Category Archives: How To Fish

Fishing and Grass

Fishing and Grass: Not as Controversial as You’d Think
By Mike Reading
Angler Action Foundation
from the Fishing Wire

Fish the grass


For most anglers grass means one thing: the long, skinny green stuff that grows in shallow waters. In fresh waters we often call it tape grass; in salt water we go with sea grass. In a healthy estuary, you are likely to encounter both if you are on the move.

One of the primary sources of habitat for estuarine fishing is grass. And Florida, to be sure, has lost scads of tape grass and seagrass around the state, from as far north as the Mosquito Lagoon to as far south as Florida Bay and the Everglades. When talking about all types of grasses, scientists refer to them as Submerged Aquatic Vegetation, or SAV.

And the loss of SAVis not just a Florida issue. It’s been estimated that we’re losing two football fields of SAV an hour world-wide, which equates to 7 percent a year.

Mountains of information have been written about the loss of habitat, who’s to blame and why. That debate will continue forever. But there’s one thing we can all agree upon. These grasses are important to fishermen and non-fishermen.
Here are a few reasons why:

Stability
Estuaries are vulnerable to erosion. Florida, if you recall, has been hit by two hurricanes during the past two years — Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017.

I got a first-hand introduction to both storms and the importance of how ecology works to benefit us. I lived on St. Augustine beach and the only thing that saved my house from Matthew’s flooding were the formidable dunes that were held together by sea oats. Not exactly submerged grass, I know, but the point about protection holds true.

A similar scenario evolved nearly a year later when Irma passed over North Florida. I currently live in High Springs, not far from the banks of the Santa Fe River, which has an abundance of grasses. The river sustained record flooding that washed away low-lying houses. However, the river bottom and surrounding remains largely intact, thanks to the meadows of eel and tape grass. After weeks of high water, the fishing returned to normal, proving that nature can indeed heal itself.

Habitat
Remember that big fish you caught? Maybe it was a bass? Maybe it was a redfish? Or a seatrout? Chances are, that fish used seagrass as a nursery for a couple years. A female redfish produces millions of eggs. Those eggs will become larvae and only a fraction of the larvae live long enough to become juveniles and those fish lucky enough to reach that stage head for the sanctuary of the seagrass, where they will use every nook and cranny for food and protection.

The standard length or a year-old redfish is a foot. And a fish that size will feed on crabs and shrimp and maybe a few small forage fish. A three-year old can weigh 6-8 pounds. The diet remains largely the same, and guess where you can find crabs, shrimp and forage fish? In the seagrass.

Food
Fish aren’t the only ones that use seagrass for food. Manatees, geese and turtles and other grazers feed off underwater vegetation. One acre of seagrass can support thousands of fish and millions of invertebrates. All are looking for their next meal.

According to the Smithsonian, a green sea turtle can eat as much as 4.5 pounds of seagrass a day. Other grazers don’t eat the leaves directly but nevertheless feed off them. Snails and worms, for instance, clean the grass by eating the algae, which generates seagrass growth and it serves as a form of protection from local urban runoff, which often produces algae.

Water Clarity
Underwater grass cleans the water by capturing sediments and particles which, without the filtering effect of SAVs would make sight fishing darned near impossible. Let’s take Tampa Bay, example. Because of the abundance of turtle grass and shoal grass in the Bay area, you can sight fish for reds year round. On the other side of the clarity equation is the Treasure Coast. Try finding clear enough water for reds near Stuart and Jupiter. Chances are, you won’t. The reason: Very little seagrass these days — or oyster beds for that matter.

SAVs also contribute our quality of life above the water’s surface by oxygenating the water column and storing carbon. According to EurekAlert, global coastal wetlands can capture and store 200 metric tons of carbon each year; one acre of seagrass is capable of harboring 740 pounds of carbon, attributes that can provide balance in the atmosphere.

To Sum Up
The beauty of fishing is that there’s always something to learn. Nature is a great teacher. We all want to catch more fish, and the best thing that an angler can do to reach that goal is to study the fish’s habitat. Learn it. Cherish it. Protect it. The future of fishing depends on it.

Editor’s note: Mike’s story about SAVs is Part 1 of a series that will highlight the importance of grasses, and lead into information about SGF’s $1million dollar SAV restoration project which has started in the Caloosahatchee River, where we are working with Sea & Shoreline and Johnson Engineering. Stay tuned!
Photo credits: Redfish image courtesy of Tim Boothe. All other images courtesy of FWC.

To learn more about the Angler Action Foundation, visit www.angleractionfoundation.com.

Fishing Lake Hartwell with Matt Justice

A couple years ago, I met Matt Justice at Lake Hartwell to get information and pictures for my October 2016 Map of the Month article in Georgia Outdoor News. Between trips there I often forget it is only a little over two hours away, depending on traffic, and it is a beautiful lake with clear water and full of largemouth and spotted bass.

I left at 3:30 AM to meet Matt at 6:30 AM since I hate to be late. It was a good thing I did. I made it about 40 miles up I 85 north of Atlanta quickly since there was fairly light traffic that time of night. I was surprised at the number of vehicles headed north toward Atlanta, even at 4:00 AM. I guess they were trying to get to work ahead of traffic.

Suddenly I saw blue flashing lights and red tail lights a mile or so ahead of me. As I came to a stop traffic was trying to get to the right lane. When I got close enough a police officer had his car blocking the road and was routing traffic off the interstate.

I followed my GPS and some 18 wheelers through a couple of small towns to the next exit, about 10 miles north, where we got back on the interstate. That added over 30 minutes to my trip. I found out later there was a wreck with fatalities and the interstate was blocked for a long time. I am glad I was able to exit before the accident site.

I met Matt and we started fishing at daylight, casting topwater baits in a shallow cove. Matt caught a solid 2.5 pound largemouth on a topwater frog. The second place we stopped I caught 1.5 pound spot on a topwater plug back in a creek. Topwater fishing is fun and the strike is the most exciting one to me.

