Category Archives: How To

Acorns for Fishing Bait?


Fishing for Squirrels
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from the Fishing Wire

This is the time of year when, for an abrupt change of pace, some anglers might choose to go squirrel fishing.At least, that’s what some neighbors have accused me of recently as I baited up with acorns to fool the resident grass carp in our North Alabama neighborhood lake. (I would never actually fish for squirrels, of course, though in my youth I did briefly try to fool robins into pecking at plastic worms crawled slowly across the lawn—until Mom caught me.)

Every year in October the giant carp, which are put in the lake to keep down aquatic weeds, turn from eating vegetation to gulping down acorns that fall into the water from overhanging oaks. The specialized feeding lasts for about a month, until the acorns stop falling, but while it’s on, the carp present a very interesting an unusual target for freshwater anglers not used to catching fish that frequently weigh 15 to 20 pounds.

There’s probably a lake near you where the same species is doing the same thing—grass carp are now found in at least 45 states.And while common carp have a generally poor reputation among anglers in the U.S. (they’re venerated in Europe) grass carp are a whole other critter. Bringing one in is very similar to battling a redfish of similar size—they’re strong and have far more endurance than most freshwater fish, and they occasional boil on top or even jump partway out of the water. Caught on anything short of 15-pound-test gear, they’re a real handful.

They’re also a whole lot more wary than common carp. They have very good vision, and are quick to spook if a boat or a bank-walking angler approaches too close. Getting a successful cast to them requires a slow and stealthy approach, and the bait has to come down just right, not close enough to scare them but close enough that they can hear it “plop” into the water.It’s the sort of angling challenge that can add a bit of interest to anglers burned out on the slow action for late summer and early fall largemouths.  And for the charge that carp are inedible—more or less true—very few anglers kill and eat bass these days, either.

Handling these bruisers is not a light tackle game—I gear up with a spinning rod suitable for bull reds or king mackerel, a 4000-sized spinning reel and 20-pound-test braided line, which actually probably tests closer to 30. A couple feet of 25-pound-test monofilament acts as a leader, running to a size 1/0 octopus type hook in short shank. The hook has to be fairly heavy wire—the fish quickly straighten crappie-weight hooks.The bait is a green acorn, without the cap. They like most types, but an acorn from a red oak is hard to beat. White oak acorns are often too large for them to eat, and they don’t like overcup oak acorns either.

Getting the hook through an acorn can take some doing—if you get into “squirrel fishing”, as I admit that I have, you’ll probably want to gather several acorns in advance, drill a tiny hole through the center and then push the hook eye through so that it’s just exposed—the thing looks like a fat bass bug without hackles. Otherwise, you have to force the hook point through the acorn, not an easy matter, though do-able. Use no weight—the acorn will sink slowly on its own.

Find an overhanging tree where the carp are feeding, slip up silently and make a cast. Free-line the bait all the way to bottom. Many times, the carp grab it on the way down. If not, let it sit on bottom for a few minutes.When a fish takes, there’s no doubt about it—they gulp it down and take off like a shot. Set the hook and you’re in for maybe the most impressive battle you’ll run into in southern freshwater, with the possible exception of a monster blue or flathead catfish.

This is a pump-and-reel fight—you can’t just reel them in like you can most bass. It’s more akin to fighting a saltwater fish or a big landlocked striper. They also act a bit like cobia when you bring them to shore or into the boat, going bonkers for a time—best to stand back and let them run out of energy before removing the hook.

When the battle is over, grab a few quick photos and let the fish go back to doing what it was put into the lake to do, patrolling for excess weed growth. The stocked fish are sterilized and not capable of reproducing, a measure to make sure they don’t become invasive problems as their cousin silver carp have in many waterways.Catching fall grass carp is an interesting diversion and a new challenge for many anglers. It’s assuredly unlikely ever to replace chasing largemouths, and I don’t see a million-dollar payout U.S. Carpmasters Classic on the horizon any time soon, (though there actually is a carp classic in France) but it’s a lot of fun while it lasts.
Acorns for fishing bait?

How and Where to Catch September Lake Eufaula Bass

September Bass at Eufaula
with Dwayne Smith

September is one of the worst months for bass fishing in many of our Georgia lakes. The water is at its hottest and bass are deep and hard to find. But at Lake Eufaula the numerous ledges are full of bass and the grassbeds all over the lake entice some bass to feed shallow. You can take advantage of both patterns and catch bass there this month.

With 45,180 acres of water, there are lots of places to fish at Eufaula. Stretching 85 miles from the dam to Columbus, this long lake is mostly river bottom with lots of shallow areas and good drops into channels. Those are perfect places for bass to hold and feed this month.

Eufaula is a shallow lake with big flats everywhere. Grass grows on many of these flats and points leading to the channels, and willow bushes grow all over the lake, even on some mid-lake ledges. Bass like to feed around this shallow cover and can be found there all year long, but this pattern gets even better in late September when the water begins go cool.

Dwayne Smith won the Georgia Bass Chapter Federation Top Six tournament at Eufaula last April. He won it early, catching a limit of bass on spinnerbaits first thing each morning. Fishing with the Blackshear Bass Club for the past six years has taught Dwayne a lot about the lake since they fish it about four times a year, and he put his knowledge to good use in the Top Six.

Making the Top Six team each year that he has been in the club is something Dwayne is proud of doing, and he likes fishing the Top Six. He also likes Eufaula and can catch fish there most of the year. He says September can be a good month if you know were to fish.

