April Lake Lanier Tournament

Saturday, April 16, 15 members of the Potato Creek Bassmasters held our April tournament at Lake Lanier. James Beasley won with 9.95 pounds, Lee Hancock placed second with 9.60 pounds, Pete Peterson came in third with 9.18 pounds and Mike Cox was fourth with 7.34 pounds and had big fish with a 4.27 pound spot.

It was a very frustrating day for me. I had been seeking pictures on Facebook of a lot of big spotted bass being caught at Lanier and some of the guides were saying they were shallow and on a predictable pattern and easy to catch.

Kwong Yu fished with me and we started on a rocky island, the kind of place I had been reading about and also a place where I had caught some three pounds spots this time of year. Everything seemed perfect, with a little wind blowing in on the rocks, and we tried a variety of baits but had only one short strike there.

We tried a couple of more places that I like to fish and Kwong got a good keeper on a jig and pig. I missed one on a spinnerbait. But after three hours we had only one bass in the boat.

Kwong suggested a place down the Lake and we went there, but one arm of the creek was unfishable due to the wind blowing into it. The other arm was more protected and I managed to catch a keeper spot on a Carolina rigged lizard. And we both caught some spots shorter than the 14 inch limit.

With about an hour left to fish we went to some docks near the weigh-in site. Kwong fishes them a lot but I don’t usually fish there. I caught a 2.5 pound spot on a jig head worm from one of them, and we caught some more throwbacks, but that was it for the day.

Two keepers weighing a little over four pounds in eight hours was not what I expected at Lanier. I had heard the best bait was a Rapala Wake Bait, a new version of an old bait, but I didn’t have any. I went by Berry’s Monday and they have ordered some. I just have to have the hot bait, even if the hot bait will be something else next week!

Fishing this spring has been unusual, just like it is every spring. It seems like the weather swapped for April and March, with warmer weather in March than so far in April. That is one thing that keeps fishing so interesting and frustrating, the only thing that is consistent about fishing is it is inconsistent!

Steelhead Rig

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

Catch big steelhead on this rig

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

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

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

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

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

The Basics of Float Fishing

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

What you need for a float rig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robins, Blue Jays, Crows and Snipe, Oh My

Robins have been all over my yard for the last few weeks. It must be spring.

In my youth I never understood how robins could be a harbinger of spring. My text books in elementary school as well as many stories I read talked about how robins showed spring had arrived. Here in middle Georgia, big flocks showed up in December and stayed until the spring.

After doing some research on robins and what they eat, it made sense. Robins eat earthworms, bugs and fruit. It is impossible for them to get to worms when the top of the ground is frozen, and bugs and fruit get very scarce. They must migrate south as the ground freezes.

Although they may arrive up north as spring arrives and the ground thaws, they arrive here in the fall and winter, seeking soft ground. Just like in my youth, robins are all us around right now.

I liked robins when young. They are pretty, but more important to me back then they were easy to stalk, get in range with my BB gun, and hit them. They were so easy that I seldom shot one unless I wanted to eat it.

On outings with my friends in the woods or when alone, we would often get hungry. It was easy to shoot and clean something, often birds that are protected now, and roast them on a fire. Robins had the same flavor of doves, but were tough and dry from our cooking method

Since I grew up on a farm and was taught to use everything for food we could, we even cooked the hearts, livers and gizzards on a flat rock heated in the fire. When frying them, mama used giblets from doves and quail for gravy. For some reason our dry, crunchy flat-rock giblets didn’t taste quite the same, but I liked the taste.

A bird I did not like was a blue jay. They ate our pecans and I hated their raucous cry. My parents paid me a bounty of five cents for each one I could kill. That kept me in .22 bullets to use on them.

We sometimes ate them, too, but they were much harder to kill on demand. They did taste about like robins, possibly because we usually did not have any water to wash the carcass or our hands after cleaning them, so there was a lot of blood.

They were wary, possible from me hunting them around the farm year-round. The easiest way to kill them was to sit still under one of our pecan trees so we seldom got one on our outings to eat.