After fishing two more shallow areas to put on the map we started hitting main lake points, using topwater baits and drop shot worms to try to catch some spotted bass. Those points are usually good but there was no wind and no power was being generated, so there was no current. That made fishing tough!

On one of the holes, marked #3 on the map but actually the last one we fished, we both caught keeper spots on drop shot worms. But that was it for the day. I was in the car headed home by 10:30, which was great since it got me off the water before it got too hot.

The trip home was uneventful although the traffic was much heavier. But there were not wrecks so I was at home and napping shortly after 2:00PM.

Steelhead Rig

Two-Timing Steelhead Rig
By Buzz Ramsey
from The Fishing Wire

Catch big steelhead on this rig


It was co-worker Jarod Higginbotham who turned me onto the Two-Timing Steelhead Rig when he hooked two fat steelheads, in just a few casts, on this double rig suspended under a float while drifting his outfit through a pool where fresh steelhead were holding. The double set up works for more than just steelhead as we’ve caught trout, cutthroat, whitefish, and coho salmon while using it.

Besides being effective for nearly every river species, the Two-Timing rig is easy to tie up and use. It’s float fishing with a steelhead jig suspended under a pencil shaped bobber with a leader, 18-to-24 inches works, extending from your jig to a LiL’ Corky single-egg-imitation and hook. The Corky is pegged, held in position on your leader, a few inches above the hook by wedging a tooth pick where the leader threads through your Corky and breaking it off flush with the imitation egg.

The sizing of the hook and Corky are important because your goal is to offset the buoyancy of your Corky with a hook large enough to make it sink below your jig, but not so heavy a hook that it inhibits the Corky’s ability to look natural as it drifts along. In addition, you can increase your odds of success by setting your bobber such that your Corky will nudge bottom occasionally as it drifts downriver a few feet under your jig.

I remember Jarod being more than a little excited as he explaining to me how the buoyancy of the Corky helps float the hook point up (meaning you get hung on the bottom at lot less often) and how the larger/heavier hook required for this set up produces more-hookups-per-strike due to the bigger point-to-shank gap as compared to that of a smaller hook.

The first time we tried it together we landed four steelheads; three came on the Corky as compared to one on the steelhead jig located just a few feet up the line. With success like this, it’s like: why not add a leader and Corky to your steelhead jig when float fishing?

The Basics of Float Fishing

Float fishing is similar to the drift fishing method in that you cast out, across and slightly upstream, pick up the slack line between you and your float, and allow your float, jig and Corky (suspended below your jig) to drift downstream and through the holding water. Your drift is complete when your outfit nears the tail out, jig begins hitting bottom, or you cannot eliminate line drag by mending, which is when you’ll need to reel in and cast again.Float fishing consists of a series of casts, drifts, and retrieves. Because you’re fishing with your eyes rather than by feel, you’ll need to keep close tabs on your bobber at all times. When/if your bobber goes down/disappears (signaling a fish has taken youroffering) you must quickly and immediately set the hook.

What you need for a float rig


In all cases, a drag-free drift with your float moving at or a bit slower than the river current is critical to success. If you’re fishing a current edge, that is, where slack and moving water meet, on the near side of the river, you should have no problem with line drag. It may be a different story if you’re casting out into a hole or drift where river current, especially a strong one, can grab your main line the moment it hits the water’s surface and push it downstream faster than your float is moving.

One way to reduce or momentarily eliminate line belly and its effect on maintaining a natural drift is to mend your line. Line mending is something fly anglers do, for the same reason, to prevent their fly from skating across and downstream too fast. To mend your line, start with your rod tip at a low angle and pointed at your float, progressively pull your rod tip up and backward (toward you) while rolling your rod tip and line upstream. When you mend, it’s important to do so aggressively enough that your main line will be tossed upstream all the way to your float. Given a strong current combined with a cross current cast, you may have to mend your main line several times during a single drift.

Casting out at a slight downstream angle and feeding line off your reel fast enough that your bobber won’t be overcome by line drag can reduce or eliminate the effects of line belly on your bobber. If you’re a boater, you can cast out to the side or at a 45-degree angle downstream too, but you may find better success and eliminate all line drag by anchoring above the area you wish to fish and maneuver your bobber directly downstream from your anchored boat.

Float fishing works best when the rivers are medium to low in height and the water is clear. And although float fishing will work anywhere fish hold, it’s especially effective for fishing current edges, where fast and slack water meet, a place where steelhead often hold.

Most anglers will suspended their jig half to three quarters of the way to the river bottom when fishing areas where the water is eight feet or less in depth and within a few feet of bottom where it’s deeper.

The two-timing rig means adding an 18-to-24-inch leader to your jig – just tie the leader to the bend of your jig hook and slide the knot up the hook shank toward the jig head, which will allow your jig to suspend below your float in a horizontal position (the fish like this jig presentation best).

Lil’ Corky single egg imitations are buoyant so it’s important when fishing one under a jig to offset the buoyancy of your Corky with a single hook large enough to make your Corky sink/drift below your jig. For the right amount of buoyancy, what works is a size 12 Corky rigged in conjunction with a size #1 single hook –(what I use is the needle point hook made by Owner.)

In more turbid water or at times when fish might respond to a larger egg imitation, try a size 10 or 8 Corky rigged in combination with a size 1/0 single hook. The key here is to peg your Corky 2-to-3 inches above your single hook with a round tooth pick. The buoyancy of the Corky floats the hook point up so you get hung up less with it as compared to using a bead or other non-buoyant egg imitation. Although any hook color will work there are times when a red colored hook might out-produce a bronze or nickel colored one. This outfit can be even more effective if you set your bobber such that the hook pegged a few inches below your Corky taps bottom occasionally as it drifts downstream in the river current.

