want?”

However, he always tried to help with what I wanted. When I first moved to lower Alabama to take the job as Outdoors Editor at the Mobile Press-Register in 1992, a friend of mine insisted I look up Lee when I got to town.Boy, I’m glad I did.

Lee was a man of the outdoors, from the intricate machinations of Mobile Bay to the haunts of the wary white-tailed deer.

In fact, we hit it off so well that before I got my family moved down, I rented a garage apartment on the Rivenbark compound on Mobile Bay at the south end of Fairhope, where the Rivenbark family had been since 1966.It was a small apartment, but it had a great view of the Rivenbark pier and water beneath the pier light. Obviously, the pier light attracted bait fish and subsequently speckled trout and redfish. From my vantage point in the apartment, I could take a pair of binoculars and look at the pier. If I could see fish activity under the light, I would grab a rod and reel and head down to catch a few fish for the next night’s meal. If the water was calm, I’d roll over and go to sleep.

I don’t remember how many times Lee retold that story to illustrate how “sorry” I was, but it always ended in a big laugh.

Lee was the first to admit that he was not a hook-and-line angler. He much preferred a cast net and could throw a “silver dollar” every time. He tried to teach me but finally gave up when I got to the butterbean stage.If mullet tried to swim past the Rivenbark pier when Lee was there with his cast net, the fish didn’t stand a chance.

Despite his reluctance, one day he agreed to go with me on a little fishing trip to the Grand Hotel jetties. I was dragging a plastic grub across the bottom, hoping to locate a few flounder. I caught a flatfish and cast right back into the same spot and hooked up again. I got Lee to cast in that spot and he hooked a fish. If our baits landed in an area about the size of a washtub, we ended up with a fish. We caught a dozen before the spot ran dry.

Lee, known as Uncle Lee to my daughters, had knowledge of Mobile Bay was extraordinary, and I was lucky enough to be on his jubilee hotline.

For those who aren’t familiar with the phenomenon, a jubilee happens when the bottom-dwelling fish and creatures in the bay end up on the shoreline.Jubilees occur during the summer when patches of water with low dissolved oxygen form in the bay. With the right conditions, that oxygen-depleted water moves to shore, mainly Baldwin County’s Eastern Shore, pushing those fish and marine creatures ahead of it.

It usually happens in the wee hours of the morning, and a jubilee could include everything from flounder to shrimp to crabs to eels.

If I got a call at 4 a.m. and I heard “Rivenbark, Fairhope Pier,” I knew to jump up, grab my wading shoes, gig and light and meet him for the bonanza that is a jubilee.

Jubilees were always fickle experiences. Sometimes it would be only shrimp. At other times it was mostly flounder. At times it was everything, with blue crabs crawling out on piers and pilings to flounder stacked on top of each other trying to find oxygen.

When a thundershower moved through in the afternoon and the wind was blowing gently out of the east, Lee would tell me to expect a phone call.But you never knew what you were going to get or whether it was going to materialize. One night we were all set for a big jubilee with everything falling into place. Just as the flounder got near gigging range, a huge wake from a ship heading down Mobile Ship Channel crashed ashore, and the jubilee vanished right before our eyes.

So many memories come to mind when I think about Lee, including the time we tried to go fishing in the Chandeleur Islands off the Louisiana coast. Tried is the key word here. We set out from Fly Creek Marina in Fairhope aboard Dr. Larry Ennis’ catamaran sailing vessel for an extended adventure. By the time we got south of Biloxi, Mississippi, we got bad news. Not one but two tropical systems were forming in the Gulf of Mexico. We turned the boat around but could only make it back to Pascagoula before we abandoned ship and called for someone to pick us up.

When it came to hunting, Lee had never really taken up the turkey hunting sickness because he was too busy taking advantage of the bounty of Mobile Bay during the spring.

But deer hunting was his main outdoor passion. He hunted deer from Colorado to Conecuh County and everywhere in between. Of course, most of his deer came from Alabama, and he was a meticulous record-keeper.

“He kept a record of all the crabs and mullet he caught off the pier and every deer he shot,” said younger brother John Rivenbark.