I also shot as many crows as possible, but they were much harder to kill. I have read crows are one of the smartest birds in the wild, and they are difficult for a kid to get close enough to for a kill. I got 25 cents for every one of them I could kill.

We never ate a crow, probably because it was so rare to get one, and almost impossible to kill one on demand. And we knew they ate road kill, which was a turn-off even though we happily ate pork after slopping hogs. We might have tried them if we had lucked into one when hungry in the woods. I hear they taste good and will try them if I can kill one. I

A bird I saw occasionally in the swampy area between two of our fields was not as easy to get close to or to hit as robins. Sometimes when walking through the wet area in the fall and winter, a bird would take off with a loud whirr of wings, dart and dodge through the trees and be gone.

If I had my .410 with me, I would shoot at it if I could get my gun up in time, but never hit one. When a teenage I did kill one with a luck y shot. I had the 12 gauge with me and made a lucky shot.

The brown bird with lighter markings had a very long bill and long legs. I managed to find it in my encyclopedia. This was long before computers and Google. It was a snipe.

I had heard of going snipe hunting all my life, but that hunt involved night time, a sack and being left in the woods. I was surprised to find there really was such a bird as a snipe.

Later I saw a picture of a woodcock in one of my outdoor magazines and a little more research showed the two species are closely related. After realizing I was seeing a snipe fly, and finding they were related to woodcock, the nickname “timberdoodle” made a lot more sense. I also realized why hunters were so proud when they hit either.

I was used to shooting doves and quail, both of which pretty much fly in a straight line. With doves you usually see them coming in time to get ready. A dog on point on quail does the same. And woodcock hunters use dogs, too. But with snipe on our farm, no matter how careful I was to be ready, it was always a surprise to flush one.

Its been more than 50 years since I killed and ate a song bird, so the animal rights fanatics can calm down. I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out. I would not shoot one now, I obey the laws and they are pretty, but I was kid in a different world than we have now.

Individual Freedoms

Our country was founded on individual freedoms. Citizens were free to go about their business as long as their freedom did not interfere with others’ freedoms. An old saying “your rights end at my nose” was widely accepted.

Our Bill of Rights were added to the constitution to guarantee individual freedom from the government. Read it, each one of the articles protect the individual from the powers of government. Unfortunately, we have gotten away from the idea of individual freedom and it seems to get worse every day. Instead of individual freedom, too many seem to want to enforce another old saying “my way or the highway.”

And far too many people seem to think they are guaranteed an easy life, doing whatever they want with no consequences. They seem to think other folks owe them a living and they don’t have to give anything in return.

In the past, my freedoms were not controlled by your likes and dislikes. Don’t like guns? Don’t buy one. Don’t like eating meat? Don’t eat it. Don’t like what I say? Tell me why or walk away. Don’t like hunting or fishing? Stay at home and watch TV.

Now if you don’t like what I like, many try to use the government or mob violence to control me. Nowhere is it more obvious than with guns, but it permeates all our life.

Bill Nye, the pseudoscience guy, now wants folks like me that disagree with his true belief in global warming to be arrested for pointing out the silliness of his claims. Paid protestors try to stop folks from going to rallies of politicians they don’t like. They try to shout down anyone saying anything against their beliefs.

And law after law is passed to try to control individual freedoms. Now, if you don’t like big soft drinks, pass a law against selling them. Don’t like my opinion on guns? Condemn me as a baby killer and ban guns. Don’t like my hunting? Go out and make noise and fly drones where I am hunting to disrupt my day and ban hunting.

That is not democracy, or even representative government. People get offended by almost anything and think that gives them the right to stop me from doing anything they don’t like. But at the same time they expect me to work and share the wealth with them.

Robert Heinlein is one of my all-time favorite science fiction writers. He said something that many have said over the years in slightly different words.

“For when the people discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader.”

We are at that point.

Florida’s Tampa Bay

Taking a New Look at Hard Bottoms on Florida’s Tampa Bay
from The Fishing Wire

Although Tampa Bay doesn’t have colorful, high-relief coral reefs like the Florida Keys, it does have areas of fossilized corals, limestone outcroppings, rubble and artificial reefs, collectively known as “hard bottom.” In fact, research from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is showing these rare habitats may serve as a critically important stop-off for juvenile fish as they graduate from nursery areas in the bay to offshore habitats in the Gulf.