For more fishing tips and gear, visit www.yakimabait.com

What Are Ned Rigs?

Alternative Ned Rigs Elevate Your Finesse Game

Ned rig catches big fish


Photo courtesy of Jon Ray

By Ted Pilgrim
from The Fishing Wire

The legendary Ned Kehde isn’t likely to utter the phrase that’s made him famous; the term for the rig that’s forever transformed the bass fishing landscape. Actually, the chances of Kehde going third-person like some Prima donna wide receiver are roughly the same as his odds of playing in the NFL. That’s just Ned being Ned: the fact the humble Hall of Fame angler would rather credit those other fathers of finesse—Chuck Woods, Guido Hibdon, Harold Ensley, etc.—than acknowledge his own momentous role in bass fishing’s backstory.

Such modesty can be misinterpreted, but in Kehde’s case simply underscores the exceptional skill with which he practices the method known more broadly as ‘Midwest Finesse.’ Friend and former NASCAR driver Terry Bevins says, “Ned’s one of the best finesse anglers in the country. Put him in the back of the boat with one of his finesse jigs, and he’s likely to whoop your butt.”

To hear Kehde tell it, the bass-catching power of his “little jig” is so great there’s simply no reason to change it. “In years past, we’ve experimented with just about every new rigging refinement you can think of.” notes Kehde. “In the shallow impoundments we fish, none have been so fruitful as an exposed-hook, mushroom-style jig dressed with half a ZinkerZ or other finesse worm. Day after day, season after season, it inveigles dozens and dozens and dozens of bass.”

Prop Joey Nania


The ‘Ned-Miki Rig’ has scored big bags of largemouth, spotted and striped bass for pro angler and guide, Joey Nania.

The Ned-Miki

Interestingly, the same simple motivation to catch more bass has inspired anglers across America to create unique and individualized versions of the Ned Rig framework—both in retrieve and the way they fasten a finesse bait to a hook.

Longtime Ned Rig fan Joey Nania, professional angler and Alabama based fishing guide, has devised a couple key mods to the presentation. Recently, he’s guided clients to loads of spotted, largemouth and striped bass, wielding a concoction he calls the Ned-Miki Rig. “As bass fans know, the Damiki Rig has been a money presentation for enticing shad-focused bass suspended in 15 to 30 feet,” says Nania. “But you need a really well-balanced, 90-degree jighead and a compact shad-shaped bait to pull it off. Having fished the Z-Man NedlockZ HD jighead for a lot of my regular Ned Rig fishing, I realized this head would really shine for ‘video-game’ fishing—working individual bass on sonar, vertically, playing cat-and-mouse. It’s versatile enough that you can cast the bait to suspended fish, too, just letting it glide and pendulum as you work it back to the boat.”

Ned-Miki


The Ned-Miki Rig: NedlockZ HD jighead and StreakZ 3.75

A 1/10- or 1/6-ounce NedlockZ HD, says Nania, melds perfectly with a Z-Man StreakZ 3.75, a bait he calls “one of the best small shad imitations ever. And because it’s made from ElaZtech, the bait’s super buoyant. When you pause and let the Ned-Miki soak, the bait maintains a natural horizontal posture. Similar fluke-style baits aren’t buoyant, making them ride tail-down, rather than hovering horizontal like a live shad.”

Northern anglers fish a similar method, keying on suspended or rock-hugging smallmouth bass. The Ned-Miki has even evolved into a superlative substitute for a dropshot rig, which isn’t quite so precise for big sluggish smallmouths hunkered down between boulders.

“Watch the bait drop on the sonar screen until it’s about 1 foot above the fish’s head,” Nania explains. “Hold the bait still. When a bass begins to rise and chase, lift the bait to take it away. Sometimes, a bass will chase the Ned-Miki up 15 or 20 feet, absolutely crushing it on an intercept course. Other times, you have to entice them a little, using the bait’s super-soft, high-action tail to close the deal. Almost like a dropshot, but even more dead-on.”

All-Terrain Ned

Going where no Ned Rig has gone before, Nania is ecstatic when he mentions another new finesse device. “What can I say about the Finesse BulletZ, man? This jighead is off-the-charts cool. Rig one with a Finesse TRD, MinnowZ or TRD CrawZ and fish simply can’t tear it off. I’ve had the same bait on the same jighead for the past week, and dozens of bass later, it’s still going strong.”

Made to snake Ned Rig style ElaZtech baits through the thickest cover, the Finesse BulletZ sports a subtle bullet-shaped head and a slender keel weight molded precisely onto a custom, heavy-duty size 1 VMC EWG hook. “People look at this jig and wonder how the heck you rig a bait without tearing it. It’s funny because it’s actually a non-issue with ElaZtech, which is pretty much tear-proof. And once the bait’s in place, it’s there until you take it off.

“Goes without saying that the bait’s weedless,” says Nania. “But I’m also just discovering how well the little jig skips under docks,” he adds. “Regardless of the cover— rocks, brush, grass, manmade structures, etc.—this is one incredible jig-bait combo for finessing big bass in places you couldn’t previously throw a Ned Rig.

“I like to rig a 1/10-ouncer with a TRD MinnowZ—Smelt and Hot Snakes are two of my favorite patterns—and skip it under docks. Rigging the same bait on a 1/6-ounce Finesse BulletZjig also shines for casting into deeper schools of bass.”

Nania notes how the jig’s keel weight makes the bait glide and slide horizontally, rather than nose-down. “It’s like some radical, improved version of the slider head, except this jig perfectly matches 2- to 4-inch finesse-style baits. And you can pull it right through the thickest brush piles with no problem at all.”

