|By David Rainer|
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire
While perusing social media during this seemingly endless summer, I kept seeing photos of slab crappie that were coming from the Alabama River.Wait, I thought those slabs were caught in the spring when the crappie are spawning or in the fall when the weather and water temperatures have considerably cooled.
Turns out, these anglers were taking advantage of the latest technology to defy the common theory that big crappie are hard to catch during the dog days of summer, which appear set to last into October this year.
I remember well the first Humminbird flasher my late father installed on his boat and how it helped him locate his favorite structure. It was a big deal way back then.Considering we hold far more computer power in our hands when we are using our smartphones than the entire Apollo space program had during their trips to the moon, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the latest fish-finding technology could change the way anglers approach a day on the water.
When I asked Joe Allen Dunn how in the world they were catching those slab crappie, he responded, “You need to come see for yourself.”That’s exactly what happened. While other anglers are using the Humminbird HELIX and Lowrance HDS, Dunn and Brent Crow, a bass-fishing guide and tournament angler on the Tennessee River, opted to go with the Garmin Panoptix with LiveScope.
When Dunn eased his boat into one of the many flats off the main Alabama River at Millers Ferry, I couldn’t imagine crappie of any size would be anywhere but deep water during this oppressive stretch of hot weather.I was wrong, completely. Over went the trolling motor and Dunn began scanning for the structure that are typically crappie havens during cooler weather, or so I thought.Rigged with 16-foot poles and spinning reels, we attached minnows to the double-hook rigs with either bare hooks, jigs with curly-tail plastic baits or Road Runner lures.
We dropped the bait about 8 feet down and started easing toward the structure as Dunn eyed the screen.While I watched the rod tips on my side, Dunn watched the screen as we approached the structure.Suddenly, a rod tip flexed and the hook was set on a nice crappie.On the next approach, Dunn said, “You can even see your minnows, look here.” I looked at the screen and, sure enough, I could see the minnows dangling above the structure.
Then I saw something that I never expected. I saw a swirl in the structure and the fish came up and grabbed the bait. “Holy mackerel” was my response as I set the hook.We started our venture at first light because of the heat and called it a day 4 hours later with 10 nice crappie in the livewell. About twice that many had been caught and released.
“We’ve been trolling for a long time,” Dunn said. “Everybody thinks the slough fish or shallow-water fish are gone or they don’t bite anymore. We proved today that the fish are still there, and they will bite. A lot of people don’t get in the sloughs this time of year and look for structure. Live bait is a big factor until it cools off.”Dunn said before he was introduced to the new technology, the traditional way to catch crappie was to hit the deep river ledges, bouncing baits off the bottom when power production from the dam created current.
“It all revolved around when they were pulling water,” he said. “For river fish, you have to have that moving water. It keeps them tight to the wood, and you can do better.“This new technology is not going to make fish magically appear in front of you. You’ve still got to work to find the fish. The down- and side-imaging helps you locate these fish. But you had to fish so hard to find them.
“Now, I can hit the GPS and mark it. I can drop a buoy and get the boat situated to face into the wind, and then you use the LiveScope to move back and forth on the structure. You don’t have to troll all over the place to find it. It keeps you from disturbing the fish. That’s the key to it. You can keep your bait in the strike zone all the time now.”
Dunn learned about the technology from James “Big Daddy” Lawler, who had been out on crappie guide Gerald Overstreet’s boat equipped with technology.“I’ve been fishing for crappie for 32 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lawler said. “It’s totally changed the way I look at crappie fishing. I went into Pine Barren Creek and caught fish in 5 feet of water. I never would have believed that.”
Dunn said crappie anglers don’t have to adopt the new technology and will continue to catch fish, but it certainly has changed his thought process.“Used to, we would just give up on these fish when it’s hot,” Dunn said. “We wouldn’t go into these sloughs and work to find them. Now I will.“This is all new to me. Each phase of the season will be a new learning experience. Once the water temperature changes and the fish move around, I’ll have to use this to see where they go.
”Typically, Dunn said when temperatures drop in the fall, crappie anglers are hitting river ledges that are 18 to 20 feet deep. He can’t wait to find out if that pattern is the only way to catch fish when fall finally arrives.“These fish in the sloughs and creeks, I don’t know what they’re going to do,” Dunn said. “They might not even move until it’s time to spawn.
”In the lakes in north Alabama, Crow obviously targets black bass, largemouths and smallmouths.“When you see a fish within 30 feet of the boat, you can see his tail and fins as he swims with LiveScope,” Crow said. “I’ve been running Panoptix and LiveScope for three years. I can’t fish without it. It’s not just seeing fish. It also shows you stumps, grass, drop-offs and ledges. You know exactly where you sit. It eliminates a lot of the guesswork in positioning your boat.
“For suspended fish, it’s just remarkable. I have caught so many fish that I would never have thrown at without it. I would never have had a clue those fish were there. But even at places that are shallow, like Guntersville, it’ll show you the eel grass. You see the edges or isolated clumps of grass. You don’t have to guess.”
Crow said there are limitations for this technology during certain times of the year.“You’re not going to see them if they’re spawning in 3 feet of water,” he said. “Any other time – the summer, winter and fall – it works. At Smith Lake or Lake Martin, you pull up on a point and look with the LiveScope. If there’s not any fish there, you don’t have to spend 15 minutes casting to find that out. You can see it in 30 seconds. It makes you way more efficient.
“You can learn about fish behavior too. They don’t necessarily sit still. You can catch one and see that all the rest of them have moved. Sometimes it’s frustrating because you can watch a fish follow your bait to the boat and never bite. It’s an eye-opening deal. If I get in somebody’s boat that doesn’t have it, I feel like I don’t have a chance. I’m kind of lost.”