“Start early in the grassbeds, then move to the drops as the sun gets on the water,” Dwayne said. That is a simple pattern but it works well for him most of the year, and September is no exception.

Dwayne will start each morning throwing a half-ounce white Terminator spinnerbait with a gold willowleaf and a silver Colorado blade. He likes a split tail white trailer and says the bait looks so good in the water sometimes he wants to eat it himself! The spinnerbait is fished in the shallows all over the lake, anywhere there is grass or willows.

Dwayne may start out on the main lake on humps but the sun hits those areas early. As the sun comes over the trees he will often move to the shady bank to get some more time with his spinnerbait. But when the sun gets bright, it is time to move to deeper water.

“Look for shallow water near deep water,” Dwayne said. A drop from the shallows to the channel is going to hold bass, and the steeper the drop the better it usually will be. Dwayne will fish a Carolina rig on these places, casting up shallow and working his bait down to deeper water.

A black Trick worm rigged behind a one ounce sinker on a 24 to 30 inch leader is Dwayne’s standard Carolina rig. He likes heavy line on both spinnerbait and Carolina rig, and uses 15 pound Trilene Big Game line on everything, including his leader.

You will often see bass busting shad on top during September, so Dwayne also keeps a chrome half-ounce Rat-L-Trap rigged and ready to cast toward them. And he will have a big Fat Free Shad on another rod to run across shallow drops in case the bass want something moving a little faster than a Carolina rig. He likes shad colored crankbaits if the water is clear and something with some chartruese in it if the water is stained.

I fished with Dwayne in early August to get a look at the way he fishes Eufaula. He showed me ten of his favorite places to fish in September to share here, and he explained how he fishes each. The following ten spots will give you some grassbeds and shallows to fish this month as well as drops to move to when the sun gets bright.

1. N 32 03.171 – W 85 03.321 – The bank straight across from the mouth of Little Barbour Creek has a good grassbed and is on the east side of the lake, so it stays shady for a good while each morning. Dwayne will start right across from the mouth of the creek and fish upstream all the way to the small creek.

Keep your boat out and easy cast from the bank and throw your spinnerbait back into the edge of the grass. Fish it back out, running it by any clumps of grass or any wood cover out from the bank. Dwayne fishes the spinnerbait fast, keeping is down under the water but running it back quickly at a steady speed. Making a lot of cast as fast as possible is important since this pattern does not last long.

2. N 32 01.997 – W 85 03.413 – Head downstream and the channel will make a sharp bend to the Georgia bank, then swing out toward the Alabama side. Right where the channel leaves the east bank there is a small island. A point runs off this island and follows the edge of the channel as it cuts across the lake. There is a red channel marker just off the island.

Dwayne likes to keep his boat upstream of the drop running off the island and casts up onto the flat formed by the point. He will work his Carolina rig or crankbait back to the boat, fishing some of the top of the flat and then covering the edge of the drop.

If there is current moving the lip of the drop is probalby the best spot. If the current is not moving Dwayne will work the Carolina rig down the drop and probe for any wood stuck there. He will work from the island out to the channel marker, fishing the edge all along there.

3. N 32 01.546 – W 85 02.876 – Head on downstream and the channel goes to the Alabama bank then makes a sharp turn back to the Georgia side. The mouth of Rood Creek is where the channel hits the Georgia bank, but just upstream is a small creek with a split near the mouth. The river channel runs near the mouth of it and the double opening has deep water in it.

The point on the split in the mouth of this creek has a hump off it that has stumps on it. It is only four feet deep on top and drops off to 25 feet or deeper all around. Keep your boat out in the deeper water and fish around the hump, making casts up on top of it and fishing down the slope.

This is a good place to run a crankbait across the top of the hump, then fish a Carolina rig on it. You will get hung up on the stumps but there will often be bass holding by them, too. Fish this spot carefully, taking time to cover it from all angles.

4. N 32 00.670 – W 85 03.605 – Downstream of Rood Creek the channel swings toward the Alabama bank and then right back to the Georgia side. A little further downstream it angles across the lake to the Alabama side, and just upstream of where it hits the bank is an opening to a big flat split by an island. This big area is actually the ends of two old oxbow river runs cut off from the lake by an island. Dwayne calls the big flat grassy area behind the island “The Barn.”

This very shallow water has lilly pads and other grass along the bank. Out in the middle you will see clumps of hydrilla. Bass will feed here year round, but move in more as the water starts to cool near the end of September.

Start fishing near the mouth and cast to every cut and hole in the grass and pads. Watch for dark clumps out in the middle of the open water and fish them with your spinnerbait, too. Run your spinnerbait along and through every fishy looking spot.

5. N 31 59.003 – W 85 04.129 – Head downstream past the mouth of the Witch’s Ditch and the lake will open up. The island that runs parallel to the river on the Georgia side, the one that cuts off the Witch’s Ditch, ends and the lake will open up. Just downstream of the end of this island is a red channel marker and there is a good river ledge here where the channel makes a small turn toward the Alabama bank.

Position your boat just downstream of the marker and you will be in about 40 feet of water. You can cast up onto the top of the ledge to 12 feet of water and fish the stumps on it. Fish all long this ledge, trying a crankbait and then the Carolina rig. When you hit a stump, pause your bait and let the bass have a good look at it. If you don’t get bit, cast right back to the same place to fish that stump again.