Lee was absolutely the luckiest deer hunter I have ever known. He could break all the rules and still be successful. He could be smoking a cigarette and the biggest buck in the woods would step out in front of him.

He had told me before the season started that all he wanted to do was kill his 400th deer. He only needed three to reach that milestone.

It was a struggle early in the season with the effect of chemotherapy on his body and the weather. Our mutual friend from Mississippi set up a hunt for Lee in Texas, but his health wouldn’t cooperate. I tried to set up a hunt for him at Bent Creek Lodge in Jachin, Alabama, but he wasn’t up to the trip.

With his brothers and friends like Ken Jansen, Judson Pizzotti and Gary Wolfe helping him along the way last season, Lee managed to accomplish his goal.

He bagged his 400th deer, a doe, with his twin brother, Arch, and family friend Carl Enfinger in tow.

Lee ended his deer-hunting career with 402 reduced to bag.

He asked me, after he knew this would likely be his last deer season, if I wanted one of his deer rifles or any of his mounts after he was gone.

I told him he should give those to family members, but I did have one request. He had a stainless steel rod, sharpened on one end with the small rope attached to the other. It was his custom flounder gig that allowed him to slide the gigged flounder down the rod and onto the string so he didn’t have to stop during a jubilee.

“Lee, all I want is your flounder gig if that’s alright,” I said.

“That’s all you want?” he said with curious look.

“Yep,” I said, “because every time I stick a flounder I’ll think of you.”

I hope to rekindle those memories of my great friend real soon.

Fishing with Mother

 My mother loved to fish, as did her mother. Some of my earliest memories are following them to local farm ponds with our cane poles.  Theirs were much longer than mine, and they carried all our supplies, from hooks, sinkers and corks to meal and earth worms for bait.   

We fished for anything that would bite and ate our catch. Mama always said, “if its big enough to bite its big enough to eat.”  She was especially fond of the crunchy fins on little bream fried to perfection.   

We fished together a lot until I went off to college, then spent many happy hours in my bass boat when I came home for the weekend or holidays.  One day at the boat club I saw her love of fishing.  As we walked to my boat tied under the floating boat dock, we saw a snake slither into a hole where the control cables went in.   

Mama’s fear of snakes was well known, but she got into the boat and went out with me anyway. I did notice that she managed to keep her feet up off the boat floor most of the day though.   

One summer we threw out sinking catfish food under the dock, trying to attract them.  As I walked by the dock one afternoon, mama was sitting there fishing all by herself.  I saw her rod bent as she fought as big fish.   

I stopped and watched, afraid to distract her. I could hear her coaching herself, saying things like “keep the rod up, don’t get in a hurry, don’t reel while its pulling drag.”   

After a few minutes I went down and helped her net a six-pound carp. 

   That night I could not sleep thinking about that experience. I got out a can of kernel corn, baited up a hook on a spinning rod and caught two carp that size.  The next three days mama, daddy and I caught 37 carp weighing 175 pounds fishing with corn.  And true to form, mama found a way to can the filets, making the small bones dissolve like those in canned salmon, and we ate many carp patties.   

On one trip to a local pond mama and I were ready to leave when we noticed a lot of tiny bream in the pool below the spillway.  We took our rods and went down there and caught them, baiting out hooks with tiny bites of earthworm.   

We had a contest to see who could catch the smallest one, a challenge since the biggest was about two inches long.  We half filled a coffee can with them for the cats, it took about 30 to fill it that much.   

One summer I spent some time easing around the bank in my bass boat with a spotlight at night, seeing what was under water.  There were carp everywhere.  I rigged a big frog gig on a piece of metal conduit and started gigging them.

Mama went out with me one night and would sit on the back seat, opening the live well when I gigged one.  I would put the carp in, she would drop the lid and I would pull the gig out.   

My dog Merlin was with us and always got excited.  One time as mama opened the live well lid Merlin jumped at the carp as I put it in the opening and went in with it!  The look on Merlin’s face was priceless as she stood in there with all those carp.   

Mama and I laughed until we cried.   

If your mother is alive, cherish every minute with her. Some of us no longer have that joy.