Crow said the technology is especially impressive when he’s casting surface lures.“When I’m fishing topwater, you can see your bait on the surface, and then you see the fish come straight up and eat it,” he said. “It’s awesome. When I’m guiding, I’ll watch the client’s bait and see the fish coming. I tell them, ‘He’s fixing to get it.’ They set the hook and say, ‘How’d you know that?’“I had one guy who told me, ‘Don’t tell me that. I jerk too quick.’”
Of course, the new technology is not for everybody. It’s expensive, but that seldom stops anglers. Crow recommends a graph with at least a 9-inch screen, which will cost you about $1,000. The LiveScope tacks on another $1,500. For Crow, he says the benefits far outweigh the cost.Crow said he also found out the technology works in muddy water after a tournament on Toledo Bend on the Louisiana-Texas border.
“The water looked like chocolate milk,” he said. “Every fish I caught during the tournament I saw on the graph. It gives you so much of an advantage over somebody who doesn’t have it, it’s unreal.”
Archery season is in full swing and the cooler nights have deer moving. I still can’t shoot a rifle due to my port, but I got out my old crossbow and put out some corn about 20 yards from my box stand. Deer are eating it, so I hope to harvest some meat this year although I have never killed a deer with a bow.
I say “harvest” not hunt, since I do not consider shooting game over bait hunting. But since it is legal now, it is ok to shoot deer over bait. Just don’t call it hunting.
Some big bucks are already being killed with bows this year. Many of them are killed in metro counties where there is no gun season. Those bucks have adapted to living around houses in small wooded areas, and avoiding cars, growing big.
Power-Pole Pro Tips for Fall Trophy Bass
|From The Fishing Wire|
As we ease into autumn, largemouth bass all across the country are priming up to feed. Here, some of our top Power-Pole pros provide insights into their favorite baits to throw when targeting the largest of the brawny bucketmouth bass:
“All the conditions start to change in fall,” says tournament pro Dean Rojas. “Water temps start dropping down into the 50s, and that sparks gizzard shad to move up into the shallows to feed on algae. The run of shad really sets off bass fishing.”Rojas’ top big-bass lure is the Spro Squarebill Crankbait.“I throw the Squarebill with a 6:1 ratio reel and present a moderate retrieve. I’ll focus on fishing areas of transition where banks slide down into deeper water,” Rojas says. “As well, the lure works anywhere in the low country and around rock piles.
”“In fall, big fish are lookin’ for big baits,” notes 2012 Bassmaster Classic winner Chris Lane. “The gizzard shad are really running in October, and they tend to hang all up on the banks around the grasslines — and that’s where you’ll intercept bass.”Lane’s go-to offering to mimic gizzard shad is the River2Sea Top Notch and Big Mistake lures, notably in the Terminator and Pac-man color patterns. The boisterous prop bait garners aggressive strikes from bigmouths, as its commotion attracts fish from afar to inspect its noise.
“Fish are definitely keying in on topwater baits in fall,” says Bassmaster pro Bobby Lane. “This time of year, they are roaming from the shallows into the depths, and I need something that can cover a ton of water. That’s when I throw the Berkley Choppo. Usually, I go with bone or black color patterns and work it on a heavy rod and reel with an 8:1 retrieve ratio.”Lane notes that bait pushes up on the shallows, and he starts by prospecting with a medium 105-size lure first, but if he’s getting short bit, will graduate to a larger 120 model.
“I can throw the Choppo in 2 feet of water or 50 feet of water — it works to attract fish from all around to strike,” he says. “I literally just got off the water right now from throwing it. It’s the perfect bait for fall bass.”Put these three lures in your back pocket and watch your hawg catches elevate this fall season.
Last week I watched with sad amusement the kids protesting “climate change.” I wonder how many of them live in cities where their only contact with the natural world is walking by a park surrounded by buildings.
Country kids and adults are in contact with the real, natural world and see weather changing constantly. We see cycles in the weather and have all our lives. But climate change true believers insist if they don’t spent huge amounts of our money to do “something” about the weather we are all gonna die soon.
The funniest thing I saw was a reporter interviewing some young, gullible activists. He asked them what they, personally, would give up to protect the climate. Their cell phones, expensive clothes, air conditioning, travel and other things?
The confused look and sputtering answers were priceless. They want others to give up things, never themselves.
Time to Get Froggy for Largemouths
|By Frank Sargeant, Editor|
from The Fishing Wire
With the first day of fall officially proclaimed for Monday, Sept. 23, it’s time to get froggy at lakes across the South.Fishing with weedless frogs has become a “thing” along the weedy shorelines of many lakes since years ago when anglers discovered they could crawl frog imitations across the moss beds, hydrilla tops and lily pads and lure big bass up through the cover to eat the imitation amphibians.
The tactic works pretty much anywhere there are largemouths and a lot of surface cover—the spread of hydrilla throughout Florida, for example, has created near endless froggin’ opportunities in the Sunshine State.The specialized lures are a big part of the presentation. They have frog-like bodies of soft hollow plastic, with a double hook that rides on either side of the body, barbs up.
The idea is that the hook arrangement slides across the top of even the gnarliest weeds without snagging, but when a bass grabs the bait, it squeezes the body flat and gets stuck on the hooks.Legs of flexible silicone or rubber trail behind to create a swimming effect when the lure is twitched. It’s primarily a fall tactic for two reasons.
First, shorter hours of sunshine and longer nights allow the lakes to cool, making the shallows more comfortable for bass that have spent the summer in deeper water. And secondly, the weeds reach their maximum growth as summer ends and fall begins, often topping out and forming surface mats ideal for froggin’.