6. N 31 58.304 – W 85 03.888 – As you go downstream the channel will swing all the way to the Georgia side just below the mouth of Bustahatchee Creek. The red channel marker 103.1 will be near the bank and just upstream of it you will see some small willows sticking up out of the water about 200 feet off the mouth of a small creek called “The Watermelon Hole.” There is a big irrigation pump in this small creek and you can usually hear it running.

This hump was the site of a house before the lake was backed up, and the old brick foundation is still there. Fish all around this hump and the willows with your spinnerbait then back off a little and fish it with your Carolina rig. The river channel is just off the outside of it and the creek channel runs by it, too. Fish the drops into each with your Carolina rig and feel for the bricks. When you hit them fish them slowly.

Watch for schooling fish here. While we were fishing it some big shad scooted out of the water and Dwayne threw his Rat-L-Trap to it. He hooked a stong fish that fought more like a bass than a hybrid, and I was ready with the net when it got close to the boat. Unfortunately, the bass made a strong run and pulled loose before we saw it.

7. N 31 58.221 – W 85 03.924 – Just downstream of this hump, right at channel marker 103.1, the channel makes a sharp bend back toward Alabama and the mouth of Cowikee Creek. The water in the channel is 58 feet deep and it comes up to a shallow flat with a small point running out on it. You can see the small point as a buldge on the bank in the grassline.

Keep your boat out in the channel and cast up onto the flat. Some wood cover sticks here at times but the main feature is the drop. Fish the lip of the drop with crankbait and Carolina rig.

Dwayne told me this was a good spot hole as we pulled up on it, and he caught a small keeper spot here on his Carolina rig. Fish all long the lip of this drop as the channel swings away from the bank.

8. N 31 58.103 – W 85 05.776 – Run into the mouth of Cowikee Creek and head upstream until you get to the island on your right just outside the channel. The channel will make a wide sweeping bend all the way across the creek from the far bank to the end of this island and then back to the far bank. Stop just outside of the red pole channel marker that has a small number 271 on it that is standing off the end of the island. Keep your boat in the channel.

The outside bend here has brushpiles and stumps all along it. Dwayne will fish from this pole all along the outside bend all the way to the next red pole marker downstream. Near the channel marker at the end of the island Dwayne hung a strong fish on his Carolina rig but it got him down in the brush. He sawed it back and forth for a short time before it broke off.

9. N 31 54.845 – W 85 07.082 – Dwayne runs the Alabama side from the mouth of Cowikee Creek all the way to Old Town Creek Park. This is very shallow water and is dangerous if the lake is down any at all, which it may be in September. You are much safer following the channel.

When you get to Old Town Creek Park swimming area, just downstream of the fishing pier, a ledge runs way out from the swimming area toward the Georgia bank. It is called the “Closeline” because it runs so straight and far. Dwayne will keep his boat on the upstream side of this drop and fish all along it, casting up onto the top of the flat and working his Carolina rig down the drop.

There is some brush on this drop and the drop runs about even with the bank at the swimming area. If you look at the bank you can tell how it continues on out in the lake. If there is any current this is an excellent place and you can fish it out 100 yards or more. Current helps here just like on all other holes where there is a drop.

10. N 31 53.025 – W 85 07.843 – The last hole Dwayne showed me is a long point with rocks on it running out from the Alabama side. It is easy to find because there is a railroad on top of this point. The point he likes to fish is the railroad causeway on the Alabama side.

Dwayne will start on the upstream side of the causeway and work around the point with a crankbait or spinnerbait, casting up near the rocks and fishing back out. If there is current running around this point the bass will stack up on the rocks to feed on shad moving downstream. It is a good place all day long and is easy to find.

Give these spots a try and then use what you see on them to find others. There are acres of grassbeds on Eufaula and many of them hold bass. And the miles of river and creek ledges hold bass this time of year. Eufaula is one of our best lakes in September. Spend some time there.

Avoiding Barotrauma

Right Tools Mean Everything for Avoiding Barotrauma
From the Florida FWC
from the Fishing Wire

Where to fizz a fish


It’s that time of year when you might be fishing for snapper and grouper. Continue your role as a conservationist by looking out for fish with signs of barotrauma and being prepared to respond. Barotrauma is a condition seen in many fish caught in waters greater than 50 feet that is caused by expansion of gases in the swim bladder. Signs of barotrauma include the stomach coming out of the mouth, bulging eyes, bloated belly and distended intestines.

It’s important to know in advance what tools are available and how to use them to help fish return to the bottom and increase their chances of survival.

Descending devices can be used by anglers to take fish back down to depths where increased pressure from the water will recompress swim bladder gases. They fall into three categories: mouth clamps, inverted hooks and fish elevators. Learn more about descending devices and how to use them at MyFWC.com/SaltwaterFishing by clicking on the “Fish Handling” then “How-to Videos” or scrolling to “Barotrauma.”

Descending devices are used to return fish to a depth where expanded gases in the body cavity can recompress.

Venting tools are sharpened, hollow instruments that anglers can use to treat barotrauma by releasing expanded gas from the swim bladder, enabling the fish to swim back down to capture depth.

Please note, items such as fillet knives, ice picks, screwdrivers and gaffs are not venting tools and should never be used to vent a fish, because they are not hollow tubes that allow air to escape. Venting a fish incorrectly or with the wrong tool may cause more harm than good.

To properly vent, lay the fish on its side (on a cool, wet surface). Insert the venting tool at a 45-degree angle, under a scale 1-2 inches behind the base of the pectoral fin, just deep enough to release trapped gasses. Never insert venting tools into a fish’s belly, back or stomach that may be protruding from the mouth. Learn how to vent properly by visiting https://youtu.be/jhkzv1_2Bpc.