“Hard bottoms are known hot spots for algae, fish and invertebrates,” said Kerry Flaherty-Walia, a researcher with the FWC. “We’ve known how productive they are in offshore areas, but new technology has helped us identify which fish are using them in Tampa Bay.”
FWC’s Fisheries Independent Monitoring Program has been sampling fish populations in Tampa Bay since 1989, documenting species and size in different parts of the bay. The new research, funded through the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund, uses video technology and high-tech fishing apparatus rather than the traditional seine nets to document what species are utilizing specific habitats.

Using the new methods, scientists have documented 19 fish species in quantities equal to or greater than captured in nets over the past 21 years, including three species never seen before in Tampa Bay and 11 that were rarely observed. The results also reflect a dramatic increase in the total number of fish documented, with significantly less effort: 64 stations measured in this study vs. 337 net hauls.

“We found fish in quantities equal or higher than we’d ever seen in the net sampling – including red grouper, grunts, Atlantic tarpon, gray snapper, gag grouper and black sea bass,” Flaherty-Walia said. “We even found snook, which was interesting because we knew it was in the bay but not necessarily using hard bottom habitat. Grunts large enough to be reproducing also were found.”

Researchers used two GoPro video cameras, mounted on a PVC frame with a bait box to attract fish, that were dropped on hard bottom habitat for 20 minutes. Dual cameras provided “stereo” vision allowing researchers to identify fish as well as their size without capturing them.

Immediately after the cameras were retrieved, hook-and-line fishing gear was deployed in the same area on timed intervals to minimize the impact of an individual angler’s skill to collect additional data from the fish that can’t be collected looking at videos or pictures.

Pinfish and a stingray also share hard bottom habitat.

The two-year project, which will continue through 2018, is an extension of TBEP’s focus on hard bottom habitat as a valuable and rare resource in need of special attention. The information collected will be used to inform strategies for better managing and protecting hard bottom in the bay, said Maya Burke, science policy coordinator for TBEP. “We’re working with the (Southwest Florida) Water Management District, Pinellas County, and the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County to identify where these habitats, including submerged rock or rubble reefs and limestone ledges, occur. Some areas are even hard to see on side-scan sonar and require video confirmation. That makes the mapping so labor-intensive that we can only do portions of the bay at a time.”

And because the hard bottoms often have very low relief, they may be covered (or uncovered) by sand during heavy storms. “If we can’t see them anymore, we need to be able to know where they’re likely to persist,” Burke adds. Like much of the bay, hard bottom habitat and the organisms that live there are threatened by direct damage from fishing gear or other physical impacts, stress and disease, and invasive species.

The time is ripe for studying hard bottom habitat in Tampa Bay. Last summer Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) staff began a monitoring program, to better understand how these habitats change over time. These hard bottom habitats have a complex network of organisms that attach to and live there.

“We have historic snapshots of hard bottom — like the Environmental Protection Commision of Hillsborough County’s report on benthic invertebrates on artificial reefs — but this important monitoring work will aid in the understanding of these habitats,” Burke said.

Ice Fishing

Outdoor Life, Sports Afield and Field and Stream magazines were staples of my reading while growing up. I could not wait for new issues every month and read each from cover to cover.

Every winter, articles and pictures about ice fishing fascinated me. I dreamed of drilling holes through the ice and sitting in a nice warm shanty while catching everything from perch to pike.

In middle Georgia, ice fishing does not happen. I knew there was little chance of me ever going up north to try it, but I wanted to. In the winter when Dearing Branch froze over, something that didn’t happen every year, I tried to ice fish, but the ice was never strong enough to hold me.

I did manage to stand on the bank over deeper holes and punch a hole in the ice with a stick, no drilling needed for the ice that was seldom an inch thick. And I never caught a fish, I guess most of our southern fish don’t eat much when it is that cold.

I have fished in Wisconsin ten times, but in the fall just after Labor Day. Although I experienced snow and sleet on those early September trips, there was no ice, I was a couple months too early.

