July 4 and Fireworks

In the late 1950s and early 60s fireworks were legal in Georgia. And not just the wimpy stuff made legal in the past few years and being sold now. I don’t think there were any restrictions or controls on size or power. All six of the small stores in Dearing had a display every July 4th and New Year’s.

We kids saved our money from allowances, collecting bottles for deposits, picking blackberries for sale and other money making schemes. Since my allowance was 25 cents a week and we got a penny for every bottle collected from ditches and 25 cents for a full quart of blackberries, we were careful with our funds. We studied the fireworks displays, carefully picking out our favorite things to buy.

I loved things that made a big, powerful boom. Back in those days’ cherry bombs, TNT bombs and M-80s were my favorite and each one was just a few cents, so my money went a long way. I always got a few packs of smaller firecrackers as well as a few bottle rockets and aerial bombs, but those seemed to go way too fast.

The big ones were powerful. Every year we just had to test them on concrete blocks. A cherry bomb fired off in one the holes in a block would break it into two pieces, a TNT bomb would break it into several chunks. But an M-80 would shatter it into gravel chunks.

We always had to see what we could blow up. Anything around the farm was fair game for a bomb stuffed into it just to see the effect. Anything from tin cans to hollow trees were tested. Trees didn’t react much, but cans were shredded, and we learned to run from them fast to avoid the shrapnel.

We were constantly warned by parents and store owners to be careful, and we usually were. Every year my friends and I would challenge each other to hold a small firecracker between our fingertips and light it. I was never brave enough to do that, always throwing them away before they went off, but a couple of times friends were brave.

The powder stain on their fingertips and reported burning and stinging was not something I wanted to experience.

Sometimes friends would light a whole string of firecrackers. We all liked the rapid-fire popping, but the one time I did it, I realized I had burned up my whole string of firecrackers in a few seconds. I never wasted them that fast again.

Skyrockets and aerial bombs were similar. They were pretty and made a good boom, but each one was expensive, probably a quarter each, and each one was a one-shot deal. That was way to fast to blow my money.

One of my dumber tricks I tried only one time. For some reason I cut a 12-gauge shotgun shell open and made a small mound of the powder on a rock out in the woods. After placing two small firecrackers’ fuses touching the powder, I touched the pile with a lit match.

I’m not sure what I expected but it was not what happened. Maybe I thought the pile would burn slowly, lighting the fuses. But the whole pile of powder went off with a flash while I looked at it. Since I was close, it blinded me for a few seconds.

Then the two firecrackers exploded. I was within arm’s reach of all this and when they popped, my ears started ringing and I was deaf for a few seconds. Not a good idea.

When I could see again, I had to put out several small fires started by my experiment. The leaves beside the rock had caught fire from the pile of powder, then the firecrackers blew them for several feet around it, starting other fires.

One year I watched as a neighbor “shot an anvil.” To do that, the hole in the bottom of the anvil was packed with powder from several shotgun shells. It was carefully placed on top of another anvil and a fuse placed to light the powder.

I loved the big boom and ringing sound the top anvil made as if flew way up in the sky, but that huge chunk of iron flying on an uncontrollable trajectory scared me. I wanted to try it. But standing way back I could watch the projectile and know which way to run.

I was always afraid if I lit the fuse I would be running away – in the wrong direction. I never tried it.

Fire works are fun, but we should never forget what they represent this July 4. The rockets’ red glare and booming of cannon and guns while we fought for our freedom from a tyrannical government controlling us is what we celebrate.

Unfortunately, We the People have let our government become the tyrant, controlling every part of our lives. From what fireworks we can buy, if even allowed to buy any, to what guns we are allowed to own, all aspects of our lives are controlled by our own government. And it seems to get worse every year.

Will some future kid light fireworks and celebrate freedom, or will they be so brainwashed and controlled they have no idea what it means to be free?

Tackle Spending Up

Tackle Spending Up but Angler Numbers Flat
(Today’s feature, by publisher Jim Shepherd, appeared initially in The Outdoor Wire.)
Jim Shepherd, Publisher, The Outdoor Wire

The latest statistical study we’ve seen on the sportfishing market seems to paint a pretty optimistic picture for the recreational fishing industry. That’s good news as everyone preps for ICAST next month in Orlando, Florida.