Take the Family Fishing As a Break from Shelter-in-Place

Photo Credit Florida FWC

Take the family fishing
From the Maine Division of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
from The Fishing Wire

Fishing can be very rewarding and educational for children, especially after they’re been housebound for a long time. Here are some tips for taking them along and introducing them to a sport they might enjoy the rest of their lives. (Of course, everyone needs to practice social distancing from those outside the immediate household during the epidemic, and also hand-washing anytime they touch surfaces outside the home that might be exposed, such as restroom doors and flush handles.)

Be relaxed: As you head out the door, leave behind the tension and take along a smile, an open mind, and a lot of patience.

Share the Plan: Paint the trip as an adventure. Show the kids where you’re going on a map before you leave the house, and ask them to help navigate.Make it fun: Above all else, make the fishing trip fun and safe.

Key to Success: Don’t measure the success of the trip by the number or size of fish caught, but rather by having a fun, safe time outdoors.

Be Generous in Praise: Praise the kids for their patience and cooperation.

Make it a shore thing: Try giving a child their first few lessons at a local park, farm pond, or a lake with a dock or gentle shoreline where they can run and play when their attention span runs short. Knowing how to fish from shore will allow them to go on their own or with friends when they are old enough.

Boating Basics: If and when you progress to a boat, be sure to have the proper safety equipment for you and your youngster.

Fish for little fish: Most kids prefer to catch lots of fish versus big fish. Start new anglers off on species that are plentiful and more easily caught, like sunfish or perch. Once the child has developed basic fishing skills, you can move on to larger pursuits.

Every fish is a trophy: Little fish, big excitement on your part will make a lifelong angler.

Start with the basics: Begin with simple equipment and bait. Use simple spincasting equipment, a bobber, and a hook with live bait, as it will work well for a variety of fish species. And be sure the equipment your child uses is in good working order to avoid any unnecessary frustration.

Practice a bit at home: Most kids enjoy learning to cast on their own. Practice, a little at a time with no hooks, in the back yard until they can do it themselves–they’ll enjoy fishing much more.

Ask for Input: Where would the kids like to fish? Over by that old tree? Let’s give it a try–sometimes, they discover the best spots themselves, and giving input will make fishing more fun for them.

Teach skills: People, regardless of their age, enjoy fishing more when they are in control and can do it themselves. Resist the temptation to do things for your children. If you are using live bait, teach them how to put it on the hook themselves. Teach them how to tie their hook onto their line and how to cast. On future trips, watch their skills, and their confidence, grow.

To eat or not to eat: If your children show interest in cleaning and eating the fish, go for it. If they’re catch and release fans, show them how to quickly release the fish to fight again.

Save the Moment: Don’t forget to take plenty of photos of that first fish. Post them on social media so the kids can show their friends and the grandparents.
Enjoy the outdoors, stay safe and introduce your family to fishing as a respite from these tough times.

Who Created Your Fishing Legacy?

Fishing Legacy

All of us that love the outdoors and hunting and fishing have someone or many people in our past that molded that passion.  It is often a parent or grandparent but sometimes its someone in our family that took us hunting and fishing growing up and instilled their love of it in us. But other times they are friends or people we met outside family.

My mother and her mother loved fishing. Both of them could sit by a pond on their lard bucket and watch a cork for hours. Some of my earliest memories are following one or both of them to a local pond with our cane poles, hoping to catch anything that would bite.

The first bass I ever caught was while fishing with mom at a local pond. We were down below the dam, fishing the pool of water at the spillway. When my cork went under and I raised my pole I expected the circling pull of a bream or the tugging toward the bottom of a catfish. Instead, a 10 inch bass jumped out of the water several times. I was instantly hooked on bass fishing.

Two of my uncles took me fishing some when I was a kid, and both of them loved bass fishing.  I spent hours with them in jon boats on local ponds, throwing “rubber” worms and topwater plugs.  They taught me where to cast and how to scull a boat, slowly easing around the bank with a paddle before I ever saw an electric trolling motor.