Signs of the coming ice were everywhere. All docks there are removal, they can be rolled up onto the bank to keep the ice from crushing them. And I was amazed by trees and brush around the bank. There was a clear line about five feet above the water line where no leaves or needles grew.

I thought it might be a browse line where deer ate the foliage, but the local fisherman that hosted our group on those trips told me it was the snow line.
Snow around Rhinelander, Wisconsin covered the ground and lake ice about that deep for several months each winter, killing the tender parts of the plants.

A few years ago, I did catch a fish though the ice. My pond froze over about an inch thick, way too little to support me, but I took an idea from my past. Out on the end of my dock where I fed the fish all summer, I punched a hole in the ice with a pipe, baited up with a piece of floating fish food, and landed a two-inch bream.

That will probably be the only ice fish I ever catch.

Little Manatee River

Snook-Rich Little Manatee River (FL) to Get 7300-Acre Watershed Preserve
Vicki Parsons, Bay Soundings
from The Fishing Wire

With most of the shoreline along Tampa Bay either developed or restored, planners are looking upstream to protect tidal tributaries and provide higher ground for critical habitats as sea level rise continues to affect the region.

Lots of snook here

Miles of trails make much of the corridor easily accessible to hikers and much of the land is in its original state.
An important step in addressing that long-term trend is the development of a conceptual plan for nearly 7,400 publicly held acres in the Little Manatee River watershed, It is estimated to take at least 20 years and $30 million to complete the projects identified in the plan, said Brandt Henningsen, chief environmental scientist at the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s SWIM (Surface Water Improvement and Management) Program.

“The district and Hillsborough County have purchased the land over the past 30 years, and the Little Manatee River State Park makes it a nearly contiguous 30-mile corridor along the river so wildlife can transverse it as needed,” he said. “When completed, it will be a passive preserve area for hiking and kayaking – not ballfields or ATVs.”

The plan itself was a $200,000 initiative funded jointly by the district and the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund.

Much of the corridor remains in a relatively natural state, although other areas that had been converted to agricultural uses are covered in invasive species including cogongrass and guinea grass, as well as Brazilian pepper and hairy indigo. In some places, mosquito ditches drain land quickly rather than allowing water to slowing sink into the aquifer or naturally create low-salinity habitat. One location – the Willow Site – has become a popular, albeit illegal, spot for ATV enthusiasts who create ditches that drain to the river, increasing sedimentation and diminishing water quality.

To create the long-term plan, the district, county and Cardno assessed different parcels, dividing them into 10 sections ranging in size from 283 to 1,500 acres. Restoration plans are based on historical photos so that lands continue as close to their natural state as possible, Henningsen said. In some cases, the parcels can be restored to capture runoff from nearby agricultural fields, filtering nutrients before they get in the river.

Using a complex matrix that looks at water quality impact, groundwater impact, habitat value and enhancing regionally scarce communities, the district and county created a priority list based on average cost per restored or enhanced acre. The 1,423-acre Gully Branch Creek site was selected as the first phase of construction for an estimated cost of $5.9 million.

Although it is further from the bay than some other sites, it ranked well for its ability to improve water quality, improve groundwater discharge and establish a natural hydroperiod. It also ranked highly for easy site access, which will be a challenge at some of the sites, Henningsen said.

Within that section, the 444-acre Gully Branch upland restoration project is expected to be funded by SWFWMD in 2019. Formerly agricultural land, the site is now covered in cogongrass, considered to be one of the top ten worst weeds in the world. “The (SWFWMD) Governing Board has been very supportive of the SWIM Program and seen the value of these restoration projects,” Henningsen said.

Hillsborough County is responsible for most of the management and is participating in the restoration of multiple sites, adds Mary Barnwell, environmental lands management coordinator. “We’re already doing a lot of prescribed burning, exotics control and maintenance, including several recreational trails and trailheads that allow hikers back into the property.”