The newest research indicates the overall sportfishing tackle market grew a whopping 12% to nearly $6 billion in 2018. According to the study, growth was primarily fueled by rods, reels and combo outfits that grew in both dollars and units sold.

Good news – if you’re a retailer- but for everyone concerned about growing the sport, it’s not all blue skies and a hot bite.

According to the Southwick & Associates (www.SouthwickAssociates.com) angler participation numbers, participation -the number of anglers going fishing- remain flat for 2018. If that is, in fact, the case, does it mean anglers are spending more, but not necessarily proselytizing the sport?

I talked with Rob Southwick yesterday, and he reminded me of something significant for the long-term health of fishing. Angling’s core customers, are doing what blue collar workers do in good economic times: they’re working. They don’t always have the luxury of extra time to take a fishing trip.

It’s something that’s been true for decades. In the boom years of the 70s, workers -including me- didn’t have time for “get aways” – we were working. Our bosses and the business owners were enjoying more leisure time – because with good times, the business was, basically, running itself.

I have a tendency to look at what’s happening in the outdoors from my time in the golf industry. Golf is a sport where spending and participation have been directly tied to two things: age and income. More money and more time is good- until you have an audience that’s basically aged out of the sport. Today, golf is a sport on the ropes on the consumer side.

That isn’t necessarily the case here. Especially when you consider that the blue collar workers might not have the luxury of the time to fish more; but their increasingly optimistic financial situation enables them to move to higher quality purchases they’ll be able to enjoy when they do have leisure time.

Like every business, there are a myriad of things in play. But it’s not a reach to say that the angling trade has reasons to be optimistic for the future. That allows them to focus on something every recreational business needs to work toward: bringing in new participants.

“Not everyone in the trade may be seeing the large gains across the industry due to inventory issues related to retail mergers and other factors,” Southwick VP Nancy Bacon told me, “but consumers are still spending on fishing equipment.”

The downside of that spending? There have never been so many avenues available to purchase product. Simply put, retailers are having to battle for those customers more than ever before.

Tackle shops, however, enjoy one significant advantage over their colleagues in the shooting sports. One thing that helps offset any price difference is the local knowledge that these shops offer their customers.

When traveling to unknown waters, many experienced anglers only bring their basic gear. They’ll head directly to the local bait and tackles to find out to things: 1) what’s biting, and 2) what getting bitten the most.

That’s information you can use. It’s another compelling reason to consider changing some of the gear you brought for the stuff locals are telling you works best. Fishing Arkansas’ White River a couple of years ago, I was the angler in my boat that wasn’t catching fish, and I was throwing the exact same bait as my companions.

We were stumped, until the guide noticed something. I was using my own gear and my line was tinted. My companions were using his gear and all their line was clear. When he added clear line to my reel, my bite improved- immediately. I tipped him considerably more than the cost of that very small bit of line – but you get the point- the right equipment means results.

Another reason everyone might not be realizing the same gains is the changing demographic of our society.

Today’s young consumer, I’m told, isn’t as aspirationally driven as my aging generation.

They are experientially driven. They want to participate in activities with their friends.

If their friends are fishing, they’ll give it a try. If, however, they don’t find it rewarding, they’ll move on to something that meets their needs.

Keeping them from moving on is the question every subset of “the outdoors” is trying to answer.

We’ll keep you posted.

Fishing Tournaments and Lake Weiss

Growing up, I never played sports and did not like many games. I was not competitive in anything, being too much of a loner. I wanted to be out on the water or in he woods all the time and was perfectly happy being alone.

In April, 1974 Jim Berry took me to my first bass club tournament and I fell in love with the competition. For some reason, it was different. Although still somewhat on my own, with just two of us in the boat, it was very much to my liking.

Fishing big lakes in tournaments is different. If I wanted to go fishing just to catch fish, there are many bodies of water where I could catch more and bigger bass. And if numbers were my goal, I could choose to fish for something other than bass.