Anglers who practice the tactic a lot, like Guntersville, Alabama, guide Mike Gerry, who fishes mostly SPRO frogs, say the best areas to fish are over water 2 to 4 feet deep where the weeds and moss have topped out and started to dry, turning the color of browned cheese atop a pizza. This means the mat is thick and has been there a while, so it’s more likely to hold bait—and bass.
Other froggin’ fans like Captain Mike Carter, also a Lake Guntersville guide, say that a good weedbed has a distinctive sound. Because there are lots of grass shrimp and other small creatures in the moss, it attracts bluegills, frogs and small baitfish, which make a clicking or popping sound as they suck in the food. These fish, in turn, attract large bass—thus a good bed has a particular sound.
There are also sometimes “blow holes” in a good bed where bass have been actively feeding, knocking openings in the otherwise matted surface.
Snagproof apparently built the first version of the weedless frog many years back, but now most manufacturers have a frog in their lineup; Strike King has the KVD Sexy Frog, LIVETARGET has the Hollow Body Frog and the new Free-Style Frog, and Booyah has the Pad Crasher. All of them catch fish when conditions are right.
Fishing the lures is simple. Gear has to be stout because of the heavy cover—many use 40-to 65-pound test braid and a 7.5 foot medium-heavy baitcasting rig, which will have the power to derrick a large bass and several pounds of weeds to the boat.
The frog is thrown across the bed and worked back in a series of short twitches with frequent pauses, particularly when it crosses any areas of open water.The only trick to froggin’ is to avoid setting the hook too soon. When a fish hits, there’s an initial splash that sometimes triggers anglers to instantly strike, but that often pulls the lure away from the fish. It works better to hesitate just a second while the fish chomps down on the soft, realistic feel of the lure, then set the hook.
Fights tend to be short in froggin’. Either you get the fish’s head up and hydroplane it across the surface to the boat, or it bogs down in 50 pounds of weeds and you have to trolling motor in after it and put the lip-lock on it.Froggin’ does not work on a consistent basis in most lakes, which is why it’s a niche tactic reserved only for fall in many areas. In fact, even in fall on a good froggin’ lake like Guntersville, Eufaula or Kissimmee, you can go for hours sorting through mossbeds, hydrilla jungles, maiden cane stands and duckweed puddles before you find one where a school of bass is feeding. But when you do it’s one of the more exciting types of bass fishing anywhere and you might pull three or four fish in the five-pound range out of one stretch of cover.
The frog bite is on right now through most of the south, and usually continues until the first cold front of November, when the surface weeds start to turn black and north winds break them up, driving the fish back to the depths until they head shoreward again in March to spawn. In Florida, the tactic can work pretty much year around, though there are other, better methods for spring and summer.
The Long Road to Recovery for Red Snapper
A new method for managing the fish will allow more flexible fishing seasons across the Gulf.
Joe Richards, Seafavorites.com
from The Fishing Wire
A new method for managing red snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is under way, capping off decades of fighting over one of the Gulf of Mexico’s most famous fish.The approach gives each Gulf state the authority to set red snapper fishing rules for anglers in federal waters—a system that provides flexibility but also requires states to shorten future seasons if the Gulf-wide catch limit is exceeded.
Federal authorities, who previously managed recreational red snapper fishing in federal waters and still regulate commercial and charter-boat fishing of the species, will work with state officials to monitor, study, and collect data on red snapper.The new system began two years ago as a pilot program, and federal officials must give final approval for it to become permanent.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is taking public comments through Oct. 7 here. Reduced catch limits have helped the red snapper population steadily recover from decades of overfishing. Joe Richards, Seafavorites.comHere’s a look back at key moments in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper story and a glimpse of what’s to come.
1950-1980s: Commercial and recreational catch skyrockets, rapidly depleting the red snapper population.
Late 1980s: Fishery managers implement regulations, including bag and size limits, but these are not enough to help the species recover.
1990: Gulf red snapper hit a dangerously low level—just 2 percent of the population’s spawning potential—due to decades of overfishing (removing fish faster than they can be replaced through reproduction) and unintended catch in shrimp trawls. Fishery managers set a target of at least 26 percent for a stable population.
1997-1998: Fishery managers require shrimp fishermen to install devices in trawl nets to reduce incidental catch of juvenile red snapper.
2005: A federal recovery plan for red snapper begins after conservation groups sue over lack of progress in rebuilding the population.
2006: Regulators begin setting science-based catch limits for Gulf red snapper as Congress works to strengthen its federal fishery law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
2007-2008: Managers significantly reduce catch limits for commercial, charter, and recreational fishermen and implement a quota system that reserves a certain amount of red snapper for a limited number of commercial fishermen—a program that successfully keeps commercial catch at sustainable amounts.
2009: Federal fishery managers announce overfishing is projected to end and begin raising annual catch limits. However, the population still has not fully recovered, partly because there aren’t enough older fish, which are the most productive spawners. Scientists project full recovery will take until 2032.
2013: A new federal stock assessment of the red snapper population shows overfishing has ended.
Mid-to-late 2010s: As Gulf red snapper show signs of recovery—a population increase, expanded range, and larger, older individuals—debate heats up over how to divide still-limited catch among recreational, charter, and commercial fishermen. As a group, recreational fishermen exceed their quotas nearly every year.
2014: A court rules the recreational catch excesses must end. Federal regulators begin setting progressively shorter seasons to account for higher catches in state-controlled waters and associated overages.