Venting tools should be inserted at a 45-degree angle, under a scale 1-2 inches behind the base of the pectoral fin, just deep enough to release trapped gasses.

Descending devices and venting tools should only be used when fish show one or more signs of barotrauma and cannot swim back down on their own. It is essential to work quickly when using these tools and return the fish to the water as soon as possible. Anglers should choose the device and method they are most comfortable with and that best fits the situation.

To learn more about catch-and-release techniques, visit MyFWC.com/Marine and click on “Recreational Regulations” and “Fish Handling.” To learn more about barotrauma, descending devices and venting tools, visit our YouTube channel at MyFWC.com/SaltwaterFishing. For answers to questions, contact 850-487-0554 or Marine@MyFWC.com.

Avoiding Barotrauma

Right Tools Mean Everything for Avoiding Barotrauma
From the Florida FWC
from the Fishing Wire

It’s that time of year when you might be fishing for snapper and grouper. Continue your role as a conservationist by looking out for fish with signs of barotrauma and being prepared to respond. Barotrauma is a condition seen in many fish caught in waters greater than 50 feet that is caused by expansion of gases in the swim bladder. Signs of barotrauma include the stomach coming out of the mouth, bulging eyes, bloated belly and distended intestines.

It’s important to know in advance what tools are available and how to use them to help fish return to the bottom and increase their chances of survival.

Descending devices can be used by anglers to take fish back down to depths where increased pressure from the water will recompress swim bladder gases. They fall into three categories: mouth clamps, inverted hooks and fish elevators. Learn more about descending devices and how to use them at MyFWC.com/SaltwaterFishing by clicking on the “Fish Handling” then “How-to Videos” or scrolling to “Barotrauma.”

Descending devices are used to return fish to a depth where expanded gases in the body cavity can recompress.

Venting tools are sharpened, hollow instruments that anglers can use to treat barotrauma by releasing expanded gas from the swim bladder, enabling the fish to swim back down to capture depth.

Please note, items such as fillet knives, ice picks, screwdrivers and gaffs are not venting tools and should never be used to vent a fish, because they are not hollow tubes that allow air to escape. Venting a fish incorrectly or with the wrong tool may cause more harm than good.

To properly vent, lay the fish on its side (on a cool, wet surface). Insert the venting tool at a 45-degree angle, under a scale 1-2 inches behind the base of the pectoral fin, just deep enough to release trapped gasses. Never insert venting tools into a fish’s belly, back or stomach that may be protruding from the mouth. Learn how to vent properly by visiting https://youtu.be/jhkzv1_2Bpc.

Venting tools should be inserted at a 45-degree angle, under a scale 1-2 inches behind the base of the pectoral fin, just deep enough to release trapped gasses.

Descending devices and venting tools should only be used when fish show one or more signs of barotrauma and cannot swim back down on their own. It is essential to work quickly when using these tools and return the fish to the water as soon as possible. Anglers should choose the device and method they are most comfortable with and that best fits the situation.

To learn more about catch-and-release techniques, visit MyFWC.com/Marine and click on “Recreational Regulations” and “Fish Handling.” To learn more about barotrauma, descending devices and venting tools, visit our YouTube channel at MyFWC.com/SaltwaterFishing. For answers to questions, contact 850-487-0554 or Marine@MyFWC.com.

Tips for More Efficient Kayak Paddling

Tips for More Efficient Kayak Paddling
from The Fishing Wire

Tips for More Efficient Kayak Paddling


Whether kayak fishing or out for a quiet day on the water, proper and efficient kayak paddling will help increase speed and momentum so you can travel farther with less fatigue. YakGear provides a few general tips for new and seasoned paddlers to make the most of their day on the water.

Proper Posture

Efficient paddling begins with proper sitting posture. An upright sitting position is key to getting the most from your paddle blades and allows for easier dipping and removal of the blade from the water. Paddlers should be sitting upright or slightly forward and not lean on the backrest. Feet should be anchored to the footrests or foot molds with knees slightly bent.

Proper Hand Grip

To determine the optimal grip placement, position the middle of the paddle on your head and grab the shaft with elbows at 90 degrees. This will be the ideal gripping spot for each hand. Most paddlers will tend to over grip the paddle. A light grip will prevent hands from growing tired and give you a better feeling for the balance of the paddle. Using paddle grips, such as HOLDFast Kayak Paddle Grips, will help keep hands fresh and provide a consistent, tactile point of contact.

Paddle Stroke

A smooth and consistent paddle stroke is perhaps the most important aspect of efficient paddling. Most new paddlers hold the paddle too close to their bodies with their elbows bent – more commonly known as paddle hugging. Instead, keep the paddle as far in front of your chest as possible, with elbows slightly bent. This will allow you to reach farther forward when you begin your stroke.

Begin the stroke by reaching forward and inserting the blade into the water, vertically in line with your feet or ankles. If the stroke is on the right side, the right hand serves as a fulcrum point while the left hand pushes forward while your torso rotates to the right. The blade should come out of the water as it passes the hip. Keeping the blade in after the hip does not help propel but actually creates drag. Leaving the blade in the water past your hip also promotes the paddle blade to spoon or bring up water, which will drip down the shaft when that blade is up and out.