But the challenge of figuring out how to catch bass on big lakes with lots of fishing pressure is a thrill for me. If you watch the pros on TV, they often make it look easy. Of course, the cameras focus on the guys catching fish. If you look at the total results, in every tournament many of the top pros struggle.

My goal in club tournaments at the start each morning is to catch one bass. That first one is important. I try to not think of catch a limit until I have five in the boat, and catching a limit is often hard to do.

Two trips last week emphasized the difference in tournament bass fishing on a big lake and fishing on other waters. Tuesday, I fished Lake Weiss with Hayden Marbut and his father Brian, getting information for my Georgia and Alabama Outdoor News August Map of the Month articles.

Hayden is a 16-year-old high school tournament fisherman and his father grew up fishing Weiss. He won a high school tournament at Weiss recently. But we knew it would be tough fishing, with bright sun and no wind.

We started fishing before sunrise and three hours later had not caught a single bass. But a big part of tournament fishing is sticking with it and trying hard. The fifth place we tried, Hayden caught a two-pound keeper pitching a jig and pig to a dock. Then he caught a second keeper there, but this one weighed 5.92 pounds, a great kicker in a tournament.

We fished until 4:00 PM and Hayden landed four more keepers. His best five weighed about 13 pounds, a good catch in most tournaments. His dad got frustrated, fishing hard but never catching a single bass. I sat in the boat, taking notes and pictures and never made a cast.

In tournaments you often work hard for five or six bites like that.

Last Sunday was similar.

Tips for More Efficient Kayak Paddling

Tips for More Efficient Kayak Paddling
from The Fishing Wire

Tips for More Efficient Kayak Paddling

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

Proper Posture

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

Proper Hand Grip

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

Paddle Stroke

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

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

Using the Correct Length of Paddle

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

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

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

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

How I Won at Bartletts Ferry

In the June Spalding County Sportsman Club tournament, nine members fished from 5:45 AM until 2:00 PM at Bartlett’s Ferry to land 25 12-inch keeper bass weighing about 29 pounds. There were three five-bass limits, and everyone had at last one keeper.

I won with five weighing a whopping 6.61 pounds, Wayne Teal placed second with five at 5.16 pounds and Raymond English came in third with four weighing 4.32 pounds. Kwong Yu was fourth with five at 4.16 pounds and his partner, Glenn Anderson had big fish and placed fifth with one bass weighing 3.26 pounds.

It was a very slow day fishing, but I was happy to see 14 of our keepers were largemouth. Like some of our other lakes, spotted bass have ruined the largemouth fishing on Bartletts Ferry. Where we used to catch several two to five pound largemouth, we now catch a bunch of 11-inch spotted bass. Hydrilla in the lake has helped the largemouth population recover somewhat.

I started on a seawall where I can usually catch a keeper before sunrise if the lake if full, but never got a bite. I then fished a point with topwater and caught a short bass, an 11-inch spot. In a nearby brush pile 20 feet deep I caught a keeper largemouth on a Texas rigged worm at 6:30. At least I had that first one.

For the next hour I fished topwater on a rocky bank where Mayflies were hatching and bream were feeding on them. That is usually a good pattern, and I caught several more short spots, and lost what looked like a keeper when it jumped and threw my popper.

At 7:30 I switched to a shaky head worm and caught my second keeper, a 13-inch spot, and several more short fish. For the next hour I kept trying to catch a keeper off that bank and saw a new brush pile in 10 feet of water on my depthfinder. I marked it with a GPS waypoint and I am glad I did.

At 8:30 I went back to the deep brush pile and caught my third keeper, another spot, on a shaky head worm. That made me try deep brush for a couple of hours without a bite. Then at 11:00, I went to docks since the sun was bright.

After skipping a worm under a dock I felt a bite but when I set the hook somehow I got my line wrapped around the end of the rod. I could not keep my line tight and two-pound largemouth jumped and threw my bait.

That made me go to shallow water and at 11:30 I caught my fourth fish, a keeper largemouth, from some brush under a tree. I knew I did not have much weight but a fifth keeper would help.