The Little Manatee River corridor is critically important over the long-term because it’s among the highest land in Hillsborough County with multiple bluffs overlooking the river. “We’re restoring both for the short term while also taking the long-term land use into consideration,” Barnwell said. “As sea level rise continues, we’ll need to create a west-to-east corridor that provides wildlife and plant communities room to move. We’ve seen them adapt to change in the past, but it was very gradual – now we’re looking at accelerated adaptation.”

The long-term plan for restoration of the Little Manatee River will function as a blueprint for habitats to accommodate a range of possible impacts from climate change. “This project is key to protecting some of our most vulnerable habitats, like juncus (black needle rush) marshes,” adds Maya Burke, science policy coordinator for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

By Vicki Parsons, Bay Soundings

Setting the Hook and Falling

Last Sunday ten members of the Spalding County Sportsman Club fished our January tournament at Jackson Lake. It was a bit breezy and cool when we started at 7:30 and not much better when we weighed in at 3:30. The only thing that got cold on me were my hands, thanks to insulated underwear, flannel jeans and wind proof pants, with toe warmers in my boots. That, along with six layers on top and a hard hat liner and hooded jacket, left only my hands exposed. I have tried dozens of expensive fishing gloves but never found any I can wear while fishing, so my hands are exposed all day.

We landed 25 bass weighing about 37 pounds and 18 of them were spotted bass. One person had a limit and one did not catch a keeper. That morning before take-off Jay told me he had fished Friday and found some fish and was confident he could catch a limit weighing ten pounds. Of course, he was the only one without a keeper.

Raymond English started the year right, winning with four keepers weighing 7.69 pounds. Kwong Yu was second with two keepers weighing 6.33 pounds and had big fish with a 4.76 pound largemouth. Wayne teal had the limit weighing 5.24 pounds and placed third. I managed to scratch out four little spots weighing 4.71 pounds for fourth.

I started near the ramp where I won a Flint River tournament last January under the same conditions but never got a bite. I noticed Raymond and Niles going across the cover at take off with trolling motor only and found out later Raymond had motor trouble. Sometimes it pays to fish rather than ride around. I should have stayed in that area!

Instead I ran up to Tussahaw Creek to my favorite point but got no bites there, either. At 9:30 as I fished out of a shallow cove, I pulled up on my shaky head worm and felt a fish spit it out. With cold hands and wind blowing my line, I never felt the bite.
But on the other side of the point I landed my biggest keeper of the day, a 1.5-pound spot, on a crankbait.

The next stop was a shallow cove with a seawall around it. I pitched my shaky head worm to it in about a foot of water and felt a bite. My legs and feet were hurting so, rather than stand up and set the hook like I normally do, I tried setting it sitting down.

That was a mistake. For the first time in my life I feel flat on my back trying to set the hook. Fortunately, I fell into the boat, not out of it. And as I fell my line went over the trolling motor head and I pulled the 13-inch spot out of the water. It hung there until I could get up, get my line off the motor and land it. Some fish are just meant to get caught.

A little further around the cove I landed a short spot, then missed a bite, both on the worm. I hoped that was a pattern, but after several more stops without bite I went another point and landed two keepers on a crankbait within a couple of casts.

The fish seemed to be bunched up a little, and I got bites in only three places all day but got several on each. Although I went back to them, I didn’t get any more bites the rest of the tournament.

Tournament on Lake Sinclair

Closer to home the Potato Creek Bassmasters fished our first tournament of the year at Sinclair last Saturday. The water was very muddy in the Little and
Oconee Rivers. Even the creeks at the dam, usually clear, had very stained water. I do not like cold muddy water, especially like it was Saturday when my chartreuse crankbait disappeared about two inches deep.

In the tournament, seventeen fishermen caught 45 bass weighing 80 pounds. Niles Murray showed us all how it can be done in cold muddy water by winning with five that weighed 14.50 pounds. Edward Folker placed second with two weighing 8.54 pounds and had big fish with a 5.79-pound bass. Doug Acree came in third with five at 8.10 and Ryan Edge was fourth with three at 6.65 pounds.

Niles is in the groove fishermen love. It happens sometimes that everything just seems right. Maybe he is getting that “sixth sense” that some have. He has won three of four club tournaments in the past month and also placed third in the Berry’s tournament in January against some of the best fishermen in the area.