Using the Correct Length of Paddle

The general rule of thumb for finding the correct length of paddle is to stand straight and position the paddle vertically alongside your body. If you can reach up and just hook your first finger joint over the blade, it will be the correct length. For kayaks wider than 30 inches, you will need to add those extra inches to the overall paddle length. Paddles are measured in centimeters instead of inches, so a conversion will be needed. One inch equals 2.54 centimeters. For most kayaks and adults, a 230 cm or 240 cm paddle will do the trick.

For kayakers that straddle standard paddle lengths or may have several different sizes of kayaks, the Backwater Assassin Carbon Fiber Hybrid Paddle provides added versatility with an extra 10 centimeters of adjustment to fill the gap. The kayak paddle is available in lengths of 230-240 cm and 250-260 cm.

Efficient paddling is achieved through extensive practice. Spending time on the water in a kayak is quality time that is best shared with family or friends. YakRule No. 15 says it all – “Never Go it Alone.”

See the latest kayaking products and get more tips at www.yakgear.com.

Hand-Grabbing for Mississippi Catfish

Hand-Grabbing for Mississippi Catfish
By Jerry Brown, Mississippi DWFP
from The Fishing Wire

Grabbing Catfish is fun


Hand grabbing for catfish has been around for centuries. Depending on where it is practiced, hand grabbing is known by an assortment of names, including noodling, hogging, and tickling. Some might refer to it as crazy, but in Mississippi, it is a time-honored tradition. I first learned of this fishing technique as a child listening to stories told by my family. They were usually based on big blue catfish or spotted catfish caught from the Homochitto River by my great-uncles, way before my time. One story that has been passed around our kitchen a time or two was when one of those uncles found a large water moccasin when grabbing in a log. They say he reached in, grabbed the snake, threw it up on the bank, and told his friends to kill it. Then, back under the water, he went for the catfish that was also in that log. I always assumed he caught the fish, but the story was more about the snake.

Hand grabbing for catfish is only legal in some states, primarily in the Southeast. Anglers enter the water and catch catfish with their hands from either natural or artificial structures. Yep, that is right—no hooks, no corks, no bait…just their hands. Because research associated with hand grabbing has been limited, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) initiated a project to learn from anglers who participate in this exciting and often misunderstood method. The project included a two-year survey of hand-grabbing anglers at Ross Barnett Reservoir.

WHEN TO FISH

Hand-grabbing season runs from May 1 through July 15 each year in Mississippi. This period coincides with spawning season when catfish are looking for cavities in which to spawn. Common spawning sites include hollow logs, stumps, or holes in a stream bank; however, artificial structures are also used. As with most other freshwater fish species, the male begins searching for and preparing potential spawning sites. The only parental role that a female will play is laying the eggs, and it is the male who will stay and aggressively guard the nest against predators. This aggressive behavior is what gets the adrenaline flowing for many hand-grabbing anglers.

WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT TO CATCH

Flathead catfish and blue catfish are the two most common species caught by hand grabbers, but channel catfish are also caught. Anglers tend to catch more blues earlier in the season and then start to catch flatheads as the season progresses. The most likely reasons are rising water temperatures and the preference of each species when spawning. The most sought-after catfish is the flathead (also called spotted cat, tabby cat, yellow cat, or opelousas cat). This fish has as many nicknames as the fishing technique itself. Flatheads are preferred by many anglers because they can grow to large sizes and remain great to eat, even when large. Seventy percent of the anglers interviewed during the survey said they preferred to catch flatheads.

More than 200 catfish were harvested during our survey with flathead and blue catfish accounting for 90 percent of the total catch. Hand-grabbing anglers appeared to be harvest oriented, but not size selective about their catch. Essentially, anglers harvested what they caught.

Fishing in other places may produce larger or smaller fish depending on the body of water. The fertile Big Black and Yazoo rivers are known to provide trophy-size catfish that can grow to 80 pounds or more. Fish this size are often caught and released… after a few social media photographs, of course.

This angler is wrestling with a flathead catfish, which, along with the blue catfish, are the two most common species caught by hand grabbers. Anglers tend to find more blue catfish early in the hand-grabbing season, moving on to flatheads as the season progresses. The flathead is the most sought after of the two because they can grow to large sizes and remain great to eat, even when large.

WHAT TO USE

The vast majority (95 percent) of anglers interviewed on Ross Barnett Reservoir used a probe while fishing. Probes include wooden sticks, pieces of cane, broken off fishing rods, and other items used to “poke” at the fish to make it swim toward the opening. Anglers reported that catfish were often located in the back of the box beyond arm’s length.

Some hand grabbers chose to grab barehanded, but most wore gloves. Catfish do not have actual teeth, but they have a tooth pad that is abrasive and feels like coarse sandpaper. Gloves that can provide protection to the skin and still allow the angler to feel with their hands are preferred.

Ropes can also be used when grabbing as long as they do not have an attachment. The use of grappling tongs or any hook is illegal when hand grabbing. Ropes can be used as a stringer to secure the fish before it is brought to the water’s surface.

WHERE TO FISH

Ross Barnett is a popular destination for hand grabbers, but there are many other places across the state where it is practiced with success. Pickwick Lake and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (TTW) are popular choices in northeast Mississippi, as are the “Big 4” flood control reservoirs (Arkabutla, Enid, Sardis, and Grenada) in the north-central part of the state. Delta oxbows along the Mississippi River, along with oxbows of the Pearl and Pascagoula rivers in south Mississippi, can be great choices, depending on water levels. Okatibbee Reservoir near Meridian is another popular spot for hand grabbing.