2015: As anger grows over catch allocation and to better control catch, fishery managers—in a contentious vote—adopt distinct catch limits for recreational anglers and charter captains, setting the stage to allow different types of management.
2016: Managers approve revising the amount of red snapper allocated to the recreational and commercial fisheries. However, a lawsuit by the commercial fishermen overturns that change. “Re-allocation” continues to be a tense issue.
2017: Federal managers set a three-day red snapper season, saying longer state seasons are using up allowable Gulf quota. This infuriates and confuses fishermen. Ultimately, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce creates a 39-day federal season. Also, fishery managers vote to require charter captains to keep electronic logbooks documenting amounts of catch.
2018: Federal managers launch a pilot program granting states the right to set recreational seasons in U.S. waters but say states must continue to meet Magnuson-Stevens act requirements for science-based catch limits. States participate using their own data collection programs. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, after changing the threshold for Gulf red snapper and other reef fish, determines it is no longer overfished but keeps a rebuilding plan in place, with a goal of returning the population to full health by 2032.
The Future: Red snapper’s long history is rife with hard decisions and sacrifice, but this once-dwindling species is on the road to recovery. If the rebuilding plan stays on track, anglers can expect a healthier population, bigger fish, higher catch limits, and more fishing days. Managers and fishermen have overcome some of the most difficult hurdles and have ideas about how to resolve those that remain.
With each state using its own method to collect data, NOAA Fisheries will need to standardize information to monitor fishing rates and catch and to assess the population Gulf-wide. Fishery managers likely will continue to struggle with allocating catch between commercial and recreational fishermen.
And one major cause of red snapper mortality remains a problem: Even though anglers and commercial fishermen must release red snapper under certain conditions, the fish often don’t survive being brought to the surface from deeper than 100 feet. Descending tools can help alleviate this problem if used widely and properly. It’s been a long saga for red snapper, but the future for fishing and this iconic species is promising.
Holly Binns directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ efforts to protect ocean life in the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Caribbean
A group of recreational anglers fish for red snapper.
The TH Marine Hydrowave H2 is a unit that plays a sound through an underwater speaker that is usually mounted on a trolling motor. The sounds it plays are supposed to represent sounds that make fish feed. The Hydrowave H2 has a variety of choices of sounds, from crawfish on gravel, one of my favorites, to deep bait to blueback herring, a good one on herring lakes like Clarks Hill and Lanier.
Does it work? Honestly, I do not know, but I always have it playing during tournaments.
Many of the pros I have done Map of the Month articles with for Alabama and Georgia Outdoor News swear by it, even those not sponsored by the company and have to buy their own units. That means a lot to me, the ones not sponsored using it.
One experience indicates it does work. While fishing a club tournament at Lake Lanier during the herring spawn, I stopped off a seawall where the spotted bass had been schooling. There was no surface activity at all.
When I got up front and put my trolling motor in the water, with the Hydrowave H2 playing the herring spawn, the water off the seawall exploded with several big spots chasing baitfish. Like a dummy, I had not picked up my rod first, and by the time I unstrapped it and was ready to cast, the fish had disappeared. From then on I have my rod ready to cast when putting the unit in the water.
I have had my unit for about two years and have done well in many tournaments when the fishing was very tough. It gives me a little extra confidence when it is on, always an important factor.
The unit is not cheap, costing about $400.00. Is it worth it?
My old unit died last week, out of warranty that last one year, but I ordered another one to replace it. That is how much I believe in it. Since I was replacing an old unit, they did give me a good discount on the new one.
Recreational Anglers Get Help Combating Post-Release Mortality from Partnership of Fishery Managers
from The Fishing Wire
Red drum with circle hook in lip. Photo courtesy of Capt. Spud Woodward.
NOAA Fisheries, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and Atlantic state agencies partner to make circle hooks, descending devices more accessible to anglers.
No one, especially recreational anglers, likes to see a fish float away or sink to the bottom dead. That’s why NOAA Fisheries Recreational Fishing Initiative, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), and the Atlantic states are working together to help more fish survive when released by recreational anglers.
Fish mortality has historically been high in some of our most iconic fisheries. Advances in fishing gear technology have, in recent years, helped alleviate some of its leading causes. Two of the most effective tools are fish descending devices and circle hooks.
Descending devices help return fish to the depth—and pressure—where they were caught. This relieves problems caused by barotrauma, a condition resulting from rapid pressure changes. Barotrauma can make it hard for fish to swim and can cause swelling of their organs.
Circle hooks help anglers hook a fish in the lip or jaw, reducing damage from hooking fish in the gills, stomach, or other vital organs.
Many recreational anglers are embracing these technologies. Fishery managers see benefits when more anglers adopt catch and release best practices.
NOAA Fisheries recently worked with ASMFC to make these tools more easily available and keep our nation’s fishery resources healthy. With funds provided by NOAA Fisheries Recreational Fishing Initiative, the Commission distributed 61,000 circle hooks and more than 1,000 descending devices to state marine fishery agencies from Florida to New England. This project will help recreational anglers limit their impact on the resources they cherish. It has also strengthened the partnership between state and federal fishery managers.
Bob Beal, ASMFC Executive Director said “ASMFC and its member states are committed to working with our federal partners and stakeholders to reduce post-release mortality. Circle hooks and descending devices, in combination with angler education, can be important components of a fishery management program. Given the impact of using these tools are difficult to quantify and are largely dependent on angler experience, they should be used in concert with other management measures to maximize their conservation benefits to the resource.”
“Accounting for and reducing the impact of recreational discards in a stock assessment is an enormous fishery management challenge,” says Dr. Luiz Barbieri, Program Administrator, Marine Fisheries Research at Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. “Anything that can help us reduce the uncertainty of recreational discards in a stock assessment and improve management decisions is a welcome tool in the toolbox. This partnership is an extremely valuable step in improving the management of our recreational fisheries.”