With an hour left to fish I went back to the deep brush, but a boat was fishing it. I remembered the new brush pile I had marked and went to it. My first cast to it with a shaky head worm gave me my limit and biggest bass, a 2.57 pound largemouth.

With a limit, I decided to go in early and get out of the sun. I fished hard for five keepers and it paid off.

Fishery Management Council Appointees

Fishery Management Council Appointees Show Progress for Recreational Fishing and Boating
Here’s a look at the new class of fishery managers who will be shaping our coastal fisheries, from NMMA.
from The Fishing Wire

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced last week the 2019 Regional Fishery Management Council (RFMC) appointments. The strong showing from this year’s class of appointments makes it clear that recreational fishing and boating remain key priorities for the Trump Administration.

The appointments of Scott Lenox, Tim Griner, Dr. Tom Frazer, Troy Williamson, Peter Hassemer, Marc Gorelnik, Cora Campbell, and Nicole Kimball all affirm that the Administration remains focused on selecting RFMC appointees who have a proven ability to balance all factors in complicated fishery management decisions.

The decisions made by RFMC members significantly impact the nation’s 10 million saltwater recreational fishermen, who support 472,000 jobs and generate $68 billion in annual sales impacts according to NOAA Fisheries. The appointees chosen for this year’s class continue a trend of the Department of Commerce balancing these important economic considerations while also prioritizing resource conservation first and foremost.

“These appointments are an important step forward for America’s recreational fishing and boating community, and we’re grateful that the Department of Commerce continues to move in the right direction on this issue,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “We appreciate the continued leadership of President Trump and Commerce Secretary Ross on this issue as they ensure that America’s public resources remain a part of our national heritage current and future anglers alike can enjoy.”

“Recreational boating and fishing is a cherished pastime for millions of Americans and generates significant economic activity for our country each year,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “We applaud the Administration for providing anglers with appropriate representation on Regional Fishery Management Councils and look forward to working with the Councils to advance our community’s priorities.”

“The Regional Fishery Management Councils are where the rubber meets the road for federal marine fisheries management, so it’s critically important that the recreational fishing community be well represented,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of Government Affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “While the overall balance of the Councils still skews toward commercial fishing despite the two sectors being on par with each other economically, we appreciate Secretary Ross making continued progress in addressing this historic inequity.”

“The Regional Fishery Management Councils can only be effective, as Congress intended under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, if they accurately reflect the interests of the region being managed,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane. “We very much appreciate Secretary Wilbur Ross for selecting council members who are well suited to represent both the recreational and commercial fisheries of their respective states.”

“We appreciate the Secretary’s ongoing efforts to establish a more balanced representation for recreational angling throughout the Council system,” said Patrick Murray, president of the Coastal Conservation Association. “This Administration has made it a priority to understand the challenges anglers have faced in the federal fisheries management system and is working to address them. These appointments are another step in the right direction.”

Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Scott Lenox will be a valuable contributor to the Mid-Atlantic Council and will help provide better balance to the overall composition. He is the owner of Fish in OC and host of Ocean City’s fishing television show “Hooked on OC”. He has worked in the fishing industry and fished the waters in and around Ocean City for over 25 years. He is a member of Maryland’s Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission and participated in NOAA’s Marine Resources Education Program.

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Tim Griner’s thoughtful, objective approach on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has rightfully earned him reappointment. Mr. Griner owns a successful seafood supply company and holds federal vessel permits for snapper/grouper, dolphin/wahoo, and king and Spanish mackerel.

Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. A fair, balanced, and valuable member of the Gulf Council, Dr. Tom Frazer is also well deserving of his reappointment. As the recently appointed chief science officer for the State of Florida, current chair of the Gulf Council, and director of the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, he is well-qualified to serve on, and chair, the Gulf Council.

Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. A true recreational angler and legend in marine conservation circles, Troy Williamson has extensive experience in the fisheries management arena, including serving on several Gulf Council advisory panels; the Executive Committee of Harte Research Institute, and formerly representing the State of Texas on the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Pacific Fishery Management Council. As a voting member of the Pacific Fishery Management Council as designee for the State of Idaho Principal Official since 2015, Peter Hassemer is well-positioned to step into Idaho’s obligatory seat. During his 26 years at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, from which he recently retired, he worked in research and management arenas and served on many Columbia River basin and west coast technical and management bodies.