From southern impoundments to northern lakes and rivers, the Finesse BulletZ jig may be at its best when rigged with Z-Man’s authentic mini-crayfish bait, the 2.5-inch TRD CrawZ. “The TRD CrawZ is a subtle, unassuming little critter,” says professional angler Luke Clausen. “But rigged with the Finesse BulletZ jig, the bait rides in this freakishly lifelike, claws-up posture. Put it in the water and its buoyant little claws flap and wave, virtually taunting bass to bite—and they do,” Clausen laughs.

Weedless Ned Rigs


Weedless Ned Rig: Finesse BulletZ jigheads with TRD CrawZ, Finesse TRD and TRD MinnowZ (top to bottom)
Ned-Neko?

Blurring boundaries between Ned-style and other finesse presentations, creative anglers have concocted what we’ll call the Ned-Neko Rig. Coupling a Finesse TRD, Hula StickZ or other buoyant finesse bait with a Neko hook and Neko weight yields astonishing action, and an intriguing underwater posture.

Hooking configurations depend on cover and bass activity level. The simplest is to Texas-rig your chosen finesse bait onto a #1 to 2/0 Neko style hook. Finish the Neko-Ned Rig by inserting a 1/32- to 1/8-ounce Neko weight into the bait’s tail-end, resulting in a compelling pogo-stick-action along bottom. Also effective is a drag-and-deadstick retrieve, particularly in small, high-percentage zones.

Or, you can get extra wacky (pun intended), and hook the worm right through the middle, leaving the Neko weight in the tail. The toughness of ElaZtech even eliminates the need for an O-ring; just a 1/0 Gamakatsu Finesse Wide Gap hook, your favorite TRD and another alluring look bass can’t say no to. Ned inspired. Ned approved.

Z-Man Neko ShroomZ


Ned-Neko Rigs – “Z-Man Neko ShroomZ (prototype) with Finesse TRD (weedless) and Neko ShroomZ with Hula StickZ (wacky)

Match in Jigs and Tails

The Perfect Match in Jigs and Tails from Z-Man’s ElaZTech
from The Fishing
Wire

Catch bass on jigs


How the right jig & softbait combo can uplift your ElaZtech® game

Ladson, SC – Holmes and Watson. Jordan and Pippen. Lennon and McCartney . . .

When two complementary forces join talents, things like genius, championship performance and all-time awesome music inevitably follow. The power of the one-two punch extends to inanimate objects, as well, and certainly to fishing tackle. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s cool to Texas rig your favorite plastic worm on a treble hook. Nor does it explain why anglers can be so painfully picky about swimbait selection or choice in finesse worms, and yet impale said bait onto whatever jighead’s lying on the deck.

The job of any good jighead is to bring out the unique talents of baits that best match its design. Disparate jighead styles deliver softbaits at different speeds, actions and depths, each performing a singular, premeditated presentation. Collars and keeper configurations are made to match and pin certain baits firmly in place. Jig-hooks vary by anatomy: size, gap, throat, shank length, wire gauge and more; with justifiable reasons for each. While a mismatched jig and bait might still catch fish, a perfect pairing can stimulate an onslaught of bites.

“We recognized early on that because ElaZtech baits are different—softer, livelier, more buoyant and much more durable—than traditional PVC baits, designing a super-tuned rigging system would take fishing ElaZtech to a whole other level,” said Daniel Nussbaum, talented fisherman and president of Z-Man® Fishing. “Sure, you can rig your favorite ElaZtech bait onto a plain jane jighead. But to take full advantage of each bait’s action, longevity and fish-catching performance, grab the right jig for the job.”

Among fifteen unique Z-Man jigheads and over fifty ElaZtech softbaits, Nussbaum highlights four of his favorite perfect pairings. “A 3-inch MinnowZ on a 3/16-ounce Trout Eye jighead is a versatile player—it’s my ‘stranded on a desert island’ survival bait,” he divulges.

A jighead with an interesting backstory, the Trout Eye jig comes from South Carolina seatrout guru Ralph Phillips, who discovered a predator’s primal attraction to the unmistakable eyes of baitfish. The U.S.-made Trout Eye jig is poured with the largest 3D eyes possible, set into a flattened teardrop shape. Strategically placed to bring out subtle rolling action on paddletail baits like the MinnowZ, the jig’s forward eye position helps the whole lure slide through sparse grass with ease. Back-to-back conical keeper barbs secure ElaZtech and other softbaits tightly to the base of the jig’s collar, while a heavy-duty, 2/0 Mustad UltraPoint hook penetrates quickly, and won’t straighten under heavy loads.

“Think of the 3-inch MinnowZ as an aggressive paddletail,” notes Nussbaum. “When you rig it on a Trout Eye jig the whole body moves with a really sweet side-to-side roll, while the tail wags the dog; looks just like the panicked swim of a minnow and catches everything—seatrout, redfish, bass, snook, and more.”

First introduced to beat back Australia’s brutally strong gamefish, the HeadlockZ HD jighead is an amazing jig and a perfect match for Z-Man’s SwimmerZ— a super-soft, split-belly paddletail that’s produced world-record barramundi. “The SwimmerZ is one of my favorite paddletails for big redfish and largemouths,” says Nussbaum. “The 4-inch version teams up nicely with a 4/0-size HeadlockZ HD, while a 6-inch SwimmerZ on an 8/0 HeadlockZ is ideal for bull reds and stripers, and holds up to the teeth of big pike.”

Matching Z-Man’s tough-as-nails ElaZtech baits, the HeadlockZ HD boasts bulletproof jighead construction, built around a custom, heavy duty 3/0, 4/0, 6/0 or 8/0 Mustad UltraPoint hook (jig-weight is engraved in head for easy ID). Riding high on the hook-shank is an ingenious, split bait keeper. The design greatly eases rigging and prevents ElaZtech and other soft plastics from sliding off the jig collar.

Exceptionally balanced for use with larger, bulkier baits, the HeadlockZ’ 90-degree bullet head amplifies body roll, which produces accentuated tail-thump and vibration. “This combo represents one of Z-Man’s most underrated big fish baits, one you can tie on and catch fish with all day long.”