Russell Dunn, the National Policy Advisor for Recreational Fisheries at NOAA Fisheries continues, “It was a natural collaboration to address an issue important to anglers and managers that can have a real impact on maintaining healthy fish stocks and improving recreational fishing opportunities. We were glad to be able to contribute and appreciate their partnership.”
Catch and release fishing is not only an American pastime, but a great conservation strategy if done correctly. Actions anglers take before, during, and after a fish is caught can improve its chances of survival, keep fish stocks healthy, and keep anglers fishing.
How and Where to Catch December Bass at Bartlett’s Ferry/Lake Harding
with Tommy Gunn
By this time of year lake waters are getting cold and bass are not feeding as good as they did earlier in the fall. Colder water means they are less active and more likely to be holding in deeper water. But a few warm days can turn them on and you can have some excellent fishing before the weather really gets harsh.
Some lakes seem to be better now and Bartlett’s Ferry on the Chattahoochee River below West Point is one of them. Also called Lake Harding, the water levels stay fairly consistent because it is a small lake at 5850 acres and generation at West Point keeps it full. The level can change a couple of feet each day but you will seldom see it more than three feet low.
Bartlett’s Ferry is an old lake that started producing power in 1926. It was bought by Georgia Power in 1930 and it is still owned and operated by them. The shoreline is mostly rocky, steep banks on the old river in the lower lake with some creeks offering different kinds of structure over the whole lake. The river above Halawakee Creek has steep outside bends and mud flats. Almost all the shore is lined with cabins and docks.
For a long time Bartlett’s Ferry was known for its largemouth but spotted bass have come on strong there. In the Georgia Bass Chapter Federation Creel Census Report in 1996 just under 63 percent of bass were largemouth but by 2005 that was down to 48 percent. The population of spots is probably even higher than that indicates since spots are often culled for largemouth in tournaments.
In the Alabama Bass Anglers Information Team report for 2006 angler success rate at Bartlett’s Ferry was seventh highest of all lakes in the report. But it ranks low on the chart overall due to the average size of the fish caught. You can catch a lot of bass at Bartlett’s Ferry but they will mostly be smaller spots.
The good news is now is the time to catch a lot of bass there and you can bring in some quality largemouth if you fish it right. There is little of the boat traffic that plagues the lake during warmer months and you can fish in peace. Add to that the varied structure and cover and Bartlett’s Ferry is a good choice for this time of year.
Access to the lake is fair with a public ramp on the Georgia side at Idlehour and a public ramp on the Alabama side at Long Bridge. There are other ramps but these are open year round and have a decent amount of parking. There are a good many club tournaments on the lake and a weekly pot tournament goes out of Long Bridge ramp.
Tommy Gunn lives about ten minutes west of Bartlett’s Ferry in Cusseta. He started fishing Bartlett’s Ferry in the mid 1980s with his cousin and they fished many of the pot tournaments there over the years. He still fishes them and also fishes the Bassmaster Weekend Series, placing 7th overall in the Alabama South division in 2007.
Tommy agrees the size of the fish has gone down in the past ten years. His best tournament catch ever was a seven fish limit weighing 28 pounds in the mid 1990s but his best catches for the past few years in the tournaments has been five fish limits weighing 17 to 18 pounds. He landed a nine and one quarter pound largemouth in the 1990s, his best from Bartlett’s Ferry, but has not seen many over eight pounds recently.
Not only does he fish as often as possible, Tommy also makes Jawbreaker Jigs. He got started making them so he could have the colors he wanted but could not find. His jigs are sold in many stores in the area around Bartlett’s Ferry and he makes both skirted jigs and plain jigs for jig head worm fishing.
“I like to fish shallow, there are almost always some fish in shallow water here,” Tommy told me. As long as the water is above 55 degrees he is confident he will have a good catch in shallow water this time of year and he sticks with it until the water gets below 50 degrees. Then it is time to go deeper.
Since he is fishing tournaments Tommy is looking for five good bites. For numbers of fish he would go deeper and catch mostly spots, but he wants largemouth for weigh-in. You can catch fish both ways now at Bartlett’s Ferry and a couple of simple patterns will put you on fish.
For shallow fishing Tommy concentrates on docks. There are hundreds to choose from on Bartlett’s Ferry and many of them hold quality largemouth, and some good spots, right now. Tommy will flip and pitch a jig and pig to docks for bigger fish and throw a crankbait between docks as he moves from one to another.
Some docks are better than others. Tommy likes an older dock with wooden post and some brush or rocks under it. The best ones this time of year are at the mouths of pockets and sloughs. They must be near deep water to hold good fish and that is the most important factor. If there is not seven feet of water just off the end of the dock and much deeper water nearby it will not be as good.
Most of his dock fishing is done with a three eights ounce Jawbreaker jig in warmer water and a quarter ounce jig in colder water. He likes a black/blue/purple or black/blue/brown combination with a green pumpkin Zoom Super Chunk on either weight. Tommy tries to put his jig as far back under docks in places that are hard to get to and that are missed by other fishermen.
If the bite is real tough Tommy will throw a green pumpkin Trick worm on a 3/16 ounce head around the docks. That bait tends to catch more but smaller fish, but will sometimes get hit when bigger baits are ignored.
In deeper water Tommy likes a point or hump that drops off steep into the old river or creek channel. He will throw crank baits across it then back off and fish it with a Carolina rig or a jig head worm. He will start fairly shallow on the structure and work deeper until he finds fish. Rocks or brush on the structure help hold the fish in specific areas.