I moved to Griffin in 1972 and met Jim Berry. When I bought my first bass boat in 1974 he invited me to join the Spalding County Sportsman Club and my first tournament ever was with that club in April, 1974 – 42 years ago. I have not missed many tournaments since that one.

The Sportsman Club was formed in the 1950s and they did a little of everything, from having some hunting land and a dove field in Pike County to going fishing on a big lake and camping for the weekend.  And it was something of a family affair.  In our tournaments there were many father/son fishing pairs as well as long term friends and business partners.

In my first tournament we camped at Mistletoe State Park as a group.  Back then the tournament director carried two big boards and the results were written on them each day.  The next year, when I became secretary/treasurer of the club, a job I have held almost every year since then, the boards were given to me.  We had quit using them after the Clarks Hill tournament and the results of it were still on it.

I still have those boards stored in my barn. You can barely make out the writing on it.  But you can still see names like Emmett Piland, Vance Sharp, Kenneth Hattaway, Paul Varnadoe and others. They were all in “A” division. In those days we competed in two divisions based on how many tournament points we had. I was in “B” division in my first tournament.

The four people above all taught me a lot about bass fishing over the next few years. I went with Emmett a lot and he showed me places on big lakes to fish and how to catch bass on a crankbait.  Paul Varnadoe fished the professional trails and shared a lot of tips with me.

Vance Sharp owned the local jewelry store now run by his son, Tony, and Vance was an expert with a depthfinder.  Tony had built it for him from a kit before most fishermen had ever heard of depthfinders and Vance used it for many years. He could ride over a point or drop-off staring at that depthfinder and suddenly throw out a marker, and say cast right there. And we caught fish almost every time!

I remember fishing with Kenneth at Eufaula and he taught me how to make an underhand circle cast to quickly cover water with a spinnerbait. But his advice at a Top Six tournament was invaluable and I still go by it.

In that 1983 tournament on the first day I caught a lot of bass on the riprap on a 1/16 ounce slider head with a four inch worm on it.  The first day I caught more than 20 small keepers the first three hours, then ran up the river and landed a five pound kicker on a Shadrap, a plug that had just come on the market. I was in sixth place out of 540 fishermen after day one!

That night at the motel I was saying maybe I should run up the river the first thing the next day to catch bigger fish. Kenneth looked at me and said “How many bass did you catch on the riprap and how many bites did you get up the river?”

When I told him only one bite up the river in four hours he said “Boy, you stay on that riprap until you have a limit tomorrow!”

The next morning I caught three on the riprap quickly but then they quit biting. I was torn, wanting to go up the river but remembering Kenneth’s advice, I stayed on the riprap.  At noon I caught five keepers on five consecutive casts.

Those fish moved me to fourth place in the tournament. All the people that I talked with that had fished the river never got a bite.  Kenneth taught me to stay on a pattern that I working and I still fish that way.

Remember and honor the people in your past that taught you about the outdoors.  They have made us what we are.

Water Safety With Kids

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

Kids should wear life jackets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to fit a life jacket on a kid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Remember Catching Your First Bass?

Last week I received a picture from a grandfather in Colorado of his 5 year old grandson and the first bass he caught. This picture was posted to my website and his comments “Remember when? Look at his smile.” got me to thinking about my first bass.

I really don’t remember the first fish I ever caught. I am sure it was with my mom or grandmother since most of my early fishing was with one of them. I would follow them to local ponds and fish with them all day. We would sometimes get rides from dad but if he could not drop us off, we would walk to nearby ponds. A mile or two walk was not too far to go fishing.

Both mom and grandmother had 5 gallon lard buckets they kept all their fishing tackle in. Hooks, sinkers, corks, an old pair of pliers, stringer, extra line, towel for wiping hands and anything else we might need was in there. Our cane poles were the only thing that did not fit, and these were carried over our shoulder or stuck out the back window of the car. The lard bucket was good for carrying tackle as well as a place to sit while fishing.

We kept everything we caught, no matter how small, since even the tiny bream would “make the grease smell.” Picking around bones was a normal problem while eating fish back then, we had no idea of filleting fish. And I can still taste the crispy tails of the fish fried to perfection. I miss that part of the catch while eating filleted fish.