Me, not so much. At Sinclair I started on a mud flat with a small hard clay patch I found years ago. It has produced some good fish for me over the years, especially in January. But my hopes fell when my crankbait did not show up in the muddy water.

I fished that area for about 90 minutes without a bite then decided to run to the dam to look for clearer water rather than fish the next place I had planned in Beaverdam Creek. Rocky Creek usually has the clearest water on the lake, and its rocks are good this time of year, but the water was very stained, even there. My chartreuse crankbait disappeared about four or five inches deep, better but not great.

I fished that area for over four hours and had two bites, one on a jig and one on a shaky head worm but missed both. They could have been bream or crappie, or a big bass, but I will never know. I made the decision to go back to Beaverdam Creek for the rest of the tournament.

I again fished the clay spot but got no bites, and a deep brush pile where I won a Sportsman Club tournament last January, but nothing. At 2:00 I went to where I did not go that morning. At 2:20 I hooked and landed a largemouth a little over three pounds, then a few minutes later landed a keeper on a spinnerbait. The hooks fell out of both in the net, so I knew the fish were just nipping the bait. I was lucky to land them. That was enough to make me decide to fish that point the rest of the day.

At 3:00 I hooked a fish on a crankbait. It rolled on top and I could see I had barely hooked it on a back hook and was another three pound plus fish. I carefully worked it toward the boat and put the net in the water. As may line got close to the net I could not see the bass in the muddy water. I did see it as it swam by the net and for a second though it was in it.

No such luck, the front hooks of the plug hung in the net as the fish swam under it and the bass pulled off. I ended up with about 5.5 pounds. That fish would have put me in second place, but the big ones always seem to get away. I needed Niles’ luck and skill!

Veterans Find Healing and Hope

Veterans Find Healing and Hope on Public Lands
from The Fishing Wire

A visit to America’s public lands is more than an opportunity to see an epic vista, learn about history and experience wildlife. It’s also good medicine.

Connecting with the outdoors can heal the mind, body and soul. For veterans, time in the outdoors can help them recover from traumatic combat injuries and find relief from pain. All across the country, Interior is partnering with groups to make it easier for disabled veterans and others to discover the therapeutic qualities of America’s national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands.

Check out some of the inspiring partnerships and locations that are helping veterans find healing on America’s public lands.

Casting a line for a day of fun and fishing

Fishing is often the line that connects people to their public lands. Florida’s Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area is using this favored pastime to unite veterans and their families for a day of fun, friendship and fishing. This year, Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse hosted the 4th annual Veterans Fishing Classic as part of the Fisheries for Veterans Project — an effort to connect veterans to the therapeutic qualities of outdoor recreation, while promoting stewardship of public lands. The day was filled with fishing and tales of missed catches as 140 veterans and their families attempted to reel in a big one.

Veterans fishing public waters

Veterans and their families enjoy the lapping waves, coastal breeze and thrill of fishing as part of the Veterans Family Fishing Classic at Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area. Photo courtesy of Kathy Williams, FishingCommuities.org.

Preserving history and finding relief at Lake Mead

Deep underwater at Lake Mohave lies a historic aerial ferry that used to serve the lake in the 1930s. This unexpected spot at Lake Mead National Recreation Area is helping disabled veterans find comfort from painful combat injuries. Working with WAVES Project (short for the Wounded American Veterans Experience SCUBA), the park took six wounded veterans on dives to inspect and preserve the underwater artifacts in Lake Mohave. But there was also a benefit for veterans — they experienced relief from pain. Not only has scuba diving helped veterans with physical disabilities, it’s also helped those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Learn more about how Lake Mead is working to give wounded veterans a fresh start through diving experiences.