On Ross Barnett Reservoir, hand grabbers typically were found wading in water that was between 3 and 6 feet deep. A small percentage fished in deeper water and used compressed air to breathe when doing so. Anglers often wade around in small groups to locate their submerged containers. Some use physical markers to remember where boxes are located. Others mark their spots using GPS.

Fishing in natural cavities is common in rivers and oxbow lakes where hollow logs or large cypress stumps are available. A big stump can have several exit points, so having a few friends can be handy for blocking holes to keep fish from escaping.

SETTING BOXES

Anglers are allowed to place wooden, hand-grabbing boxes in public waters to imitate spawning habitat. It is unlawful to place structures such as plastic or metal barrels, hot water tanks, concrete pipe, tires, and other non-biodegradable materials in any public waters of the state. Placing artificial structures in the TTW is prohibited, and special permits might be required for other lakes or streams. Anglers must check with authorities before adding any structure to any public waters. It is unlawful to raise any part of a natural or wooden container out of the water to aid in the capture of the fish.

The size and shape of grabbing boxes can vary, but they all have common features that make acceptable sites for catfish to use. Each container requires a main opening that allows fish to enter and this is also where the person reaches in to grab the fish. The opening should allow fish to come and go freely without trapping the fish inside. The size of the catfish using the box can be dependent on the size of the box itself. The largest catfish observed during our survey was 43 inches and weighed approximately 38 pounds.

FUTURE GRABBERS

Hand grabbing for catfish appears to be a growing sport. What was once just something we heard of people doing a long time ago is now being practiced around the state. Young anglers are being taught the art of grabbing, so the tradition lives on. Several children were seen in the Ross Barnett survey learning how to grab and experiencing the excitement of being “bit” by a catfish for the first time. Hand grabbing has received wide exposure recently, including outdoor television shows, magazine articles, and videos.

Mississippi is known for having an abundant catfish population in almost any lake or stream. Anglers across the state target catfish with several different methods from rod and reels to trotlines. It is a great feeling to have a big catfish tug on your fishing line or seeing that red and white cork go under, but if you want something that will get your adrenaline pumping … then go grab you one!

Jerry Brown is the State Lake Coordinator for MDWFP.

Braided Line Basics

Braided Line Basics from the Experts at Florida Fish & Wildlife
from The Fishing Wire

How to tie the Palomar knot


The Palomar knot is easy to tie and works with nearly all braided lines.

Despite its limpness, an advantage of braid in most situations is the fact that it has almost no stretch. Monofilament is quite stretchy, evident to any angler who’s ever had to break a mono line off a submerged stump. Braid, on the other hand, is tight as a wire — great for strike detection and solid hook-sets. With no stretch, however, braid can be less forgiving when fighting a big fish compared to monofilament, though the extra strength of braid helps offset that potential disadvantage.

If you are new to braid, know that none of your old monofilament line knots will work. Make sure you check that little folded paper that falls out of the box when you open your new line to see which knots the manufacturer recommends for its brand — they can vary. Fortunately, one of the easiest knots, the Palomar, works pretty universally among the various brands of braid. It does waste a bit more line compared to the improved clinch knot, though you will probably not need to re-tie nearly as often when using abrasion-resistant braids than you do with mono. Note that when your knot or line shows fraying, it’s time for a re-tie.

Spin fisherman in particular will appreciate the benefits of thin but strong braided lines. For baitcasting gear, some of the features of braided lines such as limpness and small diameter make less of a difference, despite the fact that many of the earlier superbraids were designed (and advertised) with baitcasting in mind. However, most of what’s written here will apply equally to both gear types, and most modern braids work well with both spinning and baitcasting rigs.

Know that these new braids are tough, and you will need to invest a few dollars in a small pair of scissors or clippers designed especially for braided lines to toss in the bottom of your tackle box.

And speaking of cutting, one thing to be cautious of is the fact that these super-slick braids can cut your hands much more readily than softer monofilament. If you snag a submerged stump, don’t try to pull your lure free or break the line off with your hand! Wind some of the line around something like a net handle for heavy pulling. Try to keep this in mind during the excitement of landing a large fish, as well — don’t grab the braid or wrap it around your hand.

One of the few disadvantages of braid is that it is not transparent like monofilament, although most anglers don’t notice a drop in strikes when switching between the two. Those that want to offset this disadvantage of braid usually add a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. The leader is usually at least two to three feet, longer for ultra-clear water or especially wary fish. Mono is cheaper and works, but fluorocarbon is another modern wonder material that’s practically invisible underwater and has outstanding abrasion resistance. The chief disadvantage of fluorocarbon is cost — more than that of most premium braids — but not as hard on the wallet if you’re only buying a small spool for leader material instead of a full spool.

So that’s the “skinny” on braid. Monofilament will probably still have a place on your rod rack, but for heavyweight fishing on gear that still casts and feels light in your hands, braid can’t be beat!

Tidal Waters Bassing Tips

Tidal Waters Bassing Tips with Pro Angler Bill Lowen
from The Fishing Wire

Bill Lowen fishing tidal waters


Bill Lowen had never made a 100-mile run one-way just to find the right fishing conditions, but he did it three successive days during the recent Bassmaster® Elite tournament at South Carolina’s Winyah Bay, and it nearly paid off with a victory. In three days of competition, the Yamaha Pro put more than 600 miles on his boat, the equivalent of driving a car from Atlanta to Miami.

“It was the longest run I’ve made in my career, and I was a little hesitant, but sometimes in today’s professional tournaments, especially when you’re fishing tidal water like we were, long runs are necessary,” explains Lowen. “I never had a bit of trouble with my boat or my outboard the entire week.”