The definitive lure for Ned Rig-style fishing, casting a Finesse ShroomZ / Finesse TRD combo might be the smartest bass-catching decision you can make. Simple, unassuming and almost immune to fishing pressure, this little 2-3/4-inch finesse bait and refined mushroom-shaped jighead regularly boats over 50 per day for Ned Kehde and other skilled finesse fishers. Of course, the beauty of the bait is that less-experienced anglers also hook oodles of fish with it.

Kehde himself admits the key to success is a method he calls ‘no feel.’ “That means we cannot feel what the jig-and-softbait combo is doing or where it is during the retrieve,” says Kehde. This is largely attributed to Kehde’s preference for a light jighead, in the neighborhood of 1/16-ounce. Proving the combo’s astonishing versatility, Kehde and his friends have ascribed six different finesse retrieves, including the swim-glide-and-shake, hop-and-bounce and drag-and-deadstick, among others.

Creating the illusion of a single edible critter, the mushroom shaped Finesse ShroomZ head flows seamlessly into the nose of the sub-3-inch Finesse TRD. The unique head shape moves smoothly over the substrate, pivoting and activating the ElaZtech material with each interruption in the jig’s path. The jig’s minimally invasive “hangnail” keeper barb pins finesse baits like the TRD surprisingly tight to the jig; some anglers add a drop of superglue to the underside of the jighead for an even better bond.

A model of simplicity, the Finesse TRD itself glides seductively on the drop, tail shimmying just enough to speak of something alive. Imbued with custom salt content for a precise sink rate, anglers like Kehde often chose to increase buoyancy by stretching the bait and removing salt.

A rising star in swimbait circles, the 2-1/2- and 3-inch Slim SwimZ offers an intelligent design that gives it some interesting underwater moves. Rigged on a downsized NedlockZ HD jig, the finesse paddletail bait comes to life, even at slow retrieve speeds. Molded in lighter 1/5- to 1/15-ounce sizes, the NedlockZ HD sports an extra-heavy-duty hook that allow for heavier tackle and drag settings than Finesse ShroomZ jigheads. The jig’s innovative split keeper allows for effortless rigging, holding both ElaZtech and soft plastics firmly in place. The medium-length hook shank is a fine fit for the Slim SwimZ and other finesse baits.

“We crafted the Slim SwimZ with an inward-curved tail,” Nussbaum says. “The configuration lets you activate the bait at extra slow speeds. Or fish it fast for even more action. When you pull it, the tail scoops water, producing a high-velocity, high-action wiggle. We’re getting great feedback from folks catching big crappies, white bass and even walleyes. And when bass key on small forage, this compact combo scores big.”

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. See more at www.zmanfishing.com.

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.

Bass Fishing At Night

Fishing a club tournament last weekend at Clarks Hill strongly reminded me of why I like night fishing this time of year. We fished 17 hours – 6:00 AM to 3:00 PM Saturday and 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM Sunday. It was hot, and the fish didn’t bite very well.

When I was a teacher and school administrator I had summers off. Several times each summer I would leave Griffin and get to my place at Raysville Boat Club on Clarks Hill Sunday afternoon about 6:00 PM. After unloading and getting the boat in the water I would fish topwater until dark, about 9:00. I caught some big bass, several over six pounds each, doing that.

Then I would come in, shower, eat and go back out and fish all night. In the dark I caught bass on Texas rigged plastic worms, spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Most were smaller, in the one to two-pound range. As soon as the sky started lightening up the next morning I would switch back to topwater and often catch some bigger fish.

As soon as the sun started getting hot, usually around 9:00 AM it was time to go in, shower and eat again then go to bed and sleep until about 5:00 PM and do it all over again. I would do that for a week at a time.

It was great fishing at night during the week. The lake was peaceful and quiet, with no boats on the water with me. I saw lots of critters from beaver to deer doing their night activities. And I caught fish every night.

Back then it was popular to have a “black light,” an ultraviolet light, shining out from your boat. It made your line shine, so you could see it, and also had a regular light feature that let you see what you were doing in the dark.

I never tried that. When fishing in the dark I wanted it completely dark, with no light. I did try a regular light. I had read about using a purple spinnerbait at night and I discovered I caught a few fish with one if a light was on, but never got a bite on a worm. But I caught more on the spinnerbait, and a lot on worms, with no light at all.

Linda fished with me one night on Labor Day weekend and it was so dark I could not see my reel in my hand. We were fishing a deep, rocky bank with worms and she said she thought she had a bite. I told her to set the hook.

I felt the boat rock and heard her say “It feels like a big one.” Then there was a huge splash out in the dark. I picked up the net and put it over the side of the boat but could see nothing and did not dare shine a light on the water and spook the fish.

Another splash closer to the boat made me nervous since I knew I could not net it, then it jumped a third time, right into the net! That seven-pound, ten ounce bass hangs on our wall.

Tips on Fishing Topwaters

Tips on Fishing Topwaters from a Top Pro Angler

Cliff Crotchet and son


Cliff Crotchet and son. (Photo courtesy of Bassmaster.)

By David A. Rose
from The Fishing Wire

When I daydream about catching bass, my initial vision is of mist rising off a lake’s dead-calm surface, followed by the most primeval eruption as a big ol’ bucketmouth viciously attacks my topwater lure. And I’m guessing it’s a very similar image for most anyone that loves catching largemouth bass.

Without a doubt, the feeling of your heart skipping a beat results from an instant infusion of adrenalin, induced by the sudden surface assault. And while that feeling of exhilaration is the very reason so many anglers love catching bass that way, there is also a major problem when it happens… the impulsive quick hookset comes so naturally that we end up pulling the lure away from the fish’s face before it’s gobbled it up. It’s happened to all of us. But it doesn’t have to be as common of an occurrence.