Experiencing the peace of wild Alaska

For seven years, disabled veterans have trekked to Alaska’s Delta River for world-class fly-fishing and to find peace in this remote location. The Delta River rises from a chain of 21 lakes surrounded by picturesque mountains and is known for its amazing Arctic grayling fishery. Since 2011, the Bureau of Land Management has hosted Project Healing Waters events here to raise awareness of the restorative values of public lands, and most importantly, to give back to those who have given so much to our country. As part of these fly-fishing events, veterans will routinely catch and release 25-100 Arctic grayling in a day, and at night they’ll share stories around the campfire — strengthening camaraderie, building relationships and connecting with their local community. The Delta River event is just one of many Healing Waters outings on America’s public lands. There are also float fishing trips on the Bighorn and Beaverhead rivers in Montana, both of which are ribbon trout fisheries below Bureaus of Reclamation reservoirs.

A participant of a Project Healing Waters event last year hooks an Arctic Grayling along Alaska’s Delta River. Photo by Matt Vos, Bureau of Land Management.
Giving hope by improving access to public lands
Whether it’s with a camera in hand or a shotgun, there’s something thrilling about sitting in a blind waiting for a flock of mallards to take off or listening to the wind whistle through the trees. But for wounded veterans or others with disabilities, the chance to hunt, fish and hike isn’t always a given. To change that, wildlife refuges in Washington have partnered with disabled veteran Rick Spring to build accessible blinds so that all visitors can experience the Pacific Northwest’s outdoors. Rick, who volunteers his time to improving accessibility on public lands, has built three custom blinds for two wildlife refuges — each one large enough to accommodate two wheelchairs. Rick hopes to expand the use of his custom-designed blinds to Oregon and then to the national level so more people with disabilities can have access to the outdoors. It’s Rick’s way of giving hope to injured veterans.

Discovering the restorative powers of the outdoors

The Upper Colorado River spans a unique and beautiful landscape, known for its diverse water features, gold medal trout waters, abundant wildlife and cultural landscapes along the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway. It’s also an ideal place for therapeutic outdoor adventures. A number of organizations and outfitters host whitewater and fly fishing trips on the Upper Colorado River for wounded warriors. These experiences on public lands not only let veterans tap into the restorative powers of nature but also helps them build long-term support networks and connections.

Bonding with horses to improve health and well being

People often form strong bonds with animals. With a saddle and some trust, people and horses work together in a powerful partnership with surprising results. Equine therapy is a proven method to help patients recover from both physical and mental injuries, and improve their confidence, awareness and patience. At Rock Creek Park Horse Center in the heart of Washington, D.C., the Ridewell Program provides active duty military personnel and veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries and PTSD a chance to come to ride and learn about horses with the help of officers from the U.S. Park Police Horse Mounted Unit. Thanks to the teamwork, natural setting and the time spent with horses, doctors and families have noted improvements in their balance and mental wellbeing, as well as pride and joy in the wounded warriors’ accomplishments. These events are able to happen with funding provided through Rock Creek Riders, an all volunteer non profit organization that provides local children, active duty military and veterans the opportunity to heal through the power of riding.

Healing while hunting

Even though physical injuries can change veterans’ lives forever, they can always find adventure and rejuvenation at National Wildlife Refuge System lands across America. At the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, the annual deer hunt for disabled sportsmen is making sure all Americans have access to excellent hunting opportunities, regardless of their physical limitations. Since the refuge started the hunt in 2007 at the Lost Mound Unit of the refuge, more than 1,000 hunters from all over the country have participated. Much of the program’s success depends on partnerships to provide travel for hunters. As part of the program, the refuge also partners with a deer tracking service to make sure the hunters can locate the deer they shot. In addition to providing hunters with mobility limitations the chance to experience a high-quality deer hunt, the event also opens the door to all sorts of recreational opportunities that national wildlife refuges have to offer — from hunting and fishing to birding and hiking.

Calm waters bring peace

Known best for dams and reservoirs, the Bureau of Reclamation also plays a major role in meeting increasing public demand for water-based outdoor recreation facilities and opportunities. Using these resources, Reclamation has several programs with federal, state and local partners that support recovery and rehabilitation for disabled veterans. The Purple Heart Anglers have used Reclamation’s Lake Berryessa and New Melones Lake for several fishing events in California. At a recent event, disabled veterans were bussed to Lake Berryessa and paired with boat owners for a day of fishing. Reclamation concessionaires provided lunch, music and prizes. It’s a great way to say thanks to those who have sacrificed so much for our country.