Pacific Fishery Management Council. Marc Gorelnik serves as vice chair of the Pacific Council and was reappointed, acknowledging his reputation as a knowledgeable, effective, and well-respected leader in the fisheries management community. In addition to his role on the Council, he serves as director of Coastside Fishing Club and is active with the Golden Gate Salmon Association, Coastal Conservation Association-California and American Sportfishing Association.

North Pacific Fishery Management Council. New Alaska appointee Cora Campbell has extensive experience and knowledge related to Alaska fisheries management, having served as a fisheries policy advisor for two Alaska governors, as a former commissioner for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and a lifetime of involvement in fisheries organizations.

North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Alaska appointee Nicole Kimball has dedicated her career to fisheries management. She worked as a fisheries analyst for the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council and as a federal fisheries coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and is now with the Pacific Seafood Processors Association.

Tomato Sandwiches and More

Growing up, we always tried to plant our gardens on Good Friday and expected to have fresh tomatoes by July 4. This year that is an unobtainable goal for me. I was unable to till my little garden patch and when I gave up and got someone to do it, all the rain kept me from planting tomatoes and peppers for several more weeks.

Some of my tomatoes are blooming, so there is hope for home grown tomatoes before too long. There is nothing better than a fresh, fully ripe tomato straight from the vine. Store bought tomatoes are bred to stay ripe and firm longer, for the trip to the store and time on the shelf, but they just do not taste as good.

I did get one of my favorite sandwiches this past week. Linda got some fresh tomatoes from a fruit stand. They are almost as good as home grown ones. I peeled and sliced one and put it on bread with mayonnaise. Mom always peeled tomatoes and they just taste better that way to me.

We ate tomato sandwiches like that all summer. But that was it, just tomato, mayo and bread. I was in college before I discovered a BLT. I think I had heard of them but never tried one. I’m not sure where I first had one, I think it was at the University Union Grill.

It was good, but the tomatoes were not home grown, so it lacked something. I eat them often now, sometimes with just bacon and no lettuce.

We often had egg salad and chicken salad sandwiches, too. Since we had 11,000 laying hens on our farm there were always plenty of eggs to eat, every day. Mom mixed up a big bowl of one or the other of the above, or tuna salad, in a big container and kept it in the refrigerator. All three were good on Saltine or Ritz crackers, too.

We also had homemade beef vegetable soup and toasted pimento cheese sandwiches. I loved to dunk the sandwich in the soup and slowly eat the saturated parts. Those not toasted just were not as good. I tried to make them after I left home but it took me a long time to realize I needed to toast the bread then put the pimento cheese on it, not try to toast it all together.

Daddy would not eat cheese. He said he went to town with his family grocery shopping when he was three years old. Riding home in the back of a two-horse wagon, he got into the big chunk of hoop cheese they had bought and ate so much he got sick.

Mom did make us macaroni and cheese, and we often had pimento cheese, but daddy would not eat it. So I never had a toasted cheese sandwich until I got to college. If I remember right, I tried it at the same grill as the BLT.

I tried for years to make a good toasted cheese sandwich but they were never right. Then I watched an online video and found the right way to make one. Lots of butter melted in a fry pan then toast one side of two pieces of bread, put the cheese between the toasted sides and then, after adding more butter, toast the outside of the sandwich on both sides while keeping it covered to melt the cheese. And mine much have Velveeta cheese to taste right.

Sandwiches are a staple of many lunches, and there are just so many choices!

Alligator Gar Research

Essential Alligator Gar Research Underway in Oklahoma
Craig Springer
from The Fishine Wire

Alligator Gar have big teeth

Be not afraid– unless youre a carp or buffalo fish. Alligator gar feed on rough fish photo Richard Snow ODWC

Lake Texoma lies over the Texas – Oklahoma state line. This boundary water is enormous. Denison Dam backs up the Red and Washita rivers for miles. The swollen arms of several tributary streams form massive lake coves that shoulder into the main water body. Consequently, there is much open water and ample shoreline for anglers seeking to catch black basses, crappie, sunfish, blue catfish and white bass.