One place we liked to fish was Usury’s Pond, a big watershed lake about 5 miles from the house. It had a concrete dam and fishing for catfish and bream was often good near it, but the place I liked best was the pool and creek below the dam. Where the water came over the top of the dam and fell to the creek bed it hollowed out a nice pool. And the creek draining from it was deep enough to hold catfish and bream.

I would often walk the creek dropping my bait into holes along the creek. My bait was a gob of red wigglers I dug behind our chicken houses and they were put on a #6 hook suspended about two inches below a split shot. A couple of feet up the line was a cork – a real cork, not a plastic or Styrofoam kind you see now.

One day I was below the dam, sitting on the sandbar and letting my worms drift with the current. Suddenly my cork popped under the water, much quicker than what I was used to seeing. When I raised the tip of my cane a fish went crazy, pulling, running and jumping. It was the first fish I had ever hooked that jumped, and I was hooked, too.

That little bass was probably no more than 10 inches long but it fought harder than anything else I had ever caught, except for some catfish. And it jumped, clearing the water in thrilling splashes. I loved that! I knew then I had to catch more bass.

Over the next few years I got my first spin cast reel, a Zebco 33, and learned to cast lures with it. Then “rubber worms” hit the market. Back then when they first came out you had two choices of colors. Creme worms came in either red or black and they were in plastic bags three to the pack. They were so stiff they kept the curve from the package even after being removed from it.

You could also buy pre-rigged plastic worms that had a two or three hook harness in it, with a spinner blade and some beads in the front. We cast them like a lure and worked them back with a steady action much like a lure. If they sunk to the bottom they would get hung up.

Eventually we learned to use a single hook and rig the worm with the hook buried in the worm. We used split shots in front of the worm for many years until bullet worm weights got popular. We even fished them with no weight, much like floating worms are fished today.

Back then when we felt a bite we let the bass run off with the worm, waiting for it to swallow the hook. I don’t know where we thought the bass had the worm, it had to be in its mouth since they don’t have any hands! Now we know to set the hook quickly before the bass spits the worm out. Back then we would let the bass run till it stopped, then set the hook.

Do you remember your first bass? Share that experience with your children this summer. Tell them about yours, and help them catch their first bass if they have not already done so.

Sitting On A Deer Stand Remembering

Sitting on a deer stand on Thanksgiving Day is always bittersweet for me. I enjoy all the usual things, watching squirrels and birds, checking out the trees as leaves fall, contemplating life and the anticipation of seeing a deer. If I happen to kill one for the freezer it is like the cherry on top of an ice cream Sunday. The whole thing is good without the cherry, but the cherry definitely adds something.

The bittersweet part is thinking about past Thanksgivings. As far back as I can remember Thanksgiving involved hunting. First with my daddy, following our dogs looking for quail. Later, after daddy got rid of our dogs and stopped hunting quail, one of my friends, A.T., and I would follow his pack of beagles looking for rabbits.

If I could not quail or rabbit hunt, I would take my Remington semiautomatic .22 rifle and wander the woods looking for tree rats. There were no deer to hunt back then.

After college I started teaching school and the four-day holiday meant fishing trips to Clarks Hill. I would fish in the morning then go into town to have a family dinner. Those fishing trips are great memories, too.

Those days are gone. I know I will never be able to hunt with my dad again, and days of looking for rabbits and squirrels are over. Also gone are the huge Thanksgiving meals with my extended family. Mama had five brothers and four of them and their families lived near us. Daddy had five sisters and two brothers and some of them lived close.

Thanksgiving always meant big family gatherings. I was too young to realize the importance of family, and I was always in a hurry to get the meals over, so we could go hunting or I could head back to the lake. I wish I could go back and just sit and talk with family long gone.

I still get to enjoy thanksgiving dinner with my wife, mother in law and brother in law and his wife. That is great, but it too reminds me of all the family I have lost over the years. Life goes on and we adapt to changes.

If you have family, enjoy every minute you have with them at gatherings, not just at holidays but at all times. But do work in a hunting or fishing trip to make those memories, too.