Three primary factors influence your topwater success once a fish has committed: your chosen line, hooksetting technique, and rod in your hand.

Seaguar bass pro Cliff Crochet is known for his topwater proficiency. The Pierre Part, Louisiana, resident has been fishing the Bassmaster Elites and Opens for 9-plus years, with 104 tournaments under his belt. He’s won one, and has numerous top-10 and -20 finishes, earning him near a half-million in winnings. And he knows all too well the frustration of being too hurried to set the hook when a fish blows up on his bait.

“I’ve had the bad habit of setting the hook too quickly and aggressively in the past,” says the 35-year-old angler. “But it was learning to use the right line for the topwater situation that helped me land more fish with topwater baits.”

Generally, Crochet uses all three line types for topwater – braid, fluorocarbon and monofilament. And which line he chooses isn’t just dependent on the lure he’s using, but the situation in which that lure is being presented.

“Monofilament is the best line choice overall in open-water areas because of its stretch and how it floats rather than sinks,” Crochet claims. “The elasticity of the line allows the lure to hesitate just enough that the fish has a better chance of getting it in its mouth as soon as it strikes. So the line compensates for the mistakes I make if I set the hook to fast.”

Crochet’s go-to monofilament is Seaguar Rippin’ Premium Monofilament, with 20-pound test his first choice for waking, popping and chugging baits.

“The monofilament made today is nothing like the lines I used while growing up, some of which was stiff and brittle, while others stretched like a rubber band,” Crochet states. “Rippin’ is superior to any monofilament I have ever used. It’s super strong, yet, soft and thin in diameter; this means I can cast my topwater lure further, which is crucial in shallow water situations. And when my bait gets hit, it has just the right amount of stretch that the fish can suck it up right away.”

Wake me up

Running mere inches below the surface, some consider wake baits, ChatterBaits and gurgling spinnerbaits the descendants of topwater baits. Regardless, they, too, require specialized gear and techniques.

Crochet’s choice when going subsurface is a 7-to-1 reel spooled again with 20-pound Rippin’ Monofilament for open water or short weeds, but to the same pound test in Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon when fishing over thicker grass, stumps and rocks. The near-neutral buoyancy and low stretch of fluorocarbon allows you to swim your baits at the precise depth below the surface. Crochet says two inches off where you want your bait running is huge, and fluorocarbon can assist in precise bait placement.

Cliff’s notes

One of the biggest mistakes many anglers make when it comes to topwater fishing is thinking it’s a warm-water, early-morning or late-evening-only bite.

Crochet says no matter where you’re fishing, once the water reaches the mid-50’s bass will start looking to the surface for forage. You just may want to stick with lures that can be fished at a slower pace. And it’s during the spring period when the middle of the day can be the best surface bite as the water will be at its warmest.

Lures that are fished at a fast pace, however, such as buzzbaits, will get bit more once the water temperatures tickle the mid-60’s and above.

Lastly, Crochet says to let your fishing situation dictate what line to use. Monofilament in areas where you don’t have to worry about losing fish around structure; braid where getting fish up and out is necessary (just remember to pivot, lean back and keep reeling as a hook set); fluorocarbon for subsurface when a little extra “oomph” is needed, or, when the fish are being picky about how far under surface they want you lure to be presented.

Sheepshead

Deep Thoughts for Sheepshead Success

tasty sheepshead


Abundant and aggressive, the sheepshead is one of the sea’s tastiest fish.

By David A. Brown
from The Fishing Wire
Bucktooth bandits with a frustrating habit of stealing ill-presented baits. That’s one way to describe sheepshead; but you might also call them sporty, abundant and oh, so tasty.

Indeed, the striped member of the porgie clan with pearly white meat often compared to lobster, is highly regarded as a prized inshore catch throughout southeastern waters. Their capture requires a few strategic details, but one of your most valuable tools is something not commonly considered for inshore species — electronics.

Your Raymarine Multifunction Display (MFD) unit can tell you a lot about what lies beneath the surface. Spoiler alert: We’re not talking about those shallow flats where redfish tail and speckled trout hug the potholes. Rather, we’re gonna look at something far less obvious, so read on

WHERE THEY LIVE

To set the stage, sheepshead like structure, because that’s where their forage preferences live. Those protruding incisors are made for cracking shells, so crabs, barnacles, shrimp, mollusks are all fair game.

Docks, seawalls, piers, bridges and jetties offer dependable sheepshead opportunities — especially during their winter-spring spawning aggregations. Elsewhere, coastal marshes often find sheepshead roaming spartina grass edges or poking around Louisiana Roseau cane. Oyster bottom and noticeable shell bars are the sweet spots, as the crustacean count increases; but if you’ve ever idled a low-tide marsh, you’ve probably seen fiddler crabs waving those oversized claws on every sandy point you pass.

Residential docks offer yet another highly-productive sheepshead scenario, especially the ones with multiple slips, extended walkways and lots of pilings. The more habitat, the better and if you come across a dock crumbled by time and tide, or perhaps, tropical storm damage — jackpot. The debris that falls into the water below catches all sorts of trash and flotsam to form a briny log jam of sheepshead potential.

While all of these will certainly offer you abundant sheepshead opportunities, the visible spots get a lot of fishing pressure because anyone can find them and fish them. Nothing wrong with standing atop a land-based structure — maybe with a little Aqua Vu camera recon; but savvy anglers in search of the bigger sheepshead will target the shallow reefs and wrecks scattered throughout bays and estuaries. Here, in these less-trafficked areas, sheepshead enjoy plenty of cover, food and seclusion — usually with less congestion than the inshore stuff.