The striped bass fishery is of good repute. And there is something to say for the alligator gar fishery as well: alligator gar are under-studied.

For anyone with even a perfunctory knowledge of alligator gar, this may seem counter-intuitive—that not a great deal is known about one of the largest freshwater fishes in North America.

Consider this. Alligator gar reach an enormous 13 feet long and fatten to a plump 300 pounds. It’s a long-lived leviathan with some of the eldest individuals swimming this very moment, having hatched when Apollo 10 navigated around the Moon in May of 1969.

These giant fish have a growing, almost cult-like following of anglers, and for good reason. Hook one and hang on. An eight-foot-long alligator gar can take you for a ride. You will see a tail dance in a glistening spray of water akin to a silvery tarpon over turquoise flats in nearshore salt water—except alligator gar potentially have more heft. Get a gator gar to the boat, and with a parting flick of its round tail fin, its sinuous form slips into the murk to be caught again.

Or will it?

That’s a question that Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) research biologist, Richard Snow, seeks to answer.

“Virtually any information we glean from ongoing research is new information,” said Snow from his Norman, Oklahoma, office. Snow is seven years into research into the alligator gar’s life history and has most recently embarked to learn more on a how the fish fairs after being caught and released. The answer to this question is central to sport fishery management and has applicability well beyond the bounds of the Oklahoma state line.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program funds Snow’s research—the monies derived from excise taxes paid by tackle manufacturers and then apportioned to state wildlife agencies for essential conservation work such as his.

Snow, an Oklahoma native, has had a years-long personal and professional interest in the fish. He has long enjoyed fishing for alligator gar. He earned a graduate degree at Oklahoma State University in natural resource ecology and management where he researched how to age the fish through its ear bones. The bones, called otoliths, lay down rings much like the cross section of a tree.

Snow says he also earned something else in graduate school. “I have a greater respect for the species—they’re a primitive fish, a swimming fossil that survive from long ago,” said Snow. “They are a remarkable fish—heavily armored on the outside like a tank because their insides are sensitive.”

Now, as an ODWC research biologist, Snow has waded deeper into questions associated with catch-and-release mortality, food preference studies, and growth rates.

Snow set up a hooking study with hefty captive alligator gar held in large ponds at Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery. He catches alligator gar just as anglers do at Lake Texoma and elsewhere, fishing with carp or buffalo fish heads. In the experiments, Snow allows gar to run with bait, played for 30 minutes and brought ashore, examined for noticeable internal injuries such as bleeding or air loss from the vent. The controlled environment allows him to monitor the wellbeing of the fish over a long period to detect effects of hooking that would not otherwise be noted in wild fish. The work is ongoing and results yet to be determined.

Along about May of the year, mature alligator gar move into shallow weedy coves of Lake Texoma and broadcast their eggs that adhere to vegetation. That act is replicated in tanks at the national fish hatchery where he and hatchery staff monitor the young gar.

“Alligator gar have explosive growth in their first year of life,” said Snow. “In the span of only nine days, they go from egg to a larvae with a sucker-disc on its head, and then to a predator. They pack on weight and by the end of the first growing season they’re a foot and half long.”

Alligator gar eat other fish. In examining stomach contents of adult gar, Snow determined that sport fish species make up very little of the diet. Their common foods include common carp, river carpsucker, buffalo species, gizzard shad and white bass.

“These predators typically ambush their prey, but they also actively forage or scavenge their food,” said Snow. “In the heat of the summer when oxygen is low, they gulp air into a highly vascularized swim bladder to ‘breathe.’ Bowfishers and anglers take advantage of these habits to locate alligator gar.”

Snow says the ongoing research will help his agency steer alligator gar fisheries toward sustainability.