Lowen led after the second day of the tournament but fell to 12th after the third day when a weather change altered his fishing location. He and several other competitors were fishing far up the Cooper River rather than staying in Winyah Bay near the city of Georgetown. Including stops to re-fuel, the 100+ mile runs took a little over two hours each way.

“Whenever I’m fishing tidal water, I try to find an area that still has deep water even at low tide, not just at high tide, and that’s what I had on the Cooper River,” continues Lowen. “The river has a completely different ecosystem than Winyah Bay, even though it’s still affected by the tide. It’s a rich environment with abundant reeds, lily pads, hydrilla, and milfoil, and historically it has produced some of the best catches in that area.

“During the first two days of the tournament, high winds kept water from receding normally during the low tide, so all the cover and vegetation where I was fishing remained underwater. The bass did not have far to move at all, but when the wind died the third day, the places I was fishing became almost dry because the outgoing tide pulled the water back out.

“Even in my best deep water areas, the water became extremely shallow because we were competing during a full moon and the tides were stronger than usual. I still managed eight or nine bites, but I lost a three pounder, which would have made a big difference for me in the final standings.”

The basic rule of tidal fishing is that when the tide comes in, fish come in with it, and when the tide goes out, fish move out with it, explains the Yamaha Pro. Many fishermen choose to follow an incoming or outgoing tide, often described as “chasing the tide,” but locating a deep water sanctuary where cover remains under water during the outgoing tide eliminates having to do this.

“On the Cooper River, my deep water areas were cuts and creek mouths near bends in the main river,” adds Lowen, “but any type of depression or depth change can be effective if it includes cover.”

Because of the wind, Lowen fished a spinnerbait during the tournament, even though he had located the bass in practice using a soft jerkbait. When the weather changed on the third day, the mood of the bass also changed. They did not hit either lure well, which is why he lost that three-pounder. He only weighed in four bass that day and missed the cut to compete the final day.

“Tidal fishing is definitely a different type of bass fishing,” smiles the Yamaha Pro. “It’s not just about moving water but also about fish that are moving, too. That’s why I look for places where the fish don’t have to move as far.

“Sometimes you have to run a long distance just to find those types of places, too, and now that I’ve made my first 100-mile runs without any problems, I won’t hesitate to do it again.”

Historic Fly Pattern

A Single Historic Fly Pattern that Catches Everything
By Denis Dunderdale, North Central Regional Educator, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
from the Fishing Wire

MOUNTAIN HOME — Talk about fish recipes normally revolves around cornmeal, batter or blackened seasoning, but for fly-fishing aficionados like Denis Dunderdale, the word recipe refers to the insect imitations he cooks up at his fly-tying bench to fool fish into biting. Here’s some sage advice from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s regional educator in the Mountain Home area.

If you ask 10 fly-fishermen to tell you their 10 favorite flies, assuming that you trust them to tell the truth, you are likely to get some interesting answers. Certainly, most will include a few common fly patterns. The wooly bugger, the Clouser minnow, and, perhaps, the Adams will be included in most anglers’ lists of favorites, but a few favorite concoctions will be specific to the angler’s preferences or favorite fishing location.

The only true answer to what fly is best is — IT DEPENDS. It depends on where you’re fishing. It depends on what species you’re pursuing. It depends on the weather, lighting, water clarity, and a host of other variables. It’s no wonder fly shops have rows of bins of flies – hundreds, if not thousands of variations. Countless volumes of books discuss various approaches one might take to deceive a fish into believing the fuzzy morsel on the end of your line is some form of delectable delight. Do you need that many different fly patterns and sizes to catch fish with a fly? Of course not. So why are there choices so vast?

I have tried many of them, from simple farm pond flies for bream, to dry flies for trout, to heavily weighted crawfish for smallies. I’ve fished in the open salt water, as well as the surf, for stripers in the Atlantic and many other forms of fly fishing. I’m not unique, either. Most who have been at it for a while can make the same, or at least similar, claims.

I live in Cotter, Arkansas, with access to some of the best trout fishing in the world, as well as some of the finest smallmouth fishing opportunities to be found anywhere. That fact is, I simply love to fly fish using traditional, sometimes historical flies, tackle and techniques. So, when it’s just me, and I get the conditions I most prefer – wading in gently flowing current, I will, no doubt, be using a “North Country soft-hackled” fly. North Country refers to the “North Country of England” — the land of the pattern’s origin (we think). There they also are called “spiders.”

This is a type of fly, not so much a pattern, and goes back centuries, to the days of Dame Juliana Berners, the author of “A Treatise on Fishing With an Angle” written in 1496. The Scots and Yorkshiremen have been using them for centuries. As for soft hackle patterns, the “Partridge and Orange” is one of my favorites. There are many other patterns, as well.- “Green and Partridge”, “Sulphur and Partridge“ – you get the idea. My affection for this fly is grounded in several factors. They are very easy to tie. They’re inexpensive (Scotland and Yorkshire are known for their frugality), and they work. Tying one cannot be simpler. Because I usually fish this near the surface of the water, I most frequently tie these flies as follows: Use a light, dry-fly hook, of a relatively small size — say a “Tiemco 102Y” in size 17. Wrap the hook shank with orange thread or floss (a purist will use gossamer silk), and put just a few – about two and a half wraps of hackle from the saddle feathers of a game bird, usually partridge, woodcock, grouse, or starling. The Hungarian partridge is the most common, and probably the most traditional. The key is not to get too generous with the number of turns of hackle — just a few wisps. That pretty much does it. No fancy wings, no tricky dubbing, not even a tail. Some will add a bit more to the fly, such as a turn, or two of peacock hurl, right behind the hackle. That will keep the hackle barbules splayed out and make it a bit easier fish as a dry fly. Others may add a bead for weight, in order to fish closer to the bottom, or to get the fly lower in faster water.