If the water is 15 feet deep or deeper where he is fishing Tommy will also jig a spoon for the fish. Sometimes you have to jig a spoon in their face, repeatedly moving it up and down, before they will hit. If you spot fish on your depthfinder drop a half ounce spoon straight down to them.
You can pick docks to fish by starting at the mouth of every slough on the lake and hitting them. Choose older docks with post and trash and you will do better. For deeper fish the following ten spots all hold bass this time of year and are some of Tommy’s favorites.
1. N 32 41.259 – W 85 09.095 – Put in at Long Bridge and go under the bridge. Ahead of you an island sits off the right bank. Out to the left of the island a hump comes up to within 18 feet on top and has brush on it. The creek channel swings by it and it drops fast on that side. It is an excellent place to jig a spoon or drag a Carolina rig right now.
Go up toward the island and watch behind you. A long narrow point runs off the left bank going upstream just above the bridge and you want to line up the end of it with the first bridge piling on that side. When you get even with the island you will see the hump come up. It helps to drop a marker out to stay on it.
Fish all around the hump from different directions. If there is any current it will help and you want to sit downstream of the hump and throw back up across it and fish with the current. Probe for the brush and fish it carefully when you hit some.
2. N 32 41.446 – W 85 09.401 – Upstream of the island there is a point and a cove behind it. This point leads to a ridge that runs parallel to the bank on that side. Go upstream staying way off the bank, about even with the point behind the island, and watch for a gray house with two small lighthouses to the left of it when facing it. Start going back and forth out off the bank from those lighthouses and watch your depthfinder. You will see it come up quickly on the back side, topping out at about 9 feet deep, then slope off.
Set up to fish across the ridge, bringing your Carolina rig, jig head worm or jig and pig up the sharp drop. Work the ridge casting over it from both sides. Also watch for bass holding on the side or brush on the sloping side. Jig a spoon around any fish or cover you see.
There is one sweet spot on this ridge right out in front of the gray house, according to Tommy. For some reason fish often concentrate in one small area of this long ridge and you have to fish it to find them. If you catch one bass fish that spot hard, there should be more on it.
3. N 32 41.286 – W 85 09.974 – Head up toward the old railroad trestle. Where the lake narrows down look to your left and you will see the last pocket on that side before the trestle. The downstream point of this pocket runs way out, angling upstream, and is covered with rock. There is a good drop on the inside of this point where the channel from the small creek hits the point and turns.
This is a good spot to throw a Carolina rigged Baby Brush Hog or Finesse worm. Spots love this point and those baits are good for them. Tommy likes a green pumpkin bait on cloudy days and stained water or a watermelon red bait on clear days and clear water. He will dye the tails of either color with chartreuse JJ’s Magic. Spots seem to really like a chartreuse tail.
Fish across this point from both sides and work it way out. When you get out on the end make some casts from the deep end up toward the bank and fish down the point on both sides. Also throw a crankbait in the shallow part of the point when you are in near it.
4. N 32 41.234 – W 85 10.416 – Go under the trestle and you will see a big pocket open up to your right. About 75 yards off the right point of the trestle a hump comes up to within 6 feet of the surface. If you start from the point at the trestle on the right going upstream and idle toward the far upstream point of the cove on your right you should cross it. The far point has two swift houses on it, one with gourds on cross arms and the other a condo style on a post.
When you find the top of the hump stop and cast all around, working your Carolina rig, jig and pig and jig head worm from deep to shallow. There is some brush here and the channel swings by the outside of the hump, making a good drop on that side. Fish all around this spot.
5. N 32 41.484 – W 85 07.631 – Head down the creek under both bridges and past the ramp. When the creek makes a turn to your left you will see powerlines crossing the lake from a point on your right where the creek turns back right. Go under the powerlines and watch to your left. You will see a rocky point running upstream at the mouth of the big cove on that side. There is no house on the point but it has been cleared of brush under the big pine trees.
Tommy says this is an excellent point because the creek channel swings in on the outside and the ditch on the inside is deep, making that side drop fast. There is brush and rocks all around this point. Start by throwing a crankbait working around it then back off and fish a jig and pig, jig head worm or Carolina rig down the slope. Watch and feel for brush and hit it hard when you find it.
Wind often blows in on this point and makes it better. Wind blowing across any of these spots will help, as it does when blowing in on a dock. As long as you can control the boat wind makes a spot even better.
6. N 32 41.528 – W 85 06.773 – Head downstream to the mouth of the river and go on the upstream side of the first small island with a house on it. Ahead you will see a big island with a red clay bluff bank on the downstream point. That downstream point forms a flat that drops off into the river channel on the far side of the island. There is an old state brush pile out on this point that no longer has a buoy marking it.
Work all around this flat and point, fishing Carolina rigs, jig and pig and jig head worm. Throw a crankbait and jig and pig in the blowdowns on the west side of the island, too. Watch your depthfinder and drop a spoon or other bait down to any brush you see. The point will top out at about ten feet deep way off the bank then drop fast and that is where the old state brush piles are located.
7. N 32 41.645 – W 85 06.541 – Go across toward the Georgia side of the river and you will see an opening a little to your left. The downstream point of this opening is actually the upstream point of a big island. There is trash all over the top of this point. Throw a crankbait across it then work your other baits deeper. Try a jigging spoon in the deeper areas.
Current coming down the river will rush right by this point and make it much better. Tommy likes to stay on the river side of the drop and fish from shallow to deep, especially when current is moving. Wind will often blow across this point making it better, too.