Cliff Schleusner, Chief of the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, Southwest Region agrees. “These Holocene hold-overs have been understudied and the angler-funded work underway by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation adds to a woefully scant body of knowledge,” said Schleusner. “Alligator gar, an apex predator, provide an ecological balance that regulate the populations of other fish species—not to mention an angling experience unequaled.”

— Craig Springer, External Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Southwest Region

Bladed Jig

Unmasking the Unnamed Bladed Jig
from The Fishing Wire

Bladed jigs catch big bass for Luke Clausen

In bass circles, it’s become a something of running wise-crack. You might think of it along the lines of that secret spot your buddies call Lake X—so hot for big fish you simply can’t let the cat out of the bag. Except, this one’s a lure, not a lake.

Conspicuous by the absence of an actual brand name, something called an unnamed bladed jig has recently racked up mega bucks on the FLW, BASS and Major League Fishing tours. In a pastime rife with pseudo-hype and over-exaggerations, this one stands apart as the real deal—a lure that’s lived up to the propaganda, even exceeded it.

Consider the following intel from recent tournament coverage:

Referring to the bait cast by the 2019 Bassmaster Classic champion, tournament coverage included the following excerpt: “A key lure on Championship Sunday was a 3/8-ounce unnamed bladed jig, chartreuse white, with an unnamed pearl white, fluke-style trailer.”

In the days following the Classic, press and fan commentary had all arrived at the same conclusion: the unnamed bladed jig was a Z-Man ChatterBait JackHammer. One article focused specifically on the “mystery lure” and the far-from-uncommon phenomenon of anglers glossing over certain successful, non-sponsor lures, while on stage.

In tournament circles, the Z-Man ChatterBait JackHammer has become known as the “unnamed bladed jig.”

At the 2018 Classic, a rare candid moment unfolded when Gerald Swindle announced: “I caught every bass this week on a half-ounce ChatterBait, the JackHammer. I’m not sponsored by ‘em; I paid fifteen-ninety-nine a piece for ‘em, just like y’all do. I got about eleven-hundred dollar’s worth of them; I won’t lie to you.” Swindle wasn’t alone, as numerous other Classic contenders wielded what had become the hottest unidentified bait in bass fishing circles.

And in February 2019, Stage One winner of the MLF Bass Pro Tour at Lake Kissimmee, FL used an unnamed “bladed jig.” Once again, fans and fishing pundits speculated the lure to be a ChatterBait JackHammer.

“A Different Way to Make a Lure Wiggle”

It all started when Ron Davis, a creative lure designer from Rock Hill, South Carolina, added high-level action and vibration to a larger-profile, weighted jig. Davis drew his inspiration from the Walker Special, a vibrating lure resembling the pull-top on an old aluminum can, circa 1960. His original, admirable intent was to create “a different way to make a lure wiggle.”

Finally, in 1998, Davis engineered a unique way to attach a hex-shaped blade directly to a jig. Things began to click. Davis and his son Ron Davis Jr. sold 5,000 of their new “ChatterBaits” under the Rad Lures brand. After winning tournaments in 2005 and 2006, Bryan Thrift divulged his secret, chosen baits for the first time. ChatterBait sales skyrocketed to 25,000 lures, and when orders eclipsed six figures and projections exceeded 2 million, the Davises decided to sell its designs to Z-Man Fishing in 2008.

Perhaps it was inevitable that ChatterBait reproductions arrived, slowly at first, then en masse, as numerous tackle companies attempted to cash in on the success of a truly original and stunningly effective design.

Major League Fishing pro Luke Clausen details subtle differences between bladed bass jigs.

The Critical Connection

Recognizing the lure’s exceptional engineering early on, Davis successfully attained patent protection for his ChatterBait—a patent that has been preserved by Z-Man Fishing to this day. The key to the lure’s action, vibration, sound and ultimately, its efficacy, points directly to the blade-to-jig connection. According to the Davises, the lure’s driving force remains a thin, hex-shaped, bent blade, attached to a weighted hook in such a way as to restrict the blade’s oscillation.

“I’ve been throwing ChatterBaits since 2004,” says Thrift, a talented touring pro with ten FLW tournament wins and over $2.5-million in career earnings. “When I won at Okeechobee in 2006, the fish had never seen (the ChatterBait) before; it was just unimaginable the big fish I caught with the bait down there.”