As for presentation, your options are wide open, which is another reason I like this fly so much. Drift this in a “dry style,” floating on the surface in a drag-free fashion thanks to a dab of flotant. You can also pop it just under the surface, and drift it as an emerger, also drag-free. Here you would grease the leader to within about 6 inches of the fly with the flotant. You don’t have to see the fly. You know approximately where it is, and you watch for the swirl of the strike. It takes a bit of practice but is very much worth the effort to develop this technique. It is, absolutely, my favorite way to fish for trout, a technique I learned from my friend Davy Wotton- a true master of traditional flies and fishing techniques. One of the easiest techniques is to simply cast the fly, about 30 to 40 yards, at a 45-degree angle, downstream, mend the line, and swing the fly, on a tight line, in the current. Expect to feel the sharp strike as the fly is directly below you, on what we call the “dangle.”

There are literally hundreds of variants of the “spider”, or North Country wet fly”. If you would like to read more about this magic fly, there are a few well-known sources. “The Soft Hackled Fly and Tiny Soft Hackles” and “Two Centuries of Soft Hacked Flies” both by Sylvester Nemes are good reads.

Recipe:
Hook: TMC 102Y, size 17
Body: Orange Silk
Thorax: Peacock Hurl (Optional)
Hackle: Brown Partridge

Springtime Largemouth

Jackpot Bassin’ for Springtime Largemouth
By Dr. Peter Brookes
from The Fishing Wire

March best month to catch bass


Photo: Shutterstock, via Virginia DGIF

Pssssst! Here’s a dirty little secret for you: If you want to catch your biggest largemouth bass of the year, this month—March—may be your best bet to net “basszilla.”

That may sound a bit odd, but, according to John Odenkirk, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) biologist, a lot of very big largemouth bass are caught this time of year as Mother Nature moves us from winter to spring.

As water temperatures increase, largemouth bass will shake off the cold and become increasingly active. In the pre-spawn, they’ll fatten up; while spawning, largemouth bass will become more aggressive, protecting against threats to their eggs.

As Virginians, we’re really blessed with some incredible largemouth bass fisheries right here in the state. Indeed, anglers are known to travel big distances from across our great land to throw a lure at an Old Dominion “lunker.”

If you didn’t already know from the number of largemouth bass fishing tournaments that take place there, Lake Anna is considered one of the top “bucketmouth” fisheries in Virginia.

One of the largest reservoirs in the state, Lake Anna is easily reachable from Northern Virginia, Fredericksburg, Richmond and Charlottesville. You just can’t argue with that sort of accessibility—or fishing.

And then, of course, there’s the powerful and plentiful Potomac River. It turns out that our beloved Potomac and its tidal creeks aren’t only an incredible fish factory, but one of the—if not the—top largemouth bass fisheries in the United States.

Nice.

The other awesome thing about these two water systems is that, as Odenkirk wisely pointed out to me, if the Potomac River is looking unfishable, Lake Anna may well be totally fishable or at least fishable in spots.

That means if we have a really rainy year like last year—which, I understand, was one for the record books—when the Potomac River is high and off-color, it’s likely, that as a reservoir, most parts of Lake Anna could be eagerly awaiting your fly, lure or bait.

The mid-lake region along Rose Valley, Ware Creek and the State Park along the outside edge of water willow beds can produce outstanding spring angling, Odenkirk told me.

In other words, while we all need to heed Mother Nature (e.g., thunderstorms, high water, etc.), there may be no good excuse for leaving your bass tackle box and rods at the back of the gear closet if the weather has been on the wet side.

Photo: Shutterstock, via Virginia DGIF

Of course, these fish are available in Virginia beyond the Potomac River and Lake Anna.

DGIF notes that Gaston, Buggs Island, Chickahominy, Chesdin, Smith Mountain, Prince, Briery Creek, Western Branch and Flannagan Lakes are all top-notch largemouth fisheries. For rivers, hit the Chickahominy (below Walkers Dam) and James (below the fall line).

According to DGIF, plastic worms and other plastic imitations, crankbaits, spinner baits, surface lures, jigs and other artificials, imitating minnows, crayfish, frogs, salamanders and nightcrawlers are good bets for the spin rodder.

Live bait options recommended by DGIF include jumbo shiners, small bluegills, minnows, crayfish, nightcrawlers and frogs. For the fly guys and gals, streamers and large poppers on the end of an 8-pound to 10-pound leader can be productive.

Nothing quite like the thrill of seeing a largemouth slam an artificial on the surface.

In terms of where to find largemouths this time of year, target horizontal and vertical structure (e.g., down wood and docks) and southern exposed flats near drop-offs late in the afternoon to bag these early season bass.

With an average weight of 2 – 4 pounds—with monsters tipping the scales at up to 10 pounds—there’s no question that the hard-fighting Micropterus salmoides is arguably America’s most popular freshwater game fish.

And, even better, this month would be an opportune time to bring a Virginia “bassquatch” to hand.

Dr. Peter Brookes is a DC foreign policy geek by day and a Virginia outdoor scribbler by night. Brookesoutdoors@gmail.com