8. N 32 40.986 – W 85 06.194 – Run down to Kudzu Island, the island with a standing chimney on it on your left as you head downstream. If you look right on the edge of the water out in front of that chimney, with it lined up with the tree that is out from the others, you will see the old foundation of some kind of structure. A small point runs out from this old foundation and there is more cover on it.
Stay out from the point and fish all around it with all your baits. This point drops fast and is not very big, but it holds fish. Current coming down the river often stacks fish up on it.
9. N 32 40.733 – W 85 06.177 – Across the river on the Alabama side there is a big island in the mouth of a pocket. The outside bank of the island drops straight off into the old river channel. You will be in 60 feet of water two boat lengths off the bank. There are rocks on the drop and lots of logs and blowdowns.
Tommy says this is and excellent bank to fish after a cold front and during the winter. Bass hold in the cover and can move deeper quickly. Fish a crankbait around the cover. Then work a jig and pig through the branches of the blowdowns and be ready to set the hook and reel hard to pull a big bass out of them.
10. N 32 41.192 – W 85 05.443 – Go back across the lake and head into the big creek on that side. It does not have a name on the map but Boat Club Road runs out on a point in it. Across from the point with Boat Club Road watch for point with a dead pine on your left going upstream. Just past it is a little cove with a house in it that has a turret like room on the front. The dock in the pocket has a Coke sign on it. There were two flags on this boathouse when we were there in mid-November, one a solid yellow and the other a gray/white cross flag.
There is a hump that comes up to 22 feet deep on top on the point just past the cove with the dock and flags. Find it and fish all around it with different baits you can fish that deep. A spoon is good here most of the winter. Try the top of the hump and sides as it drops off.
These are the spots Tommy will be hitting in tournaments this time of year. Try docks all over the lake if the water is still above 50 degrees for bigger largemouth then hit these deeper spots for numbers of fish, mostly spotted bass. You can find more similar spots all over the lake and they will hold bass now.
Snooking Tactics with Pro Guide Mike Holliday
Lessons from a Snook Pro Captain will Up Your Linesider Success
from The Fishing Wire
Mike Holliday is not your typical sportfishing captain. Sure, he has more than 30 years of experience guiding in Florida waters, but he is also a noted outdoor writer, with two published books on inshore fishing topics and countless magazine articles to his credit. He’s the former editor of two regional sportfishing magazines, and he’s often featured on the Florida Insider Fishing Reports Show, which airs weekly in primetime on the Fox Sports® Network.
Mike is also a dedicated conservationist. He’s a lifetime member of the Coastal Conservation Association® and International Game Fish Association®. He never shies away from a fight and is currently working with Captains for Clean Water®, pushing hard for responsible action on the water discharges from Lake Okeechobee that have been creating toxic algae blooms fouling Florida’s coastal rivers and beaches. The group, along with others, is working with newly elected Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to make headway on the issue.
Mike is a longtime member of Team Pathfinder, and all his boats have had Yamaha power. He currently runs a Pathfinder 23 HPS bayboat powered by a V MAX SHO® 250 outboard; the eighth V MAX SHO he’s owned. During a recent fishing trip with Mike on the St. Lucie river, the experienced captain had this to say about Yamaha.
“I love these engines. They are powerful, super dependable, get great fuel economy and are very stealthy. I couldn’t ask for anything more from an outboard, especially with the hours I rack up each season.”
Scott Deal, co-founder and president of Maverick Boat Works, also joined the group for the fishing expedition. A Florida native and perennial skinny-water tournament winner, Scott’s knowledge of fishing has been instrumental in helping him design and build some of the most popular fishing boats in the country today. The company brands include Maverick and Hewes flats skiffs, Pathfinder bay boats and the wildly popular Cobia® center console line.
While Mike loves fishing and guiding his clients for tarpon, trout and redfish on the inshore grounds of Florida’s Treasure Coast, it’s snook that gets his engine revving the most and with good reason. Snook are structure-oriented ambush predators. They’re powerful and fast, which makes for a great fight on light-to-medium tackle. They have a large mouth for engulfing prey, and will partake of most any baitfish, including big ones. Snook also prey on eel and shrimp, and can be caught during the day or night. Capt. Mike will take clients fishing any time of day, depending on the prevailing conditions.
There are four species of snook in Florida waters. The common snook is the most wide-spread and encompasses the largest component of the total population. It’s also the largest, reaching lengths in excess of 50-inches. They are impressive fish to see and fighting machines when hooked. If you hook a large one near docks or bridge structure, your chances of winning the fight are reduced dramatically, which we found out later in the day.
The second most commonly encountered species is the Cuban snook, which is considerably smaller (rarely reaching eight pounds), followed by the sword spine and tarpon snook, which are even smaller.
“Snook are something of a cult fish,” said Mike. “Once you catch a few of them, you are hooked for life. Pound for pound there isn’t a better fighting fish on the inshore grounds, and they can be lured into striking a wide range of live baits and artificial lures.
“They’re ambush predators that can be found hanging in the shadows of docks during the day and at night,” he continued. “That’s one of the things that make them so challenging and so much fun to hunt. During daylight hours, live bait will get the most attention because snook have keen eyesight. This is especially true if the water is clear, such as during a strong incoming tide. Snook can easily identify an artificial lure under these conditions. Take the same fish in the same conditions, toss them a live baitfish, and their inhibitions disappear.”
Since the group was fishing on a clear day with moderate water clarity, Mike opted to make a run out the inlet to hunt for a school of live bait. It didn’t take long to find several schools of herring, some being harassed by jack crevalle. Scott did the honors of tossing the castnet to fill both live wells aboard the Pathfinder. The anglers also spent a little time chasing the jacks, catching a few in the offing. Then it was back to the St. Lucie River where Mike did a little hunting to find some willing snook to take the bait.