Thrift and others believe the key to the ChatterBait’s big bass allure points directly to Davis’ design. “The direct connection between the blade and the jig restricts the blade’s movement and provides a side-to-side stopping point,” notes Thrift.

“I think most anglers know, by now, that if you put a split ring between the blade and the hook, it’s going to change the action dramatically, and drastically reduce the bait’s vibration,” believes Daniel Nussbaum, president of Z-Man Fishing. “In essence, a lure with a split ring isn’t a ChatterBait.

“A ChatterBait simply generates a totally different sound and vibration that you feel up and down the rod,” says Thrift. “Bass respond to it like no other vibrating bait you’ll fish.

“The other key thing that happens is the sound the lure makes as the blade repeatedly collides with the head. After a while, you get a unique paint wear pattern and the sound changes to a lower frequency, duller thud. Each ChatterBait version, from the original to the Project Z to the JackHammer all give off slightly different action and frequency vibration.”

The JackHammer, for example, is built with a flat-bottom, low-center-of-gravity head with a specialized channel groove for blade protection. “The JackHammer and the Project Z ChatterBait are both super-tuned lures that start vibrating and pulsing with the very first turn of the reel handle,” says Thrift.

The direct blade-to-jig connection is key to the success of the ChatterBait bladed jig.
Project Z

Interestingly, while the JackHammer continues to garner “unnamed” headlines and tournament wins, both Thrift and Major League Fishing Tour angler Luke Clausen rely on an alternative Z-Man bait, the Project Z.

“People see the price tags of the two lures and think the JackHammer must be better, which isn’t necessarily the case,” believes Thrift.

“The Project Z is maybe the first perfect ChatterBait ever made,” he asserts. “It’s got a high-level Mustad UltraPoint hook, and an awesome skirt and keeper. Also allows me to quickly and easily change the skirt if I need to. I can even mix and match blade colors so I can fish white/chartreuse with a gold blade in dirty water or green pumpkin with a gold blade in other conditions.

“What separates the lure from other ChatterBaits is that I can slow roll it past cover and then burn it back. It moves with a darting, hunting action, back-and-forth. I also use it a lot on offshore structure or ledges. Let it go to bottom and then rip it with the rod and let it flutter back. I’ve caught lots of bass on the Project Z bait down to 25 feet of water.”

Meanwhile, Clausen prefers the larger profile of the Project Z ChatterBait, and the fact he can fish it faster, burning it across shallow cover. “In clear or cold water, I’ll sometimes remove the skirt and replace it with a Jerk ShadZ for a realistic baitfish profile.

“The blade swings wide and wobbles a little more slowly, producing a nice deep, low frequency vibration. The blade doesn’t contact the jighead, but doesn’t have to, because the lure thumps so much. The Project Z bait is sort of a hidden gem among Z-Man’s ChatterBait line. It’s my favorite ChatterBait, hands-down— versatile enough to mimic a bluegill, shad or a crayfish.”

Big bass magic. Money winner. Unnamed bladed jig. Whatever you choose to call it, there can be but one original ChatterBait.

Bladed jig master Bryan Thrift believes the Project Z ChatterBait is the most underrated lure in the category.

Odd Couple Lives On My Pond

The odd couple lives on my pond. Last spring a pair of Canada geese raised some young there and I enjoyed watching them for several weeks. Then all but one disappeared. I was not sure if it could fly or not since I never saw it fly. It would just swim around on the pond.

A few days later I noticed a female mallard duck had started staying with the goose. They were always side by side swimming around the pond or out of the bank feeding. I found out the goose could fly one day when I scared them, both took off flying across the pond and landing together.

They are still together. If I scare them and they fly off in different directions, the mallard will quack until the goose joins her. They do not stay apart very long. I wonder how long this strange relationship will last.

This pair really look strange since the goose is at least four times as big as the duck. Yet they never leave each other’s side. Next spring when geese return to the pond to nest I wonder how the goose will react. Will it take up with others of its kind or stick with its duck friend? Only time will tell.