Raymarine Axiom’s RealVision 3D comes in handy here, as the ability to scan a structure site reveals all the relevant features sheepshead like. You’ll want to look for undercut areas where they can tuck in tightly when the current runs swiftly, as well as the high spots where the biggest and most aggressive fish often hold during peak feeding periods. And, of course, locating groups of fish and noting the bigger marks helps dial in your presentations.

You’ll also do well to look for those sneaky little rock piles along channel edges. Run the ditch and monitoring SideVision will reveal isolated structures that could be bristling with ‘heads.

TACTICAL TIPS

Once your Raymarine electronics reveal your target zone, bolster this intel with the following considerations:

Optimal Conditions — Because sheepshead are mostly sight feeders, sunlight helps them spot your baits. Current always stimulates feeding, but the peak of a hard tide makes it tough to keep your baits on point and out of the snaggy stuff. Even if you do hit the mark, sheepshead won’t fight a heavy current, so feeding usually tapers until the water slows.

Rigs — Whether you’re fishing shrimp, fiddler crabs or shucked oysters, ditch the old fish finder rig, as it’s far too snag-prone for the sheepshead habitat. Also, because the sheepshead bite is nanosecond quick, reaction time is key. A heavy split shot rig is one option, but you’ll find a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jig head, like the Z-Man Trout Eye, a better option, as it keeps bait and weight efficiently packaged. Easier in and out for the tight spots, plus direct strike response.

Another option — the dropshot. Take a page from the bass angler’s playbook and rig a hook perpendicular to your main line with a drop leader and weight below. Match your leader length to the depth that your fish are showing on your Raymarine unit’s high-definition screen and use just enough weight to hold your rig in place.

Prominent front teeth and sharp dorsal spines are notable sheepshead traits.

Tackle Tips — You’ll do more vertical dropping than long casting for sheepshead, so a 7-foot rod, such as St. Croix’s Tidemaster Inshore heavy-power, moderate action spinning rod is ideal. You’ll want plenty of backbone for quickly separating fish from fortress, but a moderate tip allows just enough “give” for the fish to get the bait and hook. The second you feel steady pressure, you’ll want to come tight like yesterday, so your Seaguar Smackdown braid is a must here.

Watch the Points — A sheepshead’s crushing style teeth pose little biting hazard, unless your finger ends up inside the mouth (but, that’s what needle nose pliers are for. Just sayin’.) The real threat are those knitting needle spines on the dorsal fins. Get too close and you’ll receive a memorable poke in the palm.

Safest grip is below the chin, ahead of the ventral fins. Hold the leader to suspend the fish vertically, grip the fish firmly with its chin resting in your palm and safely remove the hook. If your sheepshead is short, send him on his way; if not, take him home for one of the best seafood dinners you’ll ever enjoy.

Trolling in Fresh Water

The Science of Trolling in Fresh Water
How-to tips from Florida’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
from the Fishing Wire

In Florida, trolling is one of the standard bluewater techniques for offshore fishing. Many northern anglers also employ trolling in lakes routinely. So why isn’t this method of fishing more popular in Florida’s fresh waters? First, it’s an illegal method for tournaments—which should tell you something about how effective trolling can be! Also, our fresh waters simply aren’t deep enough for trolling techniques like downriggers or diving planes. Finally, the abundant vegetation in Florida lakes and ponds can interfere with traditional trolling methods. However, under the right conditions and with proper selection of lure or bait, trolling can be practical here. Whether you’re on a first visit to a new lake or returning to your favorite pond for the hundredth time, trolling is an effective way to find and catch fish.

Trolling motors — They’re actually called “trolling” motors, so why not use them as such? The heart of a trolling system is indeed going to be the motor. Anglers today enjoy a broad selection of electric motors that are more convenient and more powerful than their predecessors, with a number of available options to make trolling that much simpler. Make sure that you choose a motor adequate to the size and weight of the boat; a careful choice will allow you to maintain a steady troll in the face of diverting winds or currents. Both bow and transom mount styles are available. A trolling motor will last for years if properly cared for. Remove the prop and check for fishing line after each trip; if line works past the seals into the electric motor itself it can ruin it. When the prop is removed, hit any exposed lower unit bolts with a shot of WD-40 to prevent corrosion during storage. When on the water, remember to raise the trolling motor before jetting off to the next spot, because the forced turning of the prop can burn out the electric motor.

Trolling gear — Most spinning or casting outfits are suitable for trolling (even flyfishing gear). For most trolling, anglers will want to keep their hands on the rod rather than place it in a rod holder. Longer rods have the advantage for more precisely controlling the path of bait or lure as you troll past an enticing looking stump or patch of lily pads. They also provide for more distance between baits when running two lines off one boat. If you’re a light tackle angler you might wish to switch up a couple pounds in line test, as the forward momentum of the boat coupled with a fish’s strike may lead to more breakoffs than you are accustomed to.

A depth finder is a tremendous aid in trolling. It will help you monitor the bottom to ensure that you are maintaining the ideal depth for your lure of choice. It will also reveal bottom structure (and even fish) so that you can prepare for a couple of bumps (or a strike) on the line. Depending on the lure or bait, it will also give you enough warning to lift your rod tip and raise your bait clear of an obstruction. Some trolling motors even come with depth finders built in.

A speedometer can also be very helpful to track your actual trolling speed (relative to the water itself) when wind and current are either speeding or slowing your boat. It also allows you to maintain the best speed for a given lure (which of course you tested beside the boat before beginning your troll).

Batteries — A few thoughts on batteries are in order . . . first of all, you should have a dedicated trolling motor battery. Hooking those alligator clips up to your starting battery might leave you furiously hand-cranking that 90 HP outboard as the sun sets with you still ten miles from the ramp. Only buy a deep cycle battery engineered to handle a steady drain (the reason starting batteries don’t perform well for trolling is because they are designed to provide only short bursts of power). Modern technology has created a number of advancements in the type and efficiency of trolling batteries, but pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and depleting your battery in order to maximize its longevity.