“Snook are not too particular about live bait,” Mike continued. “Herring, sardines, pilchards, menhaden, mullet, even live shrimp, can illicit a positive response. Massive schools of finger mullet migrate through this area, usually from early August to the end of September, and the snook go absolutely nuts. Fishing around inlets and along the beaches can be a blowout. They also become quite susceptible to certain lures cast around mullet schools, and my favorites are the Yo-Zuri® Pencil and Mag Minnow. Both are just deadly during the mullet run.”
After checking out a couple of docks and coves for snook with little to show for it, Mike decided to make a run to another area of the river. Modern electronics with the latest side-imaging capabilities have made finding snook around structure less time consuming. Mike uses a large-screen Humminbird® unit with a sonar feature that can scan horizontally out both sides of the boat to reveal structure and fish up to 50 feet or more away.
“I can cruise along quietly with my trolling motor and see fish sitting alongside pilings, under docks or holding tight to bulkheads or shorelines without spooking them,” said Mike. “I can even tell how big the fish are from the return image on the LCD, which saves a lot of time. Finding fish has always been the hardest part of this kind of fishing because it used to involve a lot of casting to spots when you had no idea if there were fish present. These systems make the hunting a lot easier for pros and novice anglers alike.”
Using his depthfinder and trolling motor, Mike found a bunch of snook along an area of shoreline where a bulkhead ended abruptly, and natural shoreline with rocks and a sand point began. A long dock extended out into the cove another twenty yards down the shoreline with a perpendicular T dock at the end. This great structure created a corral for the snook to use as a feeding station. He pointed out the spots to concentrate our efforts, and the anglers started placing the live baits in the strike zone with accurate casts. Scott hooked up almost immediately, a small snook running some line off his spinning outfit. A few minutes later, Mike slipped the net under the first snook of the day, which was followed with another and another in successive casts to the same point.
While the action remained constant, Mike explained the ins and outs of snook conservation.
“These fish are tightly regulated in Florida waters with restrictive seasons and bag limits,” he said. “There is a one-fish-per-person daily bag limit, and you can only keep fish between 28 and 32 inches (fish that are typically between eight and 13 pounds). Anything smaller or larger must be released. With regulations that force the release of all the larger spawning-size fish, the stocks have remained incredibly abundant in recent years. Anglers must have a Florida saltwater fishing license and purchase a snook stamp to go with it. If you are fishing with a licensed guide like me, we purchase a blanket permit that covers any customers aboard our vessel.”
About that time, one of the anglers placed a cast next to one of the dock pilings about midway between the shore and the T dock. The herring was immediately inhaled by a snook that took off for parts unknown. This was a considerably larger fish and even though it was hooked on the heaviest spinning outfit on the boat, it was impossible to tighten the drag enough to stop it from running in and out of the pilings. The power of the fish was surprising, and it became obvious that this tug of war was a losing battle for the angler as the fish zigzagged between the pilings, eventually breaking the line.
Mike smiled as he watched the outcome of the fight. “That was a really good one,” he said. “Your chances of getting him out of those pilings was slim, and there was little that you could’ve done to change the outcome, which is one of the reasons I really love these fish. They are just so strong that once a big one gets going it’s almost impossible to turn them around.”
Mike fishes snook from Vero Beach to Palm Beach, but feels the very best fishing for linesiders is in the St. Lucie River and along the beaches in this area. His biggest fish to date was a 42-pound monster that tested his tackle, but his favorite place to find them is when they move up onto the grass beds on inside flats in less than three feet of water. This can happen any time between April and November, but the entire coast has seen a drastic reduction in natural grass beds due to run-off pollution. The excessive use of fertilizers in both agriculture as well as residential and business lawns causes water clarity to decrease as turbidity increases due to unnaturally high algae levels exacerbated by the discharge of toxic outflows from Lake Okeechobee the last few years.
“When the snook are on the flats, the fishing can be spectacular,” Mike said. “It’s mostly smaller fish, a lot under the slot-size and some keepers, but the bites are explosive on plastics and topwater lures.”
Mike’s lure selection is small. He uses some other plugs in addition to the Yo-Zuri® Pencil and Mag Minnow, and jigs sporting plastic bodies make up the rest of the tackle box. Bass Assassin®Sea Shad bodies in the four- and five-inch size are productive. In dirty water he prefers dark colors, and in clear water his favorite color is green/silver. Jig head weight varies from one-fourth to one ounce depending on water depth and tide flow.
There are specific seasons during which you can keep a snook for the table and rest assured, they are excellent eating fish with firm, white, mild tasting fillets. The closed seasons are from December 15 through January 31 and again from June 1 through August 31. The summer closure protects the fish during spawning season, and much of the spawning takes place in and around inlets like the mouth of the St. Lucie River. Catch and release fishing for snook is allowed during the closed seasons. Current regulations for Gulf Coast snook are strictly catch and release year-round to protect the remaining stock after the stress of successive years of various toxic algae blooms.
“Since very few of my customers want to kill a snook, I take charters any time during the year,” Mike said. “That said, during the spawning season I avoid fishing in or near the inlets, where spawning activity is highest, and fish along the beaches where post spawn fish tend to hang out. Regardless, the fish are all released, and that’s the way I like it.”
Snook are truly a great gamefish, one that every angler should tangle with at one time or another. Florida’s Treasure Coast is the best place to encounter them, and Capt. Mike Holliday of Fish Tales Guide Service can show you the ropes. You can reach him at (772) 341-6105 or by email at email@example.com.