Trolling for bass — Bass are one of the easiest Florida fish to troll for. There are already a variety of weedless lures available, which help offset one of the primary hurdles to trolling in Florida’s fresh waters. A Carolina-rigged plastic worm is possibly the most weedless trolling lure there is, able to bump and slither its way over and around a broad array of obstacles. When trolling with plastic worms, run dead slow with frequent stops. Hold the rod tip forward of your sitting position; when the familiar tap-tap-tap of a strike occurs, you can instantly drop the rod tip back and give the fish some slack as you stop the motor and prepare to set the hook. Other weedless bass lures to try include spinnerbaits, Johnson Silver Minnows, curly-tail grubs, and weedless spinners like a Snagless Sally (be sure to use ball bearing swivels with the latter).

In more open waters, a shallow-running Rapala or Rebel minnow is hard to beat (though you can use any of the lures listed above); Rat-L-Traps are another great choice. Speed-trolling these lures as fast as they will go without rolling will sometimes produce fish when other tactics fail. For deeper locales, use crankbaits to get down to the fish. Choose crankbaits based on the desired depth, but keep in mind that a trolled lure will run deeper than its rated running depth (which is usually based on cast-and-retrieve). For any lure except plastic worms, keep your rod tip back instead of forward and set the hook instantly when you feel a strike.

Trolling with bait can be very effective. Shiners and shad are the temptations of choice. Always hook the bait through the lips. Troll slowly enough so that the minnow can swim naturally and isn’t being dragged through the water. If a bait begins to roll on the surface, you’re going too fast. In weedier waters, use a hook with a weedguard. If you need to get your bait deeper, add split shot a foot or two up the line; if the bait keeps diving into vegetation, a tiny streamlined float will keep it near the surface. As with worm trolling, keep your rod tip forward so that you can yield some slack and allow the fish to take the bait before you set the hook.

Trolling for sunfish — Most of what was said about bass trolling applies equally to bream, but on a smaller scale. (You might pick up an occasional crappie too, but they are usually too deep and too closely associated with cover to troll for easily.) Fewer appropriately-sized weedless lures are available. However, Beetle Spins are excellent and weedless curlytail grubs in the smaller sizes also do well. For hard baits, the selection is also more limited. Tiny crankbaits draw strikes, as do small spoons and spinners. However, trolling speeds need to be slower and you must pay more attention to make sure the lures are not rolling. One trick with spinners is to tie a foot or two of line to the treble hook and then put a small nymph or wet fly on the end; fish leery of the spinner will often pick up the fly. You must use a swivel if trolling a spinner, and will probably have to untwist your line periodically by cutting off the lure and letting the line trail freely behind the boat for a few minutes.

What Are Some Rattlebait Tactics for Winter Bass

Rattlebait Tactics for Winter Bass
By Frank Sargeant
from The Fishing Wire

Stirring bass out of their lethargy when water temperature is in the low 40’s, as it is now across much of open-water territory in the south and west, can be a challenge, no doubt about it. But making use of the fast-sinking lures known as lipless crankbaits or sometimes as “rattle-baits” because all have some sort of metallic beads inside to produce noise is one proven tactic that consistently produces.

Rattlebaits Picture from The Fishing Wire


The lures sink as fast as jigs or weighted plastic worms, but can be fished considerably faster, and the noise they generate seems to wake up the fish in a way that others do not in cold water.

Among the many versions is the Cordell Spot, perhaps the original, and the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, now the most widely-known and used. Other good ones include the Strike King Redeye Shad, Rapala Rippin Rap, Yo-Zuri Vibe, X-Calibur Xr 50 and many more.

The lures suitable for bass fishing weigh anywhere from 1/4 to 1 ounce, with the heavier ones usually preferred for winter fishing because they stay deeper when activated.

The lipless lures go through the scattered grass left by winter’s cold easily in most cases despite their treble hooks. In fact, the favored fishing tactic at this time of year is to find scattered grass in 8 to 12 feet of water and fish the lures with a sort of lift-and-drop retrieve that is somewhat similar to fishing a jig.

The lure is allowed to sink to bottom, then pulled upward with the rod 2 to 3 feet, which causes it to vibrate and activate the rattles inside. It’s then allowed to flutter back toward bottom. The strike often comes on this drop, much like in vertical jigging. (It requires a finger on the line and a sensitive rod to sense the bite many times, since it’s only a light tap.)

Experts in the tactic say it simulates a cold stunned shad trying to maintain equilibrium. When the bite comes, the hooks are set and it’s game on.

To be sure, the lures frequently pick up dead grass, but this can often be felt as the action of the lure stops, and can sometimes be cleared by “ripping” the lure upward very hard for a pull or two before going back to the lift and drop retrieve.

Best locations are often on the edge of submerged creek channels, where the dead grass stands on the shoulder of a deeper drop. Old road beds with ditches a few feet deeper than the roadway can also hold fish, as do shell bars off the larger channels. Use of a big-screen sonar and GPS mapping system makes it easy to scout out likely areas. Creek channels coming out of shallow flats that are spawning areas in late March and April can be particularly productive. As in all bass fishing, it’s a matter of doing a lot of scouting before the serious casting begins.

Most anglers fish the lures on 12- to 15-pound test fluorocarbon, which gives a better feel for the lure than more stretchy monofilament. Some of the lures give better action if an added snap swivel is added above the split ring; otherwise, a turtle-style loop knot is best for allowing maximum movement. Most anglers use a medium action rod, relatively slow, so that the hooks are more likely to stay put–glass composite rods, rather than pure graphite, are favored by serious rattlebait fans.

Favorite colors include silver, white and pearl, which imitate shad, as well as a brownish orange that some anglers believe looks somewhat like crawfish. Whatever the bass might think it is, the lipless crankbaits clearly look like food–they’re one of the best offers you can make until things start to warm a bit